The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Amos 5:6 “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, 7 O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! 10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (NASB)
This morning’s sermon is based on the words of God given to yet another Old Testament prophet. In recent weeks we have considered the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah twice each and Amos once. This morning we even up the number with yet another sermon from the prophet Amos. Isaiah and Amos were prophets from Israel, the northern kingdom although Amos grew up in the southern kindgom; and Jeremiah was a prophet from Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Amos and Isaiah He preceded the fall of the northern kingdom.
Amos’s preaching ministry took place around 760–755 B.C., during the rule of kings Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah. Amos was writing at a time of relative political stability in both the northern and southern kingdoms. His prophecy was primarily intended for Israel. During his times things were looking pretty good for the kingdoms. Well it was pretty good for those in power and with political juice. No matter how burdensome it was for the commoner, life was good for the ruling class. That is by the way what the future looks like for Americans if the commoners of our day don’t repent of our present idolatry.
The prosperity and national stability of the day was masking serious spiritual and moral problems. We know how that works out. We have all grown up in a very prosperous nation. A nation of relative freedom. A nation with a lot of recreation and entertainment opportunities. As long as we the economy rolls along, who cares what ethical system, moral choices, or religious doctrines anyone subscribes to?.
A few generations prior to Amos, King Jeroboam had set up idols in the image of a calf in the cities of Bethel and Dan. The people of Israel followed the religious lead of their kings. They like their kings had adopted false gods and worshiped them along the side of Lord God of their fathers. Idolatry had become the orthodoxy of the day right up to the time of Amos’s writing.
Along with the gods of the ancient world in the form of graven images, they also worshiped the god of “self.” To suit their own appetites, the rich and well-connected people of Amos’s day were building beautiful homes and planting luxurious vineyards. They funded their efforts by oppressing and defrauding the common people. They levied burdensome and unfair taxes on the grain the people harvested (v 11a). “Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him…” When the people would complain about an injustice and sought to make use of due process and their legal rights, the rich would pay off the judges in order to maintain their unjust enterprise (v 12). “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”
God had sent the prophet to warn them that their time was coming (v 11b). “You have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.” They built beautiful homes, but would not get to live in them. They planted pleasant vineyards, but will miss out on the wine.
So God sent a sheep herder and a sycamore fig farmer to preach. “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel.” The verb drsh, the Hebrew word for “to seek.” It occurs three times in 5:4–6, and once more in verse 14. Twice Yahweh uses the word in a positive sense and once in the negative. Twice He is urging His people to seek Him, and once He is commanding His people not to seek Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba in 5:5. These three cities are the places where people, Hebrew people went to seek out and worship either God or false.
7 O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth! . . . 10 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.”
“Wormwood” is a low-lying, bitter plant. In Amos 6:12, it is comparable with poison. The oppressed would pursue justice for their cause, but instead of receiving relief, they would leave with a bitter taste in their mouths because justice was denied them due to the corruption of Israel’s judges.
As for the phrase “in the gate,” it is also in verses 12 and 15 and refers to the location where people would gather to conduct public business and settle legal matters. The city entrance was meant to be a place where order and justice prevailed, where all could stand and where all could have their voice heard. Image coming in from the wilderness or from a rural area where there were no courts, no justice, no law enforcement. So you go to the big city to receive justice, to have you case heard and judged rightly. The image getting to the gates of the city and finding there a corrupt judge and plaintiff.
Amos condemns the actions of the rich and connected, who work with the judges to deprive the poor of justice in order to maintain their opulent lifestyles. “You have built . . .you shall not dwell . . . you have planted . . . you shall not drink.”
This sequence of four verbs emphasizes the futility of those who pursued the good life through acts of injustice. While the rich and powerful think they are above the law, all their work, deeds, and lifestyle are nothing more than vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1:2) “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!” Amos says the same thing here. Work as hard as you might but “you shall not . . .” These are really strong words of judgment.
The people of Israel had become guilty of the sin that our Epistle lesson warns against. Hebrews 3:12 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” They had evil and unbelieving hearts and had fallen away from the living God. So Amos was sent to speak words of judgment.
But not words of judgment alone. The words of judgment do not represent God’s ultimate desire for His people. God desires repentance. He wants them and His children today, and those who claim to be believers in Christ and members of the church to return to Him and live. He comes to us today and invites us to seek our life in Him, with the promise that we will find it. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).
God wants His adopted children to have a life filled with blessing. He describes that life a few chapters later in 9:14. In fact He uses the same verbs; God’s people, forgiven, raised, and restored.
The repent and faithful will ultimately build cities and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and drink in the new creation under the reign of the true and ultimate King of the Jews.
“So the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. ” Amos was writing to people who assumed that they had God’s favor apart from faith in Him. Amos urges his hearers to turn to God in faith and to repent of their evil. Within one generation (722 B.C.) of Amos’s life, the Assyrians invaded and destroyed Israel. Their houses and vineyards were destroyed.
Amos didn’t simply communicate judgment. Through the prophet, God was pleading with His people: “Seek me and live. . . . Seek the Lord and live. . . . Seek good, and not evil, that you may live” (5:4, 6, 14). Our sinful human nature seeks satisfaction and fulfillment in everything except the Lord. We think our lives can be found in someone else or something else other than our baptismal adoption in Christ to be sons and daughter of God the Father. We look for life in all the wrong places. We are first and foremost children of the heavenly Father. Christians, that is like Christ by faith alone.
Only one is able to give real life, life abundant, eternal life.
Deuteronomy 30:20; “Choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days…”
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Even though we did not seek God, He sought us. He called us by the Gospel. He called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified us and the whole Christian church on earth by the power of the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.
15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (2) When we did not seek God, He sought us and made you one of the remnants of Joseph. You come here in faith to seek absolution, the forgiveness of sins. You seek the truth about who and what you are. You seek the truth of what God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have done for you and your salvation.
A great many people who think of themselves as Christians have rejected the author of life and walked away like the rich young man of Mark 10. But through the Word and Sacrament ministry we have been justified. Justice and care of our neighbor flow from a life that has been justified for Jesus’ sake. Having been given our life in Christ, we see people rightly, as objects of His love and our love. “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Like all the other prophets, Amos not only has words of judgment. At the end of Amos’s prophecy, there are words of hope. God seeks His people. God finds His people. God saves His people.
They repented thus God brought them home to a land where they would build homes and dwell in them and where they would plant vineyards and enjoy the wine. Then there is of course the greater hope, the greater home, and the greater wine. Those who remained faithful, they now dwell in His presence forever. It’s a picture of the new creation, the hope that Jesus has won for us!
Even though we get confused and seek life and meaning in the wrong places, God has sought us out and placed us in Christ so that we would seek Him where He is to be found in His Word and sacraments. This is where true life is found.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.