Summary: To provide some background to the book of Amos. To do that, we’ll need to know some history and geography with a bit of sociology and covenantal theology thrown in. A dash of horticulture and zoology wouldn’t go astray either.
REFLECTIONS ON SOCIETY?
THE KANSAS SENATE PRAYER
Many people pray when they begin a sermon. I’m not going to do that! Instead, I’m going to read a prayer that first saw the light of day 4 years ago (23rd January 1996). It was a prayed at the opening of a new session of the Kansas Senate. It’s suggested that in such circumstances, clergymen should follow the "Guidelines for Civic Occasions", written by the National Conference of Christians and Jews which calls for the use of universal terms for the deity and for the recognition of the pluralism of American society. But what Pastor Joe Wright prayed that day didn’t conform. Let me read some of it:
Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, "Woe on those who call evil good" but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism;
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism;
We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle;
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery;
We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation;
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare;
We have killed our unborn and called it choice;
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable;
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem;
We have abused power and called it political savvy;
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition;
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression;
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free... I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. (Senior Pastor Joe Wright of Central Christian Church, Wichita, Kansas.)
How do those words strike you? Do they reflect what you’ve seen of the world, or what you’re read in the papers, or seen on TV? Perhaps you think they reflect only a part of life - that they describe the exception, rather than the rule.
AMOS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Perhaps so, and yet they partially echo the words that were spoken by God through a guy called Amos around 2,800 years ago. What God said through Amos was, "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor ... and deny justice to the oppressed." A little later, he writes, "You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god- which you made for yourselves."
We see parallels between these words as they reflect a society that is less than ideal. Two-and-a-half millennia separate those pronouncements, yet the prayer uttered in the Kansas Senate echoes the words of Amos to the nation of Israel.
THE PLACE OF AMOS
Tonight we start to focus on that message from Amos. Tonight we look at the past - Israel’s past in the days of the divided kingdom with each nation turning from God to try to shape their own destinies. Tonight we hear what God had to say and how He was planning to shape their future - and ours. The way Israel and Judah responded to God two-and-a half thousand years ago had consequences for them, and how we respond to God today has consequences for us.
One purpose of tonight’s sermon is to provide some background to help you understand the book of Amos - to provide a framework for what you’ll hear in the next five sermons on Amos. To do that, we’ll need to know some history and geography with a bit of sociology and covenantal theology thrown in. A dash of horticulture and zoology wouldn’t go astray either.
But the primary aim is for us to know God better and so to grow in our Christ-likeness.
A POTTED HISTORY OF ISRAEL
Before we zoom in on Amos, we need a broad view of the history and geography of the Promised Land to get some perspective on what Amos had to say.
THE GOLDSWORTHY COATHANGER
Israel and Judah had a somewhat chequered past - to say the least. Graham Goldsworthy put together a chart outlining their joint and separate histories. This is the Goldsworthy coathanger (© Graham Goldsworthy, from Gospel and Kingdom)
The chart spans from creation to the new creation and so it doesn’t have too much detail - but it does contain an outline of the major events of the last three thousand years as we see God forging a people for Himself.