************ Sermon on Amos 1:2a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 5, 1999
Amos 1 & 2
"The Lion Has Roared"
Amos preached and prophesied during the days when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel – around 760 B.C. Those were good years for Israel. Never had the sun shone so brightly on the Promised Land as in the days of the prophecy of Amos. Never did the people of Israel sit so contentedly in the shade of fig trees and vines as in those days. It was as though the golden age of Solomon had returned. The civil disputes of an earlier era had ended, and peace was restored within the land. Syria, Israel's traditional enemy, had been completely conquered by Jeroboam. And, the power of mighty Assyria had declined during Jeroboam's time so she no longer posed a threat to Israel's security.
It is safe to say that in a certain way Jeroboam II was the most successful king Israel ever had. It was a time of glittering prosperity, a great time to be alive. Business flourished, and people made a lot of money. Many were wealthy enough to maintain both a winter and summer home and could even afford the luxury of costly ivory to adorn their furniture and the walls of their homes (3:15; 6:4).
Imagine that! The people who had once lived as nomads in tents now lived as rich men in palaces. They who once had been slaves in Egypt now were slave owners. Jewels adorned the fingers and hands that in times past would have been calloused from baking bricks and building the great Egyptian store cities.
I The Coming Judgment
A Everything in Israel looked so bright and sunny. The economy was booming. The borders were secure. The people were very satisfied. Everything appeared to be in perfect order – even the religious aspect of life. Never were the places of worship so full. Never were so many voluntary sacrifices made (Amos 4:5). Never had so many pilgrims traveled through the land to visit the holy places.
In terms of religion, faith, and matters of the soul we can say that times were too good. Over and over again the history of God's people has shown us that times of physical and material success, prosperity, and splendor have not been times in which the faith of God's people has grown and blossomed. One commentator puts it this way: "When the church buildings are made of gold, the Christians in the pew are made of wood at best" (Veldkamp, pg 18).
Is this true for us too? That's a question we all have to answer for ourselves. Whatever it may be for us, this certainly was true for Israel. Everything looked so good from the outside but from the inside one saw only rot.
The prophet Amos paints a sad picture of inner decay that had taken place, despite the beautiful appearance. There was a deep abyss between Israel's doctrine and her life. Those Israelites seemed such pious believers – but their religion was nothing but show and they were nothing but hypocrites. For instance, the prominent members of society trampled upon the poor and demanded exorbitant interest on the money owed them (Amos 5:11), singing the Psalms of David all the while (Amos 6:5). Merchants used false weights and measures. On the Sabbath Day they waited eagerly for the sun to go down so they could return to their buying and selling, still singing David's Psalms!
Everywhere he looked, Amos saw corruption. Judges accepted bribes (Amos 5:12). Heavy drinking and scandalous immorality was the order of the day (Amos 2:6,7; 4:1). And still they dared to sing the Psalms of David!
Those pious hypocrites of Zion were so much at ease that they even looked forward to the "day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18). They believed that God's judgment would only hit the heathen, leaving the Israelites themselves untouched.
We can compare those hypocrites of Israel to the ship, the Queen Mary.
Title: Whitewashed Tombs
The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936. Through four decades and a World War she served until she was retired, anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.
During the conversion, her three massive smoke-stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted. But on the dock they crumbled. Nothing was left of the 3/4-inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed. All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years. The steel had rusted away. Those stacks looked so good from the outside, but inside there was nothing but rot and rust.
B In such a situation comes Amos with what must have sounded like wild talk to the hypocrites of Jerusalem and Samaria:
(Amos 1:2) He said: "The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem ..."In another place Amos says
(Amos 3:8) The lion has roared--who will not fear?
What we need to realize, congregation, is that a lion does not begin to growl until it is ready to jump on its prey. The lion's roar is an indication that it is very close to its prey, that it is too late for the victim to escape. The lion is patient. Roaring too soon would alert its prey to the danger and give it a chance to run away. You see, a lion can run fast but only for very short distances of fifty feet or so. So it needs to creep undetected – slowly, silently – to the prey and catch it completely by surprise. It is then, just before the defenseless victim is crushed and eaten, that the lion roars. As Amos asks in chapter 3:
(Amos 3:4) Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing?
The message of Amos to Israel and Judah is this: the lion has roared! The Lord has risen and left His holy dwelling place. Will anyone escape? The question is so simple that even a child can answer it. No, no one will escape. The Lord will bring destruction, punishment, and calamity.
C Destruction, punishment, and calamity is breathed by the very first verse of Amos already. Listen to this verse:
(Amos 1:1) The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa--what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake ...
Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, spoke to Israel about God's love, but Amos speaks of vengeance. The sky may be clear and sunny over Israel, but Amos foresees dark clouds in the future. There will come a time when the earth will quake and shake.
We don't know anything about this earthquake except what Amos and Zechariah tells us. We do know, however, that we must accept the truth of the Biblical record.
Whenever the earthquake occurred, it must have been a major catastrophe. Apparently everyone knew exactly what event Amos was talking about. So clearly did the people of Israel remember this earthquake that some 200 years later – around the year 530 B.C. – the prophet Zechariah could threaten them by saying, "You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah" (Zech 14:5).
One day the horrible event suddenly took place. The land became turbulent like the sea; the summer and winter homes collapsed. There was cracking and groaning and tearing to be heard on all sides. People fled, but they had no where to go.
The earthquake was but the start of the Lord's judgment against His people. He also sent hunger, drought, famine, plagues, wars, and economic crises. Finally, He also sent exile. You see, all those words of Amos about an earthquake and a roaring lion had no effect. The people did not listen. Their hearts were hardened against the Word of the Lord.
D Do you know, congregation, that we, like Israel in Amos' day, are also living before the earthquake? Seismologists tell us that some day a major earthquake will hit California and a good part of the state could go sliding into the ocean. But that is not the earth-quake I am talking about. I am talking about the earthquake that inaugurates the great day of the Lord, when "the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land" are all shaken by God and the Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. We don't know when this will happen. We don't know whether we have two, ten, or twenty years or even centuries before the earthquake. All that we know is that Jesus will come like a thief in the night, that He will come as soon as the time the Lord has given us for repentance has passed (cf Haggai 2:6; Mt 24).
In the people of Israel the Lord wants us to see ourselves. He wants us to see the rottenness that exists in our hearts. He wants us to admit to our hypocrisies. He wants us to repent of our sins. And, He warns us to do so before the final earthquake comes and it becomes too late – as was the case with Israel. For, don't forget, the lion has roared!
II No Sin Goes Unpunished
A Why all this talk about lions, judgment, and earthquakes? Amos' point is this: all sin is an offense against God and must be punished. As a just and holy God, the Lord cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. Amos declares that the Lord has kept His silence about the atrocities of the heathen long enough. Now He will roar from Zion and punish the wicked.
When we look at the first two chapters of Amos this message comes through so clearly. Amos delivers a powerful sermon pronouncing God's judgment against the sins of the world. He announces what God would do to the heathen. He announces what God would do to unrepentant murderers, rapists, child molesters, and abortionists. He announces what God would do to all the enemies of His people.
B The first words of judgment are directed against Damascus, the capital city of the Syrians:
(Amos 1:3) This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth ...
The listeners understood what Amos meant. Any one sin is enough in itself to earn the severe wrath of God, but Damascus is guilty of much more. Because it has committed three or four offenses, the judgment is irrevocable and could not be appealed. Because the lion has roared there was no longer any escape possible for Damascus.
Amos then turned his attention to the Philistines, the inhabitants of Gaza:
(Amos 1:6) This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom ...
But that's not all. Amos then announces the Lord's judgment against other nations and people: the Phoenicians of Tyre, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites. The fire of God's wrath will burn against the palaces and fortresses of Tyre, Bozrah, Rabbah, Kerioth (1:9-2:3). The homes and cities of the heathen will go up in smoke. Don't forget, the lion had roared.
I am sure those self-assured Israelites loved hearing these words of Amos. Remember, they looked forward to the "day of the Lord" (Amos 5:18), believing that God's judgment would only hit the heathen, leaving the Israelites themselves untouched. God's people, I'm afraid, too often relish pictures of the damned in hell.
C As long as Amos talked of Damascus, Gaza, and Tyre, I am sure they people listening to Amos liked what they heard. But then, as he condemned nation after nation, he turned to nations related to Israel by blood, i.e., Edom, Ammon, and Moab. These nations were the descendants of Esau and Lot. Amos kept getting closer and closer. Finally he arrived at his goal:
(Amos 2:4) This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because they have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods, the gods their ancestors followed ...
(Amos 2:6) This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
"People of God," says Amos, "God is speaking to you. His judgment will strike you the hardest of all."
The listeners understood what Amos meant. Any one sin is enough in itself to earn the severe wrath of God, but Judah and Israel – like Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab – are guilty of much more. Because they had committed three or four offenses, their judgment was irrevocable and could not be appealed. Because the lion has roared there was no longer any escape possible for God's people. Their sin and hypocrisy must be punished.
You can well imagine this was not a popular message.
D We see here that God's prophets are not one-sided. The sinful Israelites were not to think that God's judgment would strike only the heathen, sparing them because they were "children of Abraham." God does not spare His people or exempt them from His wrath. He refuses to put up with their sinful ways.
On the other hand, the heathen also have every reason to tremble. The world is not to think that God will remain silent forever. Yes, God will judge the sins of His people, but the heathen will not be overlooked. God's wrath will also strike them.
What Amos said is so very true. And, what Amos said applies to everyone: Judah, Israel, Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.
(Amos 3:8) The lion has roared-- who will not fear?
(Amos 1:2) "The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem ..."
Congregation, this coming week, as you all know, we are to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Supper so that we can worthily partake next week Sunday.
Worthy partaking means that we admit and confess to God our sins and hypocrisies. Worthy partaking means we realize the anger of God against our sins and hypocrisies. Worthy partaking means we must know that God cannot allow our sins and hypocrisies to go unpunished – because the lion has roared.
We cannot and may not leave the matter here. Yes, sin must be confessed. Yes, God's anger does burn against sin so there is judgment and punishment. Yet we in the New Testament know something Amos himself did not: we know that Jesus bore God's wrath against the sin of those who believe; we know that Jesus was punished in our place and for our sin; we know that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1). Worthy partaking also means, then, that we believe in Jesus as our Savior from sin, as the atoning sacrifice who removes God's anger against our sin.
Believe in Jesus, congregation – for the lion has roared. Believe in Jesus – for the Lord roars from Zion and no one can escape from His judgment. Believe in Jesus and come to the Lord's Table next week.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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