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    Aug 03, 2014

    Class 18: Amos & Obadiah

    Series: Old Testament Overview

    Category: Core Seminars, Grace and Mercy, The Wrath of God, Repentance, The End Times / Return of Christ, Indwelling Sin, Nature of Sin




    Welcome back.  Today we’ll continue with the next two Minor Prophets.  Why are they called “Minor Prophets?”  [WAIT FOR SOMEONE TO ANSWER]  It’s not because they are less significant than the “Major Prophets.”  It’s just that they’re shorter in length then other prophetic books.  Last week we looked at Hosea and Joel.  We learned through their symbolism about God’s judgment.  But also his promise to extend grace, mercy, and hope.  Today, we’ll move into Amos and Obadiah, and see if we can’t expand on what we’ve already learned. 






    In Amos 1:1, Amos tells us he’s from the southern kingdom, but his preaching focuses on the north.  He also tells us he was preaching during the reign of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam II in Israel.  This puts Amos, and the writing of this book, in roughly the mid 8th century BC.  That’s just a few decades before the fall of the North and shortly before Isaiah undertook his ministry.  This was a time of great economic prosperity, expansion, and security for both kingdoms.


    So Amos prophesies after the nation’s been divided, but before there’s any Assyrian threat in the picture.  Both North and South are both standing – and standing with strength and confidence.  Like Joel used a locust plague, Amos also uses an historical event to emphasize his message.  He mentions in 1:1 that he prophesied two years before “the earthquake?”  Well, apparently this was a pretty big earthquake.  So big, that a prophet even as late as Zechariah makes mention of it, in Zechariah 14:5.  More on that in just a minute.




    Here is a summary sentence for Amos:


    Yahweh is angry because His people are getting rich by oppressing their own kinsmen, and despising the righteous and His word. 


    Just like in the last prophets we looked at, we’ll see these recurring themes.  Yahweh’s anger because of sins, and the call to repentance lest He break out in wrath.  In this book, Yahweh is angry about two things.  One, His own people are acting corruptly, by trying to get rich off the oppression of their kinsmen.  And two, He is angry because His people despise those who are righteous, and they despise the word of Yahweh.  What Amos is saying with the earthquake is that if the people don’t repent from their sinful economic practices, Yahweh will come in judgment and shake the earth unlike any earthquake they’ve ever experienced.  You can imagine how unpopular this made Amos.  And only a generation later, the North was swept away entirely by the Assyrians.  It was a swift fall from a very lofty place for Israel. 


    Let’s turn to Amos’ message.


    I.  God Judges the Nations


    The first thing we see is that God judges the nations.  Though the focus is on Israel in this book, the first chapters of Amos are prophesies against the surrounding nations.  You can see in 1:3 attention is on Damascus, in 1:6 Gaza, 1:9 Tyre, 1:11 Edom, 1:13 Ammon, and 2:1 Moab.  Those are some of the gentile nations of Amos’ day.


    Note what God judges them for.  He judged Damascus “because they have Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.” That is, because she pillaged and robbed and left Gilead barren.  God judges Gaza because “they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom.”   God judged Edom because “he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity.”  He judged Ammon because “they have ripped ovpen pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border.”  These are sins of cruelty, oppression, slavery, and murder.  They are big and obvious, war crimes on a grand scale.  Even though the gentile nations had not received God’s revealed law or been given tablets with the Ten Commandments, they could not plead ignorance of his moral law.  The gentile nations cannot escape the judgment of God.


    God’s judgment of the gentile nations demonstrates his universal kingship.  God made Israel to be his special people, but God is the rightful sovereign over all people and all nations under heaven.  We see here in his judgment of the nations that he will hold them all to account and make his universal sovereignty known.  Whether or not you have heard the gospel you are accountable for your actions and you will answer to God one day for your sins. 




    II.  God Judges His People


    God doesn’t stop at judging the nations; he especially judges his people.  In chapter 2 there begins a prophecy against Judah.  And in 2:6 Amos begins of a long prophecy against Israel. With those first prophecies, the covenant people would have applauded Amos, because those nations have long been the enemies of Israel and Judah.  But then Amos says “Not so fast there Israel and Judah.  Your sins are not overlooked either.”  In fact, the prophets are often a lot more critical and condemning of the covenant people for just that reason.  They are in covenant with Yahweh, and they ought to know better than the gentiles.  Look at chapter 3, verse 2.


    “You only have I known
        of all the families of the earth;
    therefore I will punish you
        for all your iniquities.


    They were supposed to be lights to the gentiles, displaying the glories of the only true God, Yahweh.  But instead, they behaved just as corruptly and immorally as the gentiles, and sometimes even worse.  There are two broad categories of sins Israel is judged for.  First, there are sins of social and political injustice.  Second, there are religious sins, sins of idolatry, neglect of God’s word, and faithlessness to his covenant.


    First, Israel was experiencing a brief period of luxury and peace.  In their plenty, they were full of social and political injustice.  God says in 2:6-7, “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted.”  In 4:1 he announces his word to you women “who oppress the poor, who crush the needy.”  In 5:10 and 5:12 he says “they hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth…you…afflict the righteous [and] take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” 


    Israel was guilty of slavery, corruption, bribery, favoritism towards the rich, and exploitation of the poor. Precisely contrary to God’s will for them.  God had shown specific concern for the poor in his law.  He told Israel, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit,” in Exodus 23:6.  He said “there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).  Israel in the time of Amos mocked God’s concern for the poor.


    I hope the same is not true for us.  God is clear that he will hold his people accountable for how they act and treat others in this life.  Remember Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25 that when He returns to judge the world, that judgment will be based on how we treated other people, particularly those trodden down by the world.  James echoes the same point when he says “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (1:27).


    And so we should ask ourselves:  How is our heart’s attitude towards money?  Do we crave it for ourselves, or welcome it as a tool God has lent us for life and ministry?  How is our attitude towards tithing?  Are we resentful, or cheerful?  How do we care for the poor?  At CHBC, our benevolence fund helps out those in need.  Do we find ourselves inwardly thinking the benevolence fund is a waste of hard-earned tithe dollars, or desiring to see it grow during hard economic times?  Have we reached out to our unemployed brothers and sisters to learn of their needs, or do we unconsciously gravitate towards the prosperous because they don’t need as much and can help us?  Are you tempted to pride or arrogance?


    Second, God’s people are judged for religious sins.  And here is where they’re judged differently than their gentile neighbors.  But Judah is condemned because “they have rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray,” (2:4). Israel “commanded the prophets” not to prophesy, (2:12).  They were apparently practicing cult prostitution, which Amos alludes to when he says “a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every alter on garmetns taken in pledge, and in the house of their God they drink the wine of those who have been fined” (2:7-8).  And they belittled God and people’s vows to him, for example by making Nazirites drink wine, something a Nazirite had vowed not to do (2:12).


    What we learn here is that God’s election is not a blank check to irresponsibility, loose moral standards, and presumption.  Rather, God’s election actually heightens one’s responsibility to live uprightly before the Lord.  Some people reject the doctrine of election because they say it undermines the Christian’s responsibility to live a holy life.  Well, the prophets don’t think so.  They see election as something that should weigh heavily on the people’s minds, as though to continually say to them “Hey! You’ve been called out.  You’ve been separated.  You’ve been set apart for a special purpose: to live holy lives in the fear of Yahweh, demonstrating His holiness to all onlookers.  Fulfill your high and privileged calling!  Be who you are specially called to be!”  Election never leads to presumption, but great responsibility.  God’s people have been given his revealed will and so are capable of a greater sin:  neglecting God’s word.  Again, 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” 


    In fact, this is the same thing we see in the New Testament.  Peter says the same thing to us in 1 Peter 1:15, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.’”  And in 1 Peter 2:9 he says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  Paul too tells us that the intended end of predestination is holiness in Ephesians 1,“he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (vv.3f).”




    III.  God’s Judges With Justice and With Certainty


    God will judge the nations and he will judge his people.  Amos also talks about the character and the cause of God’s judgment.  In Amos 7-9 we see that God will judge with certainty and with justice.  God gives Amos a series of visions about his judgment.  Let’s look at one of them, from Amos 7:7-9.


    7This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

    “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
        in the midst of my people Israel;
        I will never again pass by them;
    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.”


    A plumb line is a cord with a weight on the end.  A craftsman or an engineer holds one end of the cord; the weight ensures the cord hangs straight up and down.  It’s a tool to determine true verticality, used to measure how well built a wall is.  In other words, a plumb line is a perfect standard.  In this vision, God is measuring Israel against his perfect standard, and finds them wanting.  The focus is on the perfection and precision of his judgment. 


    As Jesus would say in the sermon on the mount, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Because God’s standard is perfection, God justly finds us wanting and judges us accordingly.  In a later passage (Matthew 19) Jesus’ disciples rightly despaired about the possibility of salvation, understanding that because God’s standard is perfection, salvation is simply impossible for sinful people.  How then can we be saved? 


    IV.  God Judges with Mercy


    Because, finally, we see that God judges with mercy.  Do you remember last week how we talked about the common pattern of accusation, judgment, the call to repentance, and then mercy that the prophets often use?  Just as we saw last week, the prophets always end on grace and mercy.  No matter how long the accusations and the pronouncements of judgment are, no matter how long the list of offending nations, the prophets always end their message with the promise of salvation.

    Amos foreshadows his conclusion earlier in the book.  He tells the people how they can escape the coming judgment.  And that way is through repentance.  Look at 5:14-15.


    Seek good, and not evil,
        that you may live;
    and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
        as you have said.
    Hate evil, and love good,
        and establish justice in the gate;
    it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
        will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

    God even displays his mercy in action.  In chapter 7 God gives Amos two visions of judgment—fire and a plague of locusts.  Both times Amos cries out and asks God for forgiveness.  And both times, the Lord relents.

    Amos returns to the promise of mercy and salvation at the book’s conclusion.  He prophesies about the coming day of judgment, the Day of the Lord.  God says in 9:11 ““In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old.”  This Day is a day of judgment, but this “Day” will also see the restoration of “David’s fallen tent,” (the division of the kingdom and the exile).  Yahweh will remember His promises of old, and the people will again taste Yahweh’s covenant love.  He continues in v14-15,


    I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
        and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
        and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
    I will plant them on their land,
        and they shall never again be uprooted
        out of the land that I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God.


    This is a picture of the new creation after God’s final judgment and Christ’s return, a return to the paradise God always intended for us to enjoy.


    Note how these last verses are a reversal of an earlier judgment in 5:11.  There, God said:


    Therefore because you trample on the poor
        and you exact taxes of grain from him,
    you have built houses of hewn stone,
        but you shall not dwell in them;
    you have planted pleasant vineyards,
        but you shall not drink their wine.


    Amos is here saying that those who desire to be rich should seek justice, do righteousness, and put their hope in Christ for the reward to be had in the coming world, not this one.  That’s a theme Jesus later picks up when he tells his followers to store up treasure in heaven and give to the poor on earth.


    Finally, we see that God’s mercy extends to all of God’s people, including gentiles.  In 9:12 God invites the nations to join his blessing.


    promises that restored Israel will “possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by name,” (an echo of Numbers 24:18, in which Balaam makes a similar prophecy).  Now, is that “possess” a good thing for the nations?  Meaning, they get to share in Israel’s blessing?  Or it is the possess of conquer?  Well, in Acts 15 James is speaking to the Council of Jerusalem that is trying to figure out what to make of all the gentiles turning in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Remarkably, James quotes this passage from Amos.  James is saying that with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, David’s house is rebuilt and can be a home for Jew and gentile alike.  And now all who repent (just as Amos was preaching) and put their faith in Jesus are included this eschatological salvation. 








    We saw how Amos 9:12 prophesies that Israel will exercise sovereignty over Edom.  Well, the entire book of Obadiah is a extension of that verse.  Obadiah is unique in that he is the only prophet we’ve studied so far to address neither the Northern nor the Southern Kingdoms.  Instead, Obadiah’s prophesy is directly entirely toward the gentile nation of Edom.  Edom is significant because their relationship with the covenant people goes a long way back.  The Edomites were the descendents of Esau, who was Jacob’s brother.  Edom, is Israel and Judah’s national cousin.  But what’s more important is that Edom has been an oppressive cousin and neighbor.[1]  So this book is about Yahweh’s covenant commitment to defend and vindicate His people’s enemies.  We could simply summarize Obadiah’s message like this:   


    Yahweh will judge those who arrogantly mistreat His people. 


    Edom had a long history of arrogantly mistreating the covenant people.  You can read about it in Genesis 27:40f, Numbers 20:14-21, 1 Samuel 14, and 2 Samuel 8.  And now, Yahweh’s longsuffering with them has come to an end.  Further, (and this is where we’ll get our application), the Day of the Lord, which is a day of reckoning for all nations, is also in view here (v. 15).  This makes Edom a type pointing to all the nations of the last days, especially those who would arrogantly mistreat God’s people.


    Obadiah 1-9.  The Sentence: Coming Destruction


    God promises to judge Edom repeatedly throughout the first nine verses.  “I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised,” (v2).  “I will bring you down,” (v4).  “How Esau has been pillaged, his treasures sought out” (v6).  “Will I not on that day, declares the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of Mount Esau?” (v8).  For their sins, God will judge the nations on the Day of the Lord.  “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.  As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” (v15).  Obadiah echoes the message Amos had for all the nations surrounding Israel in Amos 1.  All nations and peoples are accountable to God for their actions.


    This is especially relevant today.  Obadiah was announcing judgment against people that did not know God, did not acknowledge him, and had not place for him in their lives.  In other words, people very much like our non-Christian neighbors and co-workers.  While we may not want to start sharing the gospel by reading from Obadiah, this warning should ring in our ears and spur some zeal in our evangelism.  This is the judgment that awaits our friends who do not know the living God.


    Obadiah 10-14:  The Charge:  Oppressing God’s People


    Why was God judging Edom?  What were their sins?  Early in the book God indicts the Edomites specifically for their pride.  Verse 3 specifically mentions their pride, and then also their living “in the clefts of the rock,” in a “lofty dwelling.”  They lived in the mountains and their capital, Petra, was virtually impregnable.  Thus they believed they were unconquerable.  So they taunt, “Who can bring me down to the ground?”  Well, in verse 4, Yahweh says that He will bring them down, exactly because of how highly they regard themselves.[2] 


    But God promises judgment primarily because Edom oppressed God’s people.  This is an interesting addition to the prophets’ messages.  We saw in Amos that the pagan nations were judged for general cruelty and God’s people are judged for apostasy.  Now we have one entire book of the Bible especially and specifically written to announce judgment on a pagan nation for how it treated God’s people.  The message is that God cares for his own.  Look at verses 10-11.  “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.”  And he goes on for another few verses about how Edom either stood by passively while others oppressed Gods people, or actively took part in the oppression.  As I just mentioned, there are a number of examples of Edom’s violence against the covenant people, so it’s hard to say which exactly is being referred to here.[3]  But it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that God cares for his people.  He will protect them.  He will come to their aid and vindicate them.  For the oppressor, the day of reckoning is coming.  They cannot forever mistreat Yahweh’s people.


    Have you ever been persecuted?  Discouraged?  Mocked for your faith?  Have you lived in a country where preaching the word of God was illegal?  Did your family shun you when you converted and put your trust in Christ?  God knows, and cares—and he will vindicate you in the end.  He is your protector. 


    Obadiah 17-21:  The Result:  The Establishment of God’s Kingdom


    We see this more clearly as the book ends.  It’s a day of salvation and vindication for the once persecuted people of God.  Obadiah prophesies that the land of Edom will be peopled by God’s people and the land will become part of God’s kingdom.  “Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,” (v19), “Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion   to rule Mount Esau,   and the kingdom shall be the Lord's” (v21).  In the end, God’s people are vindicated; God triumphs; and his salvation of his people is completed.


    I’m reminded again about the New Testament’s teachings about Christ’s return, the final Day of the Lord.  The book of Revelation, for example, is a sustained vision of Christ’s universal kingship and God’s ultimate victory over sin, death, and hell.  Or in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 we read “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” 


    Until that day though, Jesus also gives us direction about how to handle our persecutors and enemies.  In Matthew 5:44 we read, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”






    Once again, we’ve learned a lot from the Minor Prophets.  We’ve learned about sin, about wrath, and about redemption.  We’ve learned about the Day of the Lord, about Christ’s first and second comings.  And we’ve learned about our responsibilities here in between those two advents.  Next week, we’ll learn even more from Jonah and Micah. 




    [1] Cannonically speaking, it’s also interesting to point out that Amos ends with the salvation of the remnant of Edom, and Obadiah is a prophesy against Edom.  That may explain why Obadiah follows Amos in the Hebrew cannon.

    [2] The use of the word “despised” in verse 2 is an example of ironic justice in light Genesis 25:34.  There Esau “despised” his birthright, and in so doing despised the covenant.  He “despised” Yahweh, and so Yahweh will make his descendants “despised.” 

    [3] For a few possibilities, see footnote 4.