(A brief overview for Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of Amos 4:1-13, for Sunday, September 11, 2022, with the title, “Turn To God.”
A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: I might ask my class: Did you ever discipline a child, or an employee, to get them to stop a certain behavior? If we think about it, most of us have:
I remember when we were at our first church in OKC, our oldest two sons were little, and we lived by a very busy street. We told them there was a line in the front yard (at a certain tree) that they were not to cross, because it took them too close to the street, where they could be hit and killed. If they crossed that line, they would get a spanking. And we made sure we observed that rule every time. It was not that we just “enjoyed” spanking them; we were trying to get them to obey us in this crucial thing. Their lives may have depended upon it! So there was a purpose in the pain were inflicting on them.
You/your group will have stories like this that you can share. Most of us don’t just “get a kick” out of disciplining our kids, or employees, or whomever — but we do it because there is some behavior we are aiming for them to change.
THEN I would say: this is what we see GOD doing in our passage for today. We will see here that God sent a series of calamities upon Israel, but He was doing for a specific purpose: to get them to return to Him. (If you don’t use this in the introduction, you might use it in Pt. III below …)
OR you might open class by talking about “warnings.”
??? What’s some “warning signs” that we need to listen to???
In 2013 we were at the hospital in Norman, OK, for the birth of our first grandbaby, when a siren went off: it was a tornado warning. Everyone had to go downstairs into the basement because a tornado was approaching. While we were there the loudspeaker had another warning: “Prepare for impact!” Nobody was joking around; this was deadly serious. It turned out in God’s providence that the tornado did NOT hit the hospital; but there were some people killed by the tornado that day. That was a warning we needed to take seriously.
If you do talk about the warning signs, then say: today’s passage is a “warning” from God that He wanted His people Israel to take seriously … and that WE need to take seriously today as well.
(You could also use this later in the lesson as well …)
Whichever intro you use, then look at this passage:
Remember this is Amos the sheepherder, who was from Judah (the southern Kingdom), and whom God had called to preach to Israel, the Northern Kingdom, which may have given him pause; would they listen to him? But God sent him anyway.
Last week we saw where God gave him a series of messages of judgment against all the nations surrounding Israel, which Israel enjoyed hearing — until God finally zeroed in on THEM with a condemning message as well.
This week Amos continues preaching God’s word to them. He calls them “cows of Bashan” on the mountains of Samaria.
— Bashan was the land across the Jordan to the east, that was known for its pastures and livestock.
— Samaria (Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, at that time) so this message is for Israel (and US!)
I have to admit, when I first read “Cows of Bashan” here: I thought, wow, this sounds kind of insulting to the women! But upon closer reflection, he’s not speaking to just the women of Israel. He’s calling ALL the people of Israel “cows;” he’s saying they’re all like spoiled, fattened cows, all of them, men and women, who say to their — the Hebrew word is literally “masters,” not “husbands” — “bring us now that we may drink.” So the people Amos is addressing are overfed, spoiled, demanding — both men and women. To back up this interpretation, the Hebrew words here are given in both the masculine and feminine form. So God’s not just speaking to the women of Israel, but to ALL of the people. He says: You are ALL like spoiled cattle, demanding more luxuries from your master.
I might divide up the message of Amos 4 into several points:
— I. Israel’s SINS
— II. God RESPONSE to their sins
— III. God’s GOAL in His response
—IV. God’s JUDGMENT when they rejected Him
Let’s briefly overview each of these:
I. What were Israel’s SINS?
— :1 “oppress the poor, crush the needy,” “bring now that we may drink”: they were spoiled, self-indulgent, drunken.
Israel was in a time of material prosperity, and the people were spoiled and fat. You could make the case that our country today is just like them!
— :4-5 “Enter Bethel and transgress” Beth-el literally means “house of EL”, House of God. There was indeed a place of worship at Bethel. So they were “entering Bethel and transgressing.” They would “go to church” to sin. Their “religion” wasn’t making them holy, which is God’s goal for us.
— :5 they making a lot of sacrifices, but weren’t backing it up with true worship/holiness, and God hates that kind of hypocritical religion.
II. How did God RESPOND to their sins?
You’ll see a repeated pattern here. And remember, whenever God repeats something, He is emphasizing it.
— Isaiah 6: “holy, holy, holy” emphasizes God’s holiness
— we saw last week in Amos 1-2 where God repeatedly says: “For three transgressions … and for four, I will not revoke its punishment.” Emphasizing the judgment He was bringing.
— Here in Amos 4 we see another phrase repeated: “Yet you have not returned to Me.”
Several times in Amos 4, God relates what chastisement He brought on Israel, and then He says: “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
He does this FIVE times in this chapter:
— :6 “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities and lack of bread in all your places” — “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
— :7-8 “I withheld the rain from you …” and gives details of that. Then = at the end of :8, “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
— :9 “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew, and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens …” “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
— :10 “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword …” “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
— :11 “I overthrew you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah …” “‘Yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
FIVE times God says I brought these chastisements upon you (and you could make the case that these grew with intensity each time). And each time it ended with that phrase: “‘YET you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.”
Which shows us the next point:
III. What was God’s GOAL in His chastisements?
We see it in that repeated verse: what did He want to happen as a result of His chastisement? For them to RETURN TO HIM. That is what He was looking for. He wanted them to come back to Him.
God wasn’t just “randomly” doling out punishment. There was a redemptive purpose in what He was doing. He was sending these things upon them, to accomplish a specific purpose, and that specific purpose was to bring them back to Him.
??? One question you might discuss with your class, either at this point or elsewhere, is: “What is the difference between ‘punishment’ and ‘chastisement.”
(Punishment is rendering what is due for a sin/crime. Chastisement has a redemptive purpose. You inflict the chastisement in hope of leading the person to do things differently. It is redemptive in purpose.).
If you don’t use you/your class’s stories about having to chasten a child or an employee, to bring about a specific result, in the introduction, you might do that here. Just like Cheryl & I didn’t enjoy giving Paul & David spankings; they were for a specific goal and purpose, so GOD has a specific goal in His chastisements. And that goal is to bring us back to HIM.
This would be a good opportunity to share the Gospel:
— God created us for Himself; to know Him, love Him, be fulfilled by His presence. “In Your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)
— but when we sinned, we separated ourselves from God’s presence: we saw this in Eden. Adam & Eve lost God’s presence. Whenever we sin, we separate ourselves from His presence.
— Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, “to bring us back to God” I Peter 3:18 says. “Bringing us back to God” is the purpose of what Christ did. Not just “bring us to heaven.” But BACK TO GOD! Coming to God HIMSELF is what Christianity is all about.
So God’s goal is always to bring us back to Him. That’s what He created us for, and it is what He redeemed us for; to come to HIM.
And the purpose of His chastisements in our lives, like it was for Israel, is to bring us back to Him.
God wants us to return to HIM.
— not just return “to church”
— not just return to “religious deeds”
— not just even stop doing bad things.
— He wants us to return to HIM. To GOD personally. To our personal walk with Him.
That is His goal in His chastisements.
IV. God’s JUDGMENT: What will happen since they rejected Him?
Sadly, Israel continued to reject God’s chastisements.
When God had done all these things, and over and over the response was “yet you have not returned to Me,” what will happen?
God says in :12-13 “Therefore thus I will do to you O Israel … Prepare to meet your God.”
Those have to be some of the most awesome words ever written: “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.”
And He didn’t mean meet Him for lunch! He meant meet Him for judgment. :13 doesn’t describe what He will do to them; it just describes His POWER: “He who forms mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what are His thoughts; He who makes dawn into darkness …” In other words, this is an awesome God, and you don’t want to fall into His hands!
Chapter 5 actually goes into some of what would happen to them:
:3 “the city which goes forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left, and the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left to the sons of Israel.” In other words, 9 out of 10 of them are going to be wiped out! It’s a devastating judgment that is about to come on them.
(Just a little hint: don’t go TOO far into Chapter 5, or you’ll be getting into next week’s lesson. I was actually going to do a little more there, because there’s some strong things in chapter 5, but I thought I’d better check, and sure enough: 5:4-15 is next week’s lesson. So “don’t shoot next week’s bullets this week”! Save most of Chapter 5 for the next Sunday)
But the point is: after SO much patience, and SO many attempts on God’s part to reach them, they still did not return to Him, ultimate judgment came upon them, from which there was no coming back.
And what we need to remember today is that what happened to Israel here is a foreshadowing of what will happen to EVERYONE who ultimately rejects God. God will use all kinds of methods in person’s life — including preachers and witnesses and discipline and chastisement — to try to bring them to Himself. (Many of us probably know a person who has been chastened by God repeatedly, but they are just not responding to Him. They are in a dangerous spot.) Because if after all those warnings, like Israel, they continue to reject God, then ultimate punishment will come upon them, from which they will never recover: “Prepare to meet your God.” As Hebrews 12:29 says, “for our God is a consuming fire.”
+x Proverbs 29:1 “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof, will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.”
So God gives His people a stern warning here: here is what is about to happen. This was their last chance. It was the “last warning siren” from God — they’d better listen to it. And WE’D better listen to it, too!
Make sure your class doesn’t see this as just a “history lesson,” but a warning from God to US today: both to America as a nation, to each of us as individuals, and to people we know and care about. We need to make sure we respond to God’s chastening in our lives, which He bring to us for the purpose of drawing us to Himself, before the final judgment comes, and it is too late.
I hope this will help you lead your group through Amos 4. God bless you as you follow in Amos’ footsteps this week, by sharing the Lord’s message with His people!