John T. Willis

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Prepare to Meet your God--Amos 4

The introductory summons in Amos 4:1: "Hear this word," begins the next section of the Book of Amos. Amos 4 is a coherent chapter, which naturally falls into three parts. The theme of this chapter is that Yahweh warns his people that he is about to punish them for their heinous sins. We will work through this chapter briefly.

I. Yahweh through Amos the prophet reproves the wealthy, powerful, prestigious women of Israel because they oppress the poor and defenseless. Amos 4:1-3.
a. "Cows of Bashan" is a figurative term referring to highly valued cattle of Bashan feeding on the fields east of the Jordan in the northern region. See Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalm 22:12; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 39:18. The women described here live in "Samaria," the capital of North Israel, and are closely connected with the royal court and powerful, wealthy men in the community. With their power, these women summon their "husbands" to brings large quantities of wine which they seize from the poor people nearby. Verse 1.
b. Yahweh's response is that he will take these sinful wealthy, powerful people in Samaria into exile like a sports person catches fish and strings them on stringers. This common practice was very appropriate to describe this announcement of the impending fall of Samaria to happen in 721 B. C. Verses 2-3.

II. Now, naturally, Amos moves into sarcasm. Sarcasm is a rhetorical strategy to say precisely the opposite of what the speaker intends. Amos 4:4-5.
a. Amos cries out to the people of Israel to go to church: to Bethel, to Gilgal, common worship places in Amos' day. When they arrive at church, Amos urges them to "transgress," to "multiply transgression." Obviously, this is the opposite of what Amos and God desire--but this is what the people of Israel desire: Note the last line of verse 5: "for so you love to do, O people of Israel." Behind this call is the recurring idea that "religion" is based on "quantity." The more religious acts one does, the closer one is to God. Amos 4:4-5 exposes such an idea. Verse 4a.
b. According to the law of Moses, worshippers were to bring their sacrifices every sabbath day, and their tithes every three sabbaths [every third week]. But, sarcastically, Amos charges the people to "multiply" their religion: bring your sacrifices every morning [not just once a week] and your tithes every three days [not every third week]. Then bring a thank offering of leavened bread and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them. Make sure that everybody knows that you are worshipping God in public so everyone can see the worshippers. This "show of religion" calls to mind Jesus' repudiation of the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 23. Verses 4b-5.

III. Yahweh tried again and again to bring his chosen people to repentance, but they refused. Therefore, Yahweh will certainly punish them by destruction and exile. Amos 4:6-13.
a. FIVE TIMES Yahweh tried to bring the people of Israel to repent and turn back to God, but he cries out sadly: "Yet you did not return to me, says the Lord." As mentioned in a previous blog, note the rhetorical use of "repetition" in this text. Here are the five efforts Yahweh attempted:
1. Yahweh deprived the people of Israel of food. Verse 6.
2. Yahweh withheld rain from the people of Israel and a drought resulted. Verses 7-8.
3. Yahweh struck the land of the people of Israel with blight and mildew. Verse 0.
4. Yahweh sent a pestilence among his chosen people. Verse 10.
5. Yahweh overthrow some of the cities and towns of Israel at the hand of enemies. Verse 11.
But in every case, the people of Israel hardened their hearts and refused to return to Yahweh.
b. "Therefore," Yahweh declares that Yahweh will punish his people so severely that one cannot imagine or describe. Verse 12 simply and graphically calls this calamity "thus" and "this." It is all the afflictions described in verses 6-11 and more. So, Yahweh calls out: "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel." Verse 12.
There are signs along the roads in Arkansas with this message. Preachers use this text to encourage people in the pew to repent and turn to God before their lives are over. This call may be biblical, but not in Amos 4:12. The context of Amos 4:12 shows that the idea is: Ready or not, Yahweh is coming to punish the sinful people of Israel--Prepare for this impending punishment.
c. Amos 4 concludes with a doxology. This was probably part of a well-known song sung in churches in North Israel. The thoughts of this song are true, but the Israelites are misapplying the meaning. Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of the whole universe. Yahweh:
forms the mountain;
creates the wind;
reveals his thoughts to mortals;
makes the morning darkness;
treads on the heights of the earth.
And this powerful God is about to punish his sinful people for their heinous sins.

Share YOUR insights with Amos 4. Give me YOUR ideas. I need all the understanding I can receive. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

How Could It Be?

It is always awesome and amazing and inspiring and humbling when a couple gives birth to a child. Evelyn and I have been blessed four times to enjoy this experience. Undoubtedly the most amazing birth ever was the birth of Jesus Christ. In his album "The Promise," Michael Card has presented the song "How Could It Be?" couched in the context of Joseph, the earthly "father" of Jesus Christ. As we think of the birth of Jesus at Christmas time, and as we think of the experiences that Joseph must have undertaken in texts like Matthew 1:18-25, this song touches our hearts and our lives. Thanks to the insights of my friend David Mickey, I am passing on this song to each of you.

How could it be?
This baby in my arms,
Sleeping now so peacefully.
"The Son of God," the angel said.
How could it be?

Lord, I know He's not my own,
Not of my flesh, not of my bone.
Still, Father, let this baby be
a son of my love.
Father, show me where I fit
Into this plan of yours.

How can a man be father
to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life
I've been a simple carpenter.
How can I raise a King?
How can I raise a King?

He looks so small,
His face and hands so fair.
And when He cries the sun
just seems to disappear.
But when he laughs,
it shines again.
How could it be?
Father, show me where I fit
into this plan of yours.
How can a man be father
to the Son of God?
Lord, for all my life
I've been a simple carpenter.
How can I raise a King?
How can I raise a King?
How could it be?
The baby in my arms
sleeping now so peacefully.
"The Son of God," the angel said.
How could it be?
How could it be?

The words of this song are moving. But beyond that, I hope you can HEAR this song as well. Michael Card has done a marvelous job in producing this song. I hope and prayer that you already know this song. It will transform your life.

Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Adversary Even Around the Land--Amos 3

Amos 3 is a unit, divided into four parts. The theme of this chapter is: Yahweh announces that "an adversary" is all around the land of Israel, warning that Israel will fall if she continues to sin against Yahweh. This chapter begins with the call: "Hear this word," just as Amos 4 and Amos 5:1-17. Let us briefly walk through this chapter.

I. The Greater the Privilege, the Greater the Responsibility. Amos 3:1-2.
a. "Hear" is plural in verse 1, so the speaker is addressing a group. The context indicates that this audience is the people of Israel.
b. The speaker is the prophet Amos, because the speaker speaking of Yahweh in the third person. Yahweh has revealed his message to Amos, and now Amos is proclaiming Yahweh's message to this audience. Verse 1.
c. Yahweh had done marvelous acts in behalf of his people. He brought them out of the land of Egypt--verse 1. Amos 2:10 already made this point, and thus ties Amos 3 to Amos 2.
d. Yahweh, out of his own freewill grace, decided to choose Israel to be his own people. "Election" is a huge idea throughout scripture, Old and New Testaments. It is very easy for God's "chosen" people to feel arrogant and special. Such a thought is anti-godly, anti-Christian, and unbiblical. Rather, Yahweh chose Israel [and, in the New Testament, the church] to demonstrate to the world that Yahweh could save and redeem and use for his own purposes the most sinful people on earth. How could anyone, then, be arrogant or proud? Literarlly, the Hebrew word here is "know." This Hebrew word has a wide variety of meanings, and the modern English hearer or reader must beware of assuming this word means "perceive, recognize" as an intellectual undertaking. Rather, here and in other biblical passages [for example, Genesis 4:1, 17; Exodus 33:12], "know" is marriage language. Many scholars correctly translate this word as "choose" because of the context. The idea is that Yahweh is the husband and Israel is his wife, and hence Yahweh enters into an intimate, daily, personal relationship with Israel. This is what "know" means here.
As we discussed in Amos 1-2, Yahweh knows very well that he knows all the families of the earth, not just Judah and Israel. Accordingly, Yahweh punishes all these nations when they sin against Yahweh. Just as Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt, he also brought the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans [Syrians] from Kir. Amos 9:7. Yahweh love, cares for, punishes, and redeems, all nations, not just Judah and Israel. Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Amos, Anchor Bible
24A, page 382 write correctly:
"Amos 9:7 shows that Israel was not the exclusive object of Yahweh's historical activities, nor the sole recipient of his favor. . . . Although v 2 states the case in absolute terms, these should be taken as relative rather than exclusive: I have given you more attention than any other people; therefore I expect more from you than from them." The great the privilege, the greater the responsibility. In the Old and New Testaments, Yahweh has chosen first Israel and then the church, not to extol or elevate or make arrogant his people, but as Yahweh's special responsibility to use his chosen people to bless the rest of the world.

II. Two Walking Together. Amos 3:3-8.
a. Amos 3:3-6 contains 7 questions, which actually contain an introductory question and three illustrations in question form. (1) Do two walk together unless they have made an appointment? Obviously NO. (2) Does a lion roar when it has caught no prey? Obviously NO. (3) Does a bird fall into a snare when there is no trap there? Obviously NO. (4) Is a trumpet blown in a city and the people are not afraid? Obviously NO. But WHO are these TWO who walk together? Scholars propose two major interpretations.
1. The TWO are Yahweh and Israel. Yahweh will pounce on Israel like a lion pounces on a prey. Yahweh will entrap Israel like a snare or a trap catches a bird. Yahweh will announce the fall of Israel like a watchman or a sentinel blows a trumpet to warn the people that an enemy is coming.
2. The TWO are Yahweh and Amos the prophet. To demonstrate Amos' audience, Yahweh has "captured" Amos so that Amos will declare Yahweh's message. Yahweh pounced on Amos like a lion pounces on a prey. Yahweh ensnared Amos like a trap ensnares a bird. Yahweh proclaimed to Amos that Yahweh is about to punish Israel like a sentinel blows a warning trumpet.
In my opinion, either interpretation is possible. Verses 7-8 seem to fit a little better to the interpretation of Choice 2. But either is possible.
b. Yahweh does not punish a people or an individual without first warning of the impending punishment. Yahweh reveals this impending punishment through "his servants the prophets." This expression occurs often in the Bible. See Jeremiah 7:25. verse 7.
c. The parallelism in verse 8 is abab. Hence, "The lion has roared" is parallel to "The Lord has spoken." Amos 1:2 used this same language. Yahweh is like a lion, and the roar of the lion is the "voice" of Yahweh, proclaimed through Yahweh's prophets, here Amos. Again, "Who will not fear" is parallel to "Who can but prophesy?" Amos here is explaining that he MUST proclaim God's message; he has no choice.

III. Yahweh summons other nations to observe Yahweh's work upon his people Israel. Amos 3:9-12.
a. Notice that in Amos 3:9-12, Amos addresses non-Israelite nations to demonstrate that Yahweh's work on earth is an "object lesson" to the nations. Yahweh's acts toward his chosen people [Israel, the church] not to extol his chosen people, but to use his chosen people as an object to the nations. God's chosen people is like Wal-Mart. A person can find anything at Wal-Mart. This is a microcosm of the whole world--all nations. So, Yahweh calls the nations of Philistia and Egypt to watch what is happening on "Mount Samaria," the capital of North Israel. Verse
b. The nations see "oppression" and "violence" in Samaria, in Israel. God's chosen people are just like all nations. They oppress others and treat others violentsly. Verses 9b-10.
c. Hence, Yahweh announces that "an adversary" surrounds the land of Israel, the land of Canaan. Amos never specifically declares WHO the adversary is. But, historically, this adversary is the Assyrians who overthrew Israel in 721 B. C. Verse 11.
d. When a lion attacked a sheep and tore the sheep apart, the shepherd would try to find some small remnant of the sheep to demonstrate that he attempted to defend his sheep against the lion. Yahweh the lion is about to attack the sheep Israel. All that will be left is a tiny piece of the remaining sheep: "two legs" or "a piece of an ear." When Samaria falls, one may find "the corner of a couch" or "part of a bed." Verse 12.

IV. Yahweh will soon punish rich, powerful Israel, his chosen people. Amos 3:13-15.
a. Amos calls again to the audience. "Hear" is plural in Amos 3:13. He summons the people to testify against the house of Jacob=Israel. Yahweh declares that he will punish his chosen people because of their transgressions. Verses 13-14a.
b. Specifically, Yahweh announces that he will punish the altars of Bethel. Bethel was a well-known place of worship in North Israel. The Book of Amos refers to Bethel several times. 1 Kings 12:29-33 reports that Jeroboam I set up two golden calves to symbolize Yahweh bringing his people out of Egypt: one in Bethel in the southern part of North Israel, and one in Dan in the northern part of North Israel. Verse 14b.
c. Specifically again, Yahweh announces that he will destroy the rich houses of the powerful and the pretigious in North Israel: the winter house, the summer house, the houses of ivory, the great houses. Verse 15.
Times and people have not changed. Many people in the USA and in other countries spend millions of dollars to build opulent houses, as if this made them important or demonstrated their wealth or power or wisdom. When will we ever learn? Wealth and power and influence is here today and gone tomorrow. Only God persists and prevails.

Amos 3 is full of rich, wonderful, powerful message from God. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Can YOU see how relevant this chapter is for all of us? Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Be Not Dismayed

In my own life, I have had many times when life was very hard. My job has been threatened, I have endured intense medical concerns including several surgeries and a stroke, friends and foes have opposed some of my beliefs, I have been involved in injuries and accidents, just like many of you.

The season of Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time when many people are depressed because of loss of jobs, loss of friends, loss of husband or wife or parent or child, or setbacks, or ill health, and the events multiply. It is very easy for us to become distressed and "down in the dumps."

As we think of this period of time, PLEASE think of many of the things Paul endured during his life as he tried to serve God through Jesus Christ. Just one passage illustrates some of Paul's suffering--2 Corinthians 6:4-10. But NOTICE Paul's "eternal optimism" in all these losses.

"As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute. We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying and see--we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

Life, and especially the Christian life, is very hard and challenging and touch and depressing. This is just the way life is. But with God's help and hope and support and grace and mercy, we can and will survive and prosper.

In 1904, Ciliaa D. Marin wrote the words of the song: "Be No Dismay Whate'er Betide," and W. Stillman Martin wrote the music. This is an old song, but its thoughts pervade even today. I hope these words will lift up YOU heart today.

First Stanza: Be not dismayed whate'er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Second Stanza: Thru days of toil when heart doth fail
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

Third Stanza: All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

Fourth Stanza: No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.

Refrain: God will take care of you,
Thru every day, O'er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

As you face tough times today and in the next few weeks, remember that God will take care of YOU. Share YOUR feelings and frustrations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Last Two Oracles concerning the Nations--Amos 2:4-16

The last two oracles concerning the nations in Amos 1:3-2:16 [following the first six oracles concerning the nations in amos 1:3-2:3 discussed in a previous blog] deal with [South] Judah [Amos 2:4-5] and [North] Israel [Amos 2:6-16]. First, let us work through these two oracles, and the make some observations.

I. Oracle concerning Judah. Amos 2:4-5.
a. Note that Yahweh approaches Judah in the same way as all the other nations. They all have sinned against Yahweh, including Judah and Israel. Verse 4.
b. Judah prided herself is keeping the law of Yahweh, keeping Yahweh's statutes. Yahweh through Amos declares that Judah has sinned against Yahweh. "Being led astray by lies" probably refers to the worship of foreign gods. See Deuteronomy 32:21;
1 Kings 16:13, 26; Jer. 8:19; and often.

II. Oracle concerning North Israel. Amos 2:6-16.
a. Yahweh declares that Israel is just as guilty as all the nations, because they all mistreat and oppress innocent people who cannot defend themselves.
b. Selling the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals refers to the practice of wicked rich people seizing the possessions of their neighbors to gain what they desire to have for themselves. Verse 6. A very similar term appears in Amos
c. The rich and powerful afflict the poor. A man and his son commit fornication against the same woman. Verse 7.
d. The wicked rich recline beside their altars on "garments taken in pledge." Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13 decree that a person in debt must supply his/her "collateral" [garment in pledge] to the person to whom he/she owed the debt, but each night, the individual receiving the debt must restore the collateral to the debtor. These "rich wicked worshippers" drink wine in the temple with fines exacted from debtors. Verse 8.
e. Yahweh stops and reminds his people of all the mighty acts of Yahweh, empowering them to be Yahweh's people. He mentions: Bringing Israel out of Egyptian bondage; leading Israel in the wilderness 40 years; giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites; raising up prophets and nazirites to encourage the people. Verses 9-11.
f. But, the Israelites made the Israelites drink wine and commanding the prophets not to proclaim Yahweh's message. Verse 12.
g. Consequently, Yahweh declares that Yahweh will punish his sinful people. Yahweh will take away their ability to flee and remove their military strength. Verses 13-16.

A study of Amos 1-2 leads one to see the following conclusions:
1. Yahweh is in control of all nations.
2. Yahweh cares for all nations. All nations are completely dependent on Yahweh.
3. Yahweh has chosen Israel to be his special people [see Amos 3:1-2]. This does not mean that Israel is politically, economically, religiously, or scientifically superior to other nations. Such an idea misses the whole point of the text.
4. Yahweh is ready and anxious to forgive all nations for all their sins. This is just as true to all nations as it is to Yahweh's chosen people.
5. Behind Yahweh's punishment is Yahweh's grace and love and mercy. Yahweh does not punish people to destroy them, but to attempt to bring them to repentance. Punishment is Yahweh's means to try to save all peoples.
6. Oppressing the poor and the needy and the widows and the orphans and aliens is a major concern of Yahweh. Some people have made a distinction between "social" ane "religious" worship and practices. This is not God's view. God is deeply concerning with all people. Read James 1:26-27. Verse 27 says: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

These texts are as fresh and contemporaneous as the morning newspaper. They should change the hearts of professed Christians who neglect the needy. "True religion" is not something that occurs in a church building, but in the interactive behavior and actions toward others.

What are YOUR thoughts? Share YOUR ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis

Monday, December 07, 2009

Wahnes's Parotia

The Wahnes's Parotia is a medium sized passerine or the birds of paradise family. The male has an iridescent yellow-green breast shield, elongated black plumes, three erectile spatule head wires behind each eye, coppery-bronzed nasal tuft feathers and long, wedge-shaped tail feathers. The female is a rich brown bird with blackish head. This birds is between 14 and 16 inches long and approximate 16 inches in wingspan. It weighs 5 to 6 ounces. This little bird lives only in a small section of the northern coastal mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea. The diet of this bird is mainly fruits and anthropods. The male is plygamous and performs a spectacular courtship dance in the forest ground. Some call this his "ballerina dance."

The clutch contains one or two eggs. The are approximately 40 x 26 mm and have a pale cream base color. They have a varying pattern of streaks and dots, dense at the large end and very sparse on the other, and consisting of lower gray and an upper tan layer with some overlap. The German collector Carl Wahnes first discovered this bird in 1906. Experts estimated between 2,500 and 10,000 Wahnes's Parotia on earth.

In the 2009 issue of the National Geographic, the editors highlight this bird to encourage people to attempt to try to keep this bird alive and growing. We hope people will honor all of God's creatures, and support this and all creatures on earth.

The Wahnes's Parotia is another example of God's creativity. Those who see this bird must acknowledge the uniqueness of this creature. Every creature on earth is God's unique handiwork. YOU are unique. God created YOU. God loves YOU and cares for YOU. Appreciate YOURSELF. Appreciate all of God's creatures. Appreciate God. Worship and serve God daily.

What are YOUR thoughts? Share YOUR experiences with God's creatures here on earth. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis