Unbelievably Unrepentant

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld the rain from you
when there were yet three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water, and would not be satisfied;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

10 “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.

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

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!Amos 4:6-13 ESV

In this section of Amos’ message, it would appear that he has 1 Kings 8 in mind. In that passage, King Solomon is offering his prayer of dedication for the newly constructed temple in Jerusalem. Solomon fully realized that it was impossible for the God of the universe to actually take up residence in a building made with human hands. The omnipotent, omnipresent God who created the heavens and the earth could not be contained in a man-made structure. But Solomon God to “watch over this Temple night and day” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). The temple was being dedicated to God’s glory and would bear His name.  So, with that in mind, Solomon asked God to “hear the prayers I make toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29 NLT). Then he added:

May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:30 NLT

Then Solomon outlined for God a series of likely scenarios in which the people would find themselves needing divine assistance. Solomon knew his people well, and he was fully aware that they would commit sins against God that would result in the judgment of God. So, he asked that the temple might be a place of intercession where the people could come in repentance and offer up their prayers to the Almighty. And Solomon asked God to confirm that, if they prayed, He would hear and forgive.

Now, fast-forward to the reign of Jeroboam II. He is ruling over the kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten northern tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin shortly after Solomon’s death. The northern kingdom is wicked and unrepentant. They are idolatrous, immoral, unjust, and guilty of having turned their backs on God. And in verses 6-11 of chapter four, Amos records God’s words concerning their stubborn, unrepentant hearts.

God reminds them that He has brought judgment after judgment against them, in the form of famine, drought, disease, pestilence, and war, but they have repeatedly refused to repent. And with each description of the judgment He sent upon them, God adds the sad refrain, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6 ESV).

God had sent a famine among the cities of Israel. And because they had no food, they had “cleanness of teeth” (Amos 4:6 ESV). Their sin had resulted in God’s judgment and a devastating lack of life’s necessities. But Solomon had prayed with just such an incident in mind. He asked God, “If there is a famine in the land and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive. Give your people what their actions deserve, for you alone know each human heart” (1 Kings 8:37, 38-39 NLT).

But notice what Solomon said: If there is a famine and if your people pray….

And there was a famine, but the people did not pray. They never turned to God in repentance. And because they were living in the northern kingdom of Israel, far from the city of Jerusalem, the temple of God was out of sight, out of mind. They had their own temples dedicated to their own false gods.

Next, God reminds them that He had withheld the rain, causing them to suffer the consequences of drought. This should have been no surprise to the people of God, because, generations earlier, Moses had warned them what would happen if they chose to disobey God’s laws:

The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. The Lord will change the rain that falls on your land into powder, and dust will pour down from the sky until you are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 28:23-24 NLT

And Solomon, knowing the sinful propensity of the people of Israel, had foreseen this day and had used it as another example of the need for God’s forgiveness.

“If the skies are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and if they pray toward this Temple and acknowledge your name and turn from their sins because you have punished them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sins of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them to follow the right path, and send rain on your land that you have given to your people as their special possession.” – 1 Kings 8:35-36 NLT

But the lack of rain had not produced repentant hearts. Instead, the hearts of the people remained as hard as the sun-baked, rain-deprived soil. They remained unwilling to repent and, therefore, they remained unforgiven by God.

But God had not stopped with famine and drought. He had also destroyed their crops with blight and mildew. He sent locusts to devour their fig and olive trees. These natural disasters were actually divine judgments, designed to get the attention of the apostate people of Israel. But, once again, they failed to repent and return. And, once again, Solomon had foreseen this situation and had included it in his prayer to God.

“If there is … a plague or crop disease or attacks of locusts or caterpillars…whatever disaster or disease there is—and if your people Israel pray about their troubles, raising their hands toward this Temple, then hear from heaven where you live, and forgive.” – 1 Kings 8:37-39

All the people needed to do was admit their fault and turn to God in repentance. But they would stubbornly refuse to do so.

And their stubbornness proved costly. After sending diseases on the fields, vineyards, and orchards of Israel, God sent pestilence among the people. He brought upon the Israelites the same kind of plagues that had destroyed the people of Egypt. Solomon had seen this coming as well. He had specifically feared the possibility of this very thing happening when he prayed, “If there is … a plague…” (1 Kings 8:37 ESV).

But not only did God send a devastating and deadly plague, He sent enemy troops who killed the soldiers of Israel, leaving a mass of decaying corpses in their wake.

I killed your young men in war
    and led all your horses away.
    The stench of death filled the air!” – 1 Kings 8:10 NLT

And, according to the prayer of Solomon, the people of Israel had failed to pray to God before entering into battle with their enemies and, as a result, they were defeated.

“If your people go out where you send them to fight their enemies, and if they pray to the Lord by turning toward this city you have chosen and toward this Temple I have built to honor your name, then hear their prayers from heaven and uphold their cause.” – 1 Kings 8:44-45 NLT

The people of Israel didn’t turn to God because they didn’t believe they needed Him. And they refused to return to God because they no longer believed in Him. They had long ago rejected Him as their God. And they had paid the price.

God had even decreed the destruction of some of their cities. Enemy forces had besieged and destroyed many Israelite cities and towns, burning them to the ground and leaving them desolated wastelands, much like the sinful cities Sodom and Gomorrah had become.

“I destroyed some of your cities,
    as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Those of you who survived
    were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. – Amos 4:11 NLT

But even these devastating consequences failed to produce repentance among the people of Israel.

“But still you would not return to me,”
    says the Lord. – Amos 4:11 LT

At no point do the people of Israel turn their faces to the temple in Jerusalem and turn their hearts to the God whose name it bears. Despite all God’s judgments against them, they refuse to confess their sins and call out for His mercy and forgiveness. So, God provides them with one final and fateful warning: “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12 ESV).

While they consistently refused to return to Him in repentance, they were still going to have to deal with Him. Closing their eyes and their hearts did not make God go away. Just because they failed to acknowledge Him as God, did not mean He no longer existed. And Amos adds his two cents worth by reminding them that Yahweh was the Creator-God, the maker of all things. He was the sovereign God of the universe who holds all things in His mighty hands and is fully capable of dealing justly and rightly with His creation. And He would.

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
    and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! – Amos 4:13 ESV

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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson