Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Amos, and more specifically, is found in the third and fourth chapters. Five times. Five times the prophet declared a very specific message from the heart of the Lord to the inhabitants of Israel and Judah. If you read the fourth chapter of this prophetic book, you will find the Lord speaking the same message not once, not twice, not even three times, but five times. That message—“Yet you have not returned to me, declares the Lord.” Five times in the same chapter the prophet of the Lord declares to the inhabitants of Israel and Judah that they had not returned to him. What causes this to be even more challenging is when you understand these words were spoken in connection with the Lord’s describing His judgments which were sent in the midst of them. “But I gave you also 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” (Amos 4:6). “Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain; one part would be rained on, while the other part not rained on would dry up. So two or three cities would stagger to another to drink water, but would not be satisfied; YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:7-9). “I smote you with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees; YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:9). “I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:10). “I overthrew you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand snatched from a blaze; YET YOU HAVE NOT RETURNED TO ME, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:11).
These words are even more sobering when you consider them in light of the tremendous invitation and call which the prophet Joel issued during the days of his prophetic ministry. “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye [return to me] to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him; even a meat offering and a drink offering unto the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should t hey say among the people, Where is there God” (Joel 2:12-17). The words recorded in the prophetic book of Amos have even more depth and weight and meaning when you consider them in light of the words which the Lord spoke to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. “And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; if my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attentive unto the prayer that is made in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:13-15).
When you read the words of Amos concerning the inhabitants of the land of Israel and Judah, you must be instantly struck with the tremendous reality that they had given themselves in stubborn refusal to the invitation and instruction of the Lord. The Lord spoke through Solomon in the night at the dedication of the Temple that if His people, which were called by His name would humble themselves, and pray, and seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways, then He would hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and would heal their land. What’s more, is that these words were spoken by the Lord immediately after He had spoken of shutting up the heavens that they yield no rain, after He had spoken of sending pestilence upon the land, and after He had spoken of sending locusts to devour their land. The Lord had just spoken of His judgments in their midst because of their disobedience and rebellion, yet He offered them a way out. The Lord offered them a way of escape, and a way out of their rebellion, a way out of their wickedness, a way out of their disobedience. The Lord presented and offered to them a way in essence back to Himself. When the heavens were shut up with no rain, when pestilence was ravaging their land, and when locusts were devouring their harvest and crops, the inhabitants of the land had every opportunity to return to the Lord—to return to the Lord with fasting, with weeping and with mourning, yet they chose to not return to Him. The Lord declared to Solomon that if His people humbled themselves, prayed, sought His face, and turned from their wicked ways, He would respond by hearing them, healing them and forgiving them. Consider that the inhabitants of the land needed to humble themselves, pray, seek the face of the Lord, and turn from their wicked ways, and the Lord would then do His part—healing, hearing and forgiving. For the prophet Amos to speak of the inhabitants of Israel and Judah not returning to the Lord is an incredibly powerful concept when you think about it, for it was the Lord’s judgments in their midst that served as divine offers of mercy.
Oh, so many times we perceive the judgments of the Lord in our midst as something unnecessary, and perhaps even cruel, yet we don’t recognize and understand that they are actually divine acts of mercy. There are many times when the judgment of the Lord in our midst are actually agents and messengers of mercy, in order to bring us back to Him. There are times when the judgment of the Lord in our midst are actually agents and messengers in order to turn our hearts back to the Lord once more. When you read the prophetic words of Amos in this fourth chapter, you must read the judgments and seeming punishments of the Lord as acts of divine mercy intended not to drive the people of Israel and Judah further away from the Lord, but to actually draw them to Himself. When you read of the particular judgment(s) which the Lord sent upon the land, and then read Him declaring that they didn’t return to Him, you must clearly see and get the strong sense that their returning to the Lord was directly connected to the judgments that were found in their midst. When you read each of these verses and sections in the fourth chapter, you must clearly recognize that these judgments were actually intended by the Lord to turn the hearts of the people toward Him once more. Oh, I believe it is very easy to become offended in the midst of judgment. It is very easy for us to grow bitter, angry, offended and perhaps event resentful in the midst of judgment. This is especially true if we begin to see ourselves as the victim, and the Lord as the one who is inflicting the hurt and the pain in our midst. Consider how many men and women grew angry, bitter and offended with the Lord when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, and after more than three thousand men and women lost their lives that day. Consider how many sons and daughters had to grow up without their father, or without their mother, and how they could have very easily started blaming God, and even growing angry and bitter toward Him.
There are many times when we completely miss the significance the purpose of the judgment of the Lord, and when we begin to focus on how such judgments directly impact and affect us. The Lord sends His judgment(s) into your life, yet instead of turning inward to examine your heart and your mind, you turn outward and externalize everything, and as a result, you completely fail to see and understand the mercy the Lord is presenting to you. Oh that we would recognize that even in judgment the Lord is still providing mercy to those who don’t deserve it, and offering grace to those who don’t deserve it. A perfect example of this is when the prophet Jeremiah warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah of the coming invasion of the Babylonians, and how he declared to them that if they went out and surrendered themselves to the Babylonians, all would go well with them. Even though the Lord was bringing the Babylonians against the house of Judah, and against the city of Jerusalem, and even against His own house, He was still offering mercy through submission and surrender. [WHEN SURRENDER AND SUBMISSION MAKES NO SENSE IN THE NATURAL REALM]. The Lord was judging Jerusalem and Judah for their many transgressions and rebellions before Him, yet He was also offering mercy to those who had ears to hear, and hearts to receive and respond to it. These specific judgments which the prophet Amos spoke about in the fourth chapter were actually divine offers of mercy being extended to the inhabitants of Judah and Israel, and yet I believe with all my heart that there were many of them who grew offended and bitter with God in the midst of them. There were undoubtedly those who felt betrayed and violated by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for He was the One who was shutting up the heavens, and it was He who was allowing the locusts to devour their crops, and it was He who was sending the pestilence and the famine in their midst.
It is written in the Scripture that mercy triumphs over judgment, and I am convinced of this truth even when mercy is found in the midst of judgment. It takes a tremendous deal of discernment and understanding to recognize the offer of mercy in the midst of judgment. It is so incredibly easy to grow bitter, angry, offended and resentful in the midst of judgment, and to raise our fists toward heaven and shake them angrily at God for allowing such events to take place. Little do we know that His acts of judgments are actually divine agents of mercy intended to draw us to that place of repentance and brokenness before Him, and then from that place, we experience His divine favor, blessing, provision and promise. There is a tremendous temptation to grow offended and bitter in the midst of judgment, and I am convinced that this is one Satan’s greatest strategies and tactics during such times and seasons in our lives, or even in the midst of the nation. This is why in the Last Days there are going to be so many men and women who are unable to turn their hearts toward the Lord in repentance, in humility and in brokenness, for they are so angry, offended and bitter toward the Lord because of all that is taking place around them. Even the events that take place during the seven years of tribulation are intended to be divine agents of mercy to the inhabitants of the earth, yet there will be countless who will view them as vengeful acts of the Almighty, and will shake their fists toward heaven and curse the living God. Consider your own life, and whether or not you have grown offended toward God in the midst of judgment—in the midst of those times when He released His judgments in your life in order to draw you back to Himself.
I believe with all my heart that one of the greatest traps and deceptions in these Last Days is the temptation to be offended in judgment. There will be a subtle temptation released into the earth to grow angry and furious with God in the midst of judgment, and our adversary knows that if we allow ourselves to remain in this place for too long, we will be unable to return once more to the Lord. Being imprisoned wasn’t a judgment or punishment in the life of John the Baptist, but it was from that prison cell that he sent messengers to Jesus asking if He was indeed the Messiah, or if they needed to look for another. It was in this context that Jesus spoke of being unoffended because of Him—being unoffended while in a very difficult place, being unoffended while undelivered. One of the hardest things to do is to hear the voice of the Lord in the midst of judgment, for oftentimes the hurt, the pain, and the consequences of our actions speak much louder than His voice. I am finding myself in this very hour asking the Lord to grant ears to hear His still small voice in the midst of judgment, and that there would be many men and women who would guard their hearts from offense in the midst of judgment. Through the prophet Amos, the Lord declared on five separate occasions that the inhabitants of Israel and Judah did not return to Him—this in spite of what was released in their midst. Oh, I must search my own heart and look for those ways in which the Lord is calling me to return to Him—return to Him with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. I am finding myself asking if I have ignored, and perhaps even rejected the divine messages of the Lord in my life, and those messengers and agents of mercy that are intended to draw me closer to the Lord. Oh, there are many men and women who right now are angry and offended with the Lord because they walked through a period of judgment, and instead of recognizing the presence of mercy in the midst of it, they viewed themselves as victims being hurt and wounded.
Please recognize and understand that I am in no way suggesting or implying that everything that happens within our lives is the judgment of the Lord, and that tragedy and adverse circumstances are the judgment of the Lord. I will, however, say that it’s in those moments when the Lord may be trying to speak something very specific to our hearts, and we must recognize and understand what it is He is trying to speak. I do not believe that every trial, every storm, every struggle, every test, every tribulation, every suffering is judgment from the Lord, but what I do believe is that through them, the Lord may very well be speaking to our hearts. John’s imprisonment was not an act of judgment upon his life from the Almighty, yet even in that place, John faced and experienced the temptation to grow offended with the Lord. It is for this reason that Jesus made the declaration concerning “blessed is the one who is not offended because of me.” There is a tremendous invitation that is present in this generation to be unoffended in the midst of judgment. There is a tremendous invitation within these Last Days to be unoffended in the midst of trials and tests and tribulations. We have a very real adversary who would seek to tempt us with offense and bitterness in the midst of judgment, in order that our hearts might be hardened toward the One who is actually offering and extending mercy to us. I am convinced that as much as the inhabitants of Judah and Israel loved their sin and their transgression and their iniquity and their immorality and idolatry, their hearts had also grown cold, hard and indifferent toward the Lord. This is why it is so significant that the Lord declared five separate times that they did not return to Him—in spite of the divine judgments that were in the midst, which were actually intended to provide mercy and grace in their midst.
Holy Spirit, would you help us to always been aware of mercy in our midst—even being able to recognize mercy in the midst of judgment. Would you help us to always be aware of grace in our lives—even when grace can be veiled by judgments, or heartache, or pain, or trials, or tests, or tribulation, or struggles? Oh, you may very well be finding yourself in the midst of judgment right now, or perhaps in the midst of a great trial or tribulation, and yet the Lord is inviting you to remain unoffended in the midst of it. There is a powerful invitation in this generation to resist the temptation to grow offended and bitter and angry and resentful toward the Lord in the midst of judgment, and I do believe that this is one of the reasons why many will turn away from the Lord in these Last Days. Instead of turning their hearts toward the Lord, they turn away from, and even against Him, and as a result, are unable to respond with repentance, with humility, with brokenness, with surrender and submission. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Oh that we would guard our hearts and our souls from this place of anger, this place of offense, this place of bitterness, this place of resentment toward the Lord, for it can and very well will keep us from returning to the Lord. What’s more, is that if you keep reading in this chapter, you will find these words spoken by the Lord: “Therefore [because you have chosen not to return to me], thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel. For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the Lord God of hosts is His name” (Amos 4:12-13). PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD IN THAT PLACE OF OFFENSE! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD IN THAT PLACE OF BITTERNESS! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD IN THAT PLACE OF ANGER! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD IN THAT PLACE WHERE YOUR HEART IS COLD, HARD AND INDIFFERENT TOWARD THE LORD! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD IN THAT PLACE WHERE YOU REFUSE TO RETURN TO THE LORD! The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is in this generation and in these days extending a powerful invitation to return to the Lord with all our hearts, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning, and to rend our heart and not our garments. The Spirit of the Almighty God is calling us in this generation to humble ourselves, to pray, to seek His face, and to turn from our wicked ways, and then He will hear our prayers, will heal our land, and will forgive our sins. Oh that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear the message of mercy in the midst of judgment, and that we would guard ourselves from being offended in the midst of judgment.