Advice: What Is It Good For?
Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 15th July, 2007
Amos and Amaziah
7:10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.
7:11 For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.
7:12 Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
7:13 But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the king's court. chapel: or, sanctuary king's court: Heb. house of the kingdom
7:14 Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: sycomore...: or, wild figs
7:15 And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. as...: Heb. from behind
7:16 Now therefore hear thou the word of the LORD: Thou sayest, Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Isaac.
7:17 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Thy wife shall be an harlot in the city, and thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land.
Has anyone ever given you advice? It seems to me that human beings are quite the counselors. And I mean this in the best of intentions. Everywhere you go, every person you talk to, gives you some kind of advice even when you don't ask for it. I guess that happens when people really care about us. Unfortunately, sometimes, the advice that are given to us, whether they are warranted or not, are difficult for us to receive.
I remember, when I was younger and playing the violin, my parents would always comment on the things that they think I should be doing. Of course, at that time, all I became was very irritated. Why are you telling me what to do when I'm not only not asking for it, but when you don't even play the violin! What do you know about what I’m doing?
But the truth is, had I not been stubborn and listened, I would probably have realized that her suggestions were good suggestions and would probably only improve my music. This is, of course, a small and kind of insignificant example of becoming annoyed by the people around us who are helping us by "trying to run our lives."
This is something that we say and feel and hear all the time. This probably has spanned from the beginning of time. When we turn to our text today, we see that this is exactly what is happening, thousands of years ago. Here, we have a priest, Amaziah and a prophet, Amos.
In order to really understand this story, we must set the story up properly. Imagine you are in a place called Bethel. You can check out the front of your bulletin to see a map of it. You are currently living in Israel, under the rule of King Jeroboam II, so it’s about mid-700BCE. Life wasn’t bad during this time, I mean, if you were us.
We could live a pretty good life, that is, unless we were poor. The poor people were not doing so well in this society. Yes, there were rules and laws set forth by God that would ensure that the poor are supported peripherally by the wealthy, but this is really not being taken care of at the moment. In fact, according to Amos, the exact opposite was happening. Instead of helping the poor and needy, the rich were profiting off their backs, torturing them and using them to build wealth. Not only were the wealthy not following those laws of God, they were not being faithful people, and God was angry.
Now, the most famous priest in all the land in our kingdom was Amaziah. Amaziah was the guy who was in charge of all the priests. Amaziah was the official representative of the state priesthood. He's kind of like the pope, except he was connected to the government and has access to the king. So not only does he claim moral and religious authority in Bethel but he also holds a highly powerful governmental position.
What we have read today is that this guy is seriously irritated. Because even though he is the high priest of Israel, some random guy is going around claiming that God talks to him! It's like if one of us goes up to the Pope and tells him that he's completely wrong and you're right, because God is talking to YOU.
So, we pick up in the reading where a battle of the words going on. As a prophet, God not only spoke to Amos but also showed him in visions to tell him to let the people know God's will and that God is very angry. Amos was doing just as God had asked, but the problem for him was that just because you're a prophet doesn't mean that the people to whom you are speaking will actually take your advice.
We can probably figure that Amaziah didn't appreciate what Amos has to say. After all, Amos was predicting some serious doom for the kingdom of Jeroboam. While we didn't get to read the first part of Chapter 7, verses 1-9, in this part, Amos was talking about the different visions that God has shown him, each of which were horrifying ways that God would bring destruction upon God's people. If I were Amaziah, I'd probably be irritated at Amos too.
For one thing, Amaziah was the high priest! If God was going to talk to anybody, God should be talking to him!
And secondly, it is natural for people to be in complete denial of the trouble that was looming ahead. After all, they led cushy lives and enjoyed the way things were going. There was no reason why Amaziah would or should heed Amos's warning. Today, we know that Amos was the rightful prophet. We know that, despite his negative, horrifying message, it was the truth as he knew it, and he was merely warning Israel to change. Because it didn’t, Israel saw destruction and the people of Israel were exiled.
If only Amaziah had listened to Amos's good advice.... where would Israel be, I wonder. I’m not advocating that we take the advice given to us freely. Obviously, we must consider a few different factors before determining whether we want to take someone’s advice or not.
First, we must know whether the person is talking to us because they care about us. Then we must think about why they are saying what they are saying. Why are they asking us to a particular thing? Could it be because there is something that they know that we do not?
When Jesus walked up to four fishermen sitting on the shores of Galilee, He made a request that seems to be outrageous. “Come, follow me. I will make you fishermen of men.” But Peter, Andrew, James, and John did not even hesitate. They knew this was a good thing to do. They dropped everything and followed Christ. Is this hard?
Of course it is! But there is nothing easy about picking up the cross and following Christ. There has never been anybody that would tell you otherwise. Even Jesus said that to follow Him, we must give up everything. It is so important to us to be able to have free will; to believe in the things that we want to believe in because we are committed to living and maintaining our lives just the way we have worked so hard to create. Yet, that's not always possible in God.
Amos was just some guy; a herdsman and a tender of sycamore figs. He was basically a nobody, going up against arguably the most powerful religious figure in the land. You think he actually wanted to do that? Yeah, I’m not sure that I would either. I think that Amos would have ran far far away, if he could. It's not fun to go up against powerful people, especially if you don't have good, positive things to say.
But Amos didn't do that. He did as God asked, even if it meant bringing in trouble for himself. Unfortunately for Amaziah and the Israelites, advice, no matter what kind it is, is only good if it is received and acted upon. Even though Amaziah heard what Amos had to say, he disregarded it. He refused to face the truth, and he was punished for it. We must learn the lesson from today, to think seriously about the words of our loved ones. However, we must also think about the flip side of this.
Might Amaziah have been more receptive to Amos if Amos had been more tactful and better about his message? Instead of threatening Amaziah and pointing out all the bad things that were happening, would there be a way that Amos could have relayed the message? Amaziah was, of course, not a horrible person. Amaziah didn't attack Amos's character. He never indicated that he thought Amos was a false prophet. He simply disagreed with Amos.
“Why don't you go down to Judah and make your
prophecies?” he suggested to Amos.
After all, for the people of Judah, to hear about the destruction of Israel through God's hands... well, that's probably good news to them. In Judah, not only would Amos be heard, but he would probably receive a hero's welcome. And yet, Amos was having none of it.
"God wanted me to be here. To prophesy HERE. Since you don't want to hear the truth and will not lead your people back to God, you're gonna go DOWN."
So it appears that not only does he reject Amaziah’s offer, Amos reiterated the fate of Israel, AND got personal by calling out Amaziah's wife, son, and daughter to be punished. I know what you’re thinking. “Amos is being kind of harsh, no?”
I think that’s a fair assessment. Yes, God is telling Amos what will happen to Amaziah’s family, but perhaps Amos could have tried to be a little more diplomatic. Perhaps we can take from Amos today that our concerns for our loved ones can be perfectly reasonable. However, change is hard to come by. Even if they are very much aware that your advice is something they should follow, sometimes, it is hard to swallow that pride or face that truth. We have all been there.
We have all been on both sides of the fence on this. There is not a person who is right and there is not a person who is wrong. There is just a matter of love. If we love each other enough to give the advice, we must love each other enough to relay it in a way that the other person will be able to listen to it. If we know that someone who loves us is trying hard to help us become better, we must look within ourselves and find the truth of those words.
As followers of Christ, we have made a decision to dedicate our lives trying to live by the principles that Christ taught, especially the principle of love. Let us go forth and love one another, in the best way that we possibly can, without criticism, without anger, and without judgment.