“Are you Israelites more important to me
than the Ethiopians?” asks the Lord.
“I brought Israel out of Egypt,
but I also brought the Philistines from Crete
and led the Arameans out of Kir.
“I, the Sovereign Lord,
am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
says the Lord.
“For I will give the command
and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
yet not one true kernel will be lost.
But all the sinners will die by the sword—
all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us.’
“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom
and all the nations I have called to be mine.”
The Lord has spoken,
and he will do these things.
“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel
will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring my exiled people of Israel
back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. (New Living Translation)
Doom and hope, judgment and grace, suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets. The great sin of Israel which warranted divine wrath was not only that they trampled on the poor and needy. On top of it all, they saw nothing wrong with their way of life.
This profound lack of awareness, rooted in the spiritual blindness of greed, is what led to judgment. It would take the form of having the Assyrian Empire come, seize the land, and take the people away to a place where they would have no chance to oppress others. Sadly, death would come to many.
The sin of oppressing others and believing there’s nothing wrong with it comes with severe consequences. The people relied too much on their ethnicity. The ancient Israelites wrongly assumed that because they were the people of the covenant, this somehow inoculated them from disaster. Their belief in Jewish exceptionalism was their downfall.
Yet, all would not be an endless gloom. The Lord will not destroy completely. God’s anger lasts for a moment. However, God’s grace lasts forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come because of God’s mercy.
Yes, God pronounces judgment when it is warranted. But God also makes and keeps promises to people. In our lesson for today, the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of the people through rebuilding ruined cities and letting them inhabit them once again.
God steps in and graciously acts on behalf of all people because that is what God does. We might get the notion in our heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or to make a point. In my line of work, it is common to hear people express the idea they are under divine punishment because of personal illness or hard circumstances.
God, however, acts independently out of a vast storehouse of righteousness and mercy. The Lord maintains holy decrees while showing grace to the undeserving. The nation of Israel, in the days of the prophet Amos, deserved only judgment, not grace.
It seems to me God would have been completely justified to never restore or renew a recalcitrant people. Yet, God’s grace overwhelms and swallows human sin. Try as you might to understand grace, you will end up befuddled. That’s because grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only the punishing fire of hell.
The height of grace and the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel (from a Christian perspective) came through a baby and a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with divine free love so that there could be new life and fresh hope.
So, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Receive the gift of gracious forgiveness, merciful love, and divine peace. Look ahead and see there is hope on the horizon. Give thanks for God’s indescribable kindness.
Merciful God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.