For the Love of God, Volume 2/November 14
From Gospel Translations
1 Chronicles 3—4; Hebrews 9; Amos 3; Psalms 146—147
HERE I REFLECT ON TWO themes from Amos 3:
(1) “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins” (3:2). The basic premise is simple: privilege brings responsibility. But the matter runs deeper, along at least two lines. (a) The peculiar privilege here is being chosen to know God, being known by him—and all knowledge of this God entails proximity to holiness. Small wonder, then, that this privilege brings punishment for sins. (b) But this is in any case itself a privilege. Nurtured sin eventually brings condemnation and destruction; sin punished may bring repentance and contrition, which the Lord seeks. Certainly this text excludes the view that being chosen by God means one is exempt from obedience and faithfulness to him, or that God is a big sugar daddy in the sky. As J. A. Motyer has put it: “Special privileges, special obligations; special grace, special holiness; special revelation, special scrutiny; special love, special responsiveness . . . the church of God cannot ever escape the perils of its uniqueness.”
(2) The sequence of rhetorical questions in verses 3-5 may initially seem irrelevant to Western eyes. But doubtless they were Amos’s way of getting his message across to hearers who were hostile both to him and to his message. In a culture that loved riddles and proverbs, his questions drew them into his thought before they realized what was up. The point becomes clearer with each new question: events have causes. If people meet and walk together, it is because they have agreed to do so. If a lion roars, it is because it has killed its prey. If a trap is sprung, it is because some bird or animal has triggered it. If a warning trumpet sounds, it is because a dangerous enemy has been sighted. Events have causes. So Amos drives home two points. (a) If disaster strikes a city, God must be behind it (3:6). Of course, there may be many secondary causes, but ultimately God himself is behind it. Amos does not believe in coincidence, bad luck, or a finite God who slips up now and then. He believes in providence—and believing in providence means believing that in disasters God is speaking the language of warning or judgment. (b) The warnings God gives correspond with real dangers. The trumpet blows to warn of a real enemy. God may provide gracious warning through his servants the prophets (3:7)—and such warnings are not hot air, mere religious mouthings, but flags that correspond with imminent danger. So repent: “The lion has roared—who will not fear?” And don’t shoot the messenger: “The Sovereign LORD has spoken—who can but prophesy?” (3:8).