From Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 31, Part 3. Written by Paul Raabe.
Amos 7:7-15 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 10—Series B)
“To What the Lord Has to Say”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 11, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament lesson for the day from Amos 7.
7 This 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. 8 And 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; 9 the 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.” 10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
Know your enemy. A sports team will study the films of the other team to learn their plays and identify their strengths and weaknesses. A chess master will study the games of the other chess master to know the opponent’s strategies. In the business world, a company will study its competitors.
In a much more serious matter, you should know your ultimate enemy: “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight” (LSB 656:1). What are the aims and goals of the old evil foe, the devil, the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)? What is his agenda? What are his strategies, his tactics? Know your enemy.
Well, certainly the devil wants to see all manner of violence and wickedness. The more of that, the happier he is. But the center of what he’s about is unbelief. He wants to keep unbelievers in unbelief, dead in their sins. He wants to entice and draw believers away from their Lord and Savior, away from faith to unbelief. The devil wants us to see unbelief with death, temporal and eternal death, as the only future.
But what does the Holy Spirit want? The Holy Spirit wants to create and sustain faith in the heart. The Holy Spirit wants to tighten the bonds between you and your Savior, Jesus, the Messiah, to help you become a stronger, more mature Christian, to grow in Christ. How does the Holy Spirit do that? By means of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit does not work directly or without instruments. He works through the Word of God proclaimed in its truth and purity. Through the Law of God, he leads sinners to contrition and repentance. Through the promises of God fulfilled in Christ, he creates and sustains faith and gives joy in the Lord. The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God.
Therefore the devil’s simple goal is to prevent sinners from hearing the Word of God. He wants to keep you from hearing, really listening, and taking seriously what the Lord God Almighty has to say. At its core, the devil’s agenda is to prevent you and others from hearing the life-giving Word of God himself, your Maker and Redeemer.
Well, how does the old evil foe do that? We see his tactics recorded in Holy Scripture. One approach is to fill the arena with umpteen false voices in an effort to drown out or marginalize the true voice of God. Throughout the history of ancient Israel, we read of false prophets, counterfeit voices. In fact, they usually outnumbered the true prophets. The false prophets would tell sinners what they wanted to hear, and as a result, they were popular. That way sinners would basically listen only to themselves. The true Word of God is never the only voice in the arena. It was and still is a competitive environment. Which voice are you going to listen to?
Another common approach is to silence the proclaimers of God’s saving Word. Just silence them. It’s said the prophet Isaiah was sawn in half. “The mighty seer of old” executed like so much garbage! The apostle Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Very often the prophets and apostles were pursued and imprisoned. Elijah was constantly threatened. The prophet Jeremiah as well as Paul often found themselves in prison. But God has the last laugh. The writings of the prophets and apostles were preserved, and we can hear and study them to this day. God will not be silenced.
The devil, the ruler of this fallen, corrupted world, strives to prevent sinners from hearing the true Word of God. One instance is recorded in our text, Amos 7. Let’s jump in a time machine and travel back to the year 760 BC. The place is Bethel, about ten miles north of Jerusalem. When Solomon died, the northern ten tribes separated. The north “seceded from the union” you might say. But the Creator of all made ancient Israel his very own covenant people, and that included the ten northern tribes as well. So God raised up prophets like Elijah and Elisha to proclaim his Word to the people. Now God called Amos and sent him to proclaim.
Amos was there in Bethel, where throngs of people had gathered to worship. Instead of worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem, where they were supposed to go, the north set up its own sanctuaries. One was located at Dan in the far north and the other at Bethel, in the southern end of the Northern Kingdom. Amos was called and sent by the true God to proclaim what the true God had to say. Therefore, Amos would repeatedly emphasize just this point with expressions such as, “Thus spoke Yahweh, the God of Israel” or “the utterance of Yahweh.” The true God wanted his Word to be proclaimed to the people, and through that Word, the Holy Spirit works. Therefore, Amos kept saying, “Listen to What the Lord God Almighty Has to Say.”
But the authority at the false sanctuary in Bethel did not want to hear it. Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, complained about Amos to the king in Samaria. Notice how Amaziah did some spin-doctoring. Amos was announcing God’s words of judgment against rebellious Israel, but Amaziah construed it as a conspiracy by Amos: “Amos has conspired against you [O King Jeroboam II]” (v 10). Amaziah painted Amos as some kind of political subversive. Amaziah interpreted the message of the true God as mere human politics, as the Southern Kingdom trying to overthrow the Northern Kingdom.
Through his prophets, the true God spoke to sinners to give them life. But the opponents reduced the Word of God to this-worldly politics—as if everything is only about worldly politics and economics!
Amaziah considered Amos, the prophet of the true God, to be fomenting conspiracy. Amaziah discounted what Amos was proclaiming as only words from Amos, invented by Amos to serve the political goals of Amos and the Southern Kingdom. Amaziah reported to King Jeroboam, “For thus Amos has said.” Amos had been emphasizing, “Thus spoke Yahweh, the God of Israel,” but Amaziah considered it only a human message and human opinion from the man Amos.
The old evil foe tries to prevent sinners from hearing the life-giving Word of God. This is one way he does it, by leading people to discount it, trivialize it, ignore it, dismiss it as simply human speech and human opinion. Amos said, “Thus spoke God,” and the opponents say, “No, that’s only what you say, preacher man.” Then Amaziah tried to pressure Amos to leave, to go back to his home in Tekoa in Judah, about ten miles south of Jerusalem: “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah” (v 12a), flee as if your life is in danger. Amaziah feigns to be Amos’s friend who fears for Amos’s life when Amaziah was the one who reported Amos to the king in the first place. The kingdom of darkness is deceitful, conniving. Then Amaziah insulted Amos by telling him to make his living back in Judah as a prophet for hire: “Eat bread there, and prophesy there” (v 12b). As if Amos were just another self-serving religious guru, feathering his own nest.
Amaziah revealed his real thinking as he said to Amos: “But never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom” (v 13). To proclaim judgment against Bethel was to oppose the government. The false government of northern Israel in Samaria and the false temple of northern Israel in Bethel were united. To proclaim against one was to proclaim against the other. The false government supported and promoted the false religion.
The kingdom of darkness does not want sinners to hear the true Word of the true God. It seeks to silence or remove the true prophets. It leads people to discount the Word of the true God as only self-serving religious talk, as only self-serving proselytizing. “Don’t impose your religion on me,” they say. “Keep your religion to yourself.” “Don’t give me all that religious mumbo jumbo.” Such an assessment is actually true about false religions. But it is not true about the authentic Word of God.
The kingdom of darkness wants to prevent sinners from hearing the Word of God. How about you? Do you want to hear the Word of God? Or do you find ways to discount and ignore it? Do you dismiss it as irrelevant and boring? Do you have more important things to do with your time? Your life is busy, swamped with daily duties and activities. And so many voices are vying for your attention—on TV, the computer, digital devices, over the radio. Because we are bombarded with so many voices, the danger faces all of us to listen only to ourselves.
Know your enemy. Your ultimate enemy, the enemy, the old evil foe, wants to prevent you from hearing the life-giving Word of God himself. The enemy wants sinners to listen only to themselves. The powers of the old age wanted Amos the prophet of God to leave. In fact, his life was in danger.
Amaziah would have agreed with the adage, “It’s all about power, getting it and keeping it.” Amaziah had no intention of listening and repenting. He was only about self-preservation, and he assumed Amos was too. But Amos was called and sent by the Lord God Almighty himself to proclaim the Lord’s words. Amos remained and kept on proclaiming the Word of God. In fact, in the next two verses, Amos responded to Amaziah’s pressure tactics by announcing God’s judgment against Amaziah himself. Then Amos repeated his message to all of Israel. The Word of God spoken by Amos was written down and preserved. To this day, now over 2,700 years later, we can still read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God spoken by the prophet Amos.
The Word of God shall still remain. God will not be silenced. God is the God who speaks. He does not hide himself in secrecy so that access is only via divination, sorcery, and astrology, or by turning inward and looking into your own soul. The true God, the almighty Creator, speaks. We see that throughout the Scriptures, beginning in Genesis 1. The true God speaks in human language so that he can be heard and understood. The true God is not deceitful but open and transparent. The true God is a straight shooter. He reveals his will and ways in clear human language.
The true God is the almighty maker of the heavens and earth. He made himself the God of ancient Israel and made ancient Israel his own people, his treasured possession. To convey his Word to them in BC time, he raised up prophets. He had taken Amos from working as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs and called him: “Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (v 15). Why was the true God so insistent that his Word be proclaimed, even when it meant that his spokesmen would be hunted, arrested, imprisoned, and even face death for it? Why? Is all that bother worth it?
The true God, the Creator of all, the God of ancient Israel, wants his Word to be preached, proclaimed, spoken, and written. Why? Because through his Word, the Holy Spirit leads sinners to contrition and repentance. That was why God called Amos. So that ancient Israel would turn away from their evil and turn to the Lord, the true God. God’s Word of judgment and repentance leads sinners away from their idols and their crooked ways. It reveals that those false ways lead only to death. The false voices only confirm sinners in their sins. Listening only to yourself has the same effect, sinners listening to sinners. Only the Word of the true God can lead sinners out of this endless cycle of sin and death. So Amos announced God’s coming judgment against sinners, the death sentence even for Israel as an independent nation. God sent Amos to move Israel from its sinful ways.
Why does God go to such a bother to have his Word proclaimed? Because through the promises of God, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith and true hope. Only the promises given by the true God are true and trustworthy. The promises of false voices, the promises of the world, mislead. They misdirect you to believe in illusions. But the true God fulfills his own promises. Those are the promises to actually listen to, take to heart, believe, and trust in. They are true promises given by the Lord God Almighty himself.
Well, what happened? Sure enough, ancient Israel rejected the Word of God spoken by the true prophets and listened only to themselves. Thereby they brought God’s judgment down upon themselves. In the 700s BC, God raised up the ancient Assyrians, who came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom and most of the Southern Kingdom. Then a century later, God raised up the ancient Babylonians to destroy even Jerusalem. The death sentence came down on collective Israel just as Amos had announced. God does not deceive like other voices. What God says is truth.
But that was not the end of the story. God through his prophet Amos also spoke a promise, the sure and certain promise that one day, God would reverse the judgment. In Amos 9:11–15, God promised that he would raise up the Davidic kingship that was about to fall. There will be a new and greater Davidic king. God will restore his people Israel. God will incorporate the Gentiles into his future kingdom so that even Gentiles will be owned by the God of Israel. God will give his people to inherit an abundant promised land.
In the fullness of time, this prophetic promise was fulfilled by God—fulfilled big time. Jesus of Nazareth is the new and greater Davidic King, not only like David but also David’s Lord. Jesus came as the new and greater Prophet, and like the prophets of old, he was rejected. Sinners wanted to listen only to themselves, even though he proclaimed the truth and was, in fact, the truth standing before them. Jesus embodied Israel and went through death just like BC Israel. Only he died a more severe death by suffering the just punishment of God against Israel and against all sinners. The God of Israel laid upon him the iniquity of us all. Jesus, the messianic King, suffered in the place of sinners and for sinners. He suffered in your place and for you. But then God raised him up bodily, just as he promised through Amos when he said, “I will raise up the booth of David” (9:11). God raised him up and highly exalted him above all. Jesus of Nazareth is Lord over all.
Now the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God the Father and the Spirit of his Son, Jesus the Messiah, is at work through God’s Word. Listen to what the Lord God Almighty has to say. Through the ancient prophetic Word of Law and judgment, the same God still leads us daily to contrition and repentance. He still calls us all to repent, to confess the sin of listening only to ourselves and hearing only what we want to hear. Through the prophetic Word of promise, fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, he creates and sustains faith and transforms our lives—native Israelites and Gentiles. The Word of God brings us under the Davidic Messiah’s saving rule. Through Holy Baptism, Jesus, the new and greater David, puts his name upon us, even us Gentiles. We belong to him. Through his Supper, received by our mouths, he unites us with his life-giving body and blood. Moreover, he promises that one day, we, as his people both Israelite and Gentile, will inherit the new and greater promised land, the new creation, in Christ.
Only his Word can lead you to daily repentance. Only his Word can sustain faith in your heart. Only his Word can lead you to eternal life. Despite so many confusing voices (including your own), listen to what the Lord God Almighty has to say. Amen.