Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (March 1, 2020) Called to Accountability / A Call to Accountability Amos 5:18-24

Called To Accountability / A Call To Accountability Amos 5:18-24

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s lesson the prophet Amos speaks truth to power. He issues a call to accountability to the kingdom of Israel.  Amos is from the southern kingdom of Judah but goes into the northern Kingdom of Israel to declare its utter destruction. Israel has rejected justice and righteousness.  They go to worship services and do religious things but their heart is far from God because of the way they treat people. God has always been more concerned with how people are treated than God is concerned with people following the rules and regulations of the Law.  Israel has utterly failed, they have rejected the ways of God, and now God would reject them. Amos wants Israel to know that they are facing disaster, calamity, and affliction. The day of the LORD will not be a day of victory. It will be harsh, stark, and painful. There will be darkness and gloom with no brightness, no reason to celebrate, no reason to look forward, and no reason for hope in the future.  God literally hates what Israel has become.  Instead of Israel hating evil they hated the advocates for righteousness.  As a result, God hated their presumptuous worship. God was not interested in the Israelites festivals, their worship, nor their fellowship.  Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:  

Justice 

The Day of the Lord

Background:  

The book of Amos is one of the twelve books we call the minor prophets.  These books are called minor only because they are shorter in length and they come behind the five major prophets in the Old Testament.  The major prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.  The minor prophets are the twelve smaller books following these five larger books.  The minor prophets are just as significant and meaningful as any of the other books of the Bible.  

Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “the last seventeen books of the Old Testament are books of prophecy.  As a unit, these books make up about one-fourth of the total Bible, and were written across a period of about 450 years.”  So these seventeen books, whether large or small in size make up a significant portion of what we believe and hold as sacred.  That also indicates the 450 year period these books were written in was a significant point in time. Nelson’s notes this timeframe as from about “750 B.C. to around 450 B.C.”  Just a small portion of some of the events happening during that 450 year period includes:  

  • Jonah preached to Nineveh (725 B.C.).
  • Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego (605 BC).
  • The first Jewish Temple is destroyed (587 B.C.).
  •  Exiles return with Zerubbabel (538 BC).
  • The second Temple is built (520 – 515 B.C.).
  • Ezra leads a group of exiles to Jerusalem (458 B.C.).

So these seventeen books cover a lot of the story of the Hebrew people.  They are all prophetic books, meaning they contain prophecy.  Westminister’s Dictionary of Theological Terms Defines prophecy as “speaking on behalf of God to communicate God’s will for a situation.  In the New Testament it is a gift of the Spirit (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 14:22).  It is also used for the prediction or declaration of what will come to pass in the future.”  So a prophet or prophetess (Miraim, Deborah, Hulda) speaks for God and they are trying to communicate the will of God so that people get the message loud and clear.  The Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words explains that “although the ability to foretell the future is an important role of a prophet, it is not the major function.  A prophet was first of all called to speak forth the word of God as delivered to him or her whether it referred to the past, present, future or to all these aspects of life at the same time.”  It also notes how Luke’s gospel “asserts that Jesus, because he is God, was a powerful prophet when he was on earth.”

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB) notes that “Amos was a prophet who worked during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel, probably in the 750s BCE.”  So this was about two hundred years after the United Monarchy of King David divided into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah.  The NISB also notes that “Amos was a southerner, from Tekoa, some ten miles from Jerusalem. But it seems that his prophetic activity took place in the northern kingdom of Israel.”  So Jerusalem was in the southern Kingdom of Judah and the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel was Samaria. It seems to me that Amos was an especially bold prophet. He lived in the southern Kingdom of Judah but went into the northern Kingdom of Israel to pronounce severe and harsh judgement upon its officials and people.

Other points the NISB notes include:

  • The Northern Kingdom of Israel was enjoying a period of relative prosperity.  
  • Unlike his younger contemporary Hosea, Amos concentrates on the treatment of one section of society by another.
  • We see in Amos the first example of the prophets as the nation’s conscience, condemning those in positions of power and influence for the ill-treatment of those who cannot defend themselves.
  • It is this radical message of the need for social justice that has made Amos such an important prophet for many modern readers of the Bible.  

The fifth chapter of Amos deals with a lament for Israel’s sin and the day of the LORD as a dark day.  The NISB notes that this section is a mixture of condemnations and threats and three exhortations to repent or change course.  The focus of this week’s lesson is how Amos calls Judah to accountability for its treatment of the poor and disenfranchised. Some important terms to consider about this text include:

Justice 

The Day of the Lord 

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

In last week’s lesson I gave a brief review of the Winter Quarter and talked about how Jesus taught his disciples the importance of perseverance in prayer.  After teaching the disciples the model prayer (what we often call the Lord’s Prayer) Jesus used a parable to explain the importance of ever-persevering petitions.  I highlighted the fact that we need to pray and keep on praying. In last week’s parable Jesus used the example of a shameless neighbor and an earthly father to help his disciples understand that relationships matter.  He also helped them understand that because of their relationship with God they could trust that God was a loving, merciful, kind, gracious, and generous God. Jesus helped them to know that perseverance pays off. When we are in God’s will, God answers our prayers.  Jesus also helps them to know that we don’t pray to change God’s mind. God already knows what we need; we pray to get in God’s will.  It’s our job to ask for God’s will; it’s our job to seek and search for God’s will.  When we ask for God’s will, when we seek and search for God’s will, God will open the door to answer our prayers.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Called to Accountability”  Standard Lesson Commentary titles this week’s lesson “A Call to Accountability”. The scripture text comes from Amos 5:18-24.  

Pay attention to how dark and grim this text is.  Amos is issuing a terrible prophecy upon the nation of Israel.  Amos is God’s prophet and he is telling it like it is. He is speaking on behalf of God and this is what they have to look forward to.   

What Takes Place in This Passage:  

The lesson opens in chapter five at verse 18 with the woeful prophecy of Amos.  He asks the question “why do you want the day of the LORD?” Amos knows the day of the Lord will not be what they expect it to be.  If they have any hope in the coming day of the Lord it is a false hope.  Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Day of the LORD as “A term associated with coming judgement in the Old Testament (Isa. 13:9; Joel 1:15; 2:11; Amos 5:20) and in the New Testament with the second coming of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:10).”  In this case Amos is not simply prophesying judgement, but abject, stark, and grim judgement upon the nation. If the people were expecting victory they would only receive defeat, if they were expecting pleasure they would only receive pain, if joy they would only get sorrow.  Amos lets them know the day of the LORD is not something to look forward to for the nation of Israel. The NISB notes that “the offenses against God are not war crimes but instances of social injustice within the nation.”  Amos speaks truth to power.  

In verse nineteen Amos paints a picture of the disappointment Israel will experience on the day of the Lord.  He compares and contrasts darkness to light, fleeing a lion only to run into a bear, and resting your hand against a wall only to be bitten by a snake.  The UBS handbook on Amos notes this is “a short illustration of an unlucky man who escapes from two dangerous animals, only to be killed by a snake in his own home where he thought he was safe.”  Amos wants Israel to know that they are facing disaster, calamity, and affliction. The day of the LORD will not be a day of victory. It will be harsh, stark, and painful.  

In verse twenty Amos asks a rhetorical question.  “Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”  If they hadn’t understood by now, at this point he is making it plain. There will be darkness and gloom with no brightness, no reason to celebrate, no reason to look forward, and no reason for hope in the future.  

At verse twenty one Amos records the words of the LORD.  It begins “I hate, I despise your festivals.” This is God speaking and God uses the word “hate”.  Westminster’s defines hate as a “Strong opposite to love; the desire that harm or evil might come upon another person.  It is characteristic of sinners in relation to God (John 15:23) and toward others (Gal. 5:20). It is contrary to the love Jesus requires (Matt. 22:37-40).”  So yes, hate is a strong word and should probably never be used by Christians to describe our feelings toward others. So that gives me an indication of how disgusted, outraged, and repulsed God is with Israel.  The New American Commentary explains that “Hate and despise are strong words. The term for hate is used three times is Amos, all in this chapter. Rather than hating evil (v. 15), Israel hated advocates for righteousness, therefore God hated their presumptuous worship (v. 21).”  God was not interested in the Israelites festivals to worship and praise God. The people had shown by their actions that they were not interested in true righteousness or justice.  

In verses twenty-two and twenty three God continues “Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.”  “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.” God rejects their sacrifices and their songs. The New American Commentary also explains

 “the three sacrifices mentioned here are the first three of the five main Levitical offerings presented in Leviticus 1-7.  These are the “pleasing aroma” offerings.  They are the ones that in particular represent consecration and worship as opposed to the other two used solely for atonement.”

God is not interested in their worship, God is not interested in their sacrifices, and God is not interested in their songs.  These are a people who disgust God with their fake worship and fake festivals.  “Burnt offerings were sacrifices in which the entire animal was consumed on the altar and arose to God in smoke.  Grain offerings could only be used on various sacrifices brought as a gift. Fellowship offerings were those in which part of the animal was consumed on the altar and part of it was eaten by the worshiper, thus symbolizing communion between the worshiper and God.”  Again, God is not interested in anything they have to offer. God rejects all that they presumptuously believe they are doing to please God.  

Verse twenty-four closes this lesson with God plainly saying what the right response should be.  “Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted these words in his Letter From A Birmingham Jail.  Dr. King’s letter highlighted some of the same issues and problems Israel was guilty of thousands of years earlier.  Israel had rejected justice and righteousness and God had rejected Israel. The New American Commentary also notes that “justice would mean “reparations for the defrauded, fairness for the less fortunate, and dignity and compassion for the needy”; righteousness would entail “attitudes of mercy and generosity, and honest dealings that imitate the character of God.””  If Israel wanted to please God then justice and righteousness should burst forth like an overflowing stream.  

Context

Retributive Justice is the view that God’s justice intends to give sinners that which their sins deserve (Jer. 5:29; 20:12).  Restorative justice is the view that justice repairs the harm caused by crime with victims, offenders, and community members all deciding how to make the repair.  Victims and often their families need equitable repair. Harsh punishment can destroy the offender as well as the offenders family and in turn the offenders community.  It seems to me that restorative justice acknowledges the needs of the victim without destroying the offender. There would be no restoration for Israel in Amos’ prophecy.  For too long Israel had ignored the call of justice and righteousness. Now they would face judgement. The road to justice and righteousness begins with simply striving to “do right” by those we come in contact with.  When we treat people right our families, our communities, states and our nation will become a better place for all.  

Key Words:  

Justice – Classically, the concept of each person receiving what is due.  Biblically, the emphasis is on right relationships and persons receiving a share of the resources of the society.  Concern is expressed for the oppressed and their right treatment. Justice is related to love and grace.  

The Day of the LORD – A term associated with coming judgement in the Old Testament and in the New Testament with the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:  

1.  Do the right thing.

2.  God hates fake.

Question:  

What civil rights leader is known for quoting Amos 5:24?

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson continues in the minor prophets.  The lesson comes from the book of Habakkuk 1:1-4, and 12-14.  The lesson for March 8, 2020 is titled “A Prayer for Justice.”   

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