Summary: A warning about the consequences of taking God’s blessings for granted
Nostalgia is not what it used to be; I really miss good old-fashioned nostalgia. Is anyone else here nostalgic? Who misses ‘the good old days’?
It’s funny, isn’t it, how things from our pasts, often have such an appeal. A much greater appeal than they did when they were still current. Nowadays I write on a computer, thinking nothing of it (indeed I prepared this sermon using one) – but show me an old-fashioned manual typewriter (that I used to take completely for granted) and the memories come flooding back. There are so many things that we never appreciate until we no longer have them, not realising how fortunate we are to have something until it is too late seems to be almost a part of human nature. An example of this can be found just across the road from us at Poplar baths. For many years Poplar had a splendid facility of a public swimming pool. But it was not appreciated. There was insufficient investment in it and the building gradually crumbled until it was no longer safe to run it and it had to be closed. After that people began to realise what they had lost, and so began the long campaign to have it reopened, part of which was the public consultation in our hall two weeks ago. But if it had not been taken for granted and neglected for so many years, it would never have needed to close.
Amos 8:8-14 contains a dire warning of the consequences of not appreciating the blessings of God and his communication with his people. The people of Israel were part of God’s chosen nation. They had split from their brethren of the tribe of Judah over the question of who should succeed King Solomon, and established their own kingdom in the north of the promised land. Very soon they began to forget the blessings of the Lord who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, given them a land and had protected and guided them for so many years. They made idols and began to worship them. They started to follow other religions. The rich started to oppress the poor. God raised up prophets to bring the people back to him, but they rejected their message. They took their status of being his chosen people for granted.
They began to despise the word of God. They did not want to hear. They wanted God to shut-up and stop bothering them with messages that discomforted them, that spoke about their sin, that upset their equilibrium. They liked being God’s people, but they wanted him to leave them in peace. God then raised up another prophet, Amos, a shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah. Amos told them that God would give them exactly what they wanted. He would stop speaking to them. He would stop troubling them with prophets. He would leave them to their rebellions and sins.
Too late they would appreciate his attention. Too late they would realise how blessed they were to have the Lord of the universe as their God, as their loving father. Then they would know what they had lost.
There were times when famine would strike the land, when there would not be sufficient food or water to go round, when people would go hungry or thirsty. Times of physical suffering. Now God was promising a different sort of famine. A time of spiritual hunger and thirst. A time when many would be desperate to achieve spiritual satisfaction and nourishment, but none would be there. Verse 12 paints a graphic picture of men and women running round the country from place to place, desperate for some word from God, but finding none. They would go from the Mediterranean in the west to the Dead Sea in the east and to the most northerly part of the kingdom, to the idolatrous shrine at Dan frantically looking for nourishment for their hungry souls, and finding none. The one direction they would not go was south, to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, the one place where they would have found the Lord. Verse 13 shows us the extent of their suffering; even the strong youths lost their vigour in the great spiritual famine. Many would seek satisfaction in the wrong places and from false Gods. They would fall completely. The idols that promised so much materially would fail them. The easy religion would be shown to be the fake and the trap that it was.
They had had tremendous privilege, but they thought lightly of it, just like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup, and, as a result, just like Esau, they lost their privilege.
We are tremendously privileged people. Just like the Israelites we have the immense benefits of being God’s people on earth. We have the word of God. We have the final revelation of God in Christ. We have been adopted as God’s own sons, inheriting his salvation and his kingdom, when once we were outsiders. We often sing ‘count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’. Blessings and privileges that the Israelites never even dreamed about or imagined could be possible. The Israelites lost their blessings through neglect, through taking them for granted, for counting their privilege a burden. Amos gave them a warning and told them what would happen.