Still You Have Not Returned to Me

Today, as at any time, God is calling on all to repent and turn to Him. Amos reminds us of what is so often the response of humans to God’s call: “Still you have not returned to Me”.

These are among the most frightening and shocking words found in Scripture:

Chatting online with some old friends in Europe the other day I mentioned that for all the global upheaval of the COVID virus, I have not seen much evidence that people are flocking to the Lord as a result.

Sometimes a calamity or a disaster or some life-altering experience can have that sort of impact, but from my limited vantage point, I am not seeing very many indications of this.

Of course, I have written about this before. Very early on during the COVID outbreak, I discussed whether God might be using this in part as divine judgment to get our attention, and to get us to repent, flee from our sins, and turn to him.

I said that it could be, but we cannot say for sure. God certainly has used various disasters in the past in this way.

More recently, I looked at some passages from the book of Revelation where we are repeatedly told that despite the judgments of God, the unrepentant still refuse to repent!

Well, those are not the only such verses on this matter. Reading again today in the book of Amos I came upon the same thing – this time in relation to the people of Israel.

God brought upon the people various plagues and calamities yet the people still did not return to the Lord. For a general introduction and overview of the book, see here.

Amos Chapter 4

What I want to discuss here is the following passage: Amos 4:6-13. It says this:

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city
and lack of bread in every town,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld rain from you
when the harvest was still three months away.
I sent rain on one town,
but withheld it from another.
One field had rain;
another had none and dried up.
People staggered from town to town for water
but did not get enough to drink,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
destroying them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I sent plagues among you
as I did to Egypt.
I killed your young men with the sword,
along with your captured horses.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you
as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
and because I will do this to you, Israel,
prepare to meet your God.”

He who forms the mountains,
who creates the wind,
and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Natural Disasters Are Not Just Random!

Wow, strong words! Here it is made quite clear that such natural disasters were not just random occurrences or mere accidents, but the direct and wilful results of the hand of God on a sinful and rebellious people.

As Amos had stated a chapter earlier (Amos 3:6b):

“When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?”

But the amazing thing is this: once again, the people did not turn from their sin. They did not repent.

They refused to listen to what God was trying to say to them. The covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would/should have been very well known to the people.

While obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings curses. And those chapters made it clear that natural disasters, war and the like would be the means God uses to judge His wayward people.

Image of The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah
The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah by Smith, Gary V. (Author), Smith, Dr. Gary V (Author) Amazon logo

 

Why Does God Send Troubles?

Let me draw upon just one commentator here. A lengthy part of the commentary on this passage by Gary Smith is worth running with.

He asks, “Why does God send troubles?” and then says this:

When one hears about people losing their business in a tornado, farmers having their crops destroyed by a flood, or the burning of homes in a wild forest fire, it is hard to understand why these things happen. In the end, few people in the church today can ever fully know the reasons for these kinds of events. But Amos records five cases (4:6-11) where God himself planned and brought disasters on his people for a specific purpose. These verses emphasize that God was and still is sovereignly in control over nature (rain, wind, and heat), animals (locusts), and historical events (wars). These “natural disasters” are really “acts of God” that do not just happen by the chance blowing of high-pressure weather systems or accidental political mistakes.

Believers need to see the presence of God’s hand in the circumstances that surround them. This does not mean that every problem is caused by God, for Job 1-2 indicates that Satan is hard at work trying to tear down believers, and evil people have freedom to sin. Nevertheless, God can use evil deeds to bring glory to himself and growth in the hearts of his people. His purposes may sometimes be unknown, but his acts can be a means of bringing people to their knees.

In Amos’ case God brought these difficulties on the Israelites in order to cause them to turn from their sinful worship and come back to him (4:6–11). “God wanted his people to approach their worship with a fresh vitality and turn to him for mercy and help. Since we usually do not know what God’s reasoning is in sending problems into people’s lives today, it is impossible to suggest that difficulties have come into a person’s life because of sin. Yet in spite of our limited knowledge, it is always appropriate for us to examine our lives and to turn to God for wisdom, strength, and grace. If we refuse to do so he will probably deal with us in the same way he dealt with the Israelites.

If the church and its members are repeatedly unwilling to respond positively to God, he has only two options available: send another plague to wake us up and motivate us to turn to God, or give up on the possibility of change and bring judgment. The book of Jonah is an example of how God pursues a rebellious prophet to transform his behavior, while Romans 1:18–32 describes how God gives some people over to their evil desires and depraved minds because they purposely reject the revelation they have received. A stubborn unwillingness to listen to God will inevitably lead to judgment.

How About Today?

As Smith reminds us, and as I have often said, care is needed today when disaster strikes. We do not have the same sure prophetic word that ancient Israel had back then.

Indeed, the very next verse to follow the one I mentioned above says this:

“Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

It would be terrific if we had the same thing happening today, where we have the divine, inerrant word on everything that befalls us, be it a flat tire on the way to work or a major earthquake or tsunami. But we don’t.

However, we do have enough of God’s sure word in the form of the Bible.

There is enough material there in general, as well as what we find in places like Amos 4 in particular, to help us to realise that God very much is concerned about both his people and those who do not know him.

He is quite capable of using natural disasters and things like that to try to get our attention, to wake us up, to get us to reconsider our course, and so on.

The real issue is this: Will we allow God to do so?

Or will we remain hardhearted, closing our ears to anything that God has to say to us?

The verses in Revelation that speak about folks refusing to repent after God brings upon the earth his just judgments are shocking to read.

You Did Not Return to Me

But so too here when those who should have known better – God’s own people – are sent divine chastisement and punishment, yet they still refuse to turn to God.

Five times in just six verses (Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11) Yahweh said this of Israel:

“yet you did not return to me”.

That should get every single one of us to sit up and take notice. If God can use such strong medicine on his own people, we all better wake up and wake up fast.

Whether COVID is the direct and deliberate judgment of God on sinful people can be debated.

However, what cannot be debated is that God’s patience and mercy will not continue forever. Those who refuse to listen to God and turn from their wicked ways WILL face judgment – if not now, then soon enough.

I close with some remarks by R. C. Sproul that I have often used. His comments on Romans 1 are just the thing we all need to take to heart:

We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.

___

Originally published on CultureWatch.

By |2021-09-28T19:04:32+10:00September 29th, 2021|Australia, Fairness & Justice, Faith, Freedom, Safety & Security, World|3 Comments

About the Author:

Bill Muehlenberg is married with three sons, and ministers as an apologist and ethicist in Melbourne, Australia. He was one of the main drafters of the Canberra Declaration. Bill has a BA with honours in philosophy (Wheaton College, Chicago), an MA with highest honours in theology (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Boston) and is currently completing a PhD in theology.

Bill is a prolific author and a much sought-after media commentator. He has been featured on most Australian television and radio current affairs programs. Bill teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. He hosts his own blog CultureWatch, which features Christian commentary on the issues of the day.

3 Comments

  1. Heidi Wong September 29, 2021 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Again, thank you Bill for your insight and articulation of what is really happening.

    However, in reference to your perspective on the absence of modern day prophets, I believe this calling is still relevant and available today. The church has not recognised her seers and prophets or they have been demoted and ignored, viewed as sideline fruit loops with a little too much imagination.

    The kings and leaders of the Old Testament were accustomed to turn to these ones when faced with national and personal crises, knowing that the prophets would have seen the trouble coming a mile off and possessed insight as to what God required of the king and nation in response.

    I believe it is certainly time for the company of prophets to speak again into the church, government and people’s deep darkness and need.

    Regards,

    Heidi Wong

  2. Vivienne Williams September 29, 2021 at 9:32 am - Reply

    These are hard things for mankind to think on,, we prefer to talk about God’s love, kindness, goodness and mercy, but we stay away from His wrath. No longer is it preached, we try to love people into the Kingdom of God and yet the fear of the Lord is the begining of wisdom.

  3. David Findlay September 29, 2021 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    It’s a very dangerous belief system that some Christians have, of giving God credit for deaths and disaster. What you’re saying is that some people deserve to be punished and God is causing them pain and death. This not only is in contrast of a God that is defined by love, but it also takes away the power of the Cross. Jesus has paid in full for our sins and has taken on our punishment himself. If we start giving God credit for disasters, what we are saying is that “What Jesus did is not enough, and that God needs to hand out extra punishment”

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