11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
declares the Lord.
12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!
In Amos 4:6-11, five times God says, “yet you did not return to me.” In each instance, God was describing ways in which he had shown the people that he was chastising them for their sin. God chastised the people with shortness of food (4:6), with drought (4:7-8), with crop disease and locusts (4:9), with disease (4:10), and with death (4:11). All of these are terrible things for the people to have gone through, and each is followed with that statement, “Yet you did not return to me.”
God had a purpose for the hardships alluded to by Amos that the people of Israel went through. He had a reason that he put them through so much. It was not simply to punish them for sin. Were God to actually punish them for their sin, there is only one punishment that would suffice. The sin of humanity is an infinite offense to an infinitely holy God. If God actually punishes you for your sin, he sends you to hell forever—an infinite punishment for an infinite offense. No, the hardships suffered by the people of Israel had a different purpose.
The reason for the hardships of Israel comes in the refrain, “Yet you did not return to me.” The hardships that Israel went through should have brought the nation to its knees. The hardships that the nation when through should have reminded them that they were sinning against the one, true God. The hardships that the nation suffered should have driven the people to cry out to God for mercy, to repent, to seek the favor of the Lord. Sadly, the people did not learn from their hardships.
Because the people did not learn from their sufferings, they were in great danger. God told them that, because they refused to repent and return to him, he would do to them what he had done to Sodom. Because they would not repent, God warned, “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” This was a terrifying threat from God, and the people who heard Amos’ words should have taken it very seriously.
Now, here we sit, thousands of years later. We are far removed from the hardships of Israel. Does God have a lesson for us? You bet. We too are to learn that life, be it beautiful or painful, is intended to drive us to God. When we have joy, it should draw us to give thanks. When we see beauty, it should lead us to praise. When we see the unbelievable happen, it should lead us to trust the God who created us and who does the impossible. When we hurt, we should remember that it is only the grace of God that keeps us from a punishment far worse. When we suffer, it should draw us to cry out to God for mercy, for grace, for his provision. Our pain should make us return to the Lord just as Israel’s pain, were Israel obedient, would have made that nation return to the Lord.
We also can learn from the frightening words of the Lord that there will be a time when all mankind will have to meet their God. How will we meet him? Will we be under the cleansing blood of his Son, or will we meet him on our own merit? If you meet your God on your own merit, you will fall short of his perfection and will suffer his fury. If you meet him under the blood of his Son, the perfection of Christ will be applied to your account, and you will find
eternal life, eternal joy, eternal satisfaction in your Lord.