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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Sin and the Roar of God


“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “An enemy will overrun your land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.”” Amos 3:11

Today marks the 18th day since the military forces of Vladamir Putin rolled into the sovereign nation of Ukraine, and already the combined death toll is estimated to be between 7,000 and 10,000 lives.

Of those who have survived, it is estimated that some 2.5millionwomen, children and immigrants have moved out of the country in the greatest mass movement of refugees witnessed since the second world war.

Western sanctions levied against the Putin regime, and its affiliates, are resulting in the near-total withdrawal of western businesses from Russia. And that in turn is leading to the greatest division between east and west experienced since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Western sanctions on oil and gas imports from Russia are having significant effects on world markets, whilst the cost of fuel here at home continues to rise at alarming rates – something that will, in all likelihood, considerably affect the cost of living, increasing levels of poverty, and stretching the gap between rich and poor further.

And the conflict shows no signs of drawing to a close, but instead intensifies, it seems, day on day. Meanwhile NATO leaders tiptoe around the implications of a major European-wide war. And the threat of a thermo-nuclear conflict on a world scale for a seems more real now than it has since the cold war days of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The tectonic plates of European and Asian politics are shifting; new alliances are forming, and the world waits with baited breath to see the direction developments will take in coming weeks and months.

All of which makes for a very uncertain world with an epicentre of conflict that is resulting in the devastation of an entire nation, and with a cost that will surely be measured not in pounds and dollars, but in human lives.

So, what should our attitude be to all of this?

Is the world chaotically spiralling out of God’s control, or does he have a handle on it all?

Is God speaking to the world out of all of this mess?

Indeed, is he speaking to the church out of all this mess?

We need to devote some time to thinking through some of these questions which is why we’re turning to the book of Amos this morning.

Pray for the People

But before we go there, I’ve got something to say about prayer.

Every single life, be it Russian or Ukrainian, is a person - made in the image of God, and with the breath of God in them. That breath of life, called a soul, will never die. The body it inhabits may die, but the soul will never ever die.

The bible teaches that every soul will be given a new body at the resurrection of the dead, and that body will never cease to exist, and the soul of man will inhabit its resurrection body for ever.

After death, the experience of that soul and resurrection body combined, is a fixed and unchangeable reality.

Therefore, God’s people should be very concerned about the premature deaths of thousands of people who may be entering an eternity of suffering.

If we love people and want them not to suffer for all ever in hell, but share in the joy that we are concretely hoping to experience, then our posture right now must be one of prayer for the people involved in this terrible conflict. And wherever possible that prayer should be accompanied by action.

If our message to a lost world is about a compassionate God, then we would do well to show that compassion and extend it to the neediest, both at home and abroad.

Using Israel's History Wisely

So, why are we turning to Amos?

Amos was a shepherd called to be a prophet by God, to the people of Israel. He preached to Israel when they were rich, and care-free, and prosperous. And yet, nearly all his words are about impending disaster at the hands of an invading nation.

So, Amos prophetically speaks about a time coming for Israel that is not at all dissimilar to what Ukraine is experiencing right now. That means that if there are warnings, or lessons, or implications that God intends for to understand from this war in 2022, going to passages of scripture like Amos, will help us to discern what they are.

Here’s a short foot note, but an important one, because it explains the way in which we will be using the history of Israel this morning.

Israel are the chosen people of God under the old covenant and in that sense, they represent in types and shadows, a new covenant people who are elect of God amongst all the people of the earth, and who will inherit eternal life.

Israel is not the eternal people of God; the church is the eternal people of God. But Israel is a teaching tool for the people of God. In their story we find both encouragements and warnings for us - the church – who are the everlasting people of God.

But, Israel also represents humanity en-masse. And it’s important to learn to read Israel’s story from this point of view too. In their rebellion and their rejection of the God who made them, they represent the fallen, ever-straying mass of humanity. They are like a detailed study in what God-rejecting human inclinations look like.

And that means that we can transpose their story into the world in which we live, and from it learn about the nature of humanity and how God interacts with the world at large.

That’s an interlude, but it is an important one.

Amos' Prophetic Context: God's Planned Invasion

So, let me show you, in his own words, what God prophetically says to Israel, through Amos, about the conflict coming on them. And then let me show you where God fits into the picture.

At least three texts in Amos point to an invading enemy that is to be the disaster of Israel - and if these verses were taken out of their context and spoken into the current situation, they would not be out of place at all.

Amos 3:11 says, ‘An enemy [like Putin] will overrun your land, pull down your strongholds and plunder your fortresses.’

Amos 5:9 says, ‘With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin’.

Amos 6:14 says, ‘I will stir up a nation against you, Israel, that will oppress you all the way’.

So, the context of Amos’ prophecy is the context of enemy invasion, the context of war, of ruin, and disaster. And I’m saying that that context makes this book particularly relevant in the current circumstances, and therefore there are lessons for us here.

Where does God fit in the scheme of Amos’ prophecy and what will that tell us about where he fits in the scheme of the war in Ukraine?

Reading the book through must lead us to at least one abundant and clear message: God is not passive in the events that are going to come on Israel, he purposes them; he plans them, and he brings them to pass – and there is no room for doubt.

Here’s a flavour of what God attributes to himself in the book:

‘I will send fire’ (1:4 & other places)

‘I will break down the gate’ (1:5)

‘I will destroy’ (Amos 1:8)

‘I will crush you’ (2:13)

‘When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?’ (3:6)

‘I will tear down’ (3:15)

‘I gave you empty stomachs’ (4:6)

‘I withheld rain’ (4:7)

‘I struck your gardens’ (4:9)

‘I sent plagues’ (4:10)

‘I killed your young men’ (4:10)

‘I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps’ (4:10)

‘I overthrew’ (4:11)

‘I will send you into exile’ (5:27)

‘I will deliver up the city and everything in it’ (6:8)

‘I will stir up a nation against you’ (6:14)

‘with my sword I will rise against you’ (7:9)

‘I will bring them down’ (9:2)

45 times in total God says ‘I will’ in this little book of Amos, so we can be in no doubt that what came on Israel was not outside of God’s control. All the destruction, all the death, all the terror and disaster were not in spite of him, they were, to put it in the words of Acts 2, God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge, and they were by his own execution of that plan.

Now, when we read phrases like ‘fire’, ‘nation against you’, ‘deliver up the city’, ‘exile’, ‘young men killed’, ‘empty stomachs’ and we reflect on the scenes coming out of Ukraine, are we not seeing the same thing described here in Amos.

The country is different, the times are different, the politics are different – the results are the same. So, is God superintendent over the conflict in Ukraine? The answer is yes.

And if you ask, could he have prevented it from happening? The answer is: it depends. If you mean could he have planned differently? The answer is yes.

If you mean can he make a mistake in his plan and execution? The answer is no. God doesn’t make mistakes. His plans are all perfect, all wise and all good.

Deuteronomy 32:4 confirms it: ‘He is the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he’.

So, the war in Ukraine is of God’s making. The details of who lives and who dies; which building gets struck and which is spared, are all owing to his plan and all the details of his plan are perfect and they are all just.

Sin and the Roar of God

Which raises another question. Why would he do it then? We know that God is a gracious and compassionate God, he abounds in mercy. He doesn’t delight to see any perish. So why are so many perishing?

Let’s turn to Amos again and see the answer.

Chapters 1 & 2 are the announcement of God’s judgment on, not only Israel, but on surrounding nations also: Damascus, Tyre, Edom, and Gaza amongst others.

Chapter 1 verse 2 says, ‘The Lord roars from Zion [where he lives] andthunders from Jerusalem’.

Why is he roaring and thundering?

Verse 3, ‘For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not relent’. Three and four make seven, and seven is that number of completeness in the bible. So, the verse means that Damascus has filled up its sin to the. brim and God roars and thunders because of the fulness of it.

Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Judah and Israel all have the same declaration made about them. The roar and thunder of God is a description of his anger at sin.

What is sin? Sin is simply the rejection of the person who is supremely valuable, namely God, in favour of what is less valuable - namely anything!

So, what we are seeing when there is no war, or pandemic, or catastrophic natural event, or economic disaster is God being verypatient. He is slow to anger and abounding in love. He gives people lots of time to come to him and to value him supremely. But for every nation, there comes a time when their sins are full up and then God roarsagainst them.

We should not, therefore, think that Ukraine doesn’t deserve the awful judgment God is bringing against them – make no mistake, God is furious with the sinfulness of that nation.

But, nor should we think that Ukraine is worse than we are, and that somehow it’s because of our righteousness that God has not brought war to our doorsteps. We are the benefactors of his patience right now, just as the Ukrainians were until 18 short days ago.

So, Amos’ message is: ‘beware, the day is coming when you will be at peace one moment and at war the next – maybe’.

Sin is so monstrous to God, and such a besmirching of his character, that his justice and his holiness will not contend with it. The individual or nation that sins against God, deserves eternal conscious punishment the very second the sin was committed, never mind, in some cases, a life-time of patience.

Not a single soul on the planet, let alone Ukraine, deserves another breath. Here’s how God himself said it before the flood:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…The Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever”…and…The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So, the Lord said, “I will wipe them from the face of the earth…for I regret that I have made them”’ (Genesis 5 & 6).

So, let’s set aside the notion, as John Piper puts it, that God is like a planet revolving around the sun of humanity. No, we are the planets revolving around the Sun who is God Almighty, and he will have the glory of ten thousand suns, whether it be by virtue of sentence or sacrifice.

At least one thing, then, that God is communicating to us through this war is, his moral horror at sin. And therefore, we take sin lightly at our peril.

The Apostle John says, ‘if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’.

John is saying we Christians are still flirting with sin, and Amos is telling us God is appalled at sin. That sounds a dangerous place to be. And God is using this war to heighten our awareness of how vile our sins are to him and therefore, that we should not make peace with them.

The Problem with Luxury

What else is God communicating to us through this war? Let’s return to Amos for some pointers.

One thing I see is, ‘a need for urgency when there is a satisfaction with luxury’.

Amos 3:15 says, ‘I will tear down the winter house along with the summer house; the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed and the mansions will be demolished, declares the Lord’.

Amos 5:11, ‘Therefore though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them, though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine’.

Amos 6:1-6, ‘Woe to you who are complacent in Zion and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria…you put off the day of disaster…you lie on beds adorned with ivory, you lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum on your harps…you drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieveover the ruin of Joseph’.

And then Amos says that the feasting and the lounging will end when they go into exile.

The war in Ukraine is to wake us up to the reality that all the luxury of our lives is the opposite of what we have come to believe about it. We have been lured into thinking it’s secure and valuable and good, when in fact it is blinding and cheap and brittle.

Not a single Ukrainian starving and freezing to death longs for their television, or their iPhone, or their ear pods, but they long for simple things like a loaf of bread and a warm blanket.

Comforts are fleeting, but their danger is this: they are so seductive.

We have a purpose brothers and sisters and it is not to mainly spend our lives making our houses nicer, or our wardrobes fuller, or our couches comfier, or our streaming services quicker.

According to Paul, we must learn to devote ourselves to doing what is good; in order to provide for urgent needs, and not live unproductivelives (Titus 3:14).

The psalmist says, ‘Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is’.

That’s exactly what God is showing us, so that we might not waste our lives but invest them for him. Abraham chose to be mistreated, we’re told, along with the people of God, rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

A little sleep, a little slumber, [Solomon says] a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man’ (Proverbs 24:33).

One of the chief ways the New Testament envisages Christians working and not wasting their lives, is in service of the kingdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Prayer & Proclamation

Amos warns in chapter 5 that for many people a day is coming called ‘The day of the Lord’ when they will feel like they have fled from a lion, only to meet a bear.

In other words, war causes people to flee their oppressor who attacks them in his fury, but on that day, they will meet angry bear of a God and it will be worse than the days of their oppression.

That day will be darkness for them, not light. And you ask, could it be worse than what they are experiencing right now in Mariupol or Kharkiv? And the answer is, unequivocally, yes. That day, Amos says, will not have ‘a ray of brightness about it’.

And the word from the Lord to people is, ‘seek me and live’ (5:4 & 6).

Amos and we then, are instruments in the hand of God in the midst of these dismal circumstances, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

In chapter 7, verse 2, Amos sees the Lord preparing a swarm of locusts to devour the stalks after the crops had already been harvested. Amos sees a land with no food, and a population who are bereft of any hope. And it causes him to intercede for the people.

Sovereign Lord,’ he says ‘forgive!’ and we’re told, ‘the Lord relented’.

And again, in verse 4 when he saw the Lord calling for judgment by fire: ‘Then I cried out, Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop!...So the Lord relented’.

And then Amos says in verse 15, ‘The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go prophecy to my people”’.

So, Amos shows us how to intercede with God for people, to save them from destruction.

And how to proclaim the good news to those people.

The war helps us to see the brevity and the fragility of life and to realise how needy people are for the good news of salvation, and hope, and joy, and peace, and acceptance with God. And it spurs us to action – to prayer and to proclamation.

The Lord has his people out there. They might not know they are his people – yet. But he knows who they are.

God says in chapter 9, verse 9, that ‘he will give the command and he will shake his people from among the nations as grain is shaken in a sieve and not a pebble will reach the ground’.

He is saying, he has numbered every one of his chosen people and by the faithful service of his church in proclaiming to them and interceding for them, he will bring all of them to the brightness of his shining, where he will plant them (9:15) and where they will never be uprooted again.


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