October 26, 2015
Scripture and Comments, October 25-31
Joel 1, John 7:1-32
Joel 2:1-14, Eph. 5
Very little is known about Joel the man, but his book is one of the most influential works in all of Scripture. Amos, Isaiah, Peter, and John all knew and quoted Joel, and the ideas found in his book are found in most of the prophets after him. He is probably from Jerusalem, where he spends much of his time teaching and preaching, possibly in or near the Temple during the time of king Uzziah (767-740 B.C.).
His book begins with a vivid description of a locust plague which nearly destroys Judah. Bible scholars, from ancient to modern times have wondered whether the locusts are meant literally, or are symbolic of invading armies, which God will allow to harass, and eventually destroy Judah and Jerusalem. But there is no reason why the locusts cannot be both literal and symbolic, and Joel himself seems to speak of them in both senses throughout his book. It is as though the locusts are the harbinger of the invading armies God will bring to Israel if the the people do not repent of sin and return to sincere devotion to God through the spirit and the letter of the Covenant. The invading armies will come from the north, like the locusts, indicating the succession of empires that will conquer and control the Israelite people. Greece is specifically mentioned for buying Jews as slaves (3:6), and the captivity and scattering of Judah and Jerusalem (3:1, 3) presage the conquest and deportation of the people by the Babylonians. In Joel’s time Greece is a disorganised collection of city states, mostly fighting other Greeks, and Babylon is under the yoke of Assyria. Isaiah is greatly influenced by Joel, and his prophecies foretell northern empires from Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, as do other prophets, like Jeremiah and Daniel. This makes Joel’s work foundational for understanding the events and plan of God from the time of Uzziah (ca.750 B.C) to the first advent of Christ. It is the first warning of the disasters that will come if Judah continues in her sins.
Because the people are deep in sin, God calls Judah to repent. Blow the trumpet as an alarm (1), but also as a call to prayer (15).
As an alarm, it warns of an invading army. Indeed, Jerusalem has already been invaded. The locusts have invaded the land, but idolatry and hypocrisy have invaded the people’s hearts. The trumpet blows as a call to arms; a call to fight this inward enemy, which is devouring their souls.
As a call to prayer it calls the people back to God through serious and sincere fasting and penance. It calls them to true faith and love of God rather than lukewarm faith and a half-hearted, casual attitude toward God.
Joel 2:15-32, Jn.7:33-53
Joel 3, Eph. 6
The symbolic nature of the locusts is seen in 2:17. The people are made to understand that they represent foreign invaders, thus they are told to beseech God not to allow heathen peoples to rule over them.
God will answer their prayers by pouring out on them all the Covenant blessing He has promised in Scripture. He will forgive their sins, and bless them as though they have kept the Covenant with all their heart. He will pour out His Spirit upon them (28-32), by whom they will walk more closely with God and more fully in His fellowship. But God knows they will not repent. Therefore, just as clouds of locusts blot out the sun and moon, the dust of invaders’ feet will join the smoke of burning villages and cities to make the sun go dark. The bloodshed will be so terrible it will be as though the moon itself runs red with Jewish blood. All of this will happen before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes, but, whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
The day of the Lord is not a single day. It is an era of God’s grace extending to humanity. It also includes His wrath. His grace encompasses all who call upon Him in Biblical faith. His wrath encompasses all who do not. Like the days we are familiar with, it begins in darkness moves into the pre-dawn, to morning, and to full sun. It begins in the darkness of Genesis 3:15. It moves into the pre-dawn light of the Covenants and the Law. It grows brighter in the prophets, and moves to sunrise in the advent of the Saviour and His Spirit. The full and everlasting noontime glory will only be seen when our Lord returns to fully conquer every enemy and bring His everlasting Kingdom of righteousness to complete fulfillment. Thus, we, who know the Lord, live in the Day of the Lord, but its full glory is not yet present.
As repeated by other prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, God will not allow the enemies of His people to go unpunished. He may allow them to oppress His people, but their sins are still sins (3), and they will not go unpunished. He will gather the nations and visit them in His wrath (2). He will recover His people from among them and return them to Jerusalem, where they will have yet another opportunity to return to His Covenant and be His people (1).
The ultimate gathering of His people is His gathering His Church from among all the nations of the earth into that Kingdom where there is no more Jew or Gentile, and all are one in Christ. We are in the early dawn of that era now, but, one day, the Lord will bring His work to full completion, and His people will inherit the earth and worship Him as one.
Amos 1, Jn. 8:1-20
Amos 2, Philippians 1
Amos is from Judah, but he is called to minister in and around Bethel in Israel. He is of humble means, earning a meagre living herding sheep and working in sycamore fig orchards for other people. He is not a priest, nor is he a student of a prophet. His theological education is that received by all Hebrew boys, taught by the local priests to read and write by reading the Scriptures in Hebrew, and being instructed in their meaning as he reads and as he hears the Scriptures read and expounded every Sabbath. He probably has many Psalms, and long passages of Scripture, memorised, as do many Jewish youths of his era.
He is called to the ministry of the prophet during the reign of Uzziah (783-742) in Judah, and Jeroboam II (786-746) of Israel (the people divided into two separate nations after the death of Solomon. The northern kingdom called itself Israel while the southern kingdom was called Judah).
He begins with sermons about the nations around Israel and Judah. They have been in almost constant war with the Hebrews, and Amos foretells their doom. Damascus, an area north and east of the Sea of Galilee, has gone through Gilead like threshers through a wheat field (3). Gaza, still known today as the Gaza strip, has captured Jews and sold them as slaves to Edom (6). Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, and Moab are guilty of other crimes against the Hebrews, and also face punishment from God.
The world continues to abuse God’s people today. At the same time, it ridicules the Bible,flaunts its unbelief, and glorifies its sin. But the Day of the Lord is coming when God will give the earth to His people, and His enemies will go into everlasting sorrow. Thus we pray for our enemies; not just that we may be freed of their oppression, but that they may be converted and escape the eternal prison of hell.
Even Judah will face God's wrath because of her many and egregious sins. Since Amos is preaching in Israel, his sermons against the Gentiles, and against the Jews of Judah are welcomed by the Israelites. But in verse 6 the prophet begins to address the sins of Israel.
Their sins are hardly less wicked towards one another than the Gentiles’ have been against them. They use the courts and governing powers to take the lands and incomes of people, then pay them poorly when they are forced to work for them, keeping them in poverty and dependance. Additionally, they have adopted pagan idolatry, with its accompanying practices of sexual immorality. They do all of this while outwardly worshiping God and offering the sacrifices commanded in the Law. Verse 8 refers to their participation in the drunken orgies that passed as worship among the pagans.
Verses 13-16 foretell military defeat. The warriors of Israel will be unable to fight, as though the people have lost their will to do anything but indulge themselves in their luxuries. But they are also unable to flee from their enemies. It often happens that, as people increase in wealth, they want to devote their lives to the pleasures of luxury and ease. They lose the desire to do the work necessary to run and defend their nation, or do anything but indulge their passions as much as they are financially able. Thus, they become easy targets of other aggressive nations around them.
The same can happen in the Church. A comfortable Church becomes more concerned about enjoying her comforts than serving Christ. The people want sermons about how Christ makes them happy rather than about taking up their crosses and following Christ. Such a Church almost always takes more of its doctrines and practices from the world than from the Bible. The evidence of this is easily seen in the vast majority of the Christian radio and TV preachers, and in the majority of local congregations today.
October 28, Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude
Simon and Jude were Apostles who helped establish and extend the Lord’s Church. Little is known of them, but an ancient tradition says they took the Gospel to the Tigris Euphrates valley, where they established churches and shared the words of life in Christ until martyred for their service.
Amos 3, Jn. 9
Amos 4, Phil. 3
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” God asks in verse 3. The obvious answer is, “no.” One will go one way; the other will go another way. God is saying Israel is not walking with God because she is not in agreement with Him about the things that really matter in life and faith. Israel’s values are worldly. The goal of her people is to get wealth by any means, and to enjoy it as much as possible. They hate the Gentiles, but, in their hearts and minds, they are just like the Gentiles, even down to the gods they worship.
Samaria (vss. 9-13), about 50 miles north and east of Jerusalem, is the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. It is a walled city with a large army, and its people consider themselves secure. But God, through Amos, calls her enemies to witness her fall. In a very short time the Assyrian army will conquer the city.
Bashan is known for its abundant pastures and well fed sheep and cattle. God calls the people of Israel “kine” (sheep and cattle) of Bashan, meaning well fed, lazy, and ready for slaughter. God’s past actions and warnings have not roused the people from their spiritual stupor, so they continue on their way to destruction like Sodom and Gomorra.
Amos 5, Jn. 10:1-21
Amos 6, Phil. 4
“The virgin of Israel is fallen,” (5:2). The “virgin” is not a person, she is the entire nation of Israel. Rather than keeping herself pure for God, she has become a fallen woman, who gives herself to every god and idol for pleasure. She has gone to Bethel and Gilgal to find her lovers. Once revered and holy places, they have become centres of pagan worship and debauchery (Hos. 4:15). God says the idols in these places will not be able to save her from His wrath. Rather than resorting to them, Israel should seek God, who promises, “Seek me, and ye shall live” (4-6).
Verse 7 begins a long and devastating list of the sins of Israel. She hates the words of Godly people (him that speaketh uprightly, 10). The rich and powerful increase their wealth and power by “treading upon the poor” and “afflicting the just.” With ill-gotten gains, they build mansions of hewed stones and pleasant vineyards by which they expect to indulge themselves with beauty and luxury. They use the legal system to enforce their theft and abuse through corrupt judges and courts bought with bribes. The “gate” is the place where the religious and civil authorities gather to hear the cases and charges against the people, like our court houses today. Rather than securing the rights of the people, they turn aside (rule against) the poor, who cannot afford to bribe them. People live in obvious and open opposition to the righteousness of God, yet they offer Him sacrifices and attend the assemblies called for by the Law, as though there is no contradiction between their lives and the will of God.
God’s word to them is, “I hate, I despise your feast days (such as Passover).” He does not accept their sacrifices, or regard their peace offerings (22). This means God does not forgive their sins. Why not? Their peace offerings are not sincere. They are not accompanied by repentance and faith. They are offered in the belief that God is satisfied with dead sheep and does not care when they return to their corruption and sin. Instead of offerings and phony religious acts, God instructs them to keep the moral law as eagerly as they keep the laws regarding sacrifices and religious observances. He does not negate the ceremonial law, or the observances and functions He commanded in it. He does say that without the moral law, kept out of love for God and God’s people, the ceremonial law will not make them right with God. Therefore, let the people repent of their sins: “let judgement [justice] run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (24). But Israel will not repent. Therefore God will allow her enemies to conquer her, and her people will be taken into other countries as captives (27).
The folly of trusting military and political power is well expressed in verse 1. Samaria is the capital of Israel, the home of the king and the army. But they cannot save Israel, for her problems are not political or military, they are spiritual. If kings and armies could solve problems, the conquered cities of Calneh, Hamath, and Gath would be free and prosperous (2). Yet Israel trusts her politicians, and, while her people grow fat and weak by indulging their dreams of luxury (3-6), an enemy grows stronger and will come upon them in fierce and deadly invasion. God will deliver up Samaria and all that is in it (8-11). He will “raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the Lord the God hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness” or, as we might say today, from one end of your country to the other.
Amos 7, Jn. 10:22-
Amos 8, Colossians 1
The Lord postpones the punishment of Israel, called Jacob in verse 3, in answer to the mournful prayer of Amos. The prophet, understanding that the Lord intends to make a complete end of Israel as part of His people, is both shocked and moved to beg for mercy.
The plumbline (7) measures the straightness of a house or wall. Here it shows that Israel is like a house whose walls lean dangerously. The vision is meant to show Amos how far Israel has gone away from God and into sin. She is beyond repair. She will collapse under the weight of her wickedness. She will be unprepared for the day of battle, and she will perish by the sword of her invaders.
Amaziah (10-17) is a priest at Bethel. Since there are pagan shrines there, he could be a pagan priest, or a priest of God who has embraced diversity by allowing and worshiping idols. Either way, he resents and resists the preaching of Amos, and goes to the king to report the words of Amos. He clearly wants the king to use his power to silence Amos. The inclusive, diverse elite always want to silence everyone who does not fit their idea of inclusiveness and diversity. They demand absolute uniformity in their inclusive and diverse world.
He tells Amos to go back to Judah, the southern kingdom, and preach against Israel there. They will welcome such preaching (12, 13). Amos’ answer is that he did not learn his message by following another prophet. He speaks only out of faithfulness to God, and a desire to see Israel strong, safe, and blessed by God. For this reason he will not be quiet; he continues to tell Israel of her coming disaster, hoping she will repent and be saved. Why does the true Church today expose the failed policies and practices of the world? Because we love people and desire to see them embrace God and all His blessings.
The basket of summer fruit image is similar to that of the kine of Bashan in chapter 4. There, God was saying Israel is like a fattened cow ready for slaughter. Here He is saying she is like ripe fruit ready to be picked and devoured by her enemies. God never stops reminding the people of their guilt, and verses 4-6 reiterate the abuse of Israelite upon Israelite in opposition to the the known moral demands of God’s Law, which the people pretend to believe and swear allegiance in the Sabbath liturgies. Instead of securing freedom and peace for all, some have joined forces to take control of the positions of power in order to gain wealth and security for themselves and their cronies, very similar to what is happening in most of the nations of the world today. The poor and the weak always suffer under such conditions, no matter how many promises the politicians make in their attempts to persuade the poor to vote for them. They buy and sell the poor for silver, and give them the scraps and refuse of the wheat.
They will pay for this. Their false gods (sin of Samaria and god of Dan, vs. 14) cannot save them, and their false worship of God does not deceive Him. Verses 8-14 warn of God’s coming wrath upon them; “they shall fall, and never rise up again.”
True to His word, the northern Israelites were conquered, dispersed, and absorbed into the pagan culture of their conquerors. They have never risen up again in a way that identifies them as the people of God.