Prepare to meet your God

Amos 4:4-13

4 Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years:

5 And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God.

6 And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

7 And also I have withholden the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.

8 So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

9 I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

10 I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses, and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

11 I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

12 Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.

13 For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord, The God of hosts, is his name.

Amos’ Ministry to the Northern Kingdom
Let’s begin with a biblical foundation from the prophet Amos. Amos was not a well-to-do man of the upper class. He was a simple shepherd. He lived in Tekoa 12 miles southeast of Jerusalem about 800 years before Christ. He describes God’s call on his life in Amos 7:15, “The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

So Amos’ main ministry was directed not to the southern kingdom of Judah where he grew up, but to the northern kingdom of Israel.

These were days of outward prosperity in Israel, but from a spiritual standpoint, these were terrible times. Amos was sent right to the center of corruption, namely, the cult city of Bethel.

The Heart of Idolatry in Bethel

Back when Jeroboam led the breakaway of the ten northern tribes from the two southern ones, he made Bethel his alternative worship center to Jerusalem. 1 Kings 12:32–33 describe why this became a great evil in Israel.

Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices upon the altar; so he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month which he had devised of his own heart; and he ordained a feast for the people of Israel, and went up to the altar to burn incense.

So Jeroboam had built high places of worship in Bethel and put up idols in the form of calves and set up his own priesthood and new holy days. So what had begun centuries earlier as a holy place, where Abraham and Jacob had met God, was now the center of idolatry in Israel. And God called Amos to go cry against the corruption of Israel and against Bethel and the kind of worship that was going on there.

The Israelites’ False Religion

Chapter 4 tells us one of his messages. Verse 4 is pure irony. He echoes the call that goes out to Israel to come and worship at Bethel, and says,

Come to Bethel and transgress, to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!

So it is obvious that the Israelites were very religious. They love to do these things, Amos says. They sacrifice daily, tithe every three days, give thank-offerings, advertise special free-will offerings. And in all this, they multiply transgressions. It is all sin. They have some of the old form that the Word of God laid down in Moses’ writings, but it is now a sham. They may still use the name of God, but their idols betray them.

And not only their idols. Their lifestyle does too. In verse 1 Amos says, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!'” So we get a little glimpse of the wealth that people love and the indifference and hardness to the poor. “You oppress the poor and crush the needy.”

What Israel Needs to Do

So Israel comes to meet God at Bethel with lives that are dirty and with outward forms of religion that have lost all real connection with truth. One way to describe what Israel needs to do is to stop on their way to Bethel and prepare to meet God. They need to prepare themselves by renouncing all their love for wealth and their lack of love for the poor. They need to prepare themselves by setting their hearts only on what is true. Who is the true God? What is the truth about idols of gold? Are the priests of Bethel true priests of the living God? (Priests like Amaziah who accused Amos of treason because of his prophecy of judgment, cf. 7:10–15.) Prepare to meet God at Bethel by forsaking sin, and seeking truth.

God Blocks Israel Five Times

In verses 6–11 Amos is done with irony. He reminds the people that God has shouted the truth of his reality to them in five striking ways that they might return. But they would not. In verse 6 he says there had been famine—”lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” In verses 7–8 he says there had been drought—God withheld the rain . . . “yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” In verse 9 he says God smote them with blight and mildew and locust . . . “yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” In verse 10 he says God sent pestilence and sword . . . “yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.” In verse 11 he says that God overthrew some of them like Sodom and plucked them like a brand from the fire . . . “yet you did not return to me, says the Lord.”

What was God doing here? He was blocking Israel again and again in search of happiness without the true God. Hosea (whose ministry may have overlapped with Amos’) described it like this. God says to his wayward wife Israel,

I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them, and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she shall say, “I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.” (Hosea 2:6–7)

That’s what God was doing with Israel. Five times he blocked her. Again and again, he cut her off on her downward path to destruction. He shouted in her ear that there is no hope while running from God.

The Final Word: One Last Hope

And now Amos was giving the last word. Verse 12: “Therefore [that is since you have refused to return to God through all that has happened to you]—therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

The judgment of God is coming in a decisive way and there is no averting it. But there seems to be one last hope. Prepare! Get ready! Prepare to meet your God. If you would not prepare to meet him in holiness and truth at Bethel, then at least prepare now for this final meeting in judgment. For after this there will be no more chance to prepare.

So draw from Amos’ prophecy this truth: When we come to meet God (whether in worship at Bethlehem, or in judgment at the last day), we should prepare.

HOW DO WE PREPARE TO MEET OUR GOD?

  1. Setting our hearts only on what is true.
  2. Recognizing the true God and gods of gold
  3. Forsaking our idols of gold
  4. Follow the true word of God
  5. Forsaking our sins
  6. seeking the truth
  7. Rejecting the False teachings.

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