Sunday School Commentary Lesson

By Walter Albritton

(Substituting for Dr. Jason Thrower)

June 28

        Nothing is gained by sugarcoating the teaching of Amos, the Shepherd Prophet of Tekoa. Better to call a spade a spade. What we get from Amos is not hope but doom and gloom. God had given his people the opportunity to repent, to turn from their sins and put God first, but alas, they had refused. So the end had come. God’s judgment was at hand. God, said Amos, is going to destroy his people for their sins. The judgment of God will fall upon those who disregard the principle of justice between man and man. The Israelites had done that. Their greed and dishonesty had resulted in the oppression of the poor. Now God would use the ruthless Assyrian Empire to punish his own people.

        God showed Amos a vision – a basket of summer fruit. There is a sense of finality about a basket of ripe fruit. The time for ripening is over. Green tomatoes might be put on a window sill for a few days to ripen and turn red. No so with Amos’ basket; the summer fruit was fully ripened. Its time had come. The same was true for Israel. No more time remained. Judgment was at hand. The nation was ripe for punishment.

        And how shall I describe the scene when judgment falls, Amos seems to ask. His description is quite horrible: dead bodies everywhere, weeping instead of singing, and “silence.” Why? Because, Amos says, “The Lord has spoken.” After a scathing denouncement of the way merchants have been “trampling on the needy,” Amos hears God saying, “I won’t forget your deeds!” He goes on to describe what it will feel like when an earthquake strikes fear in their hearts:

The earth will tremble for your deeds,
    and everyone will mourn.
The ground will rise like the Nile River at floodtime;
    it will heave up, then sink again.

“In that day,” says the Sovereign Lord,
“I will make the sun go down at
    and darken the earth while it is still day.
10 I will turn your celebrations into times of mourning
    and your singing into weeping.
You will wear funeral clothes
    and shave your heads to show your sorrow—
as if your only son had died.
    How very bitter that day will be!

11 “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine on the land—
not a famine of bread or water
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from border to border
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.
13 Beautiful girls and strong young men
    will grow faint in that day,
    thirsting for the Lord’s word.
14 And those who swear by the shameful idols of Samaria—
    who take oaths in the name of the god of Dan
    and make vows in the name of the god of Beersheba—
they will all fall down,
    never to rise again.”

        Amos uses the word “famine” to describe God’s judgment. It was a word familiar to people in that ancient world; most of them had experienced the horror of a famine in the land. However, Amos speaks not of a famine of food or water but a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord.” He paints a striking picture on our minds with his phrase, “thirsting for the Lord’s word.” That is truly a dreadful thought: men and women staggering, searching, wandering, thirsting for a word from the Lord – and hearing none! Who can imagine a more terrible famine! The very thought of such a famine is especially frightening to those of us who know Jesus as the Word of God and have found the precious words of holy scripture to be spiritual food for our souls!

        Amos saw what happens when people turn their backs on God and ignore his commandments to care for the poor and needy. He realized that disobedience can result in spiritual famine. There may be times when God’s words are precious to us but then we become impressed with our own words and self-centeredness results in spiritual deafness.

        As we consider the horrors of a famine of hearing the words of the Lord, perhaps we should give thanks that Amos is not the end of the Bible. There is more, much more. As we read on we discover a rich understanding of the mercy of God and of his great willingness to forgive our sins and remember them no more. Amos was long on judgment but short on mercy. Yet we shall be wise to heed the warnings we find in Amos and other prophets and be careful that we do not test the patience of God. We can thank God for the Apostle Peter who reminds us of the mercy of God:  

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, NIV)

Though we are confident of the eternal mercy of God, we should remember what Jesus said in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Five were wise; five were foolish. The five foolish virgins failed to take oil in their vessels with their lamps. Instead of preparing for an emergency, they “slumbered and slept.” Thus when the bridegroom came, they could not go in with the others because “the door was shut.”

        There comes a time in life when the door is shut. Though once we could have entered, the opportunity no longer exists. If we are wise we will enter into the door of God’s mercy while it is open and not risk hearing the sad words, “The door is now shut.”


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