Nahum prophesied against the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire. This prophecy was uttered several years after that nation had destroyed Samaria (Israel)and had treated Judah with great and violent cruelty. This prophecy also took place many years after the massive conversion accomplished through Jonah. Apparently the next generation of Assyrians had reverted to the wickedness of their forefathers and forgotten Yahweh. Nahum, whose name means, “comfort” does not bring any comfort for the people of Nineveh, but for the people of God. Nahum shows that God is jealous, not in the human sense, but in the sense that He desires our total commitment, loyalty and love. This is for our own good. People who worship human ideas, philosophies, material things or other humans worship false gods. Such behavior scoffs at God’s goodness and wisdom and invites His wrath. The Lord’s wrath is directed against those who destroy His creation such as the Assyrians. They demonstrated intense and vicious cruelty towards God’s people who though they were wicked and sinful, were still His people.
Today the people of God are still under attack from violent and wicked people. Yet those who attack us, the people of God do not realize that they are actually attacking God Himself. It is not up to us to return violence with violence, but with patience, love and compassion. He will respond to our persecutors in His own time, in His own way. Perhaps He will win them over by using us and the gospel He has called us to preach. This will them to the death of self in repentance and is what we ought to pray and work for, even for those who have wronged us personally. If they choose to continue to reject His word He will bring the judgment of eternal punishment. No one will by any means get away with anything. God is in control and His punishment will come to cleanse the earth and restore it to perfection.
Micah opens his final chapter with a lament concerning the Lord’s disappointment with Israel. He looked for spiritual fruit and found none. There were few or almost no godly people and their goodness was eclipsed by the wicked deeds of the leaders and the majority of the population. There was no love, compassion or honesty as people routinely betrayed and used one another, even members of their own family. Although God will surely punish them, it is not the place of any nation to gloat over this as if God were too weak or unable to save His people. The Lord may be dishonored by the disobedience and wickedness of His people but it is He who uses other nations to punish them. He uses the nations to avenge the injustice and violence that has been wrought on the oppressed even that done by His own people..
In the closing verses, Micah paints a portrait of God that shows that He is good and always faithful to His word. He must punish evil and sin because it offends His goodness and righteousness but in fact He delights to extend mercy. He will atone for sin through His own action, the shedding of His own blood. People in the world are perplexed by such a concept. Most try to atone for their own sins by doing good and charitable deeds as if these will outbalance the bad things they do. But God’s atonement is not accomplished by outweighing the evil with good. He does not just offset the sins of the wicked or cover them up: He annihilates them so that no one need suffer the eternal penalty for their sins. Sadly, most reject God’s method and rely on their own ability and strength upon their own worthiness. The result of such a choice is eternal separation from God because they have rejected His offer of grace.
Micah continued his indictment of Israel by reminding the people that the Lord’s intentions for them had always been for good. Throughout their history He had brought deliverance, first from the Egyptians then the Philistines and the other nations in Canaan and the surrounding area. All He expected from them was obedience. Even then, He knew they would fail so he provided them with the means to atone for sin. Yet they had used the religious system as an excuse to live as they pleased without seeing any need to obey consistently, repent or refrain from immorality and idolatry. They believed that they could do whatever they wanted so long as they periodically made the right offerings which they assumed satisfied Yahweh and made them right with Him. Micah tore into this assumption by proclaiming that Yahweh was not satisfied. He desired true repentance, changed hearts and compassion for the poor and oppressed.
Those who seek to appease God with acts of religious piety and mystical spirituality often think God is pleased with that even though they routinely commit acts of immorality without shame or remorse. This would include Christians of all types, liberals and many in the mainline denominations as well as conservative evangelicals. The liberals promote social justice and help for the poor and oppressed, but exclude right theology, the sinfulness of all mankind and sexual purity. Conservatives emphasize strong theology and moral purity but neglect to show mercy to sinners. Evangelicals major on leadership and church growth while compromising the purity of their testimony with a gospel that is watered down and worldly. The true believer must maintain orthodox Biblical theology that does not compromise the word of God, a strong view of morality that deplores sin on corporate, national and personal levels, and a concern for the unsaved expressed by acts of mercy and lovingkindness to all.
This set of oracles begins with an attack on the women of Samaria. Amos compared them to fat cows for they represented the indolence and hedonism of Samaria as a whole. The people of the northern kingdom sought luxury, leisure and pleasure at the expense of their neighbors especially those who were poor. They would soon lose it all through war, exile and enslavement which their prosperity had ill-equipped them to deal with. In addition, the Lord was disgusted with their phony religion and sarcastically invited them to go and worship at their illegal and holy shrines. The shrine at Bethel (the House of God) commemorated the covenant Yahweh made with Jacob. The shrine at Gilgal marked the site of the first place the Israelites worshipped when they entered the Promised Land. These illegal shrines were an abomination before the Lord because they represented the failure of the people to honor their covenant with Him, the very opposite of what they were supposed to commemorate.
Amos speaks the words of Yahweh to shake up these sinners. Yahweh is almighty. He created all things and sustains them by His word. Thus He is a Being that cannot be fooled or seduced by the empty offerings the people make for such sacrifices are meaningless. Proper Worship is pleasing to Him but not that which is a mask for fundamental disobedience. Those who make an outward show of religion and piety without an inward change of heart will find only emptiness and sorrow for the Lord will not bless them. Outward displays of religious piety will never provide peace or joy.
Amos reinforced the message of the Lord’s coming judgment with some harsh words. He asked a series of questions that required obvious answers. Yahweh is pronouncing judgment through His prophet. This can only mean that the judgment will take place just as surely as a lion roars when he has found his prey or a trumpet sounds to alert a city of imminent invasion. There will be no escape for anyone not even the rich who are comfortable in their fine houses or the mighty in their fortresses. The Lord sends warnings in different ways, but those who do not know Him will ignore them all or attribute them to other causes.
This passage alerts us to a major factor that we have hinted about in past readings: the Lord causes disaster, not just some, but all. We like to dance around that statement by attributing cataclysm, tragedy and misfortune to sin, or evil human beings, or to the devil or even, as is quite common today in the media, to natural causes under the title of “Mother Nature.” The scriptures do not give us such no option. God is almighty and omnipotent. Nothing happens unless He causes it. Yet God is not the author of evil. He has created Laws that govern the physical universe, laws which often have violent and deadly effects, especially if those laws are ignored or used for wicked ends. In addition, every sin has negative consequences even for those who consider themselves believers. We cannot trifle with sin and expect we will not suffer for it simply because we are saved. God expects more of His chosen people.
Yahweh had revealed Himself to Israel and Judah so He expected more of them. Instead, the chosen people behaved in exactly the same way that the pagans did. To begin with, they worshipped Yahweh in the form of an idol of a calf. They offered sacrifices to placate Him and were proud of their worship and their formal religion. Yet they also continued to worship other gods and engage in the accompanying ritual sexual immorality. In addition, the prosperity of the rich came at the expense of the poor. They abused, cheated, defrauded and enslaved their fellow Israelites and deprived them of justice, care and kindness. Thus they came under judgment just as the pagans did.
We may think it unfair of God that He would judge ignorant pagans who did not know Him. Many today think that God will not pour out His wrath on those who are not Christian, that all people, regardless of their religion or lack of it are basically good people who will all go to heaven. Amos tells us otherwise. In addition he teaches us that The Lord will pour out His wrath even upon those who have been exposed to the truth, even upon those who call themselves Christian yet who serve the world and the lusts of the flesh. They will come under wrath because they have tried to deceive God as well as other men. They are without excuse for the truth had been revealed to them, but they chose the way of the world.