The Lion Roars: The Day of the LORD Is Darkness and Not Light
5 of 7 Sermons in a Series through Amos
Spinning out of the prophet’s lament over the coming demise of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 5:1-17, comes 2 prophetic woe-oracles. In the woe-oracle, the prophet would lament the death of his audience as a dramatic way of disclosing the dire consequences of covenant unfaithfulness. This text shows us the end of a proud, arrogant, self-indulgent people who think they have license to re-invent God.
The first woe oracle (5:18-27) lets us hear the voice of the prophet (18-20) and the voice of YHWH, the God of Israel (21-27). In his voice, the prophet (vv18-20) questions their deceptive theology of the Day of YHWH (18,20). To the Northern Kingdom, the Day of YHWH was their hope that YHWH would overthrow their enemies, thus saving His people. Amos, however, put Israel in the category of the enemy of God and in essence said, To desire the Day of YHWH is to desire your own death!
He illustrated the impossibility and futility of escaping the judgment of YHWH with an almost humorous simile, if it were not so serious. Escaping the wrath of God would be like a man fleeing a lion only to meet a bear. Fleeing the bear and arriving at the safety of his home, he leans against the wall to rest only to be bitten by a serpent.
The words of the prophet are followed by the words of YHWH (21-27). In verses 21-23, YHWH in the strongest language rejects the totality of the worship life of the Northern Kingdom—the feasts, the sacrifices, and the songs. It was not so much that there was an inconsistency between their worship life and their lives of injustice in the community (24). There was complete continuity. The fruit of their false conception of God was that they were not right with God and, consequently, were not right in their horizontal relationships, which led to corruption where justice was required.
Amos indicts them by arguing that in the wilderness years the worship life of Israel was minimal at best (25-27 c.f. Josh 5:5-9). The full-blown worship of Israel’s sacrificial system was designed for a land flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land (cf. Num. 15:1-3). In the wilderness, God was raising up a generation whose heart would be for him. They would conquer the nations of Canaan. The wilderness years were preparation. They had to learn to trust God, so he fed them with mana and their clothes and shoes did not wear out (Deut. 8:1-10; 29:1-9).
The Northern Kingdom, however, likened YHWH to a calf and adopted the astral gods of the weak and defeated nations that surrounded them. As the covenant promised, God would send them into exile (Deut. 28:15-68)!
The second woe-cry addresses the absurdity of the notion of life independent of God. In verses 1-7, Amos addresses the unfounded self-confidence (1-3) and unbridled self-indulgence (4-7) of both the Southern and Northern Kingdoms. These verses (1-7) are bookended in verses 1 and 7 by highlighting the pride of the notable men and their punishment. They consider themselves the first among the nations (1), so they will be first in line going into captivity (7).
Perhaps, they boasted of their military victories (2a). Amos countered, You have nothing of which to boast (2b). Their arrogant self-confidence blinded them to the reality that without YHWH they were nothing. By their refusal to consider that the Day of YHWH meant disaster for them, they were actually bringing it near (3).
The upper crust lived under the illusion that they deserved the opulent lifestyles they enjoyed and had not one bit of remorse that they were the ruin of the nation (4-7). In effect, they were like Joseph’s brothers, who threw him in a pit and sat down to eat, ignoring his cries and hatching a plot to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelites (Gen. 37:24-25).
The second part of the second woe-cry (8-14) develops YHWH’s covenant commitment to judge the Northern Kingdom and describes the coming judgment with vivid language. YHWH takes an oath by the nature of His own being that He hates the pride and arrogance of Jacob and will personally deliver them into the hands of their enemies. He bookends this section of text with His personal commitment to irrevocably judge Israel (8c,14a). The prophet envisions complete and total devastation of the Northern Kingdom, from one end to the other (14b).
When judgment comes, all they will be able to do is be silent. There will be no opportunity to reply to God, no defense to be offered, no excuse to the made, and no mercy to experience. In the midst of total devastation, all they will be able to do is put their hands over their mouths (9-10). The great house and small house will come to ruin (11).
In verses 12-14, Amos uncovers the incredible character of what is happening in Israel’s public life. Using rhetorical questions, he asks if the absurd could happen. Horses do not run up rocky walls and oxen don’t plow there. Yet, in Israel, the absurd is a fact. Justice is turned into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness. You can’t expect justice in a society that abandons the pursuit of righteousness. The Israelites didn’t pursue revealed righteous in the covenant stipulations, rather, they re-invented and redefined what it meant to be righteous and just.
Amos quotes their self-congratulating reply, Have we not by our own strength captured Karnaim for ourselves? (13) Karnaim means horns, a symbol of strength. Their arrogant reply called for the prophet’s biting sarcasm, You rejoice in Lo-debar, no-thing. Their braggadocio self-confidence revealed their true thought. They existed, By their own strength implies not with the aid of divine intervention. Their prideful independence would be their undoing!
Back when basketball shorts were way too short and socks too long, Earl Jones of Mt. Hope, WV, was the best high school player in the nation. He was a really big fish in a very little pond. He was 7ft tall and could handle the ball like a point guard, but Mt. Hope didn’t offer a lot of hope. The year before Earl played for them, Mt. Hope had a 3-18 season and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1927. With Earl, they won 63 of the next 72 games. It was just too easy to be great in Mt. Hope with its population of 4000. When they lost the state championship, the town blamed Earl. He withdrew and missed 63 days of school. This would set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately derail his career.
While we can be undone by most anything, success and good times are especially hazardous.
There is a caution here for us. More people have been slain on the altar of success than drown in the sea of suffering. The two woe oracles in this text help us see the intoxicating and blinding effect of things going right when we’re not right. To be on guard:
We must beware of embracing theologies that support us in our sin (5:18-20).
Apparently, the religion of the NK was fond of the idea of the Day of the LORD. Doesn’t the NT exhort us to love the appearing of Christ (2 Tim.4:8). Yes, but the idea in the NT is that loving His appearing is not merely feeling to be mustered-up, it is way of life. It impacts every area of life: how I live, how I give, how I pray, how I relate, how I think about the world and the church, etc. (c.f. 1 Jn. 3:1-3). You can’t love the appearing of Christ and perpetuate injustice. The day of Christ is a day of justice, every wrong righted! It is darkness for the unjust.
The NK made the doctrine all about themselves. God would overthrow their enemies and exalt Israel to rule over them. Their theology supported their self-exaltation. It was all light and no darkness for Israel.
Amos said, Not so fast. There is a day of the LORD. Why do you long for it? It is inescapable darkness and gloom for you. Amos is saying, Yes, God will destroy his enemies in that Day, and you are among His enemies.
Amos illustrates his point with the simile of a man fleeing a lion, only to meet a bear, only to be bitten by a serpent. The inescapable judgment of the Day of YHWH is like the dream you have when you’re trying to escape but can’t, no matter how you try.
We have to be careful that we don’t twist points of theology to support us in our sin. It does not matter how big, and popular, and enthusiastic your fan club is, if you ignore the clear teaching of Scripture, you cannot be right. A recent article in the Jackson Sun illustrates the problem. In an interview in response to the Nashville Statement, a statement issued by the Coalition for Biblical Sexuality, one person said, The Bible allows for homosexual relationships and transgender rights and affirms gay marriage. Yet, no specific Bible passages were offered to support that view.
We must beware of having an idea and codifying a theology to house and perpetuate it. This never works out. You will find yourself alone one day.
We must come to grips with the fact that our lives are a reflection of our relationship with God (5:21-27).
The problem in the NK was not that their lives were inconsistent with their worship. There was complete consistency between their personal conduct and their lives at the shrine. Nearly 200 years earlier, Jeroboam I created a religion to prop-up the life he wanted. He feared that the kingdom would re-unite under the Davidic king if the tribes took pilgrimages to the Zion to worship. So he created a religion that looked like the religious practices of the Old Covenant. There were priests, pilgrimages, feasts, burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, and psalms. He made golden calves to worship and attributed to them the origin of the nation of Israel—Behold your gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
In its inception and continuation, the religion of the NK was self-centered, self-congratulating, self-promoting, and self-exalting. It used the vocabulary of the OT, but it was idolatrous.
God’s complaint was that there was no reason to create a counterfeit, competitive religion (25-27). In the establishment of the NK, all God asked of Jeroboam I was to believe and obey, and God would establish his house as he did for David (2Kgs 11:38-39).
Because of their idolatry, God would send them into exile (27, c.f. Deut. 28:15-68)! Exile is a huge theme of the theology of the OT. Exile is the undoing of Exodus. It is the reversal of salvation history. Being removed from the Promised Land was excommunication. It was God’s testimony of Israel that they gave no evidence of standing in faith. Exile moves us forward in biblical theology to the restoration in the sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, today, is calling a people out of exile—both Jew and Gentile, black and white, rich and poor, professional and blue collar—from among all peoples to new life through faith in Him.
The simple truth is that we become like what we worship. What has your relationship with God produced in you? If we worship the true and living God, we are being conformed into his image day by day. The religion of the NK resulted in injustice (24). People did not live righteously with their neighbors. Instead of not coveting their neighbors’ possessions, they sought means through a corrupt legal system to take their neighbors’ possessions. Instead of not committing adultery, they incorporated fertility orgies into their religious practice. Instead of worshiping no other gods, they made calves of gold and attributed the works of YHWH, the true and living God, to them.
We have to come to grips with the simple truth that our lives are a reflection of our relationship with God. Church and things Christian can become a façade to cover all kinds of wickedness. You know, we want to keep an air of respectability, but we want to plunge deeply and privately into a world of sin. What happens when you come to worship to give respectability to a sinful life? I like to say, Your soul gets small. Your heart is not gripped by the songs, Scripture, sermons, and love for people around you. There is just not much capacity in you to enjoy the things of God, so you become a user and consumer, not a giver. There is not a lot of difference between getting your knee replaced and going to church—Good grief, let’s just get this over with. We are masters of creating religious practice, thoughts, and feelings to support us in the life we most want to live.
Unfounded Self-confidence and unbridled self-indulgence have the numbing effect of blinding us to the reality of our spiritual need (6:1-7).
Life was going so well in the NK that they became overly self-confident and lived self-indulgent lives. An arrogant self-confidence and sense of security kept them from realizing how desperate their situation really was (6:1). They could boast of their control of the nations around them (2a). The leaders of the two kingdoms felt they were in the position to dispense counsel to others (1b). These leaders usurped the divine prerogative and felt that whatever they did was right simply because they did it.
Amos warned them that their victories over Calneh, Hamath, and Gath proved nothing about them personally (2b), but feelings of superiority had blinded them to the reality of their standing with God (3).
Their prideful self-confidence led them to live for every opportunity of self-indulgence. They lived lavish lifestyles totally insensitive to the needs of others (6:4-6). They were like Joseph’s brother who threw him in a pit and sat down to eat lunch. People in covenant with God could not disregard the ruin of their brother. Yet, these people drank wine from bowls while their brothers languished.
I think I experienced some real life situations like this in Southern Europe. I discovered that refugees were rarely in need because there was no food, medicine, or shelter available. There was always plenty of everything. The problem was they would have to sell their souls to get what they needed. What is the normal response in this world to humans in need? You take what they have.
Life is strange. The more self-indulgent we become, the more we think we deserve. The more self-indulgent we become, the less we give. You can get a job and be so thankful and think, They pay me well. In just a few months, you start to think, They’re lucky to have me, and I’m worth every cent I get paid. Then you think, They don’t pay me what I’m worth.
As we become “successful,” we can become insensitive to others. We can began to assess others as not measuring up to our standard and somehow inferior to us. There is a word for that, “prideful arrogance.” It borders on unthankfulness as if somehow by our own strength, we have what we have and are who we are. The reality is that whatever we are and whoever we are, we are by the grace of God.
So Amos warns of blinding, numbing, indulgent self-confidence. We need the grace of God to see ourselves and others as God sees us and them. Prospering in sin is no sign of divine approval. Things going right, when you’re not right is no indication of God’s benediction on your life.
We must reject as absurd notions of life independent of God (6:8-14)
Don’t let relative success and affluence lull you into the absurd notion that you are self-sufficient. Israel’s boast that they had in their own strength captured Karnaim for themselves (13) was a declaration of independence and a denial of their historic faith. God was the Champion of Israel, the Divine Warrior among His people (Ex. 15:3). The history of the conquest was one miraculous victory after another. It would make more sense to ride a horse up a rock wall or plow there with oxen than to think you can live independently of God.
The Lord swears by himself that he abhors the pride of Jacob (8). The pride of Jacob in Psalm 47 that YHWH loved was Jacob’s rejoicing in the work of God among them and for them. Now the pride of Jacob has ceased to be joy in the work of God for them, and has become a boastfulness in their own strength (6:13).
One of the worst things God can do to people who are not walking with him is give them good success. It is so easy to be lifted up in pride. It is so easy from our lofty perch of ease to be condescending and belittling to others.
The most absurd position in the world is for a person to deny his need of the grace and mercy of Christ and rely on and trust in his own strength, his own system of salvation, his own thought about God. For a person to think, I don’t need God is the most prideful and arrogant thought a human can have. Such a thought is a misrepresentation of God and the most profound injustice a human can commit because out of that flows every injustice.
As we come to the Table we are reminded of our dependence on God and of his profound work in our behalf. We come not on our own merit but on the merit of another, Jesus who died and rose again to bring us to God.