(Sorry that this posted a day early for many of you … these are written in advance and I scheduled the wrong date)
The Bible certainly contains a message with the extremes of both judgment and grace. When God judges, it is full and final – the ultimate. And when God saves, it is only done because of his great grace. Unlike the natural mind of the world who asks the presumably intelligent question, “How can a God of love be a God of judgment and execution?” … when the appropriate question is rather, “How can a perfect and righteous God justly extend grace to evil sinners?” The answer to the latter is that he is able to justly do so because of the substitute of the holy for the unholy, the payment made by the perfect Lamb, and the extension of righteousness offered to those who will receive it.
So we see in the Scriptures the lowest of lows, and the highest of highs. And in today’s chapter, we see these disparate ideas – of the complete judgment of Israel, yet the promise of a glorious future for a remnant to return.
This last chapter of Amos gives a statement of the destruction of the nation …
9:1 – I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: “Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape.
2 Though they dig down to the depths below, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens above, from there I will bring them down.
3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them.
4 Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. “I will keep my eye on them for harm and not for good.”
5 The Lord, the Lord Almighty—he touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn; the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt; 6 he builds his lofty palace[a] in the heavens and sets its foundation[b] on the earth; he calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land—the Lord is his name.
7 “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites[c]?” declares the Lord. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor[d] and the Arameans from Kir?
8 “Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth. Yet I will not totally destroy the descendants of Jacob,” declares the Lord.
9 “For I will give the command, and I will shake the people of Israel among all the nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, and not a pebble will reach the ground.
10 All the sinners among my people will die by the sword, all those who say, ‘Disaster will not overtake or meet us.’
The picture of the temple falling upon the heads of the worshippers is a symbolic one of the extent of judgment to drop upon the nation. There is no place to hide, high or low – God will send a slaying judgment in one form or another. As well, God is sovereign as well over the natural forces of the world, and he may use these at his desire to accomplish his ends.
With Israel’s history of incredible deliverance from Egypt, there was a sense that a God who went to this extreme out of his love for them would never be a God who would allow calamity and annihilation to befall them. So Amos writes to say that they are no more special at this point than Cush – an area of Africa of relative insignificance, essentially at the end of the known world. God had allowed other nations to experience a successful sort of exodus – the Philistines and Arameans – but certainly they were not chosen especially by God. Israel should not feel a unique shelter from severe judgment.
Amos has been a pretty negative book … filled with thundering words of judgment and destruction. But the final verses will take a totally different turn and possess an entirely different flavor …
11 “In that day I will restore David’s fallen shelter—I will repair its broken walls and restore its ruins—and will rebuild it as it used to be, 12 so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name,” declares the Lord, who will do these things.
13 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, 14 and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
15 I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.
Amos says that a further day would come of restoration for a remnant of the people of Jacob. Though as a nation they were destroyed, a remnant would someday return to the land of promise. This happened in the nearer term under Ezra and Nehemiah, and in reference to a millennial age yet future, it shall happen again – forever, never to be removed.
The passage brings into it the concept as well of the Nations – of Gentiles to have hope in God’s grace and restoration. That is incredible!
Folks … If you have any remnant in you of some amount of personal merit for the goodness of God that you have received … any portion of your salvation or hope that is based in something you see good about yourself … get rid of it! Even the ability to see and understand the gospel, and to respond to it in submission, comes as a gift of God’s grace – which is by definition his merit extended, where wrath is deserved.
God had no obligation to ever extend grace … not to Adam and Eve, not to Noah, not to Abraham, not to Israel, not to David, not to Paul or Peter or any of the church founders, and not to you or me. But he does. Boast in him … in his grace alone.