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encouragement theology

How Big Is Your God?

Amos 4

One of our greatest dangers is for us to become caught up in our comfortable worlds. We follow what we think is right, forming a routine that should make us a “good person”. We may worship and serve at church regularly, but are we truly listening to God? 

We can get so focused on ourselves that we fail to hear His voice. We no longer hear Him drawing us to the next step. We close our ears when we disobey God, wanting to wallow in our sin more than to come back to Him. 

The problem is not that God isn’t speaking, the problem is that we have stopped listening. Our view of God shrinks to something small, safe, and manageable. We have lost touch with the true God who created the universe.

How big is your God?

The message of Amos 4 is directly addressed to the wealthy and complacent women, who have trampled over the poor in their rise to riches, and whose husbands cater to their every craving. They are satisfied and content, secure in their wealth and their religious devotion.

Amos pictures these women as cows, being fattened up for the day of slaughter. They have trampled the poor and made demands on their husbands. Their religious practices are a show of piety, but they are nothing more than hypocrites, with their false worship drawing them further away from God’s true standards. They lived like animals, and will be driven away like common livestock.

Although Amos’ message begins with the indictment of the wealthy women of Samaria, it soon shifts to the entire nation. Their worship has been false and they have ignored God as He has repeatedly called them back to Him.

God promised in His law that He would send them disasters if they turned from Him. And so He sent to them famine, drought, crop failure, pandemics, wars, and natural catastrophes. Yet despite all of these disasters, the phrase is repeated five times: “yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord”.

God has been calling, but they have been ignoring Him. Therefore, the time to repent is past. Prepare for judgment! God is not a simple formula or ritual for them to perform and then ignore. He is the creator of the world! He is the commander of Heaven’s armies!

Woe to the Complacent!

Amos 4:1-3
“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness
that, behold, the days are coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
even the last of you with fishhooks.
And you shall go out through the breaches,
each one straight ahead;
and you shall be cast out into Harmon,”
declares the LORD.

This message is directed to the wealthy women of Samaria (the capital city), but they serve as an example of the entire nation. They have exploited the poor and made demands of their husbands based on their simplest cravings.

Amos compares these women to the popular cows of his day.a They were fat and lazy. Living like animals, they would be dragged away to slaughter.b Farmers of that day would lead their large animals with hooks in their jaws (similar to modern bulls with a ring in their nose). The Assyrian army would soon conquer Israel (see here), using this same practice of dragging away their prisoners with hooks in their jaws. These wealthy, well-fed women, would be subjected to humiliation and torture, being led out through the broken walls of their great cities.c d

“Luxurious, insolent, and self-pleasing, these haughty dames oppressed the poor and crushed the needy to minister to their own carnal desires. Indifferent to the sorrows that their ill-gotten pleasures pressed on others, they feasted and rejoiced, forgetting that the Holy One of Israel was looking on.” – H.A. Ironside1

“Luxury doesn’t mean owning abundant possessions so much as allowing possessions to own us.” – Warren Wiersbe2

“He calls them ‘cows of Bashan’ — part of a good breed, but still cows.” – Boice5

I Despise Your Worship!

Amos  4:4-5
“Come to Bethel, and transgress;
to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three days;
offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
declares the Lord GOD.

The focus here changes from the wealthy women to the entire nation of Israel (see 4:5). The people sought security in their religious rituals, but their religion only drew them deeper into sin and further from God. Every action increased their transgressions:

  • They were not worshiping at God’s prescribed place (Deuteronomy 12:5). Instead of going to Jerusalem as the Lord had directed them, they worshiped at the pagan shrines in Bethel and Gilgal.e
  • They were offering imperfect sacrifices. Instead of pure animals and unleavened bread, they were presenting leavened offerings, in disobedience to God’s law (Leviticus 2:11). 
  • They were using their sacrifices as a forum for boasting. The phrase “proclaim freewill offerings, publish them” shows that they were looking for opportunities to publicize their acts of worship for everyone to see.f See the study here for more about what Jesus said about hypocrisy. 

“They offered sacrifices more frequently than the law required as if to prove how spiritual they were. But their gifts and songs didn’t impress the Lord, for He saw what was in their hearts; and the sin in their hearts made their sacrifices unacceptable.” – Warren Wiersbe2

“If the fountainhead of worship is polluted, the church’s entire ministry will be defiled.” – Warren Wiersbe2

Note also that there is no reference to repentance nor sin offerings in their worship. Amos 5 will give further messages, showing how God despises false worship.5

You Did Not Listen!

The next section of this prophecy shows how God has worked throughout their history to get their attention, yet they would not return to Him. The disasters here were likely not specific events, but general descriptions of what had befallen the people as they turned from God.2 3 Note that this is a direct fulfillment of God’s promises in Deuteronomy 28, where He warned the people of these disasters if they refused to obey Him. 

The message here is that these were God’s messages to get their attention, yet they refused to return to Him.

“Disasters are given by God so that people may awake from their lethargy, turn from sin, and seek him.” – Boice5

Famine

Amos 4:6
“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the LORD.

This is a fulfillment of Leviticus 26:18-20 and Deuteronomy 28:22-24. The Lord struck them with famine, yet they would not return to Him.g

Drought

Amos 4:7-8
“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the LORD.

The interesting aspect of this judgment is that God specifically allowed one city to have rain while another city was dry. This should have warned the people that this was directly from God, yet they would not return to Him.

Crop Failure

Amos 4:9
“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the LORD.

Whether by disease or pests, their crops failed. This was a direct fulfillment of Deuteronomy 28:22. Yet they would not return to Him.

Sickness and War

Amos 4:10
“I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the LORD.

It was a special curse to receive the same plagues that the Lord had used against Egypt (see Deuteronomy 28:60). In addition, they would be defeated by their enemies in war. This was a fulfillment of Leviticus 26:23-26 and Deuteronomy 28:25-35. Yet they would not return to Him.

Natural Disasters

Amos 4:11
“I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the LORD.

Some cities were destroyed by natural disasters and the nation barely survived (like a stick pulled from the fire). This appears to be a fulfillment of the horrors predicted in Leviticus 26:27-33. Yet they would not return to Him.

God’s Greatness and Judgment!

Amos 4:12-13
“Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
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!

God’s people were complacent and their worship had turned to hypocrisy. He had sent them disasters and warnings in order to get their attention, yet they would not return to Him. Therefore, He will come to them in judgment! 

This final section of the chapter focuses on God’s greatness. He is the One who has created the universe, who controls darkness and light. He is over all the earth.

“Because of their utter indifference, only one thing more remained: they must meet Him in judgment whose warnings and acts of discipline they had despised.” – H.A. Ironside1

The description of the Lord, the God of hosts, is one of the names for God, showing that He is the commander of the heavenly armies.2 See also Psalm 46:11, Isaiah 47:4, Jeremiah 50:34.

“This is the God whom they were to be prepared to face. He is the Lord God Almighty, who created, sustained, and is now ready to consume in judgment.” – John MacArthur4

Conclusion

I started this study with the question, how big is your God? When our view of God is distorted, it is easy to elevate ourselves. We make ourselves big as we make God smaller. 

The Israelites’ failures in Amos 4 came because they refused to listen to God. They ignored their great God, even as He continued to try and get their attention.

We have endured many problems throughout the last few years. Some have been caused by humans, such as the wars overseas and the riots at home. While others — especially COVID — are akin to natural disasters. The internet is full of speculations and messages regarding these events: did they happen by chance, or are they part of a greater plan? If so, what is God’s message through these disasters?

We need to be clear — we are not connecting an Old Testament prophecy with a modern disaster. Yet there is a principle behind Amos’ message that we need to heed in our times. The message is simple:

When bad things happen, do we look to God?

Is God trying to get your attention? Are you listening?

Are we making ourselves big and ignoring God, or are we taking moments to make God big and ourselves insignificant?

Is not He who formed the ear
Worth the time it takes to hear?
Should He who formed our lips for speaking
Be not heeded when He speaks?
Will you not listen?
Why won’t you listen?
God has spoken love to us
Why will you not listen?
– Michael Card

Previous Post: Will You Hear The Warning?


References

[1] H.A. Ironside, Ironside Expository Commentaries: The Minor Prophets, Amos 4, “YET HAVE YE NOT RETURNED!”

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, David C. Cook, 2007, Amos 4, pages 1422-1425

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 7, Zondervan, 1985, Amos 4, pages 302-309

[4] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson, 2005, Amos 4, page 996

[5] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, Baker Books, 2002, How God Views Religion, Amos 4:1-5:15, pages 187-195


Notes

[a] Bashan was a fertile region of transjordan Israel, and was known for its thriving livestock industry.3 See Deuteronomy 32:14, Psalm 22:12, Ezekiel 39:18.

[b] “When God swore by his holiness in Psalm 89:35, it was the guarantee that he would not lie, because that would be a violation of holiness. When he swore by his holiness in Amos 4:2, he guaranteed that the judgment would become a reality, because the holy God does not lie, nor can his holiness allow sin to go unpunished.” – Gabelein3

[c] The breaches in Amos 4:3 represent the broken walls of the city. The image of “go out through the breaches” is of the prisoners being led out of their captured city, through the broken walls, to captivity.

[d] The location of Harmon in Amos 4:3 is unknown. It could also be translated as “palace” or “fortress”, and therefore could be a poetic statement that the women who were used to being in charge would find themselves taking orders.2

[e] We don’t have a direct reference to the type of worship at Gilgal, yet it is linked here with the idolatry of Bethel (in Amos 4:4). Gilgal was the original site of Israel after Joshua led the people across the Jordan River and was revered throughout their history (Joshua 4:19-24).

[f] “The term “days” (4:4) may be used to refer to the full cycle of days, so it may have meant every three years. There is no practice of tithes every three days in the OT law, but there was for three years (Deuteronomy 14:28).” – Gabelein3

[g] The phrase, “cleanness of teeth” in Amos 4:6 is an idiom to indicate no food, or starvation. NIV translates this as “empty stomachs”.

2 replies on “How Big Is Your God?”

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