Et Tu, Israel?–Amos 2:1-16

Originally posted on Sunday, September 5, 2004

This summer, the annual Shakespeare festival at Southmoreland Park was Julius Caesar. Although it comes at the end of act two, the murder of Caesar is one of the high points of the play (which might explain why this isn’t considered one of the bard’s greatest works). Caesar, although shocked, is not completely surprised at the daggers that plunge into his body, one after the next. From Casca and Cinna and Cassius, he expected this sort of thing. But then Marcus Brutus, a man who is practically a son to Caesar, steps up and thrusts his blade into the great man. “Et tu, Brute?” Caesar says with this final breath. “You too, Brutus?” Julius Caesar couldn’t imagine the sort of betrayal that would be necessary for Brutus to join with these assassins.

In these opening chapters of Amos’ prophecies, we see a sort of inverse Brutus action going on. As Amos brings down the curses of God upon the various nations, we can imagine Israel, the apples of God’s eye, standing back and nodding their approval to the words that this shepherd-prophet utters.

Amos attacks Damascus, and the people of Israel approve. He brings down imprecations onto Gaza, and the people shout, “Amen!” He complains about the sins of Tyre, leading the Israelites to yell, “Preach it, brother!” Then he assails Edom. The people of the land perhaps squirm, thinking that these attacks are coming rather close to home. Still, they nod nervously. Next, Amos attacks another neighbor, another relative, Moab. The people smile and nod, but they’re not at peace. “For three sins of Judah,” Amos says. Now, he’s come as close as he can come. The people of the North might have their differences with the Southern Kingdom, but blood is thicker than water. And besides, they think they know where this is leading.

And then, the final dagger plunges in. “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” Just as Caesar never imagined that the blade of Brutus would be turned against him, Israel didn’t expect that this rant against their neighboring nations would turn against God’s chosen people.

We are foolish and short-sighted when we believe that God will punish the sins of others and not notice ours. It’s all too easy to identify certain sins as the truly bad ones. Those are always the ones that we don’t struggle against. Take gambling for example. I have absolutely no problem with gambling. I’m never tempted when I drive past the various casinos along the river. That just isn’t an issue for me. It’s easy for me to point a finger at the weakness and self-indulgence of those who gamble away their mortgage payments and spend time they might have invested profitably somewhere else. Those people are sinners. But when I sit at this very computer and play hours of Madden Football, that’s simply a pastime. It’s an innocent diversion. Sure, I could be writing or exercising or reading or playing with my kids or any of a hundred more useful things, but still, playing a video game isn’t a sin. I mean, it’s not like I’m gambling, after all.

We should worry most about our sins when we don’t notice any. That’s when, like the people of Israel, we’re likely to incur God’s chastisement and never see it coming.

For Three Sins–Amos 1:1-15

Originally posted on Saturday, September 4, 2004

Alyson is home from college for Labor Day weekend. While she’s in town, she decided to get some homework done, a decision I heartily endorse. Her mission this time is to interview someone of a different faith. She chose her grandmother, a member of the Community of Christ (aka RLDS). Although I didn’t witness this interview, I had it related to me in considerable detail by both Aly and Penny, who witnessed it but was forbidden to speak. They’d have had to stick a cork in my mouth to keep me quiet, I’m afraid. Apparently, the conversation went something like this:

Alyson: Who do you believe will go to heaven?

Grandma: I believe that everybody will go to heaven. Except murderers. I mean, if the murderers confess their murder and change their lives, then they will go to heaven, too.

Alyson: So you’re sure that you’re going to heaven.

Grandma: Well, you can’t be sure until you die. You have to do the best that you can and hope that it’s enough. [I know this sounds like the guy in the FAITH video series, but that’s what she said.]

Alyson: But I thought that you said that everybody would go to heaven.

Grandma: Yes, everybody will eventually go to heaven. First, they’ll go to a holding place where they’ll have the chance to learn about God and choose for him.

Alyson: And will they be able to choose against him?

Grandma: Yes, of course, because otherwise they wouldn’t have free will.

Alyson: So what will happen to the people who choose for God?
Grandma: They’ll go to heaven, of course.

Alyson: And the ones who choose against him?

Grandma: I don’t think they will choose against him, because everybody’s going to go to heaven.

Alyson: Why do you think that’s so?

Grandma: Because God loves us and he wouldn’t let any of us go to hell!

Wrong! If I’d have been there I’d have been yelling “wrong” at that point. Yes, God loves us, but that doesn’t mean that God will just ignore our sins. How do I know this? If we haven’t figured it out by reading Hosea and Joel, then maybe we can find it from Amos. Sandwiched in history between Joel’s day and that of Hosea, Amos brought a sharp word of warning to the nations around Israel.

“For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.” Time after time, Amos speaks for God predicting the doom of the various nations surrounding Israel. Why were they doomed? For three sins, even for four. He doesn’t name their sins, but presumably they know about them.

Whoever taught my mother-in-law that sin doesn’t really matter did her a grave disservice. Yes, God loves us, and yes, he gives us every opportunity to escape the penalties of our sins, but God will punish sin in the end.

This lady’s theology is confused to a dangerous degree. But we have no excuse to live in that sort of confusion. Those who trivialize sin do so at their own peril and sometimes at the peril of others.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.