Teachers’ Overview of Lifeway Explore the Bible: Amos 5:4-15

A brief overview for Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of Amos 5:4-15 for Sun. Sept 18, 2022, “Seek God.”

A video version of the overview is available on YouTube at:

INTRO: You could ask your class: “What is something you spent a lot of time looking for, and why?” One of the “sad” stories of my childhood, is that I had a favorite little Matchbox car, and I treasured it so much, that I dug a hole in the back yard, and buried it there. But when I went back the next day, I couldn’t find again the place where I had buried it! I looked and looked and dug and searched, but I couldn’t find it! I searched diligently for it because it was my favorite, so I put a lot of time into it — though sadly I never found it.

We all have stories like that; If you have one, share it yourself, and encourage your class to share theirs too. Why they spent a lot of time seeking something, and why it was so important to them.

And then you could say: today our lesson from Amos is on Seeking GOD. HE is the most important One we can ever seek — and we need to more into seeking HIM, than into seeking anyone or anything else.  

CONTEXT:

We’re continuing in the Book of Amos, the sheepherder from Tekoa, whom God called from Judah to preach against the Northern Kingdom, Israel. We saw last week that God brought a series of “redemptive disciplines” or chastisements, upon them, with the purpose of bringing them back to Him. But they didn’t repent. So now God is bringing final punishment upon them. He elaborates on that in Chapter 5.  

Now, you will notice that Chapter 5 opens in :1 with “Hear this word”. This is the THIRD chapter in a row that does this: Chapters 3 & 4 also open: “Hear this word”: “Hear this word which YHWH has spoken against you;” “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan.” Now “Hear this word, which I take up for you as a dirge.” (A “dirge” is a funeral song or poem)

Who do you sing a funeral song for? (Someone who is DEAD!)

But at this time, Israel was NOT dead; economically and militarily, they were still very strong. But Amos was saying, “you’re as good as dead;” God’s judgment is coming upon you. But they couldn’t see it.

Here is something we see all through God’s word: people who are in desperate straights spiritually, but they don’t know it. 

— Like the Pharisees in John 9, when Jesus says you’re blind. 

They’re going: What do you mean we’re blind? They couldn’t see their spiritual need; they thought they were ok. 

— Same with the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 4. They said, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” but Jesus said “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” 

Again, they couldn’t see their poor spiritual condition.

This is why Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for THEIRS is the kingdom of Heaven.” If you feel like you are “poor,” spiritually, before God, so that you know you need Him, and call on Him, you are blessed. It’s only the person who feels their need for God who will ask Him to save them. (So this might be the place where you share the Gospel this week.) 

But many, like those in Israel here, didn’t think they needed God. They were well-off; they didn’t need God. (And isn’t this like many people in AMERICA today too?! “We’re doing great; we don’t need God” — It’s frightening; God may be singing a dirge over our country right now too! We do need Him, whether we know it or not!)

— He talks in :2-3 about the judgment that is coming on them: “the city that goes forth a thousand strong will have a hundred left; the one which goes forth a hundred strong will have ten left” in Israel. 90% casualties. 90% lost. This is a devastating judgment which is coming. It’s not arrived yet, but it is coming. 

So what is God’s word to them? (AND consequently, His word to US too!) :4 begins the focus passage:

:4 “Seek Me that you may live”

This Hebrew word here for “seek” is “Daw-RASH,” (emphasis on the 2nd syllable) it literally means to “beat a path” to somewhere.

??? Have you ever seen a path that was worn in the grass that had been beaten down by people repeatedly walking over it? 

I can remember that at my college campus: the sidewalk had been poured one place — but the way that the students walked went another way, and a big dirt path was worn the way they really walked. You’ve seen paths beaten like that too — you might share one you’ve seen.

But that is what this Hebrew word “dawrash” means: “to beat a path to.” And here God says: I want you to “beat a path” to ME!

Seek ME!

God had warned Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 4, the evils that would come upon them in they disobeyed Him in the future. He said they’d be scattered among the nations, and serve other gods. But He said in Deut. 4:29 “But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.”

??? What are some ways we can seek/“beat a path” to God?

— by seeking Him every day in His word

— by spending time with Him every day in prayer

— by “beating a path” to Sunday school and church: “beat a path” to church — that’s a good picture, that more and more people need today!

— “beat a path” to confession, and keep a short account of our sins with God. Let’s continually “beat a path” to Him, confessing our sins.

— “beat a path” to Him by looking to HIM for direction in everything you do. 

— turn from sin. (:10-13 enumerates some of the sins of the people that were leading to God’s judgment. Then God says in :14, “Seek GOOD, and not evil, that you may live.” God says, one of the ways to seek Me is by turning from evil. 

Have you ever had a time in your life when you had a serious decision to make, or you were waiting for an important decision to be made, and you were really praying about it and seeking God — and so during that time, you were particularly careful about NOT purposefully sinning?  That’s a legitimate thing to do; and that’s what God’s saying here: seek Me by turning from evil. He says here in :15, “Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate; perhaps the LORD God may be gracious …”

Purifying our lives is one of the very best ways we can seek God.

You/your group can think of others. The point is: SEEK HIM!

God wants us to seek HIM. “Beat a path to Him” every day! Put effort into it; more than for anything else in our life  Isaiah 55:6 says: “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” 

One good searching question you might ask your group: “Is there anything in my life right now, that I am putting more effort into seeking, than God?” If so, what do you need to change, to put more effort into seeking Him. 

THEN in :5  He lists 3 places they are NOT to go to to seek help:

— “but do NOT resort to Bethel”

— “and do NOT come to Gilgal”

— “NOR cross over to Beersheba”

What is the significance of these?  

— Bethel was the “cult center” of the Northern Kingdom. I Kings 12:29 tells us that when Jeroboam split the 10 Northern tribes away from Judah, he set up a Golden Calf in Bethel (and one in Dan) but the one in Bethel became the center of Idolatry in Israel. So God is saying; DON’T seek your false idol in Bethel!

— Gilgal & Beersheba were also worship sites.

So God was saying DON’T seek those false idols for help. 

SEEK ME!

Now, not too many of us today have literal idols we are tempted to go to, but we ARE tempted to seek things other than God for help. One question you could ask your class, to help you all apply this lesson to us today:

??? What could be the “Bethel,” or “Gilgal,” or “Beersheba” for US today? (Anyone or anything that has taken God’s place in our lives, that we seek for help instead of Him first: could be your money/you trust in that; maybe your family; or putting your trust in doctors and medicine instead of in God; or trusting your “influence” or “political pull.” The teachers book has a good point at the bottom of p. 36 on Israel trusting their walls and military might to protect them instead of God. That could certainly apply to our country today too!  You/your group can think of others.)
God says DON’T put your trust in these other things; put your trust in ME. “Seek Me.”

He emphasizes that by saying a SECOND time in :6, “Seek the LORD (YHWH) that you may live.”

:8 then talks about the RIGHT GOD we are to seek, NOT the idols: Bethel, Gigal, Beersheba (or OUR idols!) but YHWH, the God of the Bible; the God of Creation. And to make his point, he references creation here:

“He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night, Who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD (YHWH) is His name.”

Pleiades and Orion here, of course, are constellations in the night sky.

— The Pleiades is a grouping of stars known all over the world as “The Seven Sisters,” supposedly daughters of the god Atlas.

— Orion is another constellation, a hunter, and he is supposed to be chasing the Pleiades in the sky. 

But the point He is making here is that GOD MADE THESE STARS. He made these constellations, which are far above mankind. His power is greater than we know. 

One thing might do for Sunday, here at this point, is PRINT one/more of these pictures that the new James Webb Space Telescope has been sending back. It was sent up last Christmas, 2021, a million miles up into space and is the most powerful telescope ever created. As a result, it is sending back unprecedented pictures of the universe.

(SHOW THE PICTURE/S)  

These are two of my favorites:

— this one has all these amazing colorful points of light — but when you show it, make sure your class realizes: these aren’t just “stars;” each one of these is a GALAXY of stars; a “typical” galaxy has HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS of stars.  So the number of stars here is literally beyond our comprehension. It helps us understand what Psalm 19:1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” We get a taste of God’s glory by looking at these.

Because Who made this? YHWH, the God of the Bible. “In the beginning, GOD said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.” 

In fact I love what Genesis 1:16 says; “He made the stars also.” Almost like an afterthought. “Oh, yeah, He made the stars too.” Hundreds of billions of stars in perhaps hundreds of billions — or even a trillion — GALAXIES of hundreds of billions of stars each. He made them too!   What an awesome God we serve! 

And THAT is the God, Amos says here, who is declaring all this.

So He says, DON’T look to the powerless idols of Bethel and Gilgal and Beersheba; look to YHWH, the One True God, who created the multiplied billions of stars in the galaxies. 

And the flip side of this is, of course, is, if you DON’T seek Him, then the God who made all these is the One who is coming AGAINST you — and you cannot escape His judgment.  

There’s a couple of verses just outside our “focus passage” that are strong in this regard.  Verse 18 says “Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, for what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light.”

It’s like, You think “the day of the Lord” is going to be good; he says NO, for you it is going to be BAD! It’s going to be darkness. It is going to be judgment.

And then he gives this illustration in :19, which I think is SO picturesque: “As when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him. Or goes home, leans his hand agains the wall, and a snake bites him.”

You see that picture? It’s like a man is running from the judgment of God which is coming against him in the form of a lion. But somehow he gets away from the lion, and goes, “Wow I got away” — but he’ll run right into a bear!  But if somehow, incredibly, he runs away from the bear, and gets to his house, and gasping for air, he wipes his brow and says, “Whew, I got away from it!” He leans his hand against the wall to rest — but a snake will bite him!  

The point here being: You can’t get away from the judgment of God.

There is a famous Middle Eastern story called THE APPOINTMENT AT SAMARRA you could use as an illustration:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to the market to buy provisions. But in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by someone in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me!  He looked at me and made a threatening gesture towards me.  Now master, please lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and go far away to Samarra and there Death will not find me. So the merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went to him and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture towards my servant when you saw him this morning?  Death said: That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight — in Samarra!

The sobering point of that story is, you can’t escape death when it is your time. Amos makes that even more specific here in Chapter 5: you can’t escape the judgment of God, when He has declared it against you. You can surely escape the judgment of a dead idol. But you can’t escape the judgment of the Living God, who created the Pleiades and Orion, and the multiplied billions of stars in the sky! 

You can’t escape Him — so you’d better seek Him!  That is the message of Amos 5 — not only for Israel, but also for US today!

“Seek the Lord while He may be found”! 

Thank you for letting God use you in some of the most important work that is done in our churches: sharing God’s word with His people. I’m praying that He will use YOU this week, to help His people turn to SEEK HIM! 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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