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The Cause & Consequences of National Decline Amos 1-2 by Fred G. Zaspel
Rather than recite the entire two chapters of Amos, just note these highlights and see for yourself what you think the theme of the passage is.
1:3 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.
1:6 – This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Gaza, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. Because she took captive whole communities and sold them to Edom,
1:9 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood.
1:11 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, And cast off all pity; His anger tore perpetually, And he kept his wrath forever.
1:13 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, That they might enlarge their territory.
2:1 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime.
2:4 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have despised the law of the LORD, And have not kept His commandments. Their lies lead them astray, Lies which their fathers followed.
2:6 – Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for silver, And the poor for a pair of sandals.
What's the Point?
You don't have to have four theological degrees to figure out the theme of this passage. It's plain to anyone who reads –The very worst mistake a nation can make is to forget the law of God in its national and political and social life. That nation which forgets God and lives as though His laws do not apply – as though God were not their King or Judge – that nation will eventually learn that whether they have recognized Him or not, God is their God, He is their King and Judge, and they are most certainly answerable to Him.
Here in rapid succession the prophet Amos outlines for us one nation after another which had shaped its policies – both domestic and foreign – as though they could get by with their sins. To each of these nations the prophet announces, "Thus says the Lord, for three transgressions and for four I will not turn away your punishment." That is, "This much I have tolerated, but no more!" They had lived and behaved as though their sin made no difference. And one nation after another the prophet calls into account. Because of their murder, oppression, injustice, dishonesty, immorality, violence, and their various disgraces – in short (2:4), "because they have despised the law of the Lord and have not kept his commandments" – God will "roar," and when he roars mountains will wither, and people will perish (1:2).
This is a common theme in the prophets. Nations as nations are accountable to God. Societies are responsible to keep the law of God. Amos here specifies the kinds of sins which have brought these nations into judgment – murder, aggression, various acts of brutality, trafficking in slaves, violation of international treaty, and even a violation of the standards of common decency such as the desecration of the enemy's dead (2:1). These nations knew better. They were not acquainted with the law of Moses, but still they knew better. And so God holds them accountable. They come under judgment for their violation of His law.
Their mistake was that they forgot that God was their creator and that they were therefore responsible to him. They lived as though God didn't matter, as though His law did not apply to them. In the words of Proverbs 14:34, they forgot that "righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."
What is significant for us to notice here is the simple observation thatGod holds us accountable on a national and societal level. His demand of righteousness does not apply to individuals alone. He holds nations responsible for the same and will deal with nations accordingly. This much lies just on the surface of this passage from Amos.
But that God holds nations and societies accountable to His law is a teaching found all throughout the Old Testament. We see it first in Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel. We see it in Genesis 18-19 in Sodom and Gomorrah. We see it in Joshua in Israel's destruction of the Canaanites, at God's command, because "their iniquity was full" (Gen.15:16). We see it in the prophet Jeremiah and his prophecies against Egypt (chapter 46), Philistia (47), Moab (48), Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Arabia, Elam (49), and Babylon (50). We see it in the prophet Isaiah's prophecies against Babylon (chapter 13), Assyria, Philistia (14), Moab (15), Damascus (17), Ethiopia (18), Egypt (19), Jerusalem (20), Babylon, Edom (21), and Tyre (23). We see it in Ezekiel's prophecies against Egypt, Cush, Libya, Put, and Arabia (chapter 30). We see it in Obadiah's prophecies against Edom. We see it in Jonah's prophecies against Nineveh – and we see here also how only by repentance could divine judgment be averted. We see it Micah's prophecies of the destruction of Samaria and Judah. We see it in Nahum's prophecies against Nineveh – evidently a hundred years after Jonah Nineveh had forgotten its lesson! We see it in Habakkuk's prophecies against Judah and Babylon. We see it in Zephaiah's prophecies against Judah, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria. In all of these cases, God deals with the people on a national and societal level. The sin of these nations was pandemic and with societal approval, and as a result God's wrath fell. This is true not only of Israel and Judah, who enjoyed special and written revelation from God, but of all her pagan neighbors also.
Another striking example is found in the prophet Hosea who, although from Judah in the south, prophesied against the northern tribes of Israel. He condemned his neighbors to the north for their dishonesty, murder, drunkenness, and adultery. Their mistake, God says, is that "they do not consider that I remember all their wickedness" (7:2). They thought they could hide among the masses of sinners so as to escape God's notice. They forgot that God deals with sin not only on an individual basis but also on a national level. Because they, as a society, had given themselves over to sin, God would hold the nation accountable. Finally the time would come, God says, when "Israel shall cry to me" but it will be too late. "They have sown to wind; they shall reap a whirlwind" (8:1-7). What is significant here is that Hosea writes his prophecy long after he had delivered it to Israel. Israel now had been destroyed. He writes his prophecy against Israel for the benefit of Judah. And so he ends with the counsel, "Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them" (14:9). That is to say, Judah nation must learn from the experience of Israel. And by extension, every nation must learn from Israel also.
What's the Problem?
Returning to the prophecy of Amos, it is curious that the sins of Judah and of Israel (2:4ff) are seemingly less severe than those of their pagan neighbors, yet because of them Israel and Judah are worthy of destruction. Dishonesty (2:4), sexual immorality (2:7), and the unlawful confiscation of property (2:8) are sins which render a society worthy of divine judgment.
At least part of what makes Israel's and Judah's sin so gravely serious is thatthey sinned against unprecedented privilege. In 2:9ff God highlights the great things he had done for his people and that they had sinned against such privilege and light. Finally God concludes, "You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). That is, great privilege abused results in great judgment. (See Isaiah 1 for a similar charge.)
Of further significance is the fact that the prophets of God often also chastise public officials and leaders for their sinfulness of the society. Not infrequently we read the condemnation of the princes, kings, priests, prophets who did not enforce public morality. Governmental leaders are responsible to see that justice is enforced, that the poor and defenseless are not oppressed, and that the decency and morality are ensured. It is admittedly difficult to bring a halt to private sins, but the state can and should enforce morality on a public, societal level. To allow injustice and immorality and indecency in society "pollutes" the land and invites divine judgment (see, Isa.1; Jer.5; 21:12; Lev.26; Isa.24, etc.).
In summary, God holds nations and governments and societies responsible for their sin. It does not matter, ultimately, how much or how little acquaintance with the gospel the nation has had; they knew better than what they had done, and so they are guilty. God is King over pagan Tyre or Egypt or Damascus or Ammon just as certainly as He is King over Judah. Difference in privilege there may be, and so difference in degree of guilt. But He is God over all, and all nations are accountable to Him and answerable to His law. There is no truly atheistic government. Some governments may acknowledge their duty to God, and others may deny it. But all are responsible to Him and will be judged accordingly.
In short, when a society ignores the law of God regarding decency, morality, justice, honesty, etc., it accumulates a debt of offense against God which cannot go forever unpaid. The time will come when God says, "Enough!" And in the words of Hosea, God will "remember the sin" of the nation and bring it all back upon them. The judge of all the earth will finally execute sentence.
How does this affect us?
Now all of this simply must shape the way we view our own nation and society. We want, for the glory of God, righteousness to prevail in our country. But our interest in public morality and decency and honesty is a personal & national interest also. The prosperity and even the survival of our country depends on it. Don't ever doubt it – Greece, Rome, Philistia, Syria, Assyria, Egypt, Babylon – they all come & gone for this reason.
It is in this context we must view all the various issues of our day. When our government takes away the freedoms of its citizens; when the home and family are so constantly under attack; when by legislative or judicial decree marriage and the family are redefined and "alternate lifestyles" are given official sanction; when homosexual perversion can command such enormous political pressure; when the public observation of Christmas is outlawed and instead Earth Day and earth goddesses are promoted; when our babies are allowed partial birth and then slaughtered and thrown in the trash; when the proper roles of men and women are so violently opposed; when leaders not only do not enforce morality but are immoral themselves, and will commit acts of treason for money and have no regard for truth but will say whatever is advantageous for the moment and will twist the meanings of words to own advantage, even perjure selves; when governmental officials do not regard either ethics or law but for personal gain will subvert either; when the party in power is a party of hate, personal destruction, slander, misrepresentation, and when they will further their cause by fomenting unrest & general mayhem; when our government will use "separation of church and state" as means to be rid of God and outlaw public sponsored prayer or the name of Jesus or the display of the 10 commandments but will fund pornographic art; then we have a right to ask, "Do you think that we only will go unpunished?" (Jer. 49:12).
I will not be so bold as to predict just how God will deal with the sinfulness of our nation, nor can I say when. He has all kinds of options, and He is often incredibly patient. But we cannot think that our society can escape what all others could not. Whether America or its governmental leaders acknowledge it or not, God is our God and King and Judge, and to Him we will be brought into account. We hear often today, "You cannot legislate morality!" No? We legislate morality all the time, and well we should! We have laws against prostitution and bigamy. We must legislate morality. America always has, and it always should.
What makes the sinfulness of the American society so especially wicked is that it has the character of apostasy. We saw a sample of this in Amos above. One principle of judgment consistently emphasized in Scripture is thatgreat privilege brings great responsibility. "To whom much is given, much shall be required" (Luke 12:48). (See also Matt.11.)
Along these lines, 2 Chronicles 36:11-21 is significant. Here we have explicit explanation as to why Zedekiah and Israel were taken into captivity. "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of Jehovah arose against his people, till there was no remedy" (v.16). God sent prophets, and the people refused them. Finally, God sent judgment.
What is most frightening about all this so regarding our own society is the prelude to judgment that is described in Romans chapter 1. There Paul describes the history of humanity in which people after people who knew better, rebelled. For their rebellion they "treasure up wrath" for themselves (2:5).
But the awful thing that happened before punishment fell is described in those ominous words repeated three times over, "Therefore, God gave them over" (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). The first step toward national retribution seems to be that God removes restraint and allows a society to have things its own way. Giving them over to themselves they have what they want, and that is precisely the very worst thing that can ever happen to us. What we need is divine restraint from our sinfulness. When God gives us over to ourselves, we are hopelessly lost.
This is frightening, because it seems to describe exactly the condition of our society. How else can we explain the enormous pressure to tolerate homosexuality? How else can we explain the enormous pressure on politicians to condone the hideous practice of partial birth abortion? It should be easy to oppose such a dreadful thing. How else can we explain the societal condoning of leaders who abuse office, lie, perjure selves, and even commit treason? Do we know better? Yes, we do, but it seems that we have been made to lie in the bed which we have made for ourselves.
This principle seems to be in view in Isaiah 3:4 – "I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them." "Babies" ruling over us? We used to have Washingtons and Lincolns. Now we have Bill Clinton. In terms of statesmanship, the difference is staggering.
Or look at this in relation to Amos 8:11 – "I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD." In one sense, we could argue that the gospel is still readily available in our society. But then again, how many churches are there which really expound the gospel? "Famine" is a word that fits very well.
Billy Graham was quoted to have said, "If God does not judge America, he will owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology." I won't dispute that, but you see the point of Romans 1? It is not a question of if judgment will come – it has already begun. God seems to have given us over to ourselves.
Again, I cannot say what God will do or when. I do not know that judgment will finally come – perhaps God will send revival instead, and turn the hearts of the people back to His law. Further, we can pray with Genesis 18-19 in mind and recall the bargain God offered Abraham – that for 10 righteous people in Sodom He will not send destruction. But we must see our society through this lens – to tolerate sin is to invite divine wrath from God the judge of all the earth. It is a sobering thought.
A Happy Note
There is one happy thought in all this. Frequently when the prophets warn of coming national judgment because of the sins of the society and / or its rulers there is a note of hope – a promise that one day God will send another King to establish God's rule the world over. He will rule in righteousness and with a rod of iron will enforce justice and morality. Indeed, the nations will be made to worship (Zech. 14). And we may be sure that when he comes there will be no homosexual lobby to influence his decisions, no radical feminist to scream for abortion rights. There will be no leaders allowed to twist the meanings of words for personal gain or harass the people. Instead, "the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as waters cover sea." And no enemy will be permitted to stand. And the righteous, who now find themselves in such minority, will then share in his glory and in his rule. And the name of Jesus, which for so long was banned from public use, will then be the name which every tongue will acknowledge to be the name above every name, and every knee will bow before Him in submission to his universal lordship. His rule will be universal, and it will be forever. "Even so, come! Lord Jesus!"