Do you prefer picture books? The alternative requires reading all those words which can be so tedious. After you have read a picture book story to a child, it is interesting to see what they remember as they “read” the story again with the pictures as their memory pegs.
Amos has preached quite the message, but now the message is in pictures. In order to see how well they were listening, they must interpret the pictures. In Amos 8:1-2, Amos sees a basket of summer fruit. God said, “I will not pass by them anymore.” Summer fruit represents the time of judgment. It is slow to ripen. God is patient and His longsuffering stretches beyond what we could ever measure. As the fruit ripens to its peak, the window is short for the fruit at that point. Compared to the time of ripening, the ripeness quickly fades, and it is over. The fruit is rotten. God’s judgment would be swift and calculated. Then the winter would come. Amos says, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, That I will send a famine in the land, Not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).
Human nature has not changed over the centuries. In much the same way, people today carry on their lives without regard to God or His Word. They think they can get along well without it. A famine of the Word is like being in danger, yet your voice is mute as you cry out for help. A famine of God’s Word is like opening your eyes in the morning only to find you were struck blind overnight. We don’t fully appreciate the Word while we have it.
Sometimes a treasure’s value is exponentially higher once we are forced to live without it. You should not suffer from a famine of God’s Word. Jeremiah said, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). Job celebrated the Word when he said, “Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). Feast or Famine? It’s your choice. Will you choose to feast?
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: And in keeping of them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11)
Do you expect a child to be thrown in jail for not making their bed? Of course, you do not expect it. The child’s crime is petty and it’s damage to society is negligible.
What about a messenger who fails to sound the warning and many lives are lost? This is an insufferable crime. The messenger was selected particularly to announce the warning and direct the people. His crime is great and his punishment should fit the crime. God reminds Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). They were called by God to be a blessing to all the nations. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). Instead, they behaved like spoiled children. They indulged themselves. The poor were left to suffer. They even placed their own kindred in slavery! They showed no mercy or compassion. This is exactly what God says they will, in turn, see from Him—a postponement of intelligible mercy and compassion. They had such a noble calling! However, such a calling demands action befitting their position.
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). You are graced with a noble calling. Be a blessing to those around you. Our tendency is to fill our schedules with our frivolous agendas. We drain our accounts for our amusement. We failed to act out our intended purpose. What should we do? Amos told the people what to do. He said it two ways, but it’s the same message. “Seek me and ye shall live…Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live” (Amos 5:4, 14). To truly seek God is an active discipline. As we seek God, goodness spills out of our lives. As Amos pictures it, “But let judgment run down as waters, And righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We become a blessing. It is often the case as we learn more about God and His ways—you never gain anything by pursuing it directly. You can’t lay hold on happiness itself. You can’t truly be a blessing of eternal proportions by focusing on petty desires. As you pursue God, happiness finds you. As you pursue God, blessings flow from your life like a river.
The hushed whispers grew into a raging din. It’s hard to keep eighty people quiet much less eighty people who were infuriated by what they had just seen. The audacity he must have had to think he can walk right in there and…can you believe what he is doing?
Azariah calms the priests down for a moment. He gives instructions about respecting God’s anointed man. He will be the spokesman, so he pleads with his fellow priests to restrain themselves. They march into the Temple to confront the king, Uzziah. The king had a censer in his hand. Azariah was calm and respectful, but the king was losing his cool. All of a sudden, one of the priests saw it. It flashed upon Uzziah’s forehead. “He’s leprous!” All control was lost in a moment as men zealous for the purity of God’s house put Uzziah out of the Temple. God had smitten Uzziah for his tragic pride.
What an illustration Uzziah’s leprosy is for us. Since it was on his forehead, he could not see it. Everyone else could, but Uzziah was oblivious to his malady. Such is the way pride and arrogance work. They creep in stealthily on the fringes of successful enterprises. Like briars caught in the field carried to the comfort of home, the unwanted prickles of pride go without notice or care. Paul said, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Every day, remind yourself of a few things in order to preen pride from your heart. Remember where you came from. Review Matthew 5 and be poor in spirit and meek. We are unclean and unfit until God has done a work in us (Isaiah 6). Remember who you follow. You must deny yourself, take up your cross which is your daily humility, and follow Christ. He did not call you to follow upon lofty heights of self-aggrandizement. He called you to follow him in the simple things of compassion. Remember there’s more to be done. Never rest on your laurels. Keep running and forget the things behind you whether success or failure. Press toward the prize. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Has pride begun to show itself in your life? Beware. It usually flairs up in places hard to notice without the mirror of God’s word and the humility of Christ’s way.
Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Neither let the mighty man glory in his might, Let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, That he understandeth and knoweth me, That I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: For in these things I delight, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
As Robert Burns was plowing his field, his plow turned up a field mouse from its home. One of his hired hands chased after the mouse to kill it, but Burns the poet had another idea. He later showed the poem to his servant the last few lines of which are these:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!
Amaziah in 2 Chronicles 25, had his best-laid plans, but the plow of God’s sovereignty turned them out. Notably, Amaziah hardly counseled God regarding his forthcoming invasion. He also failed to apply the wisdom of his grandfather, Jehoshaphat, regarding alliances with Israel. A prophet stops Amaziah’s march to war and boldly instructs him to send the Israelite mercenaries home. Amaziah’s question is much the same as our personal rebuttals to God’s course changes. “And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel” (2 Chronicles 25:9)? There are so many holes in the question. The prophet could easily see them. His response could have been quite parental. “Well, you should have thought about it before you did it. I guess you’ll learn a lesson, won’t you?”
What is wonderful about God and His message is the overwhelming grace. The simple answer was, “The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.” Burns blesses the mouse in his poem because it only knows the moment. “The present only touches you,” he said, but we can look back “on prospects drear” or forward and “guess and fear.” However, we are more blessed than the mouse, for the Lord has said, “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Your best-laid plans often do go awry but remember his way is perfect (Psalm 18:30). No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom (Luke 9:62). Let God have His way with you.
Ephesians 3:20 — Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Shouldn’t the words “above all that we ask” mystify you? This verse is a triumphant statement of God’s power, but a disheartening reality of our prayer. It seems we do not ask enough. We do not desperately seek enough. Much like Jehoash, we are content to smite the ground with the arrows thrice and rejoice about it. Truly the Lord’s power and provision are worthy of glory, but how often we come up short? How much have we lacked because of our feeble faith? Someone said Jehoash received “something better than the human, but he did not get God’s best.”
Think for a moment how powerful the Lord is. He can lead an inferior army to vanquish a superior foe with the same ease as Jehoash smiting the ground with arrows. What is impossible with man is surely possible with God! Is there anything too hard for God? If God can wield miraculous victories and political dominance with the greatest of ease, is your difficulty really too great? Is it sensible to refrain from taking it to the Lord in prayer?
Now can we appreciate the prophet’s response? He was angry. When a man does not go far enough it must be frustrating. When people believe in a small God or only a sufficient God instead of a superior God, we will never know the potential of God’s work.