The God Over All
Well, this is the book of Amos, but let me start by saying that I really like the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms, which we find right in the middle of the Bible, is a collection of beautiful Hebrew poetry about God and life, and thinking and feeling, and within the psalms I especially love Psalm 63. Many of you have probably heard this psalm before. Verse 1 begins:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
And it’s really that first sentence that captures it all. That first sentence is a declaration: “O God, you are my God.” God is called my God — which means God is God to the psalmist and to us, not theoretically, not because we were raised a certain way, not because it’s advantageous to us in society, but because we have seen him be God. We’ve come to know him, or be known by him. We’ve tasted God’s steadfast love. We’ve been drenched in God’s mercy. There is a true sense, because of what God has done in our lives, that we can say God is my God.
And then there is another true sense, because of who God is, that he is everyone’s God whether they say it or not. God is God. He is the creator of everyone and everything, and he is the God of everyone and everything, whether or not anyone or anything knows it. Let that sink in for a second.
God is God — he is the creator of you, the sovereign over you— even if you never knew him. Don’t mistake Psalm 63 “God, you are my God” to mean that God is only our God if we want him to be. I want you to want him to be, but the truth is that God is everyone’s God no matter what, and many spend their entire lives kicking and screaming against that. And we can kick and scream all we want, but God is still God over us because he is God over all.
And this truth is central here in the book of Amos, as we’re going to see. I like how Pastor Joe put it last week when he said that each of these Minor Prophets are different, but they all stick to the same melody. And as we look closer today at Amos 9, I want us to wring out, in this book, the vision of judgment. So I have three movements in the text I want us to trace out, and all three are related to judgment, but they are probably not what you think. So if you hear me say judgment and you are thinking: “Oh man, not again” — just hang in there. Same melody, different song, and it’s a good song.
Here are the three movements in the text:
- The Reality of Judgment;
- The Basis of Judgment;
- The Scope of Judgment
So let’s look at the first movement here — the reality of judgment.
The Reality of Judgment
We see this in verses 1–4, but before we look closer at these verses, I want to back up and say two things about judgment from the rest of the book. There are eight chapters to get through before we come to chapter 9, and judgment has been the theme all along, and there have been a few descriptors of what judgment looks like. I want to point three out. Here’s the first one.
First, God’s judgment is universal in its nature.
We see this in the very beginning of the book. Amos opens in chapter 1 with a pronouncement of God’s judgment on Gentile nations. So this is one of God’s prophet, but he isn’t just talking about God’s people, he’s talking about everybody. Amos names all the nations that surround Israel, and he pronounces judgment on them. These nations — Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, the Ammonites, Moab — they all had their own gods, but because they had abused their enemies and committed injustices against their neighbors, God said he was going to judge them. So they would not have called YHWH, the Lord — they would called have called him their God, but he was God over them anyway and he was going to judge them.
And then, Amos, in the same way he speaks judgment against these pagan nations, he speaks judgment against Judah (Amos 2:4). And then Israel.
Now Judah and Israel by this time are separate nations. They used to be one nation, but then there was a division. And it can be a little confusing, so I think now’s a good time, for just a moment, for us to do a little Bible study. So I want us to understand the division between Judah and Israel, and to do that we need to back up in the Old Testament.
Bible Study Excursus
So the Old Testament is the first half of our Bibles (the book of Amos is part of the Old Testament), but then earlier in the Old Testament in books like 1–2 Samuel, we see that the best king that God’s people ever had was David. David was the best. When he was king the kingdom grew and conquered and flourished, and God made a promise to David that one of his sons, one of his offspring, would be a King who reigns forever, over everything (we see this promise in 2 Samuel 7). Well, David has this son son named Solomon, who becomes king, and he started out good, but then things went bad very fast. And when things went bad, pandemonium broke out. And we see all of this in the book of 1 Kings 12.
And there are two names to get down: first, there is Rehoboam — he was Solomon’s son next in line to be king. Then there was a guy named Jeroboam — he was one of Solomon’s servants. So Rehoboam and Jeroboam.
Well, Rehoboam was a little punk and decided, after Solomon died, that he was going to be a harsh king. He basically said that. He said: I will be a worst king than my dad. And when he did this, most of the people of Israel were like: “Psssst. Forget that guy. We’re out of here.” So they broke away, they took Jeroboam, Solomon’s servant, and made him king over them. And that’s how the kingdom divided. That’s how the break up happened. There were 12 tribes in Israel, and they were all one nation. But after the break up . . .
Rehoboam becomes king over two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. They called this kingdom Judah. This was the southern kingdom.
And then Jeroboam was king over the other 10 tribes of Israel and called it Israel. This was the northern kingdom.
So they’re two different kingdoms. And both of these kingdoms had their problems. They both had their share of bad kings. And in the Minor Prophets, God sends prophets to both Judah and Israel. Judah and Israel were different, but they are still connected, still special in God’s plan.
Lumped All Together
But one of the clearest things to see in chapters 1 and 2 is that, when it comes to God’s judgment, Judah and Israel, special as they are, they are lumped in with everyone else. If you look back in these chapters, you will see the same sentence structure is used over and over again. When judgment is pronounced against each nation, the verses begin: “For three transgressions and for four” and then we see the punishment. That goes for Moab, and then that goes for Israel. It goes for every sinner. Judah and Israel are lumped in together with every other nation to receive God’s judgment. And that’s because God’s judgment is universal. He judges all sin. He judges the sins of all kinds of people. There is no exemption.
Which means, we can’t think that because we belong to this group, and not that group, or because we wave this flag, and not that flag, that our sin is somehow less than sin and therefore we don’t deserve the same kind of judgment that others do. We need to get this: a liar in America and a liar in Russia are both liars. Sexual abuse within the USA and sexual abuse within ISIS are both sexual abuse. Murdering babies in well-funded abortion clinics in Minnesota and murdering babies in the back of rusty vans down dark allies in Beijing are both murdering babies. And God’s judgment will come for it all. God will judge every sin. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are, God’s judgment is universal.
So that’s the first descriptor. God’s judgment is universal. The second is descriptor . . .
Second, the message of judgment receives a cynical response.
We all know what cynicism is. Cynicism is basically an attitude of skepticism that doesn’t trust other people. It is hearing what other people say but not really believing them. In the case of Amos, it is the people of Israel hearing him pronounce God’s judgment on them, and then they just pat him on the head and say, Yeah, whatever.
We see this throughout the book. Amos says that judgment is coming because of Israel’s sin and injustice, and they laugh him off the stage. And so Amos just keeps saying: No, really. I’m serious. Judgment is coming. But they still don’t listen.
We get a glimpse of this in chapter 3. Amos lists out all these rhetorical questions that are supposed to be very obvious: Do two people go on a walk together unless the two people mean to go on a walk together? Does a bird get caught in a trap if there are no traps?
The answers are obvious. And the point is that, in the same way, do you think you can continue to do evil and God not bring judgment? Amos is saying: Seriously, I’m not kidding, God will judge sin. And Amos 6:1 tells us that the people of Israel just continue upside, inside out living la vida loca — they are taking it easy, feeling secure, sleeping on ivory beds and stretched out on their couches. And they don’t really care what Amos says. They don’t care.
That is what cynicism does. Cynicism is the enemy of truth, and it’s the air we breathe today. And how cynicism works is that it’s not an outright rejection of truth, it just doesn’t take truth seriously. Cynical people hear truth, and then they go off in the corner and laugh about it, and always try to drag others there with them (because nobody wants to laugh by themselves). Cynicism is subtle, but dangerous — it’s like this thick, black, pessimistic smoke that toxifies the oxygen of our hope. It suffocates every inclination in our hearts that sees God as real and thinks that he matters. Cynicism is the quick-witted reflux that spews up to always question the motives of others. It makes us doubt goodness. Cynicism always wants to be the first to suggest another angle on why things happen the way they do.
Cynicism pollutes our cultural landscape, and just like it made Israel ignore God’s word, it will make us ignore God’s word. Cynicism will numb you to truth, and some of you are there right now, and you need to stop. Don’t be that guy.
We’ve seen that judgment is universal in nature, and the message of judgment receives a cynical response. And that leads us to chapter 9, to these first four verses, and the descriptor we see here is that God’s relentlessly hounds those who are judged.
Third, those who are judged are relentlessly hounded.
This is the third and final thing to see in this first movement on the reality of judgment. It’s that not only is the judgment universal, and not only is its message deflected by cynicism, but the judgment just keeps coming, and it’s coming so strong that no one will be able to escape it.
That is the uncomfortable language we see in verses 1–4. The vision begins with God standing beside the the altar. That is temple language. The altar was in the temple, and the temple was the place where God’s glory was supposed to dwell. The temple is what set Israel apart from other nations. It was the place of God’s presence. It was the source of protection and blessing and fellowship with God. And here in chapter 9 we get a vision of the temple, of God standing by the altar, but it’s not for protection or blessing or fellowship. It’s for destruction. The place that should be Israel’s hiding place becomes the place where judgment is detonated, and nobody can escape it. Verses 2–4 are almost like the reversal of Psalm 139. Back to Psalms. I really like the Psalms [raise your hand if you like the Psalms]. Well, in Psalm 139 we read about God’s presence pursuing us for good. David says to God:
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:8–10)
But here in Amos 9, starting in verse 2, God says: Go ahead and dig to Sheol, climb to heaven, hide yourself in the mountains, sink down to the bottom of the sea — it does not matter and I do not care, I’m coming for you. And in Amos 9:4, very different from Psalm 139, God says: “I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.”
So that pretty much wraps up the reality of judgment in Amos. It’s not good. Bur now we shift over to from the first movement to the second movement. Let’s look now at the basis of judgment.
The Basis of Judgment
And the basis of judgment is a little different here than in the other books. Yes, Israel’s sin and injustice is important. Israel has sinned and Israel is judged for that sin. But more explicitly than the cause-and-effect relationship between sin and judgment, Amos says that sin is judged because God is God.
Look down at the text for a minute. Notice how verse 5 comes right after verse 4. There is no preposition or conjunction that links them. It doesn’t say “for” or “because” or “therefore” — it just starts, “The Lord God of hosts…” And when this happens — when sentences start without a linking word — in most cases it implies that what is said functions as the ground to what has been said before it. In other words, the reason, the ground, for God’s judgment is God’s character.
“The Lord God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.”
Why does God judge sin? It’s because the Lord is his name. Because of who he is. And many scholars say that verses 5–6 are actually part of a hymn, part of a song, that is quoted two other places in the book. Listen to the similarities.
“He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name; who makes destruction flash forth against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.”
“For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!”
This is God. This is who he is. He is sovereign like this. Mighty like this. He was here before anything else was here, and everything that is now here is here because he made it. He is the ultimate reality compared to which the biggest things in our world are small. He is the first, he isthe middle, he is the last. He is louder than the loudest loud, and quieter than the quietest quiet. He makes waters rise and waters fall. He lets walls be built and then destroyed. He tells it to rain and then to stop. He makes the low-tide low and the high-tide high and the riptide rip and he’s the one who puts the lump in our throats ‘cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong.
He is in and around and under and over every thought that has ever entered the mind of man. Nothing has ever surprised him. He made the sky. It’s his, and it’s blue because he wanted it to be blue. He made the sun. It’s his, and it’s shining right now because he said so. The moon and the stars and Pluto and Pleiades and Orion, and the Big Dipper. He made it all. It’s his. He made the ocean and the birds, and daffodils and giraffes, and cows, coffee, dirt, time, wind, rocks, and thumbs. He made it all. It’s his. He made Israel and Egypt and Cush and Syria, and you and me and our great-great grandparents. He made us all. We’re his. The Lord is his name.
He is the creator and the sustainer, the owner and the standard over all. And therefore, every sin and every infraction and every injustice is mainly against him.
Because he is God over all, all are liable to him, and therefore he will judge all according to himself.
This is the way things are because God is God. He is so real and so heavy and so true, that judgment on sin makes the most sense if we just think about him. So stop trying to measure your sin. Don’t compare your sin to others’. Wake up, Amos would say. You need to hear me. God is God and that is why he’s the judge.
And he’s coming to destroy, except that he says, in verse 8, “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob.” And this takes us to the last movement: the scope of judgment.
The Scope of Judgment
These last verses of Amos show us, really, the most important theme in the Minor Prophets. It’s that although judgment is coming for Israel, there will also be a restoration. God’s judgment and God’s salvation come together. Notice verse 11, it begins:
“In that day” . . .
This is the great day of Lord that we have already seen in the book of Joel. It’s speaking of a day that will come, in the future, when the God who judges and saves will step in and intervene.
Verse 11 again,
In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.
And this is the promise of restoration. In the wake of all this judgment, God promises to restore the kingdom of Israel. He calls it here “the booth of David.” A booth is basically a little, dilapidated hut. If you can remember back when Israel was freed from Egypt, they were lost out in the wilderness, and they made for themselves these little, makeshift huts to live in. They called them booths. And now, because of the regression that sin has brought, that is what the divided kingdom has become. The once triumphant reign of David, Israel at her highest point, is now a broken-down little shack. But God said: I am going to rebuild it. I am going to take it and raise it up and repair it and bring it back to how it was before in its glory.
And here is the purpose in verse 11:
[I’ll] raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the Lord who does this.
So God says that the restoration of Israel means the possession of (or incorporation of) the “remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name.” Which means, the newly restored Israel will include the “remnant of Edom.” Now what exactly is that? This is a big question because the next book, Obadiah, is all about Edom. So what are we talking about here?
Well, in one sense Edom is just another Gentile nation like Syria, except that in the Hebrew, the word Edom is very similar to the word Adam — we can hear that in the English: Edom/Adam, they are very close. And that matters because “Adam” in Hebrew means mankind. So I think Edom here is meant to trigger Adam, and it’s meant to be representative of all mankind. So that when we see Edom here, Amos wants to think all mankind.
There are two reasons to read it this way in the Bible.
First is that verse 12 goes ahead and says that. It says the “remnant of Edom and all the nations.” I think they are appositional. They’re talking about the same thing.
But then, another reason to read “Edom” as “all mankind” is because of Acts 15. So this is going back to the book of Acts, in the New Testament, which was written years after Amos. We studied through the book of Acts earlier this year. Remember back to Acts 2 and when the gospel first began to spread, the early church was entirely Jewish. But then, in a short matter of time, there were several Gentiles who started believing in Jesus. And the question became: What do we do about these Gentiles? Can they become part of the people of God with Jewish believers? Well, the apostles had this council in Acts 15 to discuss the issue. And if you remember, in that discussion, the apostle James speaks up, and he wants to make sense of all these new Gentile believers. And the way he makes sense of all these Gentiles believing in Jesus is by quoting Amos 9:11–12. He quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament, and this is how James puts it in Acts 15:16–17 —
“After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name…”
So the earliest interpretations of Amos 9:11–12, and one that we find in the Bible itself, sees Edom here as a reference to all mankind. And the point is that there will be a day when there will be one people of God — there will be a newly restored Israel that also includes those from every nation who are called by God’s name. A new people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles. Does anyone want to guess what this new people of God is called? — it’s the church.
The church is the new people of God, made up of Jew and Gentile, who are united as one people under the restored kingdom of David. So we see all this in Amos 9. We see, along with all the judgment, that restoration and salvation will come.
And like with any kingdom, though, there’s has to be a king. And we know from elsewhere in Scripture, that the restored kingdom of David is ruled by the death-conquering son of David.
And this is where all the pieces come together in way that we really could never have imagined...
The promised son of David in 2 Samuel 7 who would be king forever, and reign over a restored kingdom of believers from all nations — the way that promised son, that promised king, brings salvation to his people is not by merely defeating their enemies, but by bearing their judgment as if it were his own. This is how the restoration happens.
God is God over all, and all sins of all people must be judged. That includes the sins of this new people of God. When, then, and where does that judgment take place? Well, it happened on the day — many years after Amos, and many years before us — when in the outskirts of Jerusalem, our King, Jesus the Messiah, led his kingdom, not first on a throne, but on a cross. Our king didn’t bring restoration by diplomatic savvy or by economic expertise. He brought restoration by stretching out his arms and suffering the judgment that we deserved. Before Jesus took his place as King, he took our place as sinners. And he died for us, freely absorbing every ounce of judgment that stood against us.
And when he was raised from the day on the third day, he unleashed into the world his gospel of peace. He unleashed into the world his restoring power that will lead us to another day yet to come. And that day is spoken of in verse 13:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”
Now, I really like the Psalms. I do. And the vision put forward here in these last verses is as beautiful as any Psalm. This is a vision of restoration that includes all of creation. The imagery here reminds us of Eden, but better. It is a garden — an irrevocable, unbreakable garden of peace and harvest. And that is what we are looking forward to.
Which brings us now to the Table.
When we come to the Table, we come here to remember the death of Jesus for us. But we also come to look forward to the day when he will return and consummate his redemption. We remember his kingdom that has invaded our lives, and we eagerly await the day when his kingdom will be complete. We look back and we look forward. We remember and give thanks, and we imagine and, as Paul says, proclaim his death until he comes.