************ Sermon on Amos 5:18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 1, 2005
"Woe To You ..."
I A Frightening Day
A How Israel looked forward to the coming of the Day of the Lord. They longed for its appearance (vs 18). They hoped for it, prayed for it, and worked for it.
The Day of the Lord is the Day when God comes to visit judgment upon the heathen nations surrounding Israel. On that same Day Israel will be visited in salvation and blessing. This Day marks the beginning of God's eternal and blessed reign over all the earth on behalf of His chosen ones. This Day marks the beginning of an eternal and blessed peace for those God has chosen to dwell with Him. This Day marks the beginning of the eternal and blessed Sabbath rest of God's people. This Day marks the beginning of true Shalom for the children of Abraham. When the Day of the Lord finally comes, it will result in the complete glorification of Israel and the complete humiliation of her enemies. This Day will bring Israel only good and the heathens only evil. The heathens have every reason to fear this Day, but Israel has no reason to fear and every reason to rejoice and be glad.
Israel thought the Day of the Lord would be like that fearful night when the Angel of the Lord passed through Egypt to kill the first-born sons and cattle of the Egyptians. Israel thought there would again be weeping and wailing in the homes of the heathen and joy in Israel.
No wonder Israel longed for the appearance of this Day.
B Israel thought she could safely claim the blessings of this Day for herself because she, after all, was God's chosen and elect people. Hadn't God chosen her as His "treasured possession"?, as a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation"? (Ex 19:5,6).
Furthermore, Israel believed the Lord continued to be with her. The Israelites based this belief on their political stability, economic prosperity, and their victories in battle against the Syrians. They confused success with blessing, they confused physical prosperity with spiritual prosperty, thereby making the same mistake we often make. All their success and prosperity suggested to them that their future would be glorious. In the same way, all our success and prosperity often suggests to us that our future will also be glorious.
C The prophecy of Amos must have shocked the people of Israel. Amos lets them know they are wrong in interpreting their stability, riches, and victories as a sign of God's blessing and presence. He further lets them know they are wrong in making a jump from present success and prosperity to future blessing.
(Amos 5:18,20) "Woe to you who long for the Day of the Lord! Why do you long for the Day of the Lord? That Day will be darkness, not light ... (20) Will not the Day of the Lord be darkness, not light -- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?"
The message of the prophet Amos is this: God will send His fire on Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab – and on Judah and Israel too! In stark terms Amos pictures the destruction of that Day:
(Amos 5:16b,17) "'There will be wailing in all the streets and cries of anguish in every public square. The farmers will be summoned to weep and the mourners to wail. (17) There will be wailing in all the vineyards, for I will pass through your midst,' says the Lord."
The Day of the Lord spells danger, destruction, judgment, darkness for Israel. It will not be quite the Day Israel thinks it will be.
Using the example of the lion, the bear, and the snake, Amos gives us a vivid picture of a danger that cannot be escaped.
A man has a terrifying encounter with a lion. He flees in fright, running as fast as he can. Because of his fear, his body is cold with sweat. Running like a man possessed, he manages to escape the lion. Gasping for breath, he stops for a moment to rest. Then, right in front of him, he suddenly sees a bear! Again he faces death, and again he madly flees, with the bloodthirsty bear right behind him. He hears the beast right at his back. It is panting for blood – his blood! Finally he can run no further. He must stop for breath, even if it costs him his life. It is then that he sees an abandoned shepherd's cottage. He stumbles inside and bolts the door. Exhausted, he leans against the wall as he thinks about his narrow escape from the mouth of the lion and the claws of the bear. But just where he puts his hand, there is a crack in the wall. Concealed in the crack is a small poisonous snake. The snake thinks the man is an enemy and bites his hand. The man cries out in surprise and fright. His hand swells up quickly as the poison goes to work. He turns blue, and then gray. Soon he dies a horrible death all by himself in the abandoned hut.
What a frightening story! The man had escaped the lion, and the bear couldn't catch him either. But a small snake concealed in a crack in the wall carried out the death sentence, so he died anyway.
This story is an imaginative portrayal of Israel. The nation has escaped great dangers; she has faced the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Syrians; she has fought the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites; she has overcome the Nephilim – the giant descendants of Anak (cf Num 13:28,33; Josh 15:13,14). Now the nation is finally at peace because the arm of the Lord has protected her. All her enemies have been destroyed. There is no longer any thought of danger. And, thinks Israel, things will only get better when the Day of the Lord comes.
Israel, as with the man in our story, has a false sense of peace and security. There will come a Day of death and destruction. That Day will catch Israel by surprise. Will that Day also catch us by surprise?
II Seasonal Righteousness and Perverted Justice
A Why will the day of the Lord be darkness, not light? Because Israel, like the man in the story, forgot about the snake, the little serpent. Israel, by God's grace, was secure from and triumphant over all enemies without. At the same time she did not see the enemy within: unconfessed and uncombatted sin. Israel made the deadly mistake of forgetting and ignoring the snake of sin.
The Day of the Lord, says Amos, spells destruction for Israel because she forgot about the snake, about sin!
B The Israelites who lived during the time of Amos pointed with pride to their religious feasts, their assemblies, their burnt offerings, their grain offerings, their songs, the music of their harps.
In simply devastating language Amos tells them what God thinks of their worship. As we ponder what Amos says, we should think of our own festivals, assemblies, Sunday worship services, and celebrations of the Lord's Supper. God says:
(Amos 5:21-23) "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. (22) Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. (23) Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel worshiped at Bethel and Gilgal instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem. In establishing these worship centers, they were very careful to imitate what God had established in Jerusalem: they observed the same festivals; they offered sacrifices at the same times; they kept the same hours of prayer (cf 1 Kings 12:32). They thought such imitation would please the Lord. Apparently it didn't! The Lord reacts with such strong language: "I hate ... I despise ... I will not accept ... I will have no regard ... I will not listen." The Lord couldn't stand what was going on in Bethel and Gilgal. He wanted to see and hear nothing of it. Their hymns and temple music were nothing but racket in His ears. The sacrifices of the fatted beasts disgusted Him. For this reason the Lord earlier said through the prophet: "do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing" (Amos 5:5).
If that is what the Lord thinks of Israel's worship, we have to ask ourselves what the Lord thinks of ours. What does He think of our offerings, our songs, our prayers, our celebration of the Lord's Supper this morning?
C Why does the Lord react so strongly to Israel's worship? Why? Two reasons. First, because it wasn't true or legitimate worship. We have to go back in Israel's history to the reign of Jeroboam I to see this. It was Jeroboam I who established Bethel as a place of worship to rival the one in Jerusalem. It was he who ordered the imitation of what God had instituted in Jerusalem. But he also made two golden calves. He said to the people, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." One of the calves he set up in Bethel. And, says Scripture, "this thing became a sin" (1 Kings 12:28-30). Of course it was a sin! Yes, at Bethel and Gilgal Israel went through all the forms of worshiping God; in fact, they were very impressive in their worship. Yet, their worship was a transgression of the first and second commandments (cf Amos 5:26).
The second reason the Lord does not accept Israel's worship was because it was nothing but show; it wasn't from the heart; it wasn't sincere. Israel's Sabbath Day worship was exactly that – Sabbath Day worship. It did not extend to the rest of the week. Today, we would have to call them "Sunday Christians." The Israelites lived one way on the Sabbath and another way the rest of the week. Israel's righteousness was occasional; it was a Sabbath Day righteousness. We would say that they did not live out the faith and properly respond to God's grace – something we are urged to do on this Lord's Supper Sunday.
Injustice characterized Israel's week day life. Amos looks at two things here: the administration of justice in the court, and the affluent life style of the upper classes.
The court was the place where righteousness should bear its fruit and justice be established. There the weak and poor should find a defender; there the weak and poor should find their rights upheld. But in the legal proceedings which Amos observed quite the opposite happened. The judicial process had been corrupted by the rich and powerful, and was used as an instrument of oppression. Witnesses, for instance, were bribed to tell lies (vs 12); those who dared to tell the truth were silenced (vs 10). The courts were used to wring the last bit of land and produce from the poor and needy.
In shocking contrast to the plight of the poor, the leaders of society lived in wealth and luxury (cf vs 11). Amos does not denounce wealth as such. The wealth he denounces is wealth obtained at the expense of the poor; it is wealth obtained by oppressing the poor, corrupting the court, dispossessing the peasants. The beautiful mansions of the rich were no more than robber's dens (3:10). The rich were inflicted with a greed that knew no bounds (8:4-6). They feasted, they partied, they celebrated, they danced, while all around them the poor suffered (cf 4:1; 6:7). Surprising, isn't it, how much this sounds like Western Society today: so rich, so affluent, so wealthy while all around us are millions, indeed billions, who don't even have enough to eat!
III Never Ending Justice and Righteousness
A God doesn't leave His people with this message of gloom and darkness. He also tells them words of life and hope. If only they would listen, then they rightly can look forward to the Day of the Lord as a Day of hope, joy, and gladness. Listen to what God says:
(Amos 5:24) "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
There are two kinds of streams in the Middle East: those in which water flows only during the winter months, and those in which water flows year round. The winter streams contain water only when all the other streams have water as well. But the never-failing streams can be counted on to flow even in periods of heat and drought, when all other streams have dried up.
The Christian's righteousness should be like a never-failing stream. We are not to be like the stream that contains water only for a little while after it rains. Our justice, our righteousness, our holiness must "flow" both winter and summer. God does not ask for a seasonal righteousness or an occasional Christianity. God does not want us to be Sunday only Christians. God wants, He demands, He looks for a permanent justice, holiness, and righteousness. In response to His grace, as a response to the message of the cross in the Lord's Supper, God wants us to be just and righteous.
B The righteous, holy, and just life is a life that is lived with God and in the power of God. Three times in Amos 5 the Lord can say, "Seek me and live" (vs 4,6,14). You see, God is a God of righteousness, holiness, and justice. He wants us to imitate Him but we can only by coming to Him. In fact, apart from Him and His power and His grace towards us in Christ, it is impossible to be righteous, holy, and just.
"Seek me and live." If only Israel would seek the Lord: for then, and only then, is a righteous, holy, and just life possible; for then, and only then, will theirs not be a seasonal righteousness and perverted justice; for then and only then will the Day of the Lord be light and not darkness.
Like Israel we too believe in the Day of the Lord. We know it as the Day of Christ's return. For us, will it be a day of light or a day of darkness? That depends on whether we seek Christ and live. That depends on whether we do what our celebration of the Lord's Supper calls us to do – that is, live out the Christian life.
What do you believe concerning the Day of the Lord and the return of Christ? The Heidelberg Catechism asks a similar question. I just love its answer:
"All his enemies and mine he will condemn to everlasting punishment: but me and all his chosen ones he will take along with him into the joy and the glory of heaven" (Answer 52).Before this can happen, though, I must seek Christ and live. His grace, His power, His Spirit must be at work within me. His righteousness, holiness, and justice must become mine. And then, and only then, will the Day of the Lord be light and not darkness.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page