Highlighted Text: Amos 8:1-12
The Seemingly Outmoded Judgment of God
Judgment is not en vogue these days. Well, a form of it is, the kind one sees on NextDoor, FB, Twitter, and any slew of other social media platforms where neighbors, political rivals, and others are raked through the coals, shamed, and blamed for whatever “bad” behavior the one posting deems they have committed.
Certainly the nations of the world still have courts of law with judges, a legal and penal system, some more robust, fair, and just than others, that dole out judgment, with varying precision.
So, what do I mean by saying that judgment is not en vogue?
A God who judges is seen by many to be passe, archaic, barbaric, a thing of the past. We are all too aware that the churches throughout the ages who have peddled God’s judgment have often done so poorly, incompletely, and generally from a place of hypocrisy, disfiguring the sinners whose splinters they target because of plank-sized obstructions in their own sight. Many of these communities have been long on a culturally predetermined doling out of justice and short on the God of mercy and grace.
The 21st century communities who defer to judgment and attempt to speak for God often pulse with a draconian and grace-less faith.
That gets closer to what I mean by not being en vogue.
Modern sentiment prefers to hear only of a God of love, light, and inclusion. Modern sympathies decry a vindictive and wrathful God and rightly so, but before we get smugly 21st century in our judgment of ancient prophets, so do they.
The God whom prophets such as Amos represent, is not vindictive and wrathful. He is long-suffering, abounding in steadfast love. But, He is a God whose justice is not glossed over by a mushy view of mercy or a grossly negligent grace. God’s character despises an unjust scale, deception of others for personal gain, deprivation of rights for the poor and defenseless and demands a rectification of deeds that are not righteous.
God is love, but he is also just, a God who judges his people fairly. His love and justice are two sides of the same coin, intricately tied together. It is his love that prevents him from ignoring injustice and his justice that informs his love.
God’s Judgment Stems the Tide of Injustice
In this fourth vision, Amos sees a basket of summer fruit. It is difficult to fully understand what this basket of fruit represents. Some scholars make note of the Hebrew word for fruit and its similarity to the word for “end” in verse one. Others compare the summer fruit and the basket that carries it to the kingdom of Israel that will be carried into exile. Whatever one’s interpretation of the image that Amos sees, God’s judgment which follows leaves no uncertainty.
This passage includes God’s indictment and sentencing.
As noted in the guide on Amos 7:7-17, Israel stood accused of putting on a beautiful religious show while neglecting the weightier issues of faith. They trampled the needy and brought the poor to an end. They sought to make a buck on the enslavement of the poor and needy and God would not “forget any of their deeds” (8:7).
The scene that Amos paints is horrifying. Bodies in the street, death, silence, a national ethos turned into a funeral procession. God does not spare the good ones, if there are any. Amos says, all will mourn who are living in the land. The source of light and life, the sun, would be blocked out by an eclipse.
He paints a macabre devolution from feasting to mourning, from beautiful song to the wailing lament, from merrymaking to a devastating loss accompanied by the 8th century BCE accouterments of grief, the wearing of sackcloth and the shaving of one’s head. The end that Amos pronounced in verse 1 is repeated in verse 10, “the end of it a bitter day,” like the loss of an only child.
While all this sounds dreadfully awful, it does get worse. Not only does God sentence the kingdom of Israel to a weighty judgment, but he forecasts a famine that will be far harsher than one they had ever experienced. Deprivation of food for a season is indeed a mortal crisis, but deprivation of God’s presence is an immortal one, a famine of spirit and soul. How ironic these words sound in the larger chamber of Scripture. Absent is the inquiry of King David in Psalm 139, “Where can I flee from your presence?” when there is no presence. A search for God from sea to sea, north to south, and only silence.
Where is the Hope?
The indictment, sentencing, and even the destruction of Israel are a certainty in this prophetic judgment, but not devoid of hope. As the Psalmist says, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5) and the prophet Jeremiah, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness,” (Lam. 3:22-23). The prophetic pronouncement of God’s judgment always contains within it a hint of hope. Hosea, for example, oozes with the expectation of restoration for a wayward people whom God intimately loves. Unlike Hosea, though, Amos, at first seems to show no glimmer of hope at all until the final five verses of the seer’s speech (138 verses of judgment and 5 of hope-97% judgment, 3% hope).
This Johnny-come-lately promise of restoration and its sparseness has led some scholars to assign these verses to a later scribe wishing to soften the blow against the Kingdom of Israel, but I prefer to think that the character of God which is both love and justice, justice and love, in a way that is sometimes not easily distinguishable, never leaves us without hope. The good Father’s love wins in the end and while he judges justly, stemming the tide of injustice, he does not destroy his children completely, but disciplines them thoroughly.
A World Where The Michael Corleon’s Don’t Win
I realize that this is a bit of a dated reference to the 1972 film, The Godfather, but I can’t help myself. The comparison to God’s judgment on the kingdom of Israel is striking in one distinct way. One of the final scenes of the movie shows Uncle Michael as the godfather at the baptism of his sister Connie’s son, professing his faith, renouncing Satan and evil, all while interwoven scenes show his hitmen taking out the heads of rival families. It is a profoundly vivid and stark portrayal of a hypocritical faith. God does not tolerate faithful religious ritual that covers over disregard for moral and ethical integrity. Well, in the movies he does, Corleone dies a natural death as an old man outside of a villa in Sicily, but in reality, “his justice rolls down like mighty waters and his righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” It is who he is and what he does. His just judgment is his love and his loving justice is his judgment to make us right and whole.
Angle for Preaching
Why not talk about the reality of God’s judgment of sin? I know it doesn’t feel all that natural to many of us and we fear it might jettison a few people from our fellowship who came looking for inspiration. I get the hesitation. When we consider doing so our minds can very easily go to the 13th century inquisition or we wonder how one of Jonathan Edwards’ most remembered sermon titles, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and the image of people being dangled over hell might go down with our community. Strangely enough, while Edwards may have served up more fire and brimstone judgment than is palatable to our taste, he is clear on God’s hope, “Christ has flung the door of mercy wide open, and stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners.”
If we believe in a God of justice who is also a God of love, we don’t have to fear speaking of his judgment. A healthy and natural way to communicate this aspect of God’s justice is to emphasize his fatherly and familial love for us. Parents and children both can relate to a loving parent who disciplines us out of love.
Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.
Eugene H.. Peterson
Defilement is what sin does to us; damnation is what sin introduces as our eternal end. Except for God’s intervention. We have needs, and God addresses our needs. Even our sin, the most destructive reality of life—and the most foreign to God’s character—is met and overwhelmed by his coming to us.
Key Sermon Illustration
In much of contemporary society, we are only willing to focus on God’s love and grace, rarely on God’s wrath or even judgment. This story is a good reminder that God’s relationship towards us is multi-faceted.
Back in the days of the “wild west” there was a boy whose pants had gotten stuck in a stagecoach. The stage coach took off and the poor boy was doing everything he could to hold on for dear life. As the stage coach began its departure a man happened to see the unfolding crisis and raced off on his horse to save the boy. His fast action paid off as he was able to rescue the boy from certain death.
That man would eventually become a judge, whereas the boy would become a criminal. Eventually the two would meet in the judge’s courtroom. The boy, realizing who his judge was, asked him to rescue him, just as he had done those many years earlier. The judge would eventually bring the gavel down on the table, and he said, “on that day when I rescued you from the stage coach I was your savior. Today, I am your judge.”
Original Source Unknown, written by Stuart Strachan Jr.
Call to Worship
Inspired by Colossians 1:15-20
Let us enter into worship, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ and his work of reconciliation by proclaiming together the words of Colossians 1:15-20, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 52
We boast of taking advantage of others, love evil more than good, speak deceit rather than tell the truth. We relish words that hurt and harm. We take refuge in wealth, security in savings and in success. For this arrogance and for this offense, we confess. Lord, humble our hearts, cleanse our tongues, and give us compassion for others. May we find our trust in Your steadfast love, may we thank you for what you have accomplished, and proclaim the glory of your name. Lord, hear our prayer.
Assurance of Pardon
Hear the good news! Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us. (Romans 8:34)
Leader: Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.
People: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.