Much Will Be Required

1 Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.Amos 3:1-2 ESV

God has decreed his pending judgment upon Israel’s Gentile neighbors. He has called out the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites for their many transgressions. But He has also leveled serious charges against the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet He seems to have reserved His harshest words for the northern kingdom of Israel.  The ten tribes that comprised the northern kingdom bore the name, Israel, which in Hebrew means “God prevails.” They were named after their patriarch, whose name God had changed from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, had suffered with infertility and never been able to give her husband, Isaac, any children. But one day God informed her that she would give birth to twin sons. And He added that there would be something unique about these two boys.

“The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” – Genesis 25:23 NLT

When they were born, she named the first son, Esau, and the second one, Jacob, which means, “he deceives.” And Jacob lived up to his name, eventually managing to bargain his way into obtaining his brother’s birthright and deceiving his own father so that he might receive the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Yet, despite all these things, the descendants of Jacob (Israel) became the chosen people of God. Through them, Yahweh would partially fulfill the promise that He had made to Abraham, hundreds of years earlier.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3 NLT

God would take the descendants of Jacob and make of them a great nation, and he would do so in a particularly remarkable way. In the book of Genesis we have the account of a severe famine that struck the entire Middle East, eventually devastating the land of Canaan where Jacob lived with his sons and their families. In an effort to find grain to feed his family and flocks, Jacob sent his sons on a lengthy expedition to  Egypt because he had received news that they had grain available for purchase.

When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll die.” – Genesis 42:1-2 NLT

Little did Jacob know that one of his sons, whom he had believed to be dead, was actually alive and well and living in Egypt. Years earlier, Joseph had been sold into slavery by his own brothers. And by the sovereign and providential hand of God, he had ended up as one of the powerful rulers in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Joseph wisely used his position and influence to create a famine-relief program that assured the Egyptians would have enough grain to survive the coming drought.  And when the famine struck, Egypt was the only nation that had a surplus of grain. As a result, “…people from all around came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe throughout the world” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

When the sons of Jacob arrived in Egypt, they soon discovered that the brother whom they had sold into slavery was the second-most-powerful ruler in Egypt. But rather than seek revenge on his brothers, Joseph offered them prime real estate in Egypt on which to feed their flocks and raise their families. In time, Jacob (Israel) was reunited with his long-lost son,  But when he entered the land of Egypt, the size of Jacob’s family was small.

The total number of Jacob’s direct descendants who went with him to Egypt, not counting his sons’ wives, was sixty-six. In addition, Joseph had two sons who were born in Egypt. So altogether, there were seventy members of Jacob’s family in the land of Egypt. – Genesis 46:26-27 NLT

Yet, some 400 years later, when the Israelites departed Egypt for Canaan, they probably numbered in the millions. They had expanded to such a degree that their very presence in the land of Egypt created fear and anxiety in the heart of Pharaoh. He saw the people of Israel as a growing threat.

“Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country. – Exodus 1:9-10 NLT

And, in an effort to demoralize the Israelites and diminish any potential threat they might pose, he began to brutally mistreat them.

So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labosetting them apart as His own and declaring them to be His chosen possession and the instrument through which He would bring a blessing to the nations of the earth. – Exodus 1:11 NLT

The descendants of Jacob suffered greatly, but God heard their cries and responded to their plight. He sent Moses to be their deliverer. And eventually, Moses would orchestrate the release of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and lead them to the land that God had promised to Abraham centuries earlier. And just prior to their entrance into the land of promise, Moses would remind them of their unique and undeserved status as God’s chosen people.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

Now, hundreds of years after conquering and occupying the land of Canaan, the descendants of Jacob are receiving a powerful word of warning from the prophet Amos. He boldly and unapologetically relays God’s dissatisfaction with His chosen people. But he prefaces it with a reminder that they had enjoyed a truly unique status among all the nations of the earth. Unlike the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians,  Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites, the Israelites had been allowed to have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe.

“You only have I known
    of all the families of the earth…” – Amos 3:2 ESV

And they were about to discover that the privilege of being God’s chosen people came with serious consequences. They were going to be held to a higher standard because they been allowed to have an intimate and undeserved relationship with the God of the universe.

Centuries later, Jesus would make the statement: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required” (Luke 12:48 NLT). And that sentiment reflects the words of the prophet Micah.

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

The Israelites had treated their privileged position as God’s chosen people with disdain, and now they were going to pay for it.

“…therefore I will punish you
    for all your iniquities.” – Amos 3:2 ESV

The one who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt was going to bring them down. He would no longer allow them to drag His holy name through the mud. He would no longer tolerate their rebellion and repeated refusals to repent. The people of God were going to experience the full wrath of God. And as God will make perfectly and painfully clear in the chapters ahead, He was intimately aware of every one of their sins.

“For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.” – Amos 5:12 NLT

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