Summary: When God’s people reject God’s word for long enough, God removes that word from them.
What is the one thing that you would miss most if it were taken away from you? What would you most miss if you woke up tomorrow and found you no longer had it? Would it be your family? Your children? Your dog or your cat? Your photo albums? Your health perhaps? I want you to think about that question as we look at Amos 8.
In fact we’ll look at chs 7&8, because they fit together. Here’s the situation. Israel has been ignoring God. He’s been sending his prophets to warn his people to return to just living and to faithful worship of the LORD alone almost since the kingdom was first divided, back in 930 BC. But the people haven’t listened. As we saw last week, the rich have oppressed the poor. They live in luxury while the poor are downtrodden. Writing at about the same time, the Prophet Hosea speaks of their idolatry. They’ve taken for granted their status as God’s chosen people for so long that they seem incapable of understanding their plight; of understanding that God might be angry with them. Despite Amos’ warnings they continue to do evil in God’s sight. And so God is preparing to bring judgement on them. Ch7 begins with the approach of a swarm of locusts, which will destroy the harvest, leaving the people to starve. Amos sees this and prays to God to forgive them; to have mercy on them, because this will devastate the land. And God relents. Then he sees a vision of a great fire coming that will be so great that it will even fry up the sea. Again he prays for mercy and God relents.
But it’s clear that this is only a temporary respite. In 7:7 God shows Amos a plumb line set against a wall, to show that the wall had been built true to plumb. And he says I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword." God’s patience has a limit. He’s listened to Amos’ prayers up until now, but the time has come to apply God’s building code to the structure of the nation of Israel. God is going to judge the sins of Israel.
Mind you, the scale of destruction in this case is different. The earlier visions showed utter destruction for Israel. They would have wiped Israel out altogether. But this time God is acting not in wrath, but in objective judgement. The high places will be destroyed, the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste. Up until now, he says, he’s passed by the high places, the sites of pagan worship by his people. But no more. Now he’s going to target them as he sends the Assyrians to carry out his judgement.
God’s patience is a tricky thing isn’t it? Sometimes we see how God lets sinfulness go and we wonder what he’s doing. We see evil in the world and wonder why God hasn’t done something to wipe it out. On the other hand sometimes it makes us complacent. We see that we’re getting away with blue murder and maybe begin to think that it doesn’t matter. That’s certainly the way the people of Israel were thinking. We’ll see that in a moment when we look at their attitude to the Sabbath. But it does matter. God is patient. God is merciful. But let’s not forget that when he revealed his name to Moses on Mt Sinai he said this: "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, ... yet by no means clearing the guilty." God is patient, but a time will come when his patience will run out and he’ll come to judge the world. Peter tells us this: "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (2 Pet 3:9 NRSV)
But time has run out. In 8:1 Amos sees another vision, this time of a basket of fruit. God asks him "What do you see?" And Amos replies "A basket of summer fruit." So what? What does this basket of summer fruit mean?
Well, we actually lose a bit in the NRSV translation. There’s actually a play in words in the Hebrew here. The word for ’summer fruit’ and the word for ’end’ sound very much alike. The NIV puts it like this: ’"A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. Then the Lord said to me "The time is ripe for my people Israel."’ They’re about to be gathered in like the summer harvest of fruit. Not that this will be a particularly joyful occasion mind you. In fact it’ll be the opposite: "3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day," says the Lord GOD; "the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Silence!" Do you remember how a couple of weeks ago we heard Amos preaching in the temple square with the sound of the singers echoing through the gates of the Temple. But no more. All you can hear now is silence. Desolation. The people have been removed or killed. The sanctuary is laid waste.