"Are We There Yet, Daddy?"

Part 2: Warnings from the Prophet Amos

"Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, who cause the seat of violence to come near." Amos 6:3 NKJV

Opening prayer: Father, it looks like the world is on the highway to Hell. What is Your will for me in these terrible days?

Are we getting closer to the Tribulation period?

In Part 1 of this study, we read how Jesus warned us to be aware of the signs of the end times. If Jesus was right (a certainty), then we are quickly approaching the tribulation period, which will be God's judgment upon rebellious humans.

If you have read the other lessons in this series, you know that the next two prophetic events are the next Rapture event and the nuclear war prophesied by Ezekiel. That war will be the first event in the seven-year period known as the 70th week of Daniel.

No intelligent person would cheerfully anticipate being blasted in a nuclear war. However, many Bible-believing Christians are (rightfully) hoping to be airlifted to safety in the next Rapture event. Many have asked me "Are we near the Rapture yet?" In my personal opinion, we are very near.

What makes the prediction difficult is that the prophetic milestones don't directly point to the Rapture itself. Instead, they point to events just on the other side of it. This is comparable to searching for a particular restaurant just outside a major city. The road signs point the way to the city, not the restaurant. When you start seeing roadside businesses near the city limits, you know the restaurant is somewhere nearby.

In this lesson, we read predictions from the Prophet Amos that are the equivalent of seeing the roadside businesses outside the city. When we see evidence of Amos' predictions coming to pass, we know that God's judgment will be coming soon.

God always seeks your attention

God is always trying to tell me something. Unfortunately, I'm not always listening. Sometimes when I'm not listening, God orchestrates a peculiar set of circumstances to get my attention. At first it's a friendly warning that I'm underachieving. If I don't get it, He might orchestrate a less-pleasant set of circumstances to shock me back to reality.

If I really persist in a "don't get it" condition, God might send a warning message through an individual who speaks according to God's will. The Bible calls such people "prophets."

On rare occasions, God will send a prophet to warn an entire country. Amos was one of those prophets.

Let's begin with Amos chapter one, verse 1 (quoting from the New King James Version):

The words of Amos, who was among the sheepbreeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

Amos begins by sharing his educational credentials: he was a shepherd. He does not claim any seminary training or advanced degrees. He claims to speak for the Lord according to what "he saw concerning Israel."

As we see in verse 2, the vision does not begin in a shy way:

And he said:
“The Lord roars from Zion,
And utters His voice from Jerusalem;
The pastures of the shepherds mourn,
And the top of Carmel withers.”

There is no question that Amos is speaking for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the God who established Jerusalem as the capitol of His people, Israel. Zion is the hill -- facing the Mount of Olives -- where King David built his home and where Solomon built the Temple. Zion is the hill where Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, will return to establish His Kingdom during the Milennium period.

Amos says the Lord is roaring out this message, loud enough to be heard all the way to Mount Carmel in the apostate Northern Kingdom, where Amos delivered the prophecy. Obviously the Lord is trying to get somebody's attention.

The concept of the Lord "roaring" is often associated with "end-times" prophecy. So although these prophecies came true in a literal first fulfilment, we'll see that some elements are consistent with Israel's present circumstances.

Let's read the first prophecy, in verses 3-5:

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.
4 But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael,
Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad.
5 I will also break the gate bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven,
And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden.
The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,”
Says the Lord.

History tells us that Damascus (Syria) has been captured and humbled many times since Amos' day. But because of ample water supplies, the area around Damascus has never been completely abandoned. Damascus continues to be the capitol of Syria.

Here's a question for you, my educated reader: Have the present inhabitants of Damascus properly learned from the warnings of Amos? Have they learned to respect their Israelite neighbors?

The passage itself contains a hint for today's readers: "...they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron." A few years ago, I visited Israel and did volunteer work for an Israeli Defense Forces outpost on the Golan Heights. The outpost has exactly one purpose: to push massive minesweeper machines across the hilly fields to detonate land mines ("implements of iron...") sown by Syrians during their occupation more than 40 years ago. In this way, the Israelis are reclaiming land for peaceful uses.

But although the Syrians were pushed back to their legal borders, they continue to sponsor aggressive terrorism against Israel. And they continue to use "implements of iron" against Israel: sponsoring Hezbollah to dig tunnels and bunkers under the border and firing rockets against Israeli farming communities.

Maybe 2500 years isn't enough time for God's enemies to take a hint.

Now let's see what God has to say about the Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, in verses 6-8:

Thus says the Lord:
“For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four,
I will not turn away its punishment,
Because they took captive the whole captivity
To deliver them up to Edom.
7 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza,
Which shall devour its palaces.
8 I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod,
And the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon;
I will turn My hand against Ekron,
And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,”
Says the Lord GOD.

Are you aware of who lives in Gaza these days? They call themselves "Palestinians" because they claim to be descended from the Philistines. As you might have read in history books, there haven't been any living Philistines for at least 2000 years. The folks who identify themselves as "Palestinians" are actually an eclectic mixture of (undocumented) immigrants from Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and what we now call Jordan. There are no ethnic Palestinian peoples. However, the leaders of the people in Gaza have chosen to identify themselves with the ancient enemies of Israel.

The Gaza area, the Southern Coastal Plain of Israel closest to the Egyptian Border, has become such a hostile den of terrorists that Israel has been forced to wall off the entire region. Under the leadership of Hamas, whose avowed intention is the destruction of Israel, the people of the Gaza area are identifying themselves as rightful heirs to the judgment that befell the original Philistines: "And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish," says the Lord GOD (verse 8).

The next warnings are in Amos 1, verses 9-10:

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.
10 But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre,
Which shall devour its palaces.”

Tyre (Lebanon) is the next country/region to receive a warning. In ancient days, Tyre was a wealthy trading center located on the Mediterranean seacoast just north of Israel. Eventually the city became an island fortress, believing itself to be invincible. Nevertheless, God pronounced multiple judgments against Tyre (see Zechariah chapter 9 for details) which have already come to pass. Alexander the Great destroyed the fortress and flattened the walls of the island city.

Have the inhabitants of Lebanon learned from this experience? Sadly, no. Today the southern border of Lebanon, adjacent to Israel, is honeycombed with the underground bunkers of Hezbollah terrorists. Their sole purpose is the destruction of Israel. Unless they repent, the Lord will again execute the judgment described in verse 10 above: "I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, which shall devour its palaces." The word translated "palaces" is the Hebrew armone. The root meaning is an elevated or fortified structure, which could also apply to military fortresses and underground bunkers. God is trying to get their attention, but Tyre doesn't appear to be listening.

Now let's read verses 11-12:

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.
12 But I will send a fire upon Teman,
Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.”

If you look at a map of the current Middle East, you won't find a country called "Edom." But Edom refers to the general area East and South of Israel, presently occupied by Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Edom was settled by Esau, Jacob's brother. Eventually Esau's descendents expanded toward the South and mingled with the Ishmaelites, the Midianites and other "sons of the bondwoman" Keturah (Abraham's concubine).

That Southern territory later became the birthplace of Islam, which claims to be descended from the religion of Ishmael. Muslims claim that the original Ka'aba in Mecca was built by Ishmael and Abraham. As you might have observed, that is not the only fiction that Muslims believe.

Despite the blood kinship, the people of Edom always hated the descendents of Jacob. In modern times, the Muslim inhabitants of Saudi Arabia and Jordan have perpetuated the four transgressions that Amos described in verse 11: "...he pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever." As you might have noticed, the Muslims in that region are trained from childhood to hate Jews and Christians.

Warnings to Judah and the "modern" church

Let's skip ahead to Amos 2, verses 4 and 5:

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.
5 But I will send a fire upon Judah,
And it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem.”

Remember the context of Amos' prophecy: He was in the Northern kingdom, Israel, which consisted of the ten tribes that separated themselves from the kingdom of Judah after the death of Solomon. Up to this point, Amos' listeners were enjoying hearing God's judgments upon the heathen kingdoms surrounding them. Now they could enjoy hearing how God was displeased with their rivals to the south.

Judah supposedly was the kingdom that remained faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Northern kingdom set up idols in Dan and Bethel and had a peculiar mixture of religious eclecticism. By contrast, Judah supposedly remained faithful to the Scripture and to the rules of Mosaic worship. Judah had the temples and priests and ritual sacrifices. Judah was the equivalent of the United States, which was founded by believers in the Bible who worshiped Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.

Amos had strong words for Judah because:

Here in the United States, we see uncomfortable parallels:

Are we better than Judah in Amos' day? Do the people of this country seek wisdom from the Bible with the same enthusiasm that they seek entertainment?

One word of encouragement: God has warned Judah and the United States because there is still hope for them. There is still a remnant of faithful Jews and Christians who love the God of the Bible with their whole hearts. But we must seek the Lord with renewed fervor, to become salt and light in this corrupt and dark world.

Warnings to Pagans and Progressives

Let's continue reading Amos 2, verse 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.

In the previous verses, God warned Judah and the modern-day Church for abandoning their core values. In these verses, God is warning pagans and "progressives" that their core values are evil.

Verse 6 warns of political and financial greed. The 2008 elections swung the balance of power to political leaders with openly socialist values. As Amos warned, "they sell the righteous for silver." The righteous -- normal people who work hard, operate successful businesses and provide jobs for people in their communities -- are treated as selfish criminals. The righteous are branded as greedy and burdened with oppressive taxes and government regulations.

Our new government pretends to favor the lower economic classes, but as Amos predicts, they sell "...the poor for a pair of sandals." This government is dominated by individuals who come from the banking community, which is no friend of the poor. This government is pleased to see individual Americans burdened with debt used to buy "...a pair of sandals."

What's wrong with banks?

Most people don't realize that the banking industry does not favor capitalism. Capitalism -- the natural order of people buying and selling goods and services -- has the goal of allowing people to accumulate capital (savings and retirement funds). The banking industry, by contrast, much prefers to have people accumulate debt. Your debt is an asset to the banking industry. Your savings accounts are liabilities to them.

As this lesson is written (summer of 2009), the entire economy is crushed and dying under the weight of debt. The symptoms were obvious back in 2007 when business spending began drying up for lack of investment capital. The banking industry was successful in creating a toxic mountain of private-sector debt known as "subprime mortgages" (debt created by banks making loans to poor people unable to repay them).

Our new government -- riding into office on promises to help revive the economy -- has taken strong steps to make the economy worse. Our new government has gone on a wild spending spree that has created a toxic mountain of government-sector debt, which benefits only the banking community and its friends.

What's wrong with the government?

Let's read Amos 2 verse 7:

7They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor,
And pervert the way of the humble.
A man and his father go in to the same girl,
To defile My holy name.

Verse 7 speaks of unbridled human nature, greedy and lustful. This attitude of greed permeated the upper classes and government officials of Amos' day. The kings and tax collectors of Amos' day were disgraceful but relatively straightforward in their greed. By contrast, the tax laws of the United States create a crushing burden of frightening complexity.

Years ago, this author worked for a company that produced software to enable taxpayers to prepare their own tax returns. My job was to review the actual regulations of the Internal Revenue Service to ensure that our software made accurate computations. The laws and regulations made one thing clear: The US government believed that its fair sure of your money was "all of it." The regulations went into incredible detail to ensure that nobody could escape. One day, while reading the regulations, verse 7 above jumped into memory: "They pant after the dust on the head of the poor." Some translations read "they trample the dust..." but that is inaccurate. The literal Hebrew is shaw-af' al -- to inhale strongly from just above something. A hungry person would do this above a freshly cooked meal. Today's politicians inhale strongly at the small amount of money that you and I have managed to accumulate as "life savings."

For obvious reasons, the second part of verse 7 rings a familiar note to modern readers. The kings of Amos' day lived toxic, immoral lifestyles and the ordinary people followed their example. Have matters improved much since then? Do our leaders and entertainers promote toxic lifestyles? You can answer that question without my help.

A Nation Favored By God

God had strong words for Israel because of Israel's unique position in His heart. In Amos 2, verses 9-12, God speaks of Israel's ingratitude:

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
Whose height was like the height of the cedars,
And he was as strong as the oaks;
Yet I destroyed his fruit above
And his roots beneath.
10 Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt,
And led you forty years through the wilderness,
To possess the land of the Amorite.
11I raised up some of your sons as prophets,
And some of your young men as Nazirites.
Is it not so, O you children of Israel?”
Says the Lord.
12 “But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink,
And commanded the prophets saying,
‘Do not prophesy!’"

God had lovingly called His people out of Egypt, conquered the murderous Amorites on their behalf and provided for their every need. He had even put His Holy Spirit in the hearts of prophets, that they might speak His will to His people. But God's chosen people either ignored or abused the prophets and Nazarites.

In a less-dramatic fashion, God lovingly called Christian and Jewish people to North America, to give them unprecedented religious freedom and economic prosperity. Both the prosperity and the religious freedom are under attack today.

We, as Christians, should rejoice in these attacks. We should rejoice and praise God that He is allowing our faith to be tested in the fire. We should rejoice that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is preparing us for one of two delightful outcomes:

Are you, my modern reader, prepared for either of these possibilities? Or is your "religion" a spectator sport to be performed by others?

Further Warnings

Chapter 3 of Amos brings another set of warnings, beginning in verse 2:

“You only have I known of all the families of the earth;
Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
3Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?
4Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?
Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing?
5Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it?
Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all?"

Notice the heartbroken words of the Lord in verse 2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." You -- My people -- have seen My works and My faithfulness. You should know better.

Verse 3 is a profound statement: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" The immediate application is to God and His chosen people. Should He continue to bless Israel and Judah if those countries refuse to walk with Him?

Verse 3 also has a wider application to God and His church. Can God continue to bless you and me if we refuse to walk in fellowship with Him?

Listen to the Prophets

In verses 6-8 of Amos chapter 3, we see a fresh emphasis on the role of prophets in a world ripe for judgment:

“If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid?
If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?
7Surely the Lord GOD does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
8A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?"

Verse 6 tells us that God is always trying to get our attention. Every piece of good news or bad news should remind us of God and His love for us. In good times or bad, we should always seek His face and His favor.

Verses 7 and 8 tell us that God will always use prophets to lead us to repentance.

The people of Israel followed a very predictable pattern. They would enjoy the blessings of prosperity, become casual in their prayers, and backslide in their faith. Then, when an external enemy attacked, they would (eventually) heed the prophets, repent and call out to God.

Unfortunately they rarely repented enough to regain their "first love" for God. With each backsliding cycle, they grew more tolerant of sexual sin and perversion. With each backsliding cycle, they grew more dependent on religious rituals and religious elites. With each backsliding cycle, they grew less aware of the God who met with Moses and Joshua and King David daily in prayer. The "search for God" became a spectator sport. Eventually God allowed His judgment to fall on His people, who were conquered and led into exile.

The church world has followed a similar pattern. We started well, received prosperity and blessings from God, and then started to backslide. To help us, God has sent prophets to speak by the power of the Holy Spirit to His people all over the globe. There have been mighty revivals in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Soon after the prophets move on, the revivals fade and the people backslide.

As the largest revivals have died, well-meaning people have built denominations to enshrine specific religious concepts. Unfortunately these people have lost sight of how God works:

God wants us to be governed by Him, not by religious traditions or denominations. God fills men and women with His Holy Spirit. God anoints submitted human beings, not denominations.

If you do some research, you'll discover that the most of the largest denominations are openly resistant to the operation of the Holy Spirit gifts. That makes it difficult for prophets to speak to them.

Let's re-read verses 7-8 to refresh our memories:

“Surely the Lord GOD does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
8A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?"

The Lord has been speaking through His prophets for a very long time now. God's prophetic Word, the Bible, has been translated and digitized and made available throughout the world. Present-day prophets are arising and warning us of impending judgment upon this unrepentant world.

For your homework, I suggest that you read the remainder of the book of Amos and note the parallels to this country, our social practices and our religious stupor. In particular, note God's call to repentance in Amos chapters 4 and 5, punctuated by Amos chapter 5 verse 4:

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: "Seek Me and live."

Note also the society's response to God's prophets in Amos 5 verse 10:

They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks uprightly.

"Are we there yet, Daddy?"

Let's conclude this lesson with a warning from Amos 6 verse 3:

Woe to you who put far off the day of doom, who cause the seat of violence to come near.

Our weak human nature loves to postpone important tasks, such as repenting. We have the intellectual knowledge that God's judgment is coming upon the unrepentant world -- someday. Someday we'll get our act together. Someday we'll repent of our lukewarm religion and really do something worthwhile for God.

Our good intentions lull us to sleep, allowing "the seat of violence to come near" without our knowledge.

Are you listening?

Closing Prayer: Lord, I'm starting to understand the messages of Amos. For more than 2500 years, You have roared a warning from Zion, calling both Your people and Your enemies to repentance. I recognize that You soon will roar a final warning from Zion. Please speak to my heart and show me Your will for my life in these troubled last days, I pray in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

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