Scripture Reading: Amos 1:1-15, Amos 2:1-16, Psalm 33:13-22, Isaiah 42:10-13
I have a kid who causes me to say things I never imagined myself saying. I wear myself out shouting unheeded warnings like, “Don’t make new friends in the men’s bathroom! Never ride on a bicycle without a seat! Don’t run your hands on the wooden railings!” Needless to say, when he gets a splinter in his hand, mama is not surprised.
This leaves me muttering to myself about punitive vs. natural consequences. The punitive variety means I have to impose a punishment, whereas a natural consequence means… if you walk off the edge of a cliff you naturally fall into the gorge below. It feels like a more just outcome when the judgment he needs results in a natural consequence. Then I believe the world is on my side, that he’s getting what he naturally deserves.
In the first chapter of Amos, the prophet pronounces judgment on somebody else: all the neighbors. Israel knew their neighbors were doing wrong, but did they listen? No, and now they were all going to get their just desserts. Sure, it was a pity, but there you have it: bad people getting in trouble for doing bad things.
Maybe they felt relieved, because this prophecy begins with a judgment of all their neighbors. Finally! They’ll get what they deserve. Our God is going to send fire and break down their gates. I mean, it’s a shame, and we feel bad for them. But better them than us.
But in the second chapter of Amos, God turns His wrath toward His own people. One by one, He lists the regions of judgment: Judah, Israel, Nazareth. Suddenly, both empathy and Schadenfreude, the feeling of happiness over another’s misfortune, are out the window.
The judgment is crushing, and of course, much deserved. It is tempting, seeing God’s judgment against sin, to howl in despair. Wait—us, too, Lord? And, if judgment were the end of the story, there wouldn’t be much else to do.
But the darker it gets, the bigger the cross appears. The words of judgment Amos delivered were designed to drive us to the end of ourselves, to realize that we are just like the nations—just like our neighbors, just like naughty little boys—justly deserving God’s wrath. But this should not drive us to despair, but to Christ.
Take hope, and “look, the Lord keeps his eye on those who fear him—those who depend on his faithful love” (Psalm 33:18). It is His faithful love we must look to, not ourselves. It is neither our own faithfulness, nor our own miserable failures that have the final word. All things are designed to drive us Christ-ward.
May your faithful love rest on us, Lord,
for we put our hope in you.
- Psalm 33:22