The Limits of God’s Patience

Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (v. 12).

- Amos 4

God is certainly gracious. He is rich in kindness, forbearance, and patience, which is why He does not bring an immediate end to all sinners (Rom. 2:4). In fact, He often gives people, especially members of His covenant community, many chances to repent. During the old covenant, He even sent prophets to warn Israel of its impending doom and the discipline that was coming if the people continued in their sin. These oracles of judgment were words of grace, for the Lord could have brought His wrath to bear on the Israelites without any advance notice. But He compelled prophets to speak His Word that the covenant people might turn from evil (Amos 3:1–8).

We often escape the discipline we are due because of God’s kindness. Nevertheless, we walk on thin ice when we think we can presume upon His kindness and patience. After all, the Lord’s patience toward sinners will run out eventually (Rom. 2:4–5; 2 Peter 3:8–10). This is what the northern kingdom of Israel needed to hear in the eighth century BC, and this is the word Amos gives in Amos 4.

Amos begins today’s passage with condemnation for unrighteous wealthy women and their husbands who were oppressing the poor. Unlike modern politicians, who often use rhetoric that suggests the mere existence of rich people is unjust, Amos does not condemn wealthy Israelites for being wealthy. The issue is never how much money one has but rather what one does with it. Amos was preaching to Israelites who deliberately used their money and status to further their own estates at the expense of others. God hates it when unrighteous people oppress the poor (Deut. 24:10–15), so He could not be silent. His holiness demands that He punish sin, so Amos warned the Israelites that they would be taken away with fishhooks if they refused to repent (Amos 4:2). This is an allusion to exile, for the Assyrians often led captives away from the lands they conquered using ropes and hooks through the captives’ noses and lips.

Evidently, the Israelites thought that their zealous worship would give them a pass for oppressing the poor (vv. 4–5). Amos reminded Israel, however, that God had long been showing His ire toward the people through famines so severe that there was no food to dirty the teeth at all, droughts, disease, invasions, and more (vv. 6–11). Israel took none of these warnings seriously, and its time was running out (vv. 12–13).

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “How little the pretense of good intention avails with God, which hypocrites ever bring forward.” The ancient Israelites thought that the Lord would be patient with their evil as long as they worshipped fervently. They were wrong. So, too, are we wrong to think worship is enough without a life of repentance. If we do not live a life of repentance, our worship is hollow and displeasing to God (Rom. 12:1).

Passages for Further Study

1 Samuel 15:22–23a
Matthew 23:23–24

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