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“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there will I search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.” (Amos 9:2,30)
Yes, this is the prophet Amos, and prophets usually had a message from God about impending doom caused by the people hearing but not listening and doing, or by refusing to hear at all. This message reminds me of a message by Jonathan Edwards. Hmm, I just now noticed that he thought about these same two passages. But he also thought about Deuteronomy and the song of Moses to the people of Israel before God when they were preparing to enter the promised land. It was a song about proclaiming the greatness of the LORD, that He alone was the Rock whose work is perfect, and all His ways are justice. He’s a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright. And it’s also a warning. It’s a warning about remembering that He is the Rock and His people’s personal Rock. He’s the One, the Father, who created them, and made them, and established them. And how did they remember Him and honor Him for all He is and all He did? They scoffed the Rock and became unmindful of Him and stopped remembering Him and worshipped other gods who were not. There problem was that they were “void of counsel” and there was “no understanding in them” though they thought they were wise. “If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end!” (Deuteronomy 32:29) They went from trusting a Rock who could make one chase thousands, and two put ten thousand to flight, to trusting rocks that were not the true Rock. And Jonathan Edwards comes to where You say “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip…” The King James Version that Edwards used says, “their foot shall slide in due time.” We can choose another rock, even though we know the truth, but we’re choosing our own slippery dangerous path just like the children of Israel who fell away.
To choose to disregard Your ways is for us to choose instead of a path of security and care and love and provision, a path of destruction and slippery ways to our own hurt. I can expect to fall. It can come suddenly and unexpectedly because we have lost our discernment. The danger that is visible to those who would heed instruction, becomes invisible to us and before we know it, we are caught in it’s harmful grips. It doesn’t take someone to knock me down or push me into the deep water. I slip right in by my own choice. The ‘catcher in the rye” could warn me, but I wouldn’t listen. Down I would go, right over the edge of the precipice. To all this, Edwards says, “There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the meer Pleasure of GOD.”
It’s the will of God alone that preserves us. His will and His pleasure are demonstrated and withheld by His power. Amos reminds us that this is the Rock, the God, who is the GOD of hosts, He touches the land and it melts, He rises the water up like a flood, He builds His chambers in the heavens, and vaults of waters in the earth that He pours out at His bidding. When He commands, it is done. Moses reminds us how He chooses a people of His own, encircles them, cares for them, and keeps them as the apple of His eye. He is intimate with them as a mother hen is with her chicks, He guides them and provides for them and gives them strength and suckles them.
This Rock, this God, has the power to destroy us. He can easily destroy us. Actually, we deserve to be destroyed. I mean, honestly, look at our track record. Look at Israel’s track record. Do I think I am better? Do I realize the slippery places I have chosen to walk and sometimes still choose to walk? The truth is, outside of the grace and mercy of God, we are all pre-prepared and fit for hell. Now, that’s a scary thought. But didn’t Jesus Himself tell the religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires”? And wasn’t hell prepared for the devil and those who follow him? Actually, the devil himself would more than enjoy to deceive us into making ourselves more ready for hell. The corruption and desires of our own hearts would often prepare us.
Here’s the thing, we try to hide from the Truth. But the truth is, no one can hide from God. You can choose your own way, but He knows. He knows everything. You know when we sit down and when we rise up and You know our every thought even before we think them. You know my haunts and where my mind dwells. You know what rouses me and stirs me up. You know the thoughts that are most precious to me. But where can I go that You won’t find me? Jonah tried to hide but You knew every step. Peter thought he needed to run, but You found him and got to his heart. Sampson thought he could do it his own way, but You never lost him, although he lost You for a while. And Paul, who thought he had You, found out he hadn’t known You at all despite his religious fervor. They all found out how close to the precipice they were by choosing their own way. But it was You alone who drew them back by Your grace.
Israel was choosing to hang at it’s own peril. Each of us can choose this peril too. Jonathan Edwards likened it to this foolishness on our part: “You hang by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready every Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no Interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the Flames of Wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one Moment.” But our fate, just as Israel’s was is up to us. Because any one of us can call out to God and remember His sacrifice He made for our return to Him. For Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. And He stands waiting to embrace us as His own in His very arms. God is a God of wrath only because we force that hand upon Him by our hard-heartedness and stubbornness. In all honesty He is a God of love who is just waiting for us to turn to Him instead of the flames, not because He needs us but because He desires us to have life and Life is only found in Him.
He is a God who owes us nothing, absolutely nothing. We are like worms or ants underfoot. Yet he regards us as precious, so precious that He gives us the right amount of time to respond to Him. But if we choose to refuse to respond, we also choose our own destruction. And that choice makes You angry God, very angry, because why would Your very own creation chosen for life, choose destruction? Maybe we worms are just stupid deep down. I mean, if we would rather choose death over You, what else can I think?
I haven’t seen the plagues over Egypt. I haven’t witnessed first hand the waters of the sea separated and Pharaoh’s army drowned. My shoes don’t last for forty years and my clothes wear out. But I have seen my life changed. And I’ve seen You change other people’s lives. I’ve seen thieves become evangelists and people from broken homes have beautiful marriages. I’ve seen the sun rise and set every day for all the days of my life. I’ve seen compassion that leads to salvation and joy in You.
On the other hand, I’ve seen people mock You. I’ve seen people who’s heads were split open and salt poured on because they believed in You, Jesus. I’ve seen people who were cast out of their own countries because of believing You and people who’s houses were destroyed because of it. I’ve seen a Pastor tell of other pastors whose fingernails were plucked out and then they were killed because they believed. But that’s the truth, that those who stood against You were the ones delivering death. You still deliver life to Your own. Like Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But to live without Christ is to die a purposeless and terrible death.
The truth is, we all have a choice. I can choose to deny God, to deny Jesus, and slip my way into Sheol. And it will all be my fault, my choice, and not God’s. He warned me. Or I can choose God. I can hear and heed. I can live out my life with You living Yours out in me. I can demonstrate Your love and compassion and be the kind of pure and holy and loving and brave “catcher in the rye” that You are. Just as You snatched me back from the flames as I was hanging on that thread, so You desire to snatch others back. It’s not Your desire that any should burn but that each would come to You.
If that thread is like a spider thread it’s actually very sticky and very strong. And maybe it even takes a lot of work for us to come off that thread, like I really have to fight staying on. Isn’t it a shame that You place before us so many warnings and do so much to hold us back and draw us to You and yet we fight it all? I don’t want to fight Your ways. I want to see and experience the joy of Your presence. I want to live in the safety of You. My prayer is that others would start looking so that they would start seeing what they are missing. Because maybe, if they start seeing things differently, they might choose to set their feet on the Solid Rock and find You.