AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH March 30, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST AND BASE OF THE
OF AUSTRALIA ON BIBLICAL LINES …
THE PLUMB-LINE, THE PROPHET AND THE PRONOUNCEMENTS
THE PARALLEL SITUATION: THEN
AND NOW -
8th century B.C. and 21st century A.D.
Recently there has appeared evidence of a back to morals, back to responsibilities regimen on various fronts. In Australia in the past week, we have a journalist talking of the need to return from multicultural platitudes to moral certainties, and to have a due sense of justice and participation in work, not mere allowance for alienation. Prime Minister John Howard meanwhile, in the USA, has said that the only future for aborigines here is to become participants in mainstream Australian life. This means that they must learn, work and share responsibility. In England, there has been a new move for Britishness to be focussed, even the thought of having a ceremony or training in what it means to belong to such a country as that. Again, another spoke in a broadcast of the need for a GLUE to hold things to together in Britain, one people, one morality, one religion, one meeting place and one quality product.
All of this is not for nothing. The vacuity that took legs to a paraglide and finding some political wind, moved wherever it went, enjoying the process before the crash, the fun of the sixties and the flirtation of the seventies, the labours of the eighties and the wild political forces of the nineties, has brought us to the amoral 21st century; but though some rejoice in being beasts, others prefer being human. Man can play the chameleon, being in the image of God, his Creator. Hence after this long mission into intermission, legging it from law and being bored with truth, there has come the desire for some kind of order, law, morality, realism, responsibility.
In Britain, then the concept is Britishness. But what is this ? The reference to 'one religion' suggests something. Not dead is the old sense of a national Church which while not dominating, would indicate the direction of flow in all undefined areas, and much for assumption in those more defined. It might hark back to the nation which met the Spanish Armadas, and conquered an Empire, bringing no small good as well as some evil; and indeed, it suggests that its old ways are coming back into vogue. Yet the Church of England has fallen, over more than half a century, into something far worse than a bag for differences, with a strong evangelical segment. It has reached the point of active regard for homosexual 'Christians', even Church workers, even sponsoring a communion for them, as such, in Canterbury. Thus it is in obvious collision with the prophets and Paul (cf. I Timothy 1:10, I Corinthians 5 and 6).
Romans 16:17 shows what to do, then: AVOID them. Thus the OLD WAYS are simply not available in the old fashion. Jeremiah 20:20-27 makes an announcement concerning a parallel situation in the prophet's own day.
"The anger of the LORD shall not return, until He has executed, and till He has performed the thoughts of His heart: in the latter days you shall consider it perfectly.
"I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not
spoken to them,
yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel,
and had caused My people to hear My words,
then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.
"Am I a God at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar
Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? says the LORD.
Do not I fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying,
‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed’.
"How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets
that prophesy lies?
yes, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;
who think to cause my people to forget My name by their dreams..."
The perversity in turning from the eternal laws of God has become so vast and vulgar, in State and in Churches in no small degree, that you are now having this reaction towards SOME sort or other of morality, responsibility, some rule, something whatever it may be, to which people can look, which will bind them and allow for orderly and peaceable productivity on the one hand, and direction of flow or even some pseudo-faith, some subjective equilibrium, on the other.
In Israel of old, this meant nature worship - and organic evolution is simply a modern, fallacious example of this attempt to make the book of life write itself. Likewise, fads and fables were more organised in false religions, then as it is now, and surrounded with lust. Moreover, just as religious fronts are now often allied with this secular sect, so arrogant and dictatorial in the schools and colleges and universities, so we have a situation just like that of Israel of old. Then they burnt children in the idolatrous fires, and now the cults of man are no less appalling in their movement towards ideological genocide of youth.
The modern moral moments in society continue to move to and fro; but the calamity continues.
Let us then see what Amos in Amos 4, was told about this; and then looking to Amos 7, see something of the end of it all. Thus is history made useful by the word of God, which it is our business to study and to apply.
THE CHARGE - Amos 4:1-10
Amos 4 provides this. They were a people prone to "oppress the poor," and to "crush the needy", with women inviting their husbands to drinking sessions. Religiously they were no less arrogantly adventurous.
“Come to Bethel and transgress!" they would exhort each other. That is, let us go to the well-known sites of the past and with superb religious zeal, twist even religious ceremonies to purposes of panache. They were all talk and no walk. They would overdo the commandments of form, and underdo those of reality and love and sincerity. They were religious swanks, ethical frauds and God had already chastened them with too little rain, uncertain distribution of it, sacrificial wars and disease; but they did not listen.
These afflictions, God says in Amos 4, after so many critiques earlier, are from the Lord, who not only forms mountains, the Creator, but "declares to man what His thought is" - a fact that is most manifest in this book from first to last. Indeed, it revolves about this fact, here made into a self-characterisation by God Himself. HE creates on the one hand and He speaks, on the other; and what He has made, man, does well to listen for to man HE DECLARES WHAT HIS THOUGHT IS! As we proceed through the book, we find what man does, in reply!
The modern moral moments in society continue to move to and fro; but the calamity continues.
Note in passing that in Chapter 4, God has told them of a sequence of steps by which He had sought to warn them: you see this in Amos 4:8-10. THIS warns us to beware of things that hurt, upset, seem contrary, and to estimate them not too readily as mere humour or annoying trials in triplicate, but to be ready to ponder before the Lord whether these things are in fact cautions, warnings, to move us to what is right which we may be neglecting!
THE CHASTISEMENT - Amos 7:1-6
We should observe now in Amos 7:1-6. that the question of actual punishment, as distinct from so many warnings arises. Amos sees three visions and intercedes for Israel. The first was that of devastating swarms of locusts at work in the crop. Amos cried, "O Lord God, forgive, I pray. Oh that Jacob might stand, for he is small." (Jacob stands simply for his descendants, Israel). God relents in the vision, and declares that this, then, would not happen.
In the next vision, you see fire devouring Israel's territory. Again the prophet intercedes. "O Lord God, cease, I pray! Oh that Jacob may stand, for he is small." Again the Lord relents. Notice how the prophet calls attention to varied features in his cry of prayer, and realise that such prayer is integumental to the operation of a church. It is not just for then: it is for NOW! (see SMR Ch. 8, Answers to Questions Ch. 5).
In the third vision, there is seen the Lord Himself with a plumb-line in His hand. This is the now old-fashioned, simple use of gravity on string with lead attached. It shows what is upright, and what is not, by contrast with itself. What do you see ? the Lord asks of the prophet. He replies, A plumb-line. "Behold," the Lord responds, "I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people, Israel."
THE CERTAINTY - Amos 7:7-9
What then ? It is this. There is to be no more palaver or intercession. They are crooked and having had long years to repent, their unrighteousness is useless for building. They must be broken down now!
While Amos was prophesying in Israel to the North, in the commencement of his prophecy we find reference to Judah also. In fact, in due course Israel was destroyed so that it ceased to be a nation, and only the South, a section that used to be part of it, remained. Even this later on, was taken away in exile by Babylon, to be returned 70 years later as Jeremiah had foretold (Jeremiah 25) by the archeologically famous King Cyrus, whose action in this way is attested by the equally famous Cyrus cylinder, which spells out his orders for their return, after his empire had defeated that of the Babylonians. God always does precisely what He says; and it is well therefore, while the time for intercession remains for anyone, to seek Him starkly. In the case of Moses as in Exodus 32:31ff. and 33:12ff., you may recall that that prophet interceded successfully for the continuation of Israel, through staggering divine mercy. THAT was on the occasion of their actually having a golden calf made, as if to desire the past things, like a dog returning to its vomit!
They continued, until they refused to enter the promised land when it was right in front of them, with miracles mounting like high hills in all their way from Egypt. 40 years in the desert was the result for that, and God brought in their CHILDREN. However, today is the day, and we need to act in all our affairs with godliness and holiness, now, not passing over our generation, but acting! (II Corinthians 6:1ff.).
PROPHET BECOMES A SECULAR SERVANT
NO WORD OF GOD BECOMES VOID - Amos 7:12-16
What however of Amos ? He had done quite enough to outrage the king. Luther had the same sort of problem with the Holy Roman Empire's head, Charles V, who could not prove him wrong, but instead, after 100 days from the time of the meeting, gave every rogue, murderer, thief and villain authority to assault, slay Luther, if he were still in the Empire. Luther was kidnapped by a kindly prince and instead proceeded with a now famous translation of the Bible into German.
In Amos’ day, the priest in Israel, Amaziah told the King that Jeremiah "has conspired against you." He added this, "The land is not able to bear all his words." "Go seer!" he cried, "flee to the land of Judah." But Amos has a vision, a call and an authority from God. Despite the confusion of some, authority is not gained from man but from God Himself in His work! "Never again prophesy at Bethel." This is the place of the king! Amaziah cried. Begone!
Amos, in reply declared, "I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheep-breeder ... Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’ " Listen, said Amos, to what the Lord now has to tell you. YOU are telling me "Do not prophesy against Israel. and stop dribbling against the house of Israel." At that, Amos foretold that Amaziah's own wife would become a harlot in the city, his sons would be slain by the sword, the land would be divided by conquerors and Israel would be led away captive. As Peter and John, the apostles put it when confronted in their own New Testament times, in responding to the scolding, fulminating priests: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, judge for yourselves."
Back of Amos was the Lord; and back of Peter and John was the resurrection, on time, in power, the State, a mere human institution, being quite incapable of keeping its 'man', the 'Son of man' in its sight, even after He died!
Livingly, the word of God has been sent via Moses and many prophets, via the nation of Israel as in Romans 9, and it has been embodied in incarnation in Jesus Christ, deity, the express image of His person, who was raised in the power of God in His foretold breach of that judgment on Himself (Hosea 13:!4). That written word is now sent via both Testaments, the one the preparation and the other the consummation. Jesus Christ is presented to all, through the Old and the New, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20, Ephesians 3:16) through whom both were written (cf. I Peter 1:11-12, I Cor. 2:9ff.), whether they will hear or not!
Man ? he fails and fades like the Summer grass, says I Peter; but the word of the Lord endures for ever. Keep therefore to it, fear nothing and no one but God, and that with a clean fear; and live in Him who being eternal, provides eternity as the home for His people (John 11:25). This, it is not in vague poetry, but in living reality, His people equipped as He was. His body, even before He was glorified was a new one that COULD walk in the old paths. It was one able to eat, to be touched, to speak and to teach, and to remember vividly earthly detail, though He was pointing to a new heavens and a new earth, where He with the Father would assume power over the living and the dead. Death itself a mere relic, its power broken, covered by Calvary for those who are His (Heb. 2).
Love not this world, and its glamour, its power and its politics: it goes (Matthew 24:35). Neither fear it nor savour it. Rejoice in the King, in His creation, in His salvation, living by faith in Him: touch no vain thing and find His will so that, joy overflowing, you may with honour acquit yourself of the privilege of knowing God, and living for ever in His saving presence (Romans 12:1-2).