Amos 8:4-12 – A Spiritual Famine

Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak,
    you who treat poor people as less than nothing,
Who say, “When’s my next paycheck coming
    so I can go out and live it up?
How long till the weekend
    when I can go out and have a good time?”
Who give little and take much,
    and never do an honest day’s work.
You exploit the poor, using them—
    and then, when they’re used up, you discard them.

God swears against the arrogance of Jacob:
    “I’m keeping track of their every last sin.”
God’s oath will shake earth’s foundations,
    dissolve the whole world into tears.
God’s oath will sweep in like a river that rises,
    flooding houses and lands,
And then recedes,
    leaving behind a sea of mud.

“On Judgment Day, watch out!”
    These are the words of God, my Master.
“I’ll turn off the sun at noon.
    In the middle of the day the earth will go black.
I’ll turn your parties into funerals
    and make every song you sing a dirge.
Everyone will walk around in rags,
    with sunken eyes and bald heads.
Think of the worst that could happen
    —your only son, say, murdered.
That’s a hint of Judgment Day
    —that and much more.

“Oh yes, Judgment Day is coming!”
    These are the words of my Master God.
“I’ll send a famine through the whole country.
    It won’t be food or water that’s lacking, but my Word.
People will drift from one end of the country to the other,
    roam to the north, wander to the east.
They’ll go anywhere, listen to anyone,
    hoping to hear God’s Word—but they won’t hear it. (The Message)

Four hundred years of silence….  That’s how long it was between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In that period, there was no word from God. No prophets sent by God. No divine message, at all, of either judgment or grace. There was complete silence from the Lord… until the fullness of time, when the incarnation of Jesus changed everything. Why so long to hear from God?

The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to God’s people about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land. Those in positions of authority and power in Israel merely looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants. 

Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them. A famine was coming – neither about hungering for food in short supply, nor about thirsting for clean water. Instead, there will be a scarcity of hearing words from God. Folks can search far and wide just to get a wordy tidbit or even a crumb of a message from the Lord, but they won’t find it.

Whenever people refuse listening to the poor, the entire human community is at risk of experiencing a famine of God’s speech. That’s for all people, not just some. Justice is the responsibility of everyone, and not just a few.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Mother Teresa

Scripture says people don’t live on food alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God’s Word is necessary sustenance, just as much as the need for three square meals a day. Withholding both physical and spiritual resources from others, either through sheer inattention or blatant disregard, damns a society to experiencing famine in the total sense of the word – for all, not just some.

We live in a day when the poor are often disregarded. Either they are ignored altogether or are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact.  In other words, very few people take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty. After all, we are busy making money and checking our stocks, and…. 

Oh, my, perhaps we have the answer as to why there is such a lack of revival in the land. The Lord shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore God. No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening to them. For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God.

God identifies closely with the poor, distressed, and needy. The Lord listens to the lowly. So, we as God’s people, are to share this same concern.

God will rescue the needy person who cries for help
and the oppressed person who has no one’s help.
He will have pity on the poor and needy
and will save the lives of the needy. (Psalm 73:12-13, GW)

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished. (Proverbs 17:5, NLT)

Those who are gracious to the poor lend to the Lord, and the Lord will fully repay them. (Proverbs 19:17, CEB)

If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard. (Proverbs 21:13, NRSV)

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who turn a blind eye will be greatly cursed. (Proverbs 28:27, CEB)

Give your food to the hungry
    and care for the homeless.
Then your light will shine
    in the dark;
your darkest hour will be
    like the noonday sun. (Isaiah 58:10, CEV)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61:1, NIV)

 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21, CEB)

 If we are rich and see others in need, yet close our hearts against them, how can we claim that we love God? My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action. (1 John 3:17-18, GNT)

We already have words from God. What will we do with them?…

Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all in this season of anticipation.  Amen.

Psalm 63 – I Will

You are my God. I worship you.
    In my heart, I long for you,
    as I would long for a stream
    in a scorching desert.

I have seen your power
and your glory
    in the place of worship.
Your love means more
than life to me,
    and I praise you.
As long as I live,
    I will pray to you.
I will sing joyful praises
and be filled with excitement
    like a guest at a banquet.

I think about you
    before I go to sleep,
    and my thoughts turn to you
    during the night.
You have helped me,
    and I sing happy songs
    in the shadow of your wings.
I stay close to you,
    and your powerful arm
    supports me.

All who want to kill me
    will end up in the ground.
Swords will run them through,
    and wild dogs will eat them.

Because of you, our God,
    the king will celebrate
with your faithful followers,
    but liars will be silent. (Contemporary English Version)

Regulars to this blog know that I believe the Old Testament Psalms to be a vast untapped resource of devotion and prayer for many Christians. The biblical psalms provide believers with words for prayer, song, and thought so that we might remain close and connected to the Lord.

I Will Worship

Worship involves gratitude to God for God’s inherent love; and praise to God for divine works done in the world.

God’s people, gathered together for worship, affords a wonderful opportunity to express gratitude and praise, as well as listen to the stories of others who have experienced the gracious works of God in their lives.

Therefore, both personal and corporate worship is needed. Personal worship, even if engaged daily, will inevitably lead to a truncated understanding of God and God’s Law without corporate worship – because we need the encouragement and the accountability of others for mature spiritual growth. In addition, to only participate in corporate worship, without attending to daily personal worship, leads to a bifurcation between Sunday and our Monday-Friday workaday existence.

Worship isn’t so much an event, as it is a life. So, it makes sense to have healthy rhythms of personal and corporate worship which enable us to glorify God in our neighborhoods, families, workplaces, and faith communities.

I Will Pray

In those dark times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; in every season of our lives the psalms help give voice to our relationship with the God of all creation.

Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent intent. David prayerfully expressed his yearning, desire, and hope to connect with God and be guided by the Lord, step by step. David praised God in an awkward and adverse circumstance, longing to be satisfied with spiritual food and drink.

I Will Sing

Just as we are to pray the psalms, we are to also speak the psalms out loud with singing. The Psalter Hymnal of old, as well as many contemporary praise and worship songs, are words from the psalms, meant to help, encourage, and give voice to our own current experiences.  

Inspired by the psalms, take a few minutes today to sing and/or listen to songs such as, “God You Are My God” by Michael W. Smith, or check out a compilation of music from the psalms, like, “The Psalms Project,” which aims to put all 150 psalms to music. Maybe even craft your own tune to today’s psalm and sing it to the Lord.

I Will Think

Specifically, the psalmist mentions thinking about the Lord before retiring for sleep, as well as turning to God when awake during the night.

In today’s modern (and postmodern) society, anxiety and racing thoughts are ubiquitous – the result of overthinking and fixating on particular troubling thoughts. Contemplating God through reflecting on the psalms can be a way of taming the out-of-control thinking, while positively engrafting sound theology into the inner workings of our brains.

There’s a reason why the daily lectionary has a reading from the psalms every day. It is one of the best sources for practical spirituality and heartfelt worship, as well as transforming the way we think.

I Will Stay Close

Whatever we do, whatever we say, and wherever we go, let the psalms help form and shape within you a profound spirituality which helps foster a deeper connection with the God we long to know more and more. 

May our celebrations be raucous and robust because the God of the psalms has showed up and given grace and mercy to our troubling circumstances.

Soli Deo Gloria

2 Kings 23:15-25 – Repent, Renew, and Reform

The Book of the Law, Read to King Josiah by Dutch artist Maerten van Heemskerck, c.1569

The king smashed all the altars to smithereens—the altar on the roof shrine of Ahaz, the various altars the kings of Judah had made, the altars of Manasseh that littered the courtyard of The Temple—he smashed them all, pulverized the fragments, and scattered their dust in the Valley of Kidron. The king proceeded to make a clean sweep of all the sex-and-religion shrines that had proliferated east of Jerusalem on the south slope of Abomination Hill, the ones Solomon king of Israel had built to the obscene Sidonian sex goddess Ashtoreth, to Chemosh the dirty-old-god of the Moabites, and to Milcom the depraved god of the Ammonites. He tore apart the altars, chopped down the phallic Asherah-poles, and scattered old bones over the sites. Next, he took care of the altar at the shrine in Bethel that Jeroboam son of Nebat had built—the same Jeroboam who had led Israel into a life of sin. He tore apart the altar, burned down the shrine leaving it in ashes, and then lit fire to the phallic Asherah-pole.

As Josiah looked over the scene, he noticed the tombs on the hillside. He ordered the bones removed from the tombs and had them cremated on the ruined altars, desacralizing the evil altars. This was a fulfillment of the word of God spoken by the Holy Man years before when Jeroboam had stood by the altar at the sacred convocation.

Then the king said, “And that memorial stone—whose is that?”

The men from the city said, “That’s the grave of the Holy Man who spoke the message against the altar at Bethel that you have just fulfilled.”

Josiah said, “Don’t trouble his bones.” So, they left his bones undisturbed, along with the bones of the prophet from Samaria.

But Josiah hadn’t finished. He now moved through all the towns of Samaria where the kings of Israel had built neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines, shrines that had so angered God. He tore the shrines down and left them in ruins—just as at Bethel. He killed all the priests who had conducted the sacrifices and cremated them on their own altars, thus desacralizing the altars. Only then did Josiah return to Jerusalem.

The king now commanded the people, “Celebrate the Passover to God, your God, exactly as directed in this Book of the Covenant.”

This commanded Passover had not been celebrated since the days that the judges judged Israel—none of the kings of Israel and Judah had celebrated it. But in the eighteenth year of the rule of King Josiah this very Passover was celebrated to God in Jerusalem.

Josiah scrubbed the place clean and trashed spirit-mediums, sorcerers, domestic gods, and carved figures—all the vast accumulation of foul and obscene relics and images on display everywhere you looked in Judah and Jerusalem. Josiah did this in obedience to the words of God’s Revelation written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in The Temple of God.

There was no king to compare with Josiah—neither before nor after—a king who turned in total and repentant obedience to God, heart and mind and strength, following the instructions revealed to and written by Moses. The world would never again see a king like Josiah. (The Message)

The Book of the Law Found, Unknown artist, 1913

To say that King Josiah cleaned house is a significant understatement. Having found the Book of the Law, which was lost for generations deep within the temple, Josiah took its words to heart and set about a campaign of reformation like no king before him. 

Indeed, Josiah was determined to restore and implement the Law in the life of the nation of Judah. His zeal knew no bounds. Josiah was doggedly relentless and actively radical in returning the Jews to the true worship of Yahweh.

Josiah did more than reinstitute the Passover and other festivals of the Lord. The king first upended the alternative pagan worship which had become embedded in Judah like a death-dealing cancer. Josiah surgically removed it with ruthless precision. 

King Josiah made ashes out of Asherah poles; put pagan priests out of business permanently; and did away with everything contrary to the worship of the One true God, including spiritual mediums, household gods, and sacrificial high places. In order to turn his heart fully to God, he did away with all competing gods.

Repentance, renewal, and reformation requires a two-fold process: 1) Turning away from what is false; and 2) Turning toward what is true.

Turning from spiritually unhealthy ways of living – without turning to God – is merely a half repentance. Furthermore, turning to God – without turning one’s back on damaging lifestyles – is a form of denial and is dangerous. 

We are to put off the old clothes of spiritual insensitivity and social injustice. We are to put on the new clothes of righteousness and peace. We are to forsake the old inner person of shame in order to embrace the new life of freedom and joy. 

There needs to be a radical removal of sin, so as to replace it with what is just and right. And, keep in mind, that none of this is pretty or romantic. Repentance and renewal is a messy ugly process of dispelling darkness and letting light shine. It is not for the faint of heart.

Where to begin? Make a fierce, brutally honest spiritual inventory of your life. No one can turn from something they are not really aware of. So, create in your schedule some time in the week to connect with God and do the following: 

  • Identify some areas for change, then list the obstacles to turning away from them (e.g., fear, despair, financial repercussions, etc.). Face those obstacles honestly and forthrightly. 
  • Form a rudimentary plan to forsake the old ways and embrace new paths of righteousness. This is only a beginning. Let God take that process and direct it in redemptive and purifying ways.

Holy God, you are jealous for your own glory. Today, I decide to identify and put away all that is contrary to your righteousness and will for my life. And I choose to turn to you with all my heart. In body, soul, and spirit I belong to you. Amen.

2 Kings 22:11-20 – Humble Yourself

The Scribe Shaphan Reading The Book Of Law To King Josiah by Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674)

When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.”

The five men left right away and went to talk with Huldah the prophet. Her husband was Shallum, who was in charge of the king’s clothes. Huldah lived in the northern part of Jerusalem, and when they met in her home, she said:

You were sent here by King Josiah, and this is what the Lord God of Israel says to him: “Josiah, I am the Lord! And I will see to it that this country and everyone living in it will be destroyed. It will happen just as this book says. The people of Judah have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I cannot stand it any longer. I am furious.

“Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. I noticed how sad you were when you read that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry. So, I will let you die in peace before I destroy this place.”

The men left and took Huldah’s answer back to Josiah. (Contemporary English Version)

It is hard to fathom that things spiritually degenerated so much in the kingdom of Judah that the Book of Law, God’s Word to Israel, was completely lost. The Law was tucked so far back in the temple, and had gathered so much dust, that everyone simply forgot it existed. 

Maybe we in the Western world can relate to this more than we think. When a plethora of Bibles and translations exist, yet they gather dust on the shelf, and we have not cracked it open since….?

We are approaching the end of the Christian Year which annually culminates in Christ the King Sunday. As we journey with Jesus and ascend his holy hill, we anticipate corporately acknowledging Christ’s lordship. A good and biblical way to do so is through penitent humility. 

King Josiah’s officials found the Book of the Law and brought it to him. After they read the words, which had not been uttered for a very long time, the king was completely undone with humble repentance. He realized the life of the nation did not revolve around the majesty and kingship of God, and it cut him to the core of his being.  

An appropriate response to the realization of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s lordship is humility. Without humility, there is no going forward; there is only the ghastly state of remaining stuck in one place with ancient dust accumulating on our static hearts. However, with humility there is repentance; and with repentance there opens up the grand vistas of hope, new life, and fresh beginnings.

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

St. Augustine

I (humbly) ask that you try something quite different from your regular experience today. Put on some old clothes then carefully read the words of today’s Old Testament Scripture lesson. Take the time to acknowledge a sin of omission in your life. Then, tear your clothes; yes, rip your shirt. 

Allow yourself to feel, like Josiah, the realization of missing the mark. Yet do not remain in this condition. Drink in the grace of God in Christ and receive the forgiveness that is yours in Christ. The trajectory of our Christian lives is determined by the depth of humility we experience and filling the hole with mercy.

It’s difficult to be submissive. To acknowledge, without denial, that we are in a bad place and will reorient our lives takes a lot of courage and humility. If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is a meek and obedient spirit. 

No matter who we are, people are meant and designed by their Creator to live a humble life of submission to the moral and ethical will of God.

Humility is the cornerstone to every good thing in this life.  Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5 NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human relations are to be firmly grounded in humility. The old prophet made his expectations clear:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV)

Life is truly life when it is based in humility. We live with the confidence of the psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right, and he teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, we are to bow to the God of the Word, for the Word is life.

Awesome God, although I might not always perceive your majesty and sovereignty, you stand above all creation as the Lord whom I am to submit to in all things.  I come to you in great humility of heart and vow to obey everything I read in your Holy Word through Jesus Christ, my King. Amen.