Mike Ford, reflecting on the inordinately high casualties of the American Civil War, far more extensive than all of the other wars combined, compares the devastation to another civil war between Judah and Israel, recorded in 1 Kings 14 and II Chronicles 11, a tragic war where more than 500,000 soldiers lost their lives because the leadership turned away from God, embracing disgusting forms of idolatry. After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam, after seeking unwise counsel, provoked a split or secession of the northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam, who promoted the worship of golden calves in a counterfeit Feast of Tabernacles in Bethel and Dan and appointing his own unscrupulous priests to administer the pagan services, which promoted sodomy and male temple prostitutes. When King Abijah earnestly appealed to God at the beginning of a devastating siege, repenting of the foolish God-rejecting policies of his father's administration, God heard his intercessory prayer; Rehoboam's army was soundly routed, suffering 500,000 casualties, and Judah basked in a short-lived peace. Abijah had three good years but was suddenly cut off because the victory went to his head, and he didn't move forward, removing the idols and outlawing the disgusting pagan religious practices. One successful act of faith is only something to build on, not merely a motivation to rest on laurels. We need to make sure that we move forward in our spiritual battles, extirpating any idol that comes into our lives, separating us from God.
Amos 8:11 speaks of "a famine . . . of hearing the words of the LORD." Such a spiritual famine is occurring today: The words of God are readily available, but few are hearing them. David Grabbe explains this prophecy and its connection to the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The northern tribes of Israel, having rejected Davidic rule, chose Jeroboam as their king, and he soon led the Northern Kingdom into apostasy. Charles Whitaker shows that after just over 200 years, Israel fell to Assyria, and it people were taken captive and transported to Media. Judah lasted about a century and a half longer, falling to Babylon in 585 BC.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh warns us that in our relationship with God, we must emphasize principle over pragmatism, because pragmatism inevitably leads to idolatry. Jeroboam, in setting idolatrous shrines and festivals at Dan and Bethel, appealed to the carnal desire for practical convenience (I Kings 12:26-33). These practical compromises eventually led to the desecration of the Sabbath and the holy days, ending in the captivity of Israel. When doctrine is diluted, it turns into outright idolatry. Like ancient Israel, we have to guard against the tendency to gravitate toward ministers speaking smooth and pleasant things at the expense of turning from the truth. If we are led into deception, it is because our carnal nature wanted it that way (Jeremiah 17:9).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that keeping the Feast of Tabernacles in a central location enables us to realize that we are involved in something larger than our own salvation- part of a universal and eternal mission, giving us unity toward God's purpose. Jeroboam, motivated by political ambition and self-centered fear, incrementally and surreptitiously established a more convenient idolatrous festival, replacing the Levites, and establishing new centers of worship in order to prevent his people from keeping the legitimate Feast of Tabernacles in Judah. The modern parallel seems quite clear.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that people who opt for a fifteenth Passover do not do so from a pure motive for seeking the truth, but instead reflects an irresponsible grab for power. Unfortunately, major reinterpretations and alterations have significantly distorted the meaning of Passover and Unleavened Bread, blurring the distinction between the two events. Even major Protestant theologians realize the drastic changes which placed humanly devised practices on the same status as the commands of God. Beside rendering themselves blind to the true significance of Christ's sacrifice, proponents of the fifteenth Passover (old and new) unwittingly follow Jeroboam's precedent of leading his people into rank paganism.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh begins by explaining that Amos means "burden bearer," characterizing the message he delivered. Like a hawk circling around in tightening circles, Amos gives a series of dire warnings beginning with Israel's arch-enemies but concluding with a blistering indictment on Israel herself—appearing religious, prosperous, and formidable on the outside but rotting from self-pleasing idolatry and cancerous moral decay on the inside. This situation parallels modern Israel and the current situation in the church of God. Privilege (God's calling) brings grave responsibility, and judgment (God's plumb line) begins at the house of God. Amos is speaking to us.
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