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It Can Change So Fast

by Matthew Allen

The wealth and materialistic excess of God’s people eight centuries before Jesus was almost unparalleled. The level of prosperity almost certainly equaled that of the days of David and Solomon. Amos gives us a vivid detail of life during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah, shedding light on the political, social, and economic vitality of the people. Rest from war and being recognized on the stage of world politics, it was a time when the wealthy increased their riches on the back of the poor. The sophisticated ones in society lived in large and luxurious palaces, filled with soft couches and silk cushions. Indulgence in wine, fine music, and high culture were enjoyed by many. Amos 6:1-7 tells us the people were at ease, sleeping on beds of ivory, feeling secure while banqueting on fine food and anointing themselves with precious oils.

            Amos hailed from the Judean village of Tekoa , some twelve miles south of Jerusalem . Called by God to pronounce a message of doom on the northern kingdom, his message must have sounded strange to a people far away from God. Imagine an outsider from a rural area walking through the streets of Samaria calling them out for their sinful decadence and forecasting God’s judgment on the nation. "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel " (Amos 4:12). It must have seemed so out of place. No one could have imagined that within thirty years the good times would be a distant memory. Assyria would once again flex its muscles and gobble up Israel in its westward expansion in 722 B.C.  The message of Amos largely fell on deaf ears. Those who heard his message refused to listen. His two year ministry in Israel ended when Amaziah the priest told him to go back to Judah (Amos 7:10-13). I wonder as the good times began to fade and Assyria began to exact a heavy toll of tariffs on the nation if some remembered what Amos said so many years before. There is little doubt that his words would have been ringing in their ears as the Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem for three years depriving them of the basic necessities of life. Those who had once felt so smug, confident, and secure would bear the brunt of the most violent and cruel army in the world. Physical torture, slavery, murder, and violence were the trademark of Assyrian aggression. The fall from extreme prosperity to oppression was quick and sudden. Good times can turn bad very quickly.

            Eight centuries after Amos, the Jews had returned to some form of prosperity. Living under the Roman Empire the Jews were a shell of their former self, but very proud of their civilization and religious heritage. In 20 B.C., Herod the Great began to rebuild the temple complex and it was a sight to behold. It was a source of pride for the Jewish people, and we get just a hint of that by the comments of the disciples to Jesus in Matthew 24:1-2. When Jesus says, "not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down," it was unbelievable to the disciples. How could such a great building be destroyed? But yet in their lifetime (Matthew 24:34), that would happen. In fact, all of Jerusalem would be destroyed. Almost unimaginable at the time Jesus uttered these words, the Romans came in 67 A.D., holding the city hostage for a number of years, and then finally leveling it in 70 A.D. Good times can turn bad very rapidly.

            What about us? Over the last five decades our country has experienced unparalleled wealth, power, and luxury; so much that the rest of the world combined cannot match. We are sophisticated, smug, and confident. We relish in our technical advancements, fine homes, ease of transportation, and marvel at the quality of our healthcare. America takes pride in its ingenuity, educational opportunities, and freedom. While we should take pride in our achievements we err if we fail to recognize that our current status is because of the grace and mercy of God. Unfortunately, there are very powerful forces in our culture that seek to direct us away from God. As we bask in our success there is a real danger that we could view the message and truth of God as back-woods, simplistic, out of date, and obscure. Are we that different from the generation of Amos? How strange does God’s word sound in modern American society? Does it seem out of place? Will His message fall on deaf ears? Have we become so comfortable that we cannot possibly imagine living under different circumstances? As we bask in our material blessings and witness our culture turning away from godly living, we should be warned that sin will not go unpunished by God. He is just as much in control of today’s world as in Bible times. Is it possible that during our lifetime the good times we experience today will be but a distant memory? Good times can turn bad very quickly.

            As Christians we have been charged to live up to our responsibilities to be a light shining in the midst of a dark world. Have you given your heart to God? "Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…" (Philippians 2:15-16a).