Archive for February, 2012


When Need Drives Us To God

Why is there hunger and famine?  Why do good people go through periods of pain and suffering?  Is there a purpose to this, or is it just a random occurrence?

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the LORD.  — Amos 4:6

The Lord tells us plainly in the book of Hosea that He gives hunger and need to people (at least sometimes) with a goal in mind – to drive them back to Him.  It’s that simple.  When we have every comfort and pleasure, and when there is no suffering, it can be hard to “need” God.  I know, for me, it is during the times of despair that I turn more strongly to God than at any other time.  When I am at my wit’s end, my heart turns most strongly to Him.  God knows that we are wired this way, and so He uses need and despair as tools to bring us back to His leading.


Cities Full of Sin

As curses are being handed out to Israel for her sin, we find these words:

“When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?  When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?”  — Amos 3:6

A question – should we take the latter part of this verse literally?  That is, if we see plague or violence come upon a city, can we always be assured that the Lord had a hand in it?  Was New York City itself partially responsible for the horror of 9/11?  Did Hiroshima and Nagasaki somehow deserve to be attacked with the nuclear bomb?  Is Syria culpable in some way for the atrocities going on right now?

These are hard accusations to stomach.  But what if they are true?  Indeed, if sin by itself were a justification for disaster, then all cities would be punished.  But the verse above seems to be clear – God has a hand in the disasters that befall whole cities.  The Bible reminds us many times that God is interested in administering correction to His people so they will learn from the experience.  Why not whole cities which need to turn from their wicked ways?


Wrath on the Forgetful

As with many of the books in the Old Testament, this story begins with God’s wrath upon the earth as a penalty for its sin.  The first chapter of the book of Amos details curses poured out upon the sinful nations which surround the chosen people, but which are separate from them.  But in the second chapter, we see similar threats poured out on the people of Israel, as well.

‘This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.  They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.  Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.  They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.  In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.  I destroyed the Amorite before them, though he was tall as the cedars and strong as the oaks.  I destroyed his fruit above and his roots below.  I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites.  I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men.  Is this not true, people of Israel?” declares the LORD.  “But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.  Now then, I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.  The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life.  The archer will not stand his ground, the fleet-footed soldier will not get away, and the horseman will not save his life.  Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,” declares the LORD.’  — Amos 2:6-16

It seems unbelievable to me when I read how the people continue to forget the Lord God after His rescue of them not once, but many times.  Their sins are many, and their forgetfulness is complete.  But then I remember that I do the same thing from time to time.  Even though Christ came to earth and died for ME, I still forget.  I sin.  I fail to be thankful for his sacrifice.  Am I really any different from the people detailed in the book of Amos?


A Great Earthquake

The book of Amos opens with these words.

“The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.” Amos 1:1

This is the first time I noticed mention of an earthquake in this context.  So, I thought it would be appropriate to look it up and see if there is evidence of an earthquake during Uzziah’s reign.

Uzziah became the king of Judah when he was 16 years old.  He reigned from about 792 B.C. until 742 B.C. – a period of fifty years.  Archaeologists have excavated sites in the region that indicate masonry walls with large displacement of stones, or collapsed stones walls still lying course-on-course, indicating a sudden event.  Strtatigraphic analysis of SIX different sites in the region around Judah indicate that this event took place around 760 B.C., with a possible error of plus or minus thirty years.  That places the earthquake event right in the middle of Uzziah’s reign.

This earthquake is believed to have been one of the largest ever experienced in the area.  The magnitude of the fault event was believed to be around 8.0.  In comparison, the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 (which claimed the lives of 3,000 people) was believed to be 7.9.  The earthquake in Judah was a memorable one.

The earthquake is also mentioned as a past event in Zechariah 14:5.  What is remarkable about all of this is that evidence once again points to the Bible being historically accurate.  This divinely inspired book stands the test of time, over and over again.


Decision Time

At some point, I hope, in everyone’s life, they will be drawn to make a decision about whom they will follow.  Will it be the leadings of Satan, or those of the Lord God?  Because those are the only two choices, regardless of how they may be presented.

“Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!  For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine.  The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.  But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.”  — Joel 3:14-16

I love the idea put forth in this passage about reaching the valley of decision.  In that place, we will need to choose between the two – Satan or the Lord.  And look how the Lord will reward those who choose Him!  He will be a refuge and a stronghold for them – Satan cannot enter nor defeat this place, once the Lord has put His protection around it.


Be Restored

As always happens with stories which deal with the nature of God, we find Him punishing the wicked, yet always returning to His chosen to offer a path back to holiness and a restored relationship with Him.  The account in the book of Joel now makes that transition.

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.  Who knows?  He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing—grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.’ Joel 2:12-14

While God is certainly capable of distributing punishment to those who deserve it, we find here that He is also slow to anger – and He wants to offer a way out to those will turn their faces to Him.  God’s grace and compassion are on display, if we will “return to Him with all our heart”.  And we find, again and again, that God’s nature is to make this offer repeatedly – because He so much wants His children to turn to Him.


The Awesome Day of the Lord

Modern mental pictures of divine topics tend to portray God as kind, friendly, soft-spoken, and easy to approach.  This concept is backed up by popular “Christian” books such as The Shack – which portrays God as a “Mammy-like” black woman, cooking up dinner in the kitchen, and telling jokes with Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  But is God really pictured this way throughout the Bible?  My inclination is to say that the Bible shows God most often in a very different light, as we see in today’s passage.

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming.  It is close at hand—a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.  Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.   Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes.  Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste—nothing escapes them.” Joel 2:1-3

When I read this, I was struck by the war-like description of the day of the Lord – a “day of darkness“.  This is no “feel-good”, huggable , readily-approachable God described in these verses.  I believe we need to get a reset on who God is, and the gravity with which He should be approached.  The awe and wonder we should feel when worshiping Him, or when we draw close in prayer should be overwhelming.  More often than not, the Bible makes mention of the destruction He brings to those who oppose Him, leaving “a desert waste” in His path.  Our view of God should be influenced by these verses, and our attitude toward His pure awesomeness should coincide.

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