Category: Amos

Chosen By God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

Paul is using Old Testament language in this passage. “Known by God” is the same phrase used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the way God knows Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and the nation of Israel. The Bible says they are all known by God. And that phrase is mostly used of very important people at very critical junctures in the story. To be known by God is to be chosen by God. It’s God acting on your behalf. It’s God choosing through no merit of your own — you’ve done nothing to deserve it — to bless you and work in you and through you in his salvation story.

The point is that God is the prime figure. He’s the main actor, the initiator. God determines the appropriate time for his Son to come (Galatians 4:4). God sent his Son (4:4). God sent the Spirit into our hearts (4:6). God made us his heirs (4:7). Paul is pointing to what happens when you are grabbed by God, when God’s attention is focused on you.

The Bible is consistently clear on this. Salvation always begins with God, not you.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law… Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” ~Romans 3:11-24

People don’t seek God; God seeks people. Humans are so caught up in their sin, they’re so in love with their sin, they don’t seek holiness and righteousness on their own. God always has to make the first move. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“The one who loves God is known by God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 8:3

In Genesis 18, God promises to bless Abraham and make him a great nation and save all people of the earth through his family. Why? “For I have known him.” God speaks to his people through the prophet Amos and reminds them, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; you only have I chosen.”

God promises David that he will be king and that all David’s enemies will be defeated and that David’s family will reign on the throne forever. And David’s a little shook up. This is overwhelming news and David feels sort of inadequate. And he prays to God:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with people, O Sovereign Lord?” ~2 Samuel 7:18-19

What David knows about himself and about the throne, what David knows about God, is confusing and incomplete. Who am I that this is happening for me? Why am I so chosen and so blessed?

“What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord.” ~2 Samuel 7:20

The answer is simple and profound and comforting. You know me. You chose me. That’s first. And that’s more than enough.



The Second Tablet

When God is reminding his people of the covenant promises in Deuteronomy, he vows that if they worship idols they will lose their land. If they commit idolatry/adultery with the foreign gods, if they worship these other dieties, God will send them into exile. He made those promises over and over again in Deuteronomy.

And the people worshiped idols.

Almost immediately upon entering the Promised Land, God’s people began worshiping the foreign gods. They built high places and shrines, they offered sacrifices and song, they worshiped idols. Off and on for more than 700 years, God’s people worshiped these false gods. For over seven centuries, our Lord showed tremendous patience with his people. He exhibited great restraint in not following through on his promises to strip them of their land for these atrocious acts of rebellion. They turned their backs on YHWH. They disrespected his name. They ignored him and sometimes cursed him. But our Father was long suffering with his chosen people.

In Amos, we see for the very first time in Scripture a distinction among God’s holy people between the rich and the poor. Our God speaks through the prophet and points out that the rich were getting richer at the expense of the poor. The orphan, the widow, and the stranger in the gate were not just being ignored, they were being exploited by the wealthy, for the benefit of the elite. 

“They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.
They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.”
~Amos 2:6-8

“You hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth.
You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain…
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
~Amos 5:10-12

God points out the injustice against the poor, the systemic oppression against those most defenseless in society, the exploitation of those who are unable to help themselves, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and he condemns it. This is completely contrary to God’s eternal plan for his people, this is exactly the opposite of what he’s wanting to do through his children for the sake of the rest of the world. So he condemns them and he takes away their land.

In less than 25 years.

It’s almost immediate. In less than one generation, God sends the Assyrians into his chosen nation and, in a divine act of punishment, demolishes them for their sins against the poor.

That’s astonishing, isn’t it?

It appears in Amos that repeated breaking of the “first tablet” of the Law — the commandments dealing with love and God and respect for his holy name — isn’t nearly as offensive to God as the breaking of the “second tablet” which deals with love of neighbor and respect for our own brothers and sisters. Jesus and all the rabbis before him taught that love of God was the most important command and love of neighbor the second. I believe that is still true. But it seems that God shows much more patience when we sin directly against him than when we sin against the poor and the weak. It looks like God’s wrath is quickly aroused when we sin against the marginalized and the defenseless. He won’t tolerate us abusing or ignoring the “least of these.”

There are at least two lessons here: One, we must pay careful attention to our attitudes and our actions regarding the weak and the poor. The comments we make, the jokes we tell, the thoughts we think, the deeds we do or don’t do, the decisions we make — so many of these things impact the defenseless people around us. We should be careful to honor them. We should be diligent to help them. And, two, in the manner of our Lord, we should be much more offended when someone treats another harshly and much less offended when we ourselves are treated harshly. We should show more patience and more understanding when we are neglected or harmed. We should be quick to speak up and act out when the least among us are similarly neglected or harmed.

Amos teaches us that God takes our behavior seriously. Our worship is meaningless to us and to our world, and an offense to our Lord, if it doesn’t compel us to serve others in his name and in his manner every day.