God has given us his word – Scripture – to guide us in his way. Rejecting God’s instructions take us off his path, and leads us into danger!
Amos, chapters 1-3; Psalm 80; 2 Timothy, chapter 4
Amos 2:4-8 (NLT):
This is what the Lord says: “The people of Judah have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They have rejected the instructions of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors. So I will send down fire on Judah, and all the fortresses of Jerusalem will be destroyed.”
This is what the Lord says: “The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way. Both father and son sleep with the same woman, corrupting my holy name. At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their gods, they drink wine bought with unjust fines.”
The People Have Sinned Again and Again
The first verse of the book of Amos tells us that Amos was “a shepherd from the town of Tekoa in Judah.” He wasn’t a prophet, but God gave him a message to proclaim – and he did. The first part of his message dealt with Israel’s neighbors. He started with Damascus, and then moved to Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. You can almost imagine the people of Israel and Judah saying, “Yeah, that’s right! God’s going to get them! Preach it, Amos!”
And then Amos turns his attention to them. The announcement to Judah and Israel is the same as to all of their neighbors: The people…have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! The charge against Israel’s neighbors was that they had attacked God’s people and harassed them. That’s why Amos’ audience would have applauded the first part of his message.
But the charge against Judah was different. Even God’s charge against Israel sounded like the nations around them: they sell honorable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way.
They Have Rejected the Instructions of the Lord
But the charge against Judah was different. They have rejected the instruction of the Lord, refusing to obey his decrees. They knew better. While the people of Israel also should have known better, they were much further down the road of rebellion and idolatry. In chapter 3, God says to both Israel and Judah, “From among all the families on earth, I have been intimate with you alone. That is why I must punish you for all your sins” (3:2).
But the charge against Judah in chapter 2 focused on their disobedience. This charge leads me to think that at this point, there was still hope for Judah. While they had rejected the instruction of the Lord and refused to obey his decrees, there are no specific allegations like those directed at the other nations. God’s judgment would come if they didn’t turn back to him, but it seems that God is hoping that his warning will get their attention.
Rejecting God’s Instructions
Today’s New Testament reading from 2 Timothy chapter 4 shows us that things hadn’t changed much between Amos’ day and Paul’s time. “Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
That “time” was Amos’ day. And Paul’s day, our own time, and every era between. As Amos said of Judah, “They have been led astray by the same lies that deceived their ancestors.” People today are deceived by the same lies, too. “Do whatever you want! You’re in charge of your own life. There’s no such place as hell. A loving God won’t punish people for sin. And there’s no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ anyway, so who is to say what ‘sin’ is? Follow your heart!”
I’m not surprised when unbelievers say things like that. Those are the same lies that deceived their ancestors. But I am surprised when Christians talk about following their hearts, because “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). That’s why we need the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit working in us continuously, purifying our hearts and enabling us to obey God. That’s the only kind of heart that we should follow!
Father, Amos’ prophecy shows the truth of what your word declares: there is none righteous, not even one. We cannot trust our hearts, because they will lead us astray. Our hearts will always tell us to do what we want, and that is not the same as what You want. You have given us your word to instruct us in your way. Help us not to reject your instruction, but to follow Jesus each day.
Thank you for the offer of forgiveness and cleansing that enables us to walk in your way. If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Thank you for the cleansing, empowering presence of your Holy Spirit, who leads us in the truth. Amen.