Saturday, May 22, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (16)

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …”

Peter, quoting scripture at Pentecost to explain why Parthian, Median and Egyptian Jews were hearing Galileans speaking their native languages, preceded these prophetic words with the statement “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel.”

Hey, if Peter says so, I believe him.

Full and Partial Fulfillments

Nevertheless, the Pentecostal fulfillment of Joel did not fully exhaust the prophesied outpouring of God’s spirit on all flesh. It was merely a sample, though certainly a very impressive one, of what God has coming. Ezekiel speaks of a future outpouring of God’s spirit on the nation of Israel in which “I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore.” History tells us that state of affairs has yet to occur.

This sort of thing is often called a partial fulfillment of prophetic scripture. It is a parallel event, or an event of the same kind. The statement “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel” in Amos 4 seems to me to be one of these.

Amos 4:12 — Meeting God

“Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

Israel has a scheduled meeting with its God in which the name of the Lord, the God of hosts will once and for all be revealed to his people. Zechariah says the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will one day look “on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn”. In that day, all Israel will finally meet its God, acknowledging Jesus of Nazareth as its Messiah and king, as the Word made flesh who came to his own and was not received. Until that glorious day, any meetings with God which Israel experiences can only be partial — Amos’s especially, since it only involved ten of Israel’s twelve tribes.

Get Ready

The phrase “Prepare to meet your God” is posted over a downtown church I pass on my way to work. Depending on your relationship with God, notice of a prospective meeting either occasions joyful anticipation or fear of coming wrath. John Piper once preached a sermon on this passage in Amos about preparing to meet God which contained tips like “Go to bed early” and “Get up early enough on Sunday”. While these are useful ways to foster a worshipful spirit in anticipation of enjoying the presence of the Lord with his people, that sort of thing is not at all what Amos has in view in this passage. This scheduled meeting would indeed be a revelation of God’s character as a keeper of promises, but it would reveal him in particular as the righteous judge of a sinful people; as greater, more powerful and more knowledgeable than Israel could ever have contemplated.

A meeting can be a welcome event, as when Esau ran to meet his brother Jacob after decades apart, and embraced him. Equally, a meeting can be a colossal disaster, as when the Egyptian army “met” the Red Sea as it returned to its normal course after allowing Israel safe passage — that is literally how the passage reads in Hebrew — or as when the king of the Amorites “met” Israel in the wilderness for war.

It is this latter sort of meeting Amos has in view, as opposed to a worship service on Sunday morning. Having refused all God’s preliminary warnings of judgment, Israel would now experience what it was like to fall into the hands of the living God, something the writer to the Hebrews calls “a fearful thing”.

Scattered Among All Peoples

Many commentators point out that the specific way in which Israel was to “meet God” under his judgment is not spelled out. But just last week we noted that the five judgments Israel had already experienced were phrase-for-phrase lifted from the warnings given to Israel by Moses in Deuteronomy 28 and 29 prior to their entering Canaan. The apostasy of Amos’s day among the people of God had been thoroughly and comprehensively anticipated, and anyone familiar with the Law in the prophet’s original audience would have recognized this.

With this in mind, it only remained for God’s people to call to mind the final judgment mentioned in those chapters, which runs a full 33 verses, ending with, “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples.” This was to be the fate of the ten tribes, many of whose descendants remain scattered throughout our world today.

Amos 4:13 — The Name of the Lord

“For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!”

It must be remembered that despite still using the name of Jehovah and keeping some aspects of the Law of Moses, the Israelites of Amos’s day were idolatrous, and the Canaanite deities they worshiped were all what we might refer to as “local gods” among many others, each with specific portfolios. The God whom Israel must meet is about to demonstrate that he is not on that level at all.

The Lord, the God of Hosts

The first reference to the expression, “the Lord, the God of hosts” is found when David, aged 30, re‑consolidated the kingdom with the Lord’s help. The author of 2 Samuel writes, “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” In Amos, the God who had twice united the nation of Israel was about to tear it apart, but the failure of his people could not change who God was. As we discover throughout scripture, he is not the God of a single host but of many, and not all his hosts are visible to us. Confirming this, Elijah used the same expression twice in his despairing prayer, after which the Lord graciously revealed that he had a “host” of 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal, though even his servant did not know it.

It gets better. In Psalm 59, David writes, “You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel.” The expression God of hosts is describing something larger, of which the hosts of Israel are only a small subset. Hosea points out that Jehovah was “the Lord, the God of hosts” before there existed an Israel over whom he would be God. Jehovah is no mere national deity, as Nebuchadnezzar would eventually discover. In Psalm 89, the expression signifies one who has no equal among heavenly beings, “a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him.” His hosts include the hosts of heaven. In Jeremiah, the Lord, the God of hosts is God of the Babylonian hosts which he has sent to punish Judah. He refers to Nebuchadnezzar, then-king of the world, as “my servant”.

So then, the expression denotes a deity with a sphere of authority that extends from the heavens throughout the entire earth. Wherever there are thrones, dominions and power, the Lord, the God of hosts is over and above all. He is not like El, who lives on a mountain, but rather he is the eternal God who formed the mountains. He is not like Baal, the son of El charged with managing weather, but rather he is the almighty God who created wind and weather. He is not one of the silent gods of the heathen whose disposition toward man must be intuited from his circumstances, but one who “declares to man what is his thought”. He speaks and makes his will known. He is not like Shapash, god of the sun or Yarikh, god of the moon, but rather the eternal God who created both day and night, who “makes the morning darkness”. He is not a god of certain powers, but a God who treads all powers underfoot.

It is this God whom Israel must prepare to meet.

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