In Amos 3 we saw the prophet declare the voice of the Lord concerning the sins of the nation of Israel. There were two sins in particular that were specified as being punished by God. Verses 14-15 of the third chapter of Amos announces the demolition of the altars and the houses of ivory. The problem is in their hearts that falsely worship God and desire wealth, possessions, and comfort. The fourth chapter of Amos explores these two issues in greater depth. Before we begin this prophetic declaration warns us that God is very much concerned about our worship and about our desires for wealth and comfort. These two sins are specifically identified. Therefore we need to be deeply concerned about these sins.
The Heart of Materialism (1-3)
Perhaps one of my favorite images in the book of Amos. Amos calls the women, “cows of Bashan,” and tells them to pay attention. The cows in Bashan were particularly known as being excellent cattle and were fed well. Amos calls them cows of Bashan because these are pampered, self-indulgent ladies who maintain their lifestyle by crushing the poor and speaking demandingly to those around them. In fact, notice the poor treatment of the husbands. They demand their husbands to wait upon them and provide them luxuries so that they can indulge themselves in satisfying their pleasures. This problem is not unique to their society. This same materialistic drive brings out these attitudes today. We have to have stuff and we will harm others so that we can have our luxuries. Amos pictures women who do not have a quiet and submissive spirit that God commands (cf. 1 Peter 3:3-5; 1 Timothy 2:9-12), but have seized control and are bossing the husbands around. They are demanding of husbands because they have a taste of luxury and comfort. It is not enough to work to pay the bills and provide a home. Instead, the command is to crush the poor so that we can have our luxuries.
Therefore, God makes an oath against this attitude. Notice in verse 2 that God swears in his holiness. The holy Lord cannot lie and sin cannot go unpunished before his holy eyes. Judgment is coming upon the nation because they are so consumed by wealth and comfort. God declares the comfort these people will experience. A nation will take them away with hooks. Amos is prophesying the means of Assyrian captivity. Each prisoner was connected to a rope by a hook through the nose or lip. They are going to go out through the breaches, which means that the walls of the city will be destroyed. In fact, the walls to their cities will be so demolished that they will be able to walk out straight ahead. They will not have to weave and wind through the rubble. The destruction will be so extensive that they will be taken by hooks straight out of the city. Being cast out to Harmon symbolized being taken off of their land and being sent to a far away land.
Wealth and comfort are sources of false security. God will take away the things that we put in our trust in. Listen to the New Testament writers make the same point.
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)
3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:3–5 ESV)
The way we use, own, acquire, and disperse material goods symbolizes and expresses our attitudes about ourselves, other people, and God. How we handle our wealth and pursue our comforts reflects our the depths of heart. Do we really trust God? Is our hope in our things? Is our comfort our greatest desire? The use of our goods reveals the answer to these questions and more.
Sinful Worship (4-5)
The second indictment is the sin in their worship. Amos calls for the people to go to their centers of worship and continue to sin. It is a sarcastic call to worship. Instead of calling to worship with the traditional words, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4) and “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord” (Psalm 95:1), Amos begins, “Come and sin.” Bring your sacrifices! Bring your tithes! While they do these things they are sinning. Their sacrifices do not bring forgiveness but adds to the people’s sinfulness. These people are very religious! But worship that is not God-focused is sin. Notice that these people keep these religious practices so that they can brag about them to everyone. We do the same thing where we think we are so holy and so pious because we come to worship every time the doors are open. But if you are boasting then you are not worshiping God but yourself. You are not worshiping for the glory of God but for the glory of self.
Further, God does not care about external religion. Notice that the people were bringing their tithe every three days. Moses declared that the tithe of the produce of the land would be paid in the third year (Deuteronomy 14:22,28; 26:12). These people are over religious. Is this a bad thing? No, except that they are not doing this because they love God but love the attention of others. Don’t think that you are impressing God with the number of religious acts that you do. We are not impressing God. God wants worship when it is motivated from a thankful and gracious heart. He does not want checklist religion. He wants grace-driven obedience.
You Did Not Return To Me (6-13)
God now declares all the things that happened in an effort to try to generate repentance in their hearts. Events were happening to them in an effort to cause them to turn to God rather than continue down their sinful path. Verse 6 says that God gave them cleanness of teeth. This is not good hygiene, but is an idiom to speak of having a lack of food to eat. You have clean teeth because you have nothing to eat. There was famine (vs. 6), drought (vs. 7-8), blight, mildew, and locusts (vs. 9), pestilence (vs. 10), and destruction (vs. 11). God is teaching us something important about these events. We are supposed to consider our ways and dedicate ourselves to God. In last week’s lesson we studied Luke 13:1-9 and saw Jesus teach that God does not punish individuals presently for their sins. However, this does not mean we are blind about the things that go on around us. When bad things do happen, we are supposed to use those times turn our hearts to God. This is a key teaching by James and Peter in their letters. Trials and suffering are to produce within us godly characteristics that will draw us to him. Trials are to humble us so that we are prepared for repentance. We are to see these things as God’s grace to try to stop us plummeting away from God.
However, notice the repeated phrase in this section by Amos. “Yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord” (4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11). They refused to turn their eyes to God. They refused to see that they needed the Lord in their lives. They were blinded by all of their religious acts and desires for wealth and comfort that they could not see that they were lacking. Therefore, God has a response for the people. “Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” If we will not prepare to meet God in holiness, then prepare to meet God in judgment. Prepare to meet your glorious God. The God who forms the mountains and creates the wind. The God who knows our thoughts. The God who makes the morning turn to darkness. The God who walks on the mountaintops of the earth. The Lord, the God of heaven’s armies, is the one. Prepare to encounter God.
Prepare To Meet God
We do not want to meet God in judgment. We need to make preparations to meet God on good terms, which can only occur with the blood of Jesus covering our sins.
Bring our hearts to worship.
God does not want our attendance, but our hearts in worship. Two years ago we reformatted our worship to try to encourage this. Our acts of worship are not to interfere with each other but draw our hearts closer to God. We are engaged with God. Our hearts and minds are so engaged with song that we are joining with God. We do not want to interrupt that but facilitate it. The Lord’s Supper brings us to the next stage of worship as we orient our minds to the great sacrifice of our Lord. Then we are offered an opportunity to show our thanksgiving as we give back to God a portion of what he has given us. Then when I get up here to speak, I do not want to break that engagement. So I am not going to start sermons with jokes or levity but try to bring continuity as we move our hearts closer to God as we dig into his wonderful word. We do not want to interrupt engage hearts so that this turns into just getting acts of worship out of the way. So we have called upon our worship leaders to make a conscious effort as they lead the congregation to draw people’s hearts to God. When we do not bring our hearts then we are multiplying our sins as we worship.
Worship is a loving response to God, not a means of impressing God or pleasing ourselves.
The people of Israel are worshiping for what they get out of it. They were getting pride and arrogance. They were bragging about the frequency of their worship. Frequency of worship comes from a desire to worship, not for selfish fulfillment. Worship is not about us but is about God. We need to consider our hearts before worship and prepare our hearts for worship. Proper worship is difficult to participate in when we have not given ourselves every opportunity to attain it. When we show up late, we make it hard to get ourselves ready for God, and worse, we are taking others out of that engagement with God. When we are tired because of decisions we made earlier in the day or the night before, then we make it hard on ourselves to engage God with our heart. Clear your obstacles so that you can meet and engage God.
Don’t be cows of Bashan.
Do not allow yourself to be consumed by your comforts and your wealth. Do not make decisions based on your comfort and your wealth. Our choices must be based on what is godly and what is good for the kingdom of God. We spend too much of our time and too much of our effort not on godliness but worldliness. Too many important decisions neglect to calculate the spiritual impact it will have on us, our spouses, our children, our church, and God’s kingdom. Think clearly. Think godly.