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“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12
This is awful news. The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold. People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way. They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others. National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.
What is the example of the impending destruction that is used? A household. A household of 11 people. Plague. Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle. And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned. Why? “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that? Did the You say not to make mention of Your name? F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it. Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You? I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name? Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering? Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were? I don’t know, but it’s a thought.
Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself? Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up? It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall. You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us. It didn’t start out bitter. But twisted hearts twisted the taste.
I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words. He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You. Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled. It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being. It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life. It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship. It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You. It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You. It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness. It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are. It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship.
Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember. “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.” In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing. It is separate and distinguished. It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful. Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.
But everyone is given free will. And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives. We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things. I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own. I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong. Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing.
I love that word, tsedaqah. It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God. It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way. But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.
Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?” Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises? Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day? Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You. Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building. And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You? Have we not taken to us power by our own strength? Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?” Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God. But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.
Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us? Why would You seem to forsake people? Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.” If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers. I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be. It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness. After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven. Why doesn’t it happen? Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways. I won’t listen. I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water. Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.” But who really is the foolish one?
The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits. Oxen don’t go plowing in rock. For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way. It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day. Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5) Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today. That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew. It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle. But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse. Now think about that. Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison. Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us. It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into. And then the problem is we can’t find our way out. We wind up trapped there.
Is there hope? Yes! When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul. We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?” And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives. I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord. I will know Your will and do it. I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it. You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before.
Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again. Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them. Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’” Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song. But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first. I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever. You are worthy, not me. You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours. Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me. No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.