God Gave You a Voice for a Reason

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Today starts a brand new sermon series. We are going to spend the next several weeks studying through an Old Testament book of Amos. I want to tell you, I have been praying for you before this sermon series even started. I’ve been praying for all of us, because if you’re struggling right now with the stuff that’s going on in your society (maybe you don’t live in the United States; maybe you live somewhere else), I’ve been praying that the Lord would speak to you through this sermon series. And then I’ve been praying that the Lord would speak through you, very specifically that you would start to become a voice like Amos.

If you look at the sermon graphic for this series, you see the picture of a megaphone. What you’re going to hear today is about this really unlikely person that becomes this really powerful voice against injustice, this voice against hatred, this voice against evil.

But to set this up, I just want to ask you, do you really really believe that one voice can make a difference? Do you believe it? Certainly, thousands or millions of voices can make a difference. But do you believe just one voice could make a difference?

You see, there was a girl who was a nobody, just a teenage girl with no power, no influence, no real money, no real clout, and she just started to speak out against the injustice that she saw. Nobody really listened to her. Nobody wanted to hear what she had to say. In fact, when she started to speak out, people didn’t like what they were hearing, and they attacked her. And she refused, like Amos, to be silent. She continued to speak out no matter how violent the attacks.

On her 16th birthday, after having already received the Nobel Peace Prize, she was invited to speak at the United Nations. This one girl, Malala Yousafzai, became a voice that could not be silenced. This is her celebrating her 16th birthday:

“Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy, and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. The terrorist thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born. So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. Let us pick up. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

Do you believe one voice can really, really change the world? Think about it. If she is silent after those terrorists attack her on her way to school, if after that gunshot wound to the head silences her, no one knows Malala Yousafzai’s name. But because she refuses to stop speaking, or because she refuses to be silent, her voice echoes all over the world. Nobody knows those terrorists’ names, but everyone around the world recognizes this teenage girl’s voice.

There’s another voice that was really, really unusual. It had incredible power. One voice that reverberated across the world. He had no possessions. He had no rights. He had no earthy power whatsoever. In fact, when he stood up and started to speak out, he was still a slave. He wrote his memoirs and wanted the world to hear that he is a voice that will not be silenced. 

Here’s what I just want you to hear. If you are paying attention to the beginning of the book of Amos, you cannot miss this: God gave you a voice. And I am convinced he gave you a voice for a reason. Now with that voice, you can do a lot of good, or with that voice you can do a lot of harm. But when the voice is silenced, it ceases to make an impact.

God gave you a voice for a reason.

I believe that God gave all of us one voice, and he is giving us the ability to use that voice so that we can work and speak for the good of others. But ultimately, God gave us a voice so that we can glorify the guy that we call King Jesus around here.

When Fredrick Douglas wrote his memoirs, he was still a slave. He was now living in free territory, but he was still technically the ownership of a slave master from Maryland. And Fredrick Douglas made this statement in his memoirs. He said, “If you want to find out just how much people are willing to submit to, all you have to do is figure out how much injustice, how much evil, they’re willing to be silent to. And that will tell you how far you can go with these people.”

Here are Fredrick Douglas’ final words. He said, “These people will continue to be subject to slavery, to injustice, to hatred, to evil until they resist it with words or with blows or with both.” Until you stand up and until you speak out, you will be subjected to violence, you will be subjected to hatred, you’ll be subjected to injustice. It’s going to happen in our day. It happened in Fredrick Douglas’ day. And it happened in the life of a prophet from the Old Testament, a really unusual prophet in the Old Testament, a guy by the name of Amos.

We’re going to start in verse one of chapter one from the book of Amos today. And I want you to hear who this one voice is, because he’s not the kind of prophet that you would expect to hear from in the Bible. Here’s what the Bible says in Amos chapter one, verse one:

Amos 1:1-2 The words of Amos, who was one of the sheep breeders from Tekoa—what he saw regarding Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. He said: The Lord roars from Zion and makes his voice heard from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the summit of Carmel withers.

I need to explain this phrase “sheep breeder,” because Amos is not the average prophet. He’s not a professional spokesman. He’s not a son of the prophet. In fact, Amos is really a businessman. He’s not even a shepherd who’s working in the fields like David when he’s writing psalms and when David is taking care of his father’s sheep. A sheep breeder is somebody who raises up animals and sells animals, who’s taking care of a ledger, and who’s a business man, basically.

I want you to think about Amos today like somebody who’s working at an office behind a computer. I want you to think about him like a guy who’s working on the factory floor. Think about him like somebody who’s in the classroom every day, all day long with students. Think about him like somebody who’s taking care of a burping baby, changing diapers all day long. That’s what Amos is doing when all of a sudden, God starts to tap on his shoulder. And when God starts to show Amos what’s happening around him, it hits Amos in the chest like a sledgehammer.

And now Amos starts to notice the injustice around him. He starts to speak out and can no longer remain silent about injustice. Amos is just a dude like you when God starts to reveal to him what’s been happening around him, and maybe Amos is so busy at work and so busy at home that he doesn’t really notice what’s happening until God gets his attention.

That statement “the earthquake” is a really important statement. “THE earthquake” is not “AN earthquake”. I want you to think about it like the coronavirus. When your children and grandchildren talk about what’s happening right now around the world, they’re not going to say “a virus”, like SARS or Ebola or the Avian Flu; they’re going to say this is THE virus. 

Well, the earthquake hit Israel in 760 B.C., and we can tell exactly when this is, two years before, that’s 762 B.C. And because we know exactly when this happens, we know exactly what’s happening in world politics. We know exactly what’s going on all around Israel when Amos starts to take a look at these neighboring cities and countries around him.

And here’s what Amos says. I love this next verse. It’s very unusual in the Bible. In verse two, Amos says,”The Lord roars from Zion. He makes his voice heard from Jerusalem. The pastures of the shepherds mourn and the summit of Carmel, this giant mountain, withers underneath of voice of God.” Amos says that when God speaks, it’s like a lion roaring. That’s the language that he uses in the Old Testament. A better translation in the English language would be, “God speaks about the injustice and the evil that’s happening in 762 B.C., and it is like thunder from Heaven. Everybody hears it.”

What I want you to wrestle with for a few moments today is, how exactly does God speak about this injustice that we read about today? And what we’re going to do is, we’re going to start to look at some of the surrounding communities during Amos’ day. And what I need you to do is, I’m going to need you to roll up your sleeves because we’ve got some land to cover, literally, today as we take a look at most of chapter one and a little bit of chapter two from the book of Amos.

The first thing that you’re going to see as Amos starts to speak out about what’s happening in the surrounding cities and countries is he says, “God has showed me that the people around Israel are slaughtering my brothers, and God is sick of it.” God is speaking out against slaughter. He’s shouting out against it. And Amos starts to shout out against the slaughter around him.

Now let me give you a little geography for a second. This is the Jordan-Israel area during Amos’ time [map shown]. If you look up in the top corner there, you see the city of Damascus in the top right. If you go straight to the left, you see the city of Tyre. If you were to go all the way to the bottom and to the left, right where the Mediterranean Sea goes off of the map, you would see the biblical city of Gaza. In the purple, you see the country of Edom. Just above it in brown you see the country of Moab. And just above that in green you see the country of Ammon. This is all around Israel, and God is going to pronounce his judgment all around Israel through the prophet Amos.

Our voices must…

Shout against slaughter V. 3-5

First, he shouts out against the slaughter, this slaughter that happens in verse three in the city of Damascus, which is currently Syria today. Here’s what the Bible says:

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Damascus for three crimes, even four, because they threshed Gilead with iron sledges. Therefore, I will send fire against Hazael’s palace, and it will consume Ben-hadad’s citadels. I will break down the gates of Damascus. I will cut off the ruler from the Valley of Aven, and the one who wields the scepter from Beth-eden. The people of Aram will be exiled to Kir. The Lord has spoken.

Now, just to give you a little bit of what you’re going to hear today in each of these little announcements that Amos makes, it uses this phrase: “There are three crimes or there are four crimes that God is speaking out against”. When you see the word crime in the Bible today, I want you in your mind to substitute it with the word sin because it’s the exact same word. There is a crime, a sin, a trespass that’s happened. And this biblical literary device is saying, “You know what? There are three things, in fact there are four, that I have problems with you about.” 

This is a way in the Old Testament of saying God is keeping a list. God has not missed any of the crimes, any of the sins that have happened around Israel.And the first crime that he speaks against is this city of Damascus. Here’s what he says, ”You raked across my people like a sledge across the threshing floor.” 

Really quickly, when grain was threshed and the kernels of grain were separated from the stalks, they would often use animals to trample on the grain. Sometimes they would use a sleigh that’s pulled behind the animal. And that sleigh would have a sledge. That’s the word that Amos uses. This sledge was usually made out of stone, and it was designed to crush the grain. Or sometimes it was made out of wood. It had iron spikes driven through it, and it would pulverize, or slaughter, the grain.

What God just said is, “Damascus, you’ve trampled across my people like an animal tramples across the grain. You have sledged my people like a sleigh with this giant stone sledge or this wood and iron instrument of torture. That’s what you’ve done to my people. And I’ve seen it. I’m sick of it, and as a result, I’m going to respond to it.” Here’s what God says he’s going to do: “I’m going to put you back in your place, Damascus. I’m going to literally send you back to Kir, back to the land that you originally started from because you went into the land of my people and you brutally treated them; you slaughtered them in the city streets.”

Cry against calloused hearts  V. 6-8

God is perfectly aware he’s speaking out. God cares what happens to the innocent. He cared in Amos’ day, and I need you to hear this: He cares today even if it seems like he’s unaware. So God’s people, because we have the heart of God, should be willing to stand up and speak out just like in Amos’ day. We should be willing to cry out against people with calloused hearts.

I was thinking about this, praying about this, this week. Do you know the people who are most willing to stand up and to speak out against injustice are usually people whose hearts are set on Heaven? The more that your heart is set on Heaven, the more that your mouth is willing to speak out against what you see here, because you’re comparing what you see here to what’s waiting for you in Heaven. You’re starting to realize, “These two things are not adding up. It’s not supposed to be this way.” When Christians unfortunately get their heart set on here and their mind is off of Heaven, then they stop speaking out against the injustice. Their hearts are in the wrong place.

Maybe that’s what was going on with Amos. He was just busy earning a living breeding sheep until God came and tapped on his heart. When God started to tap on his heart, Amos could no longer be silent. And Amos started to cry out against the people around him that had calloused hearts, against the people around him like in the biblical city of Gaza, in the Philistine land during his day. Amos chapter one, verse six:

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Gaza for three crimes, even four, because they exiled a whole community, handing them over to Edom. Therefore, I will send fire against the walls of Gaza, and it will consume its citadels. I will cut off the ruler from Ashdod, and the one who wields the scepter from Ashkelon. I will also turn my hand against Ekron, and the remainder of the Philistines will perish. The Lord God has spoken.

By the time that Amos writes these words, people have been treated and mistreated by the Philistines for hundreds of years. It’s been this repeated cycle of war, and the Philistines conquer Israel. And then Israel cries out, “God, I’m sorry. God, will you forgive us? God, will you protect us?” And God gives them victory. Then they end up in sin, and the Philistines come back and they conquer them. 

And it goes on and on literally for centuries until finally in Amos’ day, God says, “I’ve seen what’s happened. I haven’t been asleep at the wheel. I know exactly what’s going on, and I’m fed up with it to the point that I’m going to wipe the Philistines off of the map,” literally Amos chapter one, verse six, “like you did to my people when you took an entire community and you defeated them in battle and then you carted them away as slaves and you sold them into slavery just so that you could have their land.” 

God is saying, “I saw what you did. I saw how wicked and how hard-hearted you are, and I’m now up to here with it. And as a result of this, I’m going to do to you, Philistines, what you did to my people. I’m going to cart you away except, for I’m going to send you away for good. And the memory of your name will vanish from the earth because of what you’ve done to my people.”

Thunder against treason   V. 9-10

Here’s what Amos says next when he starts to speak out: God is thundering from Heaven, and there’s been an agreement between two countries, a treaty between these two countries. And then one of the countries breaks the treaty and breaks their word, their solemn oath. God hears about it, and God thunders against this treason. Amos Chapter one, starting in verse nine:

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Tyre for three crimes, even four, because they handed over a whole community of exiles to Edom and broke a treaty of brotherhood. Therefore, I will send fire against the walls of Tyre, and it will consume its citadels.

There’s this treaty that was going on between Syrophoenicia up in the north and Edom. They were close relations to one another. Both of them were actually close relations to Israel. They had this treaty together, and the people of Tyre, the king of the land, decided, “I like their land, and I want their land.” So he broke the treaty, and he helped a foreign army defeat their own brothers. They committed treason. And they broke their treaty and God is perfectly aware of it. 

God says, “I know what’s happening here. I’ve seen all of this go down. You have broken your word, and I expected you to keep your word. And because you didn’t keep your word, now I’m going to punish you for breaking this treaty and for selling your own relatives, handing them over into the hand of foreign armies.”

You’re asking the question, Does God really care about that little white lie? Does God really care if I’m a man or a woman of my word? Well, Amos’ answer is, “Yes, he cares.” And when you make a commitment, when you give your word, God expects his people to keep their word. I realize that the people around you who are not followers of Jesus our King, may flippantly give a vow. They may make a promise and then easily break their promise. But it’s not supposed to be like that with God’s people. In fact, Jesus says it this way: “The father of all lies is Satan. And when you tell a lie, you’re just following in the footsteps of your father who is the father of lies.” You’re following in the footsteps of Satan.

Jesus says, “I am the way. I am the truth.” And he expects people to keep their word. Let your yes be yes, let your no be no. And Tyre broke their word. And by the time you get to the next prophecy from Amos, it’s pretty obvious geographically what’s happening here, because God is thundering from Heaven against treason, and he’s roaring like a lion against the rage that people have in their hearts. He roars specifically against Edom, who has already been done wrong, and so they do wrong to God’s people.

Roar against rage  V. 11-12

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Edom for three crimes, even four, because he pursued his brother with the sword. He stifled his compassion, his anger tore at him continually, and he harbored his rage incessantly. Therefore, I will send fire against Teman, and it will consume the citadels of Bozrah.

In this prophecy, Edom, if you were to go back and read in the Book of Genesis, is literally the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. Esau’s name is changed to Edom. And they’re brothers. They’re right next to each other in the ancient land of Israel. And Edom has just been done wrong by Tyre. And so Edom takes it out on their brother Israel right across the Jordan River. And Edom does something terrible against their brother Israel. 

God says, “Your heart was supposed to be tender. Your heart was supposed to be compassionate towards your brother Israel. And instead Esau, you treated them harshly. You treated Jacob, your twin brother, harshly. And because of this, now I’m going to punish you. And I’m going to send punishment against the land.” God cares about family relationships. He cared about it in the book of Genesis. He cares about it during Amos’ day. And God cares about family relationships today. Here’s what he does next.

Exclaim for the exploited  V. 13-15

Amos starts to speak out for the vulnerable, for the helpless, for people that are exploited, specifically for the pregnant women who are being brutally mistreated. In Amos chapter one, verse 13 it says this: 

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing the Ammonites for three crimes, even four, because they ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to enlarge their territory. Therefore, I will set fire to the walls of Rabbah, and it will consume its citadels. There will be shouting on the day of battle and a violent wind on the day of the storm. Their king and his princes will go into exile together. The Lord has spoken.

Amos started in Damascus, went down to Gaza, then went up to Tyre, then went down to Edom. Now he’s over in Ammon. It’s pretty obvious that he’s crisscrossing all around Israel and in doing so, he’s saying, “Israel, I see what’s happening. I know what’s happening to the north. I see what’s happening to the south. I know what’s happening on your west. I see what’s happening all around you Israel. I don’t want you to think that I forgot about what’s happening to you.”

The Lord says, “I will not relent from punishing Ammon for three crimes, even four.” And here’s what they did: They literally ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead. Just because they wanted their land, they did it in order to enlarge their own territory. And therefore God says, “I will set a fire against the walls of Rabbah, and it will consume its citadels. There will be shouting on the day of battle and violent wind on the day of the storm. The king and his princes will go into exile together.” And this decree cannot be changed, here’s why: Because the Lord HAS SPOKEN.

When you think about people that are vulnerable and at risk, there are few people in the Old Testament who fit this category better than pregnant women. And when there’s a battle and when Ammon is coming to take over some of the land of Israel, they not only defeat their soldiers in warfare; we would expect action like that. But they also take this torture, they literally exploit these pregnant women, rip them open, and kill the women and their babies at the same time. They commit this act of slaughter just to prove a point, just to show how violent and how successful their army can be.

And if you’re living in Israel at the time, you would ask the question, “Where is God in all of this? Why isn’t God stepping up and protecting the vulnerable in our city? Why isn’t God doing something to prevent this from happening?” And then you hear the voice of Amos saying, “God is aware of what’s going on, and God will not let it stand. He will react because of the helpless people around you that are being exploited.” There is really no country on earth today where the weak and the vulnerable are not being exploited by some kind of corrupt leader, by some kind of people that have power and authority over them and would take advantage of them. It happened in Amos’ day; it’s happening in our day. And God shouts out against it. He exclaims that the exploited will not be harmed without God’s retribution.

Now, normally we would cruise right to the end of chapter one. We just got to the end of Amos chapter one, and normally we would stop there. But Amos has one more group of people, one more foreign nation, that he wants to speak out against. It’s Amos chapter two, starting in verse one, and what Amos does is say, “God is aware of what your leaders do, and God will not allow it to stand. His voice burns against these bad leaders.” Amos chapter two. We’re going to wrap up here, starting in verse one.

Burn against bad leaders V. 2:1-3

The Lord says: I will not relent from punishing Moab for three crimes, even four, because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. Therefore, I will send fire against Moab, and it will consume the citadels of Kerioth. Moab will die with a tumult, with shouting and the sound of the ram’s horn. I will cut off the judge from the land and kill all its officials with him. The Lord has spoken.

If you’re following along in your mind geographically, he started with Gaza, and he has now gone all the way around Israel, literally completely encircling Israel and speaking out against what’s happened to the North, and over on the West and to the South. And if there wasn’t a Mediterranean Sea on the East, I’m sure that Amos would be speaking out against what’s happening to the East of Israel. He’s saying that God has seen all of this, and God is perfectly aware of what’s happening. God will not let it stand.

Now, we’re going to wrap up with this. I need you to put yourself in the footsteps of Amos. When you’re just a simple businessman just doing your job and trying to make a living and trying to feed your family. And then all of a sudden God starts to tap on your heart and he starts to say, “Hey, Amos, I want you to go to Edom and tell the king of Edom that I’m going to destroy his land. Amos, I want you to go to Gaza, and I want you to tell them that I’m going to punish Gaza. I want you to go over to Tyre and go to Moab, and I want you to go to Ammon, and I want you to go to Gaza, and I want you to tell them that I am going to do something brutal to them.”

Imagine how you feel when you’re sending messages like this to all of the nations around you, sending these very unpopular messages. You feel exactly like I would. You start to think, “God, I’m pretty sure you’ve got the wrong person. God, I’m just one man. I can’t possibly make a difference in all of these countries around Israel. God, why would you choose me? I’m just a businessman. I don’t do this for a living. Why do you want me to go deliver these unpopular messages?” In fact, your knees are knocking when you send the messages to all of the nations around you. And deep in your heart, come on y’all, just admit it, you’re thinking to you