Great wealth can mess you over if you’re not wise and careful. Here in the States we are watching the drama of an enormous college entrance scam unfold. Wealthy movie stars, CEOs, coaches, university staff and other power brokers found themselves in full-on perp walks recently, with phones and media cameras catching every humiliating second. Parents conspired with university personnel and other individuals to bribe, cheat and lie with the goal of obtaining slots for their children in prestigious universities; spots the students couldn’t acquire on their own merits.
The consequences of these choices, to use wealth and influence illegally for personal ambition, is sobering. I suspect some of these families might be entirely ruined by this scandal. Only true repentance before God and the people they wronged, can redeem their situations. How will this be made right to students turned away from those universities, the ones who earned those spots but didn’t get them? Lawsuits are already filed by turned away students. I hope many of the accused repent and turn to Christ in the coming days and that God will send believers to minister to truth and grace to them.
For Israel’s Northern kingdom, a similar pattern of self-serving, immoral behavior ended in far more dire circumstances than prison time. True to Amos’ prophecies, Israel is eventually conquered by Assyria and thousands of Jews are taken into captivity. Prisoners of the Assyrian empire fared worse than a perp walk and incarceration. Ankles and wrists bound in shackles, marched away from their home and spent the rest of their lives as Assyrian slaves, if they even survived the long trip.
When God singles out a specific group inside the greater population of North Israel and instructs his prophet to address them as “Fat Cows,” what follows cannot be good. In Amos 4, God’s anger lasers in on the women of the Northern Tribes of Israel. “The cows of Baashan” is a reference to actual cattle in the Middle East who grazed on the lush pastures of what we now know as the Gaza strip. These cows fetched prime prices at the markets due to their sheer size and the rich quality of their meat.
Amos vividly describes the women of Israel as self-indulgent and callous. He says they “oppress the poor and crush the needy,” to fulfill their own desires. They are well-fed, bejeweled, pampered women who apparently bark orders at their husbands to keep them supplied with quality wine. All their wealth and privilege is used to maintain their wealth and privilege.
As we keep reading on in the chapter, we are reminded that these are not heathen folks behaving this way. These are the chosen people of God who still preserve the ridiculous optics of making sacrifices in the temple. I wonder how many people are mimicking this behavior in the church today? If most of the professing, church-attending Christians presented God a tithe this Sunday instead of a tip, we’d see deacons everywhere scrambling and scheduling special meetings to determine what to do with all the surplus!
When we live amidst prosperity and ease, our old natures can lull us into complacency and forgetfulness about The Source of everything we possess. Further, the longer we are believers, the farther removed we become from the people we used to be, as citizens of Hell. In short, we exhibit serious memory lapses of who we are and who God is. That’s a dangerous place to be, a place in which God won’t allow his children to live on a long-term basis.
God’s holiness and great love for us will bring forth his judgement when we are blind to our own sin or, worse yet, see it but refuse to repent. He simply adores us too much to continue to allow us to behave like Satan’s children. That’s how Israel became conquered, enslaved people. We shouldn’t kid ourselves to think that living on this side of the cross, exempts us from God’s discipline. The hyper-grace nonsense I’ve seen over the last few decades did a great disservice towards helping Christians “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) I call this stuff “ear-tickling” (2 Tim. 4:3) theology; all the goodness of God with a light touch on his holiness.
Israel’s stopped-up ears couldn’t hear God’s voice directly anymore and they rejected his human prophets who got up right in their grills. As a righteous, holy judge, God could not ignore their sinful ways. Hard-hearted Christians will eventually provoke a strong response from God. I’m guessing the Israelites finally cried out to Jehovah with some sincerity as they stumbled away from Jerusalem in chains, watching their homes burn behind them. Isn’t that exactly what we do when we find ourselves at the end of a bad road we’ve chosen? “Where are you God, I’ve made a mess of things!” The wonder is, his love for us is so complete, he will help us even when our awful circumstances are of our own making.
God will discipline us when we are dabbling or swimming in sin. Sometimes it’s a very public thing, you know, like that parent in the grocery store who quietly lets the fit-pitching kid know they better knock it off, then hauls them out of the store when they don’t? Our good Father is no different than this. Don’t wait until he’s metaphorically hauling you off somewhere to repent.
The Hebrew word for repent does not mean to feel sorrowful or remorseful. Those feelings are merely the pre-cursors. Genuine repentance means to turn completely away from a sin and resolve to allow God to rework us from top to bottom. Resolve to listen to the Holy Spirit’s private warnings and promptings and for heaven’s sake, and yours, do not blow off conversations, teachings and preaching that prompt conviction and godly sorrow about how you are handling your resources and conducting your life.
Lamp and Sword
****Resources for study and reflection****
“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12
Companion verses to Amos 4- concerning oppression of the poor, selfishness and God’s opinion on that:
Isaiah 3:14-26 (These people sound like Amos’ folk)
Beautiful piece written by Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, on the true nature of repentance.