He is not out to trick us or to trip us up. Our beloved friend and elder brother Jesus Christ echoes this to His disciples: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
We can have confidence in God's promise that He will not do anything significant concerning His people without informing us first in a clear, orderly, and understandable manner. If and when He chooses to send a special end-time leader to His people—whether he be a prophet, an apostle, or one of the two witnesses (Revelation 11)—God will make sure we are able to recognize the man as His true servant.
This verse reveals a divine principle or a pattern. God does not give every detail, but His pattern of behavior is to let His people know (at least in generalities) what He is going to do. He gives enough information, but not so much that we do not have to live by faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 11)
Combinging this scripture together with Deuteronomy 29:29—and with an example Daniel 12 when God tells the prophet that the meaning was sealed until the time of the end—we can see that He is clearly telling us He promises to reveal the understanding of prophecy on a "need-to-know" basis. When we need to know, He will tell us. That is His promise. So until that time arrives, precise understanding will be impossible. Therefore, anyone's interpretation of prophecy has to be understood as theory until the evidence arises that it is a true interpretation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 3)
Bible students know that Scripture is about thirty percent prophecy, and preachers have cautioned that prophecy should take no more than the equivalent percentage of our study time. With some people, though, prophecy is their Bible study, and that, frankly, is a shame.
The Bible divides itself neatly into thirds: one-third doctrine, one-third history, and one-third prophecy. History, of course, gets short shrift from most, who remember Mrs. Jones' tenth-grade history class as a collection of names and dates and boring lectures on various monarchs and wars. Doctrine is just not very stimulating; studying it brings up visions of long and involved passages in dusty commentaries written by long-dead theologians, intricate studies of unpronounceable words in ancient languages, and saccharine devotional passages with little application in the real world.
Prophecy, though, is cool. Its imagery and symbolism are fascinating with its strange beasts, lurid women, armies and battles, plagues and destruction, conquering kings, and even a red dragon. It is infused with a sense of mystery and expectation. There are enigmatic numbers to ponder and riddles and word plays to solve. Beyond all this, many prophecy buffs believe that the preponderance of the Bible's predictions will come about soon, heightening the excitement.
For evangelists, prophecy makes a wonderful hook to get people interested in God's Word. For years, the Worldwide Church of God's most-requested literature had prophetic themes: "The U.S. and Britain in Prophecy," "The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last," "Who or What Is the Beast?" etc. These booklets were most often requested by those hearing the radio broadcast or seeing the television broadcast for the first time because the program itself frequently dealt with prophetic subjects. As a hook, prophecy works well, but as a staple in our spiritual diet, it produces deficiencies in spiritual health.
Yes, we should know the Bible's prophecies. Yes, we should be watching world events. Yes, we should be speculating to see how current events might fit the Bible's scenarios. But none of these things should be done at the expense of doctrine and Christian living.
What is the purpose of prophecy? Ultimately, it is to glorify God. Through prophecy, we can see God at work in His plan over millennia (for instance, the many Old Testament prophecies of Jesus Christ's first coming). We see proof of God's existence and power in fulfilling the Bible's prophecies (Isaiah 40:12-29). Prophecy exhibits for all to see that God is sovereign in the affairs of men (Daniel 4:17), and what He desires He brings to pass (Isaiah 55:11).
Is prophecy in the Bible so we can know what is going to happen? Yes, but not to the degree most people think. "Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7), but this does not mean that we will have a complete or precise foreknowledge of events. Jesus Himself warns us, "But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36), and just a few verses later, He tells His own disciples, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him" (verse 44).
This is a massive hint that our understanding - as much as it has expanded over the last few decades - will still not be enough to remove the surprise from Christ's return! Paul also warns us in I Corinthians 13:9, 12, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly." This should convince us that we do not know for certain how things will work out as the end approaches. We understand in part, meaning we have a vague idea of the course of events, but we cannot honestly be dogmatic about any speculative scenarios we devise. Every interpretation of end-time biblical prophecy should be accompanied with a proviso such as, "This is where things seem to be headed from what we understand right now."
It is good for us to remember what the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:8: "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; . . . whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away." The point of Christianity is not to know the final score before everyone else does. God has called us to glorify Him by putting on the image of His Son (II Corinthians 3:18). We must be careful that we do not let ourselves be distracted from what is most important.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Essays on Bible Study
"A lion has roared" (Amos 3:8) concludes the section that began with "The Lord roars from Zion" (Amos 1:2). The Lord, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5), has roared against Israel to take heed. When a lion roars, anyone within hearing distance should change the direction of his path, especially if the lion is very close!
Amos 3:3-6 contains seven consecutive questions. After the first one (verse 3), the remaining three pairs of questions consist of a sequence of "before" and "after" illustrations:
- When a lion roars (verse 4), he is warning others of his presence—there is still time to escape. When a young lion cries out of his den, however, he is content because he has killed and eaten. It is too late to escape.
- Birds cannot fall into a snare when there is no trap (verse 5), but the trap always springs when one walks into it.
- The trumpet warns of danger coming (verse 6), but it cannot sound if the watchman is already dead and the city has been taken.
The Lord has done what He warned He would do. While the threat is being made, one can still escape, but once judgment begins, it is too late.
When a lion sees his prey, he will try to kill it. When the divine Lion roars, the people need to shake off their complacency because His roar means He is about to spring into action! He means what He says about living His way of life, and He follows through when we depart from it.
Some people, like birds, unwittingly stumble into trouble. Oblivious to everything around them, they fall into traps, like being swindled by con men or crafty deceivers. God's people are often just like birds, unsuspectingly going to their destruction, unmindful of the dangers around them. In other words, God is warning: "Don't be a birdbrain!" We must think about the direction that we are heading. In His mercy, God always warns His people of coming calamity, either through His prophets (Amos 3:7) or through escalating disasters that lead to His ultimate judgment.
Unlike the other six questions, Amos 3:3 stands alone without a second question following it: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" It pictures a couple who have arranged to meet and do something together; they have a date. In the language of the Bible, this agreement is a covenant. God considered His covenant with Israel to be a marriage (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:8, 14). Could the silent second question be: "Can a marriage be restored if the bill of divorce has already been issued?"
God chose to withdraw Himself from Israel because He realized He had nothing in common with her. They could not walk together any longer. But in Amos' day, the divorce was not yet final; reconciliation between God and His people was still possible.
But there came a point in Israel's history that it was too late. The die had been cast. Repentance was no longer possible. The trumpet blew, the trap sprang, the lion pounced.
Through Amos, God is warning our nations today that similar, devastating calamities lie just ahead, and escape from them is still possible. As yet, the lion has not pounced—it is not too late.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
Prophecy is both practical and positive, not all gloom and doom. Most of prophecy begins negatively but ends positively because God is confident that what He prophesied will accomplish His end, which is always good! Much of the thrust of Amos is an education for catastrophe. Amos followed Elijah about 90-100 years later. During that period, Israel's sins continued to mount horribly. Despite this, they became very wealthy and self-indulgent, even oppressively so.
Religiously, they were trying to walk a tightrope between God and Baal. They were behaving and worshipping like Baal worshippers but doing it in the name of the Lord. Does that not sound familiar to an informed observer of our modern, American scene? People in high places are claiming we all worship the same God; they say the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same!
Amos, a Jew from the southern kingdom, was sent by God to preach against the sins of the northern ten tribes. In those from the north, there would be a natural resistance to such an arrangement. The first thing Amos needed to do, then, was establish his authority to preach against them.
The prophet begins in the first two verses with a "thus saith the LORD," providing the foundation for all that follows. He sets out two things that construct a basis for what he says. First, God and Israel have a special relationship: "You only have I known." This phrase indicates a very close bond, as in a marriage, from which ensues the sharing of life's experiences. This ties what Amos would say to correct them to their responsibilities within that close relationship.
Second, he makes a veiled warning, contained within the next five verses: Amos' words carry authority. Israel had better heed because his words are not idle. He establishes this through a series of illustrations posed as challenging questions that can logically be answered only one way. His aim is to awaken them from their spiritual lethargy. It is as if he is saying, "Think about the practical ramifications of this." What follows is a general pattern of God's operation in His people's behalf.
First: People traveling in the same direction toward exactly the same destination would hardly meet except by appointment. It is no accident that God and Israel have this relationship. This also applies on a smaller but more immediate scale: Amos has been sent by appointment, and he does not speak promiscuously. He is there by no accident. His utterances are not his own words; they began with God, who sent them because the close relationship is seriously threatened.
Second: Lions do not roar unless they have taken their prey because they do not want to scare their intended prey away. Israel is God's prey, as it were, and He is not roaring yet. This means, "Take heed! He is stalking you, and you are in mortal danger. Punishment is imminent, at the very door. Beware, for the margin of safety is very slim."
Third: One cannot snare a bird unless a trap is set, and then something—in this case a bird—has to cause the trap to spring shut. This illustration is declaring a cause-and-effect relationship, meaning, "Israel, you are already in the trap, and you, through your conduct, are just about to spring it shut on yourself. Your sins brought this warning, and punishment will follow if you continue sinning."
Fourth: All too often, the alarms go off, and then people take notice. "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Amos is declaring that God is involved in His creation; He has not gone way off. The Israelites must not allow themselves to be self-deceived. God is managing it, governing it. His warning of impending calamity would not come if they were not deserving of it. They have been flippantly careless and have no one to blame but themselves.
Fifth: It is illogical to think that God would punish without first warning His people. It is an aspect of His mercy. We can infer that Amos did not choose to be there before them. God appointed him to this task and "caused" him to speak. It is from God that the authority for the prophet's message emanates.
An important overall warning from Amos for those of us who have made the New Covenant with God is that great privileges must not be abused, or they will bring great penalties. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). Our great privilege is to have access to Him and His Spirit, and therefore have a far closer relationship with Him than Israel ever had under the Old Covenant. Israel's sin was first neglecting and then departing from God and the relationship. This in turn produced great moral corruption through self-serving idolatry, illustrated as and called "fornication" in other books.
The overall effect of these sins produced a careless disregard for the simple duties people owe their neighbors, as well as oppression of the weak. Amos speaks strongly against public and private indifference toward the keeping of the second of the two great commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). When these are considered, we see that he is truly a prophet for our time, when public morality has fallen so low. We need to heed His words seriously because our cultural circumstances parallel what Amos confronted in his day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Amos 3:7:
1 Corinthians :