…Prepare to meet your God, O Israel! (Amos 4:12, N.K.J.V.)
Is there someone whom you’d just as soon never see again? Perhaps it’s someone from your past, maybe an ex-boyfriend or an ex-girlfriend. Perhaps it’s someone from your present, maybe an acquaintance or a coworker with whom you’ve had a few rounds of conflict. Whoever it is, it’s someone that causes you to cross to the other side of the street if you see them coming.
If you have someone like that in your life, you may or may not be able to avoid seeing them. Ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends stand a chance of consistently being ducked. Acquaintances stand less of a chance. But coworkers? The only way you’ll be able to pull that off is to find another job.
When the prophet Amos told the citizens of Israel’s northern kingdom, “Prepare to meet your God” he was warning them that they most certainly wouldn’t be able to keep avoiding God. A meeting date had already been set and neither God nor them would be late for it. While the prospect of meeting God should never sound threatening to the person who stands ready for the encounter, it should have struck serious fear into those citizens. Why? In the verses that precede our text verse, Amos provides a brief list of some of the sins that marked those peoples’ lives:
- The land’s wealthy women were lazy, self-absorbed, demanding wives who oppressed the poor, crushed the needy, and spent too much time drinking wine (4:1).
- The land’s clergy were masters of leading in sham “worship” services that Amos sarcastically mocked (4:4-5).
- The land’s citizens had endured God’s chastisements in the forms of hunger (4:6), drought (4:7-8), locusts (4:9), plague (4:10), and death (4:10-11), and yet still hadn’t returned to God (4:11).
In light of the peoples’ continuing sins, all that was left for them was the complete and utter destruction of their kingdom. God’s chosen vessel for accomplishing that destruction was the Assyrian army which conquered Israel’s northern kingdom in 722 B.C. just a few decades after Amos’ prophesying. The Assyrians killed many of the land’s occupants but sadistically relocated and resettled most of them to various parts of the Assyrian empire. This relocating and resettling created what are commonly known as “the 10 lost tribes of Israel.”
Even the northern kingdom’s wealthy upper-class citizens were not immune from this treatment. Amos prophesies of this in Amos 4:2 when he talks about the wealthy women of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, one day being led out of the land by means of having fishhooks run through their jaws or lips. As verification of the accuracy of Amos’ prediction, Assyrian relief sculptures from that era do depict Assyrian captives being led by ropes attached to rings in their jaws or lips.
While Amos’ words “Prepare to meet your God” typically get preached in reference to eternity, it is easy to see that the actual context for the words has much more to do with impending judgment in this life rather than in the afterlife. Amos’ words meant that the citizens of the northern kingdom would soon be meeting God as nothing less than an enemy in battle. This explains Amos’ use of the title “The Lord God of hosts” in the very next verse, verse 13. Because the word “hosts” speaks of God’s angelic armies, the title “The Lord God of hosts” depicts God as a military conqueror who has His troops on the march.
This brings us to the application for your life. Rather than worrying about coming face to face with that certain person again, you should make sure that The Lord God of hosts isn’t coming to meet you in order to inflict judgment upon you. Actually, if you have already entered “Prepare to meet your God” mode, your chance for confessing your sins and repenting of them has already passed. All that is left for you now is your downfall, at least in terms of worldly matters. That is where those citizens of the northern kingdom found themselves in Amos’ day.
I realize that this characterization of God as being a God of judgment, not just in the afterlife but in this life, has fallen out of favor in our culture. It seems like nothing qualifies as sin anymore, does it? But the God of the Bible hasn’t changed and never will. Yes, He is loving, merciful, forgiving, patient, kind, and longsuffering. That’s all very much true. He does, however, have another side, the side that abhors sin and must deal with it. That, you see, is the God the citizens of Israel’s northern kingdom once met, and He’s the God who still shows up in the lives of sinful people today, including backslidden Christians, and brings His armies with Him. And needless to say, that’s not a God you ever want to meet.