The Sovereign LORD’s Conditions

The Sovereign LORD’s Conditions

Sometime this past Spring when we were discussing the Gospel Saturation Primer, a booklet intended to encourage local churches to reach out to unbelievers within their communities, somehow we landed on the topic of God’s wrath. At the time I mentioned that a sure way for people not to come to church was to do a series on God’s wrath. Well, I don’t want anyone to leave the service this morning but as we heard read for us earlier, this passage from Amos is one about God’s wrath and judgment upon his people. Though I won’t be doing a series on it, it’s an important topic for us to understand for though our LORD is good and gracious and loving and kind, it behooves us to know those things that bring about his judgment and wrath if we seek to live our lives in a manner that is pleasing to him. And for those of us living after the time of his active revelation, the key source for learning who he is and which behaviors please him or incite his anger are the revelation he’s left us in the Old and New Testaments.

Now it’s becoming common for people, even Christians, to say that because God is all-loving, he doesn’t care how we live our lives but unconditionally accepts anything we say, think, or do. Yet this is a very human-centered and incorrect way of viewing God. We see just the opposite throughout Scripture for time and time again God calls those who are his to live in a manner that reflects his character. As we’ve seen in recent weeks in the lives of Ahab, an evil king of Israel, and his equally evil wife, Jezebel, God’s judgment ever falls upon those who turn from his ways.

Our passage in Amos provides another instance of God’s judgment falling upon Israel and yet another one of its evil kings, Jeroboam II.[1] Amos prophesied around the mid-eighth century BC, a time in which the nation of Israel had already divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. This is why we read in the opening of the first chapter, “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah[2] was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash[3] was king of Israel.” Uzziah was king of the southern kingdom; Jeroboam of the northern. Now Tekoa was a village about five miles south of Bethlehem in the southern kingdom. And Amos, this former shepherd, was called by the LORD to prophesy judgment not only upon the countries surrounding Israel[4] but also upon Judah in the south[5] and Israel in the north[6] for all of them had turned away from the LORD. Therefore the LORD was now going to judge them.

As chapter 7 opens, upon Amos’ beseeching, the LORD relented from using two forms of judgment upon Israel that he had disclosed to his prophet—locusts[7] and fire.[8] But beginning with verse 7, the LORD presented Amos with a third scenario: “This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand.And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ ‘A plumb line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’” Though the LORD had agreed not to judge the people by way of locusts and fire, judgment would come.

Now I confess that not really being certain what a plumb line is, I looked it up only to find the not-so-helpful definition of “a line with a plumb attached to it.” Well, I know what a line is so I looked up “plumb” and found that it’s a measure for determining the depth of a body of water or a test on an upright surface to determine the vertical. But even more helpful was this definition from my favorite study Bible, the Crossway ESV, which stated:

A plumb line is a string with a weight fastened to the end of it. When the string is placed beside a wall and the weight is allowed to hang freely, it will be apparent whether or not the wall is perfectly vertical. If the wall is leaning and it is not fixed, it will eventually collapse. Compared to the standard of the Torah, the plumb line according to which the wall of Israel was built, it is clear to Amos that the nation is now so far out of true vertical that the collapse cannot be prevented.[9]

The sense then in our passage is that though the LORD had told his chosen nation how it ought to live—the Torah being the Law which the LORD had given to Moses—he had measured up the moral character of his people against his revelation to them and found them lacking. Though the LORD had built his nation according to his standards, they had diverted from these standards and instead gone their own way. Therefore judgment would result.

This judgment is stated in verse 9: “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” As we know Isaac was Jacob’s father—and Jacob’s name was later changed to Israel. The high places of Isaac, or Israel, were places of worship erected by the people to worship not their Sovereign LORD but other gods, gods of foreign nations. These high places were traditional sites of Canaanite worship.[10] As one commentator notes, “The shrines at Bethel and other places of worship were often paganized, and Israel had a worldly view of even the ritual that the Lord himself had prescribed. They thought performance of the rites was all God required, and, with that done, they could do whatever they pleased…”[11] Despite the many ways the Sovereign LORD had communicated to his people, instead of following him they had chosen to follow false gods and practice false religion. Therefore their sanctuaries would be ruined and their king, Jeroboam, would be destroyed.

Next we see an unusual wrinkle for someone who was supposed to be a representative of God entered the scene and, in effect, challenged Amos’ motives. Amaziah was a priest who as priest should have upheld the Law of God—and therefore should have upheld what Amos, God’s prophet, was saying. But Amaziah was corrupt and he reflected the corruption that had come about under the priesthood of the first king Jeroboam—again the Jeroboam in our passage is the second Jeroboam.[12] As we read starting in verse 10, “10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: ‘Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying: ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’’” Now on the one hand, Amaziah reported to the king roughly what Amos had prophesied, that is, that Jeroboam would die by the sword and Israel would go into exile—although as recorded in verse 9 what the LORD had Amos prophesy was that the sword of the LORD would rise against the house of Jeroboam, his dynasty, not necessarily Jeroboam himself. For as recorded in 2 Kings Jeroboam died of natural causes.[13] It was his son and successor, Zechariah, who was assassinated.[14] But concerning Amaziah’s reporting of Amos’ message that Israel would “surely go into exile, away from their native land,” this is precisely what took place in 722 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel was exiled under the rule of the Assyrians.

Now on the other hand, Amaziah wrongly suggested that Amos was leading a conspiracy against the king—that he had a secret plan to harm Jeroboam and Israel. This was not the case yet Amaziah tried to nullify the prophecy given to Amos by the Sovereign LORD by telling the king that all of this had been Amos’ idea. Therefore Amaziah—again, a man who was a priest, an alleged minister to God’s people on behalf of the Sovereign LORD—attempted to undermine Amos’ prophesy in the presence of Jeroboam, king of Israel.

Next Amaziah went on to directly demand that Amos leave. Starting in verse 12, he told Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.” Amaziah sought to send Amos back to Tekoa in the southern half of the kingdom where he was from arguing that Samaria, where Amaziah served Jeroboam in the northern part of the kingdom, had no need of his services. In Amaziah’s view Bethel, “the king’s sanctuary” and “the temple of the kingdom,” was functioning just fine. Yet as one commentator notes, Bethel was the place “…where Jeroboam’s namesake ([again] Jeroboam I) had set up a golden calf for Israel to worship in 930 B.C. at the very outset of the northern kingdom.” [15] In fact, as stated earlier in the book, the LORD told Amos to prophesy concerning these altars, “14 On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.”[16] In other words, in the eyes of the LORD, Bethel was far from doing fine for it continued to live against the LORD and his purposes. In referring  to“the king’s sanctuary” and “the temple of the kingdom,” Amaziah seemed to have forgotten that both the sanctuary and the temple belonged not to the earthly king but to the King of the entire universe, the Sovereign LORD.

Now ultimately it didn’t matter what Amaziah had to say for Amos knew that it was indeed the Sovereign LORD who called him. In verse 14 he began by recounting that call to Amaziah in saying, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.” In stating this Amos was making clear that Amaziah had been incorrect to suggest that Amos was a prophet for hire, someone who was being paid to prophesy. Amos prophesied not to “earn [his] bread” (verse 12) but out of obedience to the LORD.  In this Amos’ testimony is similar to that of David.[17] As the LORD had done with King David, so had he done with Amos: he took a humble shepherd and used him to a great end. As Amos went on to testify in verse 15, “But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” And as God’s prophet he pushed back on Amaziah by saying to him, verse 16, “Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’” Though he was addressing a priest, Amos knew that what Amaziah was saying wasn’t from the Sovereign LORD who had called him to be his prophet. A true prophet of the LORD will trump a false priest of a disobedient Israel every time.

Next Amos let Amaziah know that what he had had to say was nothing when compared with what the LORD had to say. And so we read the LORD’s prophesy from Amos to Amaziah in verse 17: “Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword. Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.” Amaziah would be judged for falsely representing the Sovereign LORD to Israel and its king:

He would come to experience the very lack of fidelity to the LORD he had exemplified by his wife becoming a prostitute in the city;

Amaziah’s leading Israel’s sons and daughters astray would result in his own sons and daughters falling by the sword.

He would lose his land.

And he, who was serving pagan gods despite professing to be a priest of Israel would die in a pagan country.

And at the end of Amos’ prophecy to Amaziah we see a repetition of the closing words that Amaziah had reported to the king at the end of verse 11, namely, “And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.” Again, this was the exile in Assyrian the northern kingdom did in fact experience a few years after this prophesy in 722.

What is more, this loss of the kingdom of Israel wouldn’t have been expected for at the time Amos was prophesying, Israel was wealthy. Therefore perhaps, as one commentator notes, it had “a false sense of security, encouraged by the weakness of Egypt, Babylon, and especially Assyria, which had entered a temporary decline….”[18] Yet the LORD knew. And as his nation had turned its back on him, it would soon reap what it had sown. For foreign gods couldn’t and wouldn’t protect it from being attacked from the foreign nations that worshipped the very same gods to which Israel had turned.

Now this judgment upon Israel may seem harsh to us yet this would be an incorrect conclusion for time—and time—and time—and time again the LORD reached out to his people. Yet time—and time—and time—and time again his people had turned away from him. Even if we were to confine ourselves only to what is stated in the book of Amos, we can see the various means by which the LORD had reached out to his people:

One was by caring for them. This can be seen in two senses. First, he is the Sovereign LORD which means that he is God over nature. As stated in chapter 4, “He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord God Almighty is his name.”[19] Similarly we read in chapter 5, “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, who turns midnight into dawn and darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land— the Lord is his name. 9 With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold and brings the fortified city to ruin.”[20] As Sovereign LORD, God has created the cosmos and the world of nature and he actively rules over all that he has made.

But his sovereignty isn’t only over the cosmos but extends to all nations. And as, negatively, he can destroy strongholds and bring fortified cities to ruin, positively, he had ruled in favor of Israel, the nation he created for himself. In chapter 2 he reminds Israel how he had “…destroyed the Amorites before them” and “brought [them] up out of Egypt and led [them] forty years in the wilderness to give [them] the land of the Amorites.”[21] And so we must read God’s judgment in light of the relationship he had formed with his people. Israel had continually taken their Sovereign LORD’s safekeeping, both in the world of nature and in the world of nations, for granted.

A second means of the LORD reaching out to his people was by continuously bringing his word to them, letting them know how they were to live. As stated in chapter 2, this included raising “up prophets from among [their] children and Nazirites from among [their] youths.”[22] And in Chapter 3 Amos further proclaimed the Lord’s word saying, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.”[23] Amos had now been called to join this illustrious band of servants in bringing that word to the LORD’s disobedient people that they might return to their LORD and Maker.

A third means of the LORD seeking to call his people back to himself was by way of various forms of suffering. Some of these are enumerated in chapter 4—and notice the refrain at the end of each:

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.[24]

“I also withheld rain from you…. yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.[25]

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,….  yet you have returned to me,” declares the Lord.[26]

“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt….yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.[27]

“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah…. yet you have not returned to me,” declares the Lord.[28]

Despite the many trials the Sovereign LORD had inflicted upon his people that they might turn to him, they had instead chosen to ignore him and continue in their ungodly and evil ways.

Yet the LORD continued to call them to repent. As stated numerous times throughout the fifth chapter of Amos:

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live;”[29]

And again, “Seek the Lord and live,…”[30]

And yet again, “14 Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15 Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”[31]

So what are we to take away from all of this? I think that one of the most important lessons in the book of Amos is that if we choose to ignore God and live according to our own ideas of what is best for us, we’re in great danger of getting what we want. As stated earlier, it isn’t uncommon to hear people say that because God’s love is unconditional, we can live as we please. But this isn’t exactly what the Scripture’s teach.

Now it is the case that God’s love isn’t conditioned upon our ability to live perfectly before him. God doesn’t accept us before his presence due to our good behavior or intentions. If this were the case, then not a single person present this morning nor a single person currently living nor a single person who has ever lived—Jesus Christ excepting—would ever be accepted by God. For since the time of the Fall human nature was so markedly changed that our default has ceased to be living for God. Since the time of the Fall humanity’s default has been living for itself.

But to say that God’s love isn’t conditioned upon our ability to live perfectly before him is not to say that we can live however we please for God has always communicated that having made us in his image, he is the one who knows best how we are to live. During the time of the promise of a Redeemer, of a Messiah who was to come who would one day make right all that the Fall had made wrong—that is, during the time of the Old Testament—the Sovereign LORD made clear that he had two conditions for accepting people:

One, that they turn away from practicing evil;

and two, that they turn to him.

These continue to be the two clear but required conditions of being accepted by God. The Sovereign LORD has never been shy about telling his people that this is what he expects of them. As the Proverb rightly proclaims, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”[32] Conversely, as the Psalm rightly proclaims, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”[33] And if we, his image-bearers, seek to live in a foolish manner; if we seek to live as if God doesn’t exist; if we live selfishly and cruelly, taking advantage of others and ignoring the needs we see around us, then the lot of Israel will become our lot and judgment upon our evil is sure to come. Again, in the end the northern kingdom was taken away and did die in a foreign and pagan country. When the LORD removes his protection, those who have turned their backs on him may tragically get what they want.

Therefore we must remember and embrace the two conditions our Sovereign LORD has given that we might experience the delight and joy and peace of knowing him and his eternal love for us. For as he’s ever communicated his conditions, so has he ever exercised every opportunity and means that we might turn to him. As was true in the time of Amos, so is it now. For our gracious LORD continues to govern over nature and nations for the good of his people; and he has left his Word from his servants, his prophets that we might know him and his will; and he allows suffering to enter the lives of his image-bearers that we might realize our need for him and so turn to him; and he ever calls us to seek him that we may live.

How wonderful that those of us living in the time of fulfillment—in the time after which Messiah, our Savior and LORD Jesus Christ has come—continue to be able to turn to him; and live according to his righteousness; and experience the gracious love of our heavenly Father by the Holy Spirit sent to indwell all who turn from their ways and embrace the way of our loving and kind and merciful Jesus.

Let us pray.

[1] Jeroboam II ruled over Israel from 793–753 BC.

[2] Sometimes called Azariah, Uzziah ruled over Judah from 792–740 BC.

[3] Variant of Joash.

[4] See Amos 1:3–2:3.

[5] Amos 2:4–5.

[6] See Amos 2:6ff.

[7] Amos 7:1–3: 1 This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: He was preparing swarms of locusts after the king’s share had been harvested and just as the late crops were coming up. When they had stripped the land clean, I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented. “This will not happen,” the Lord said.

[8] Amos 7: 4–6: This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: The Sovereign Lord was calling for judgment by fire; it dried up the great deep and devoured the land. Then I cried out, “Sovereign Lord, I beg you, stop! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!” So the Lord relented. “This will not happen either,” the Sovereign Lord said.

[9] Amos 7:7–9 footnote.

[10] See Deuteronomy 12:1–3: 1 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.; 2 Kings 17:7b–13: They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10 They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11 At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12 They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.”[Exodus 20:4, 5] 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.

[11] Introduction to Amos in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible.

[12] Jeroboam I ruined the priesthood for the northern kingdom. As recorded in 1 Kings 12:31–33: 31 Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. 32 He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. 33 On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

[13] 2 Kings 14:29: Jeroboam rested with his ancestors, the kings of Israel. And Zechariah his son succeeded him as king.

[14] 2 Kings 15:8–10: 8 In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned six months. 9 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his predecessors had done. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 10 Shallum son of Jabesh conspired against Zechariah. He attacked him in front of the people, assassinated him and succeeded him as king.


[15] As noted in the introduction to Amos in the Crossway ESV Study Bible.

[16] Amos 3:14.

[17] David’s initial call by way of Samuel is found in 1 Samuel 16:1, 10–13: 1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king….” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. See also Nathan’s word from the LORD to David in 2 Samuel 7:8: “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel….’”

[18] Introduction to Amos in the Reformation ESV Study Bible.

[19] Acts 4:13.

[20] Amos 5:8–9.

[21] Amos 2:9–10.

[22] Amos 2:11–12.

[23] Amos 3:7.

[24] Amos 4:6. Emphasis added here and below.

[25] Amos 4:7–8.

[26] Amos 4:9.

[27] Amos 4:10.

[28] Amos 4:11.

[29] Amos 5:4.

[30] Amos 5:6.

[31] Amos 5:14–15.

[32] Proverb 9:10.

[33] Psalm 14:1. Also Psalm 53:1.