What the Bible says about
Purification through Suffering
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God threatens to send fire, symbolizing divine rejection and purification (Malachi 4:1), upon Israel because of her false religion. The Bible, though ultimately written for His spiritual children, focuses on ancient Israel because she is comprised of God's chosen people. We can see our own lives in their examples. Amos proves through the Israelites' disobedience and corruption that they had no relationship with God. They had not allowed their privileged position under the covenant to transform them into godly people. Thus, God must send a purifying destruction upon them.
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were places of pilgrimage, places people went to observe the feasts. But God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days" (Amos 5:21)! Verses 22-23 show that the Israelites loved all the rituals and entertainments of the feasts, but they did not leave the feasts better people (verse 24). They returned to their homes unchanged, unrepentant, after what was supposed to be a rededication of their lives to God!
Our attitudes in attending the feasts today tell God just as much as the Israelites' did during Amos' ministry. Do we go to the Feast of Tabernacles to seek God and learn to fear Him, as He says in Deuteronomy 14:23? Our reasons for attending God's feasts are very important. Do we go to get love and enjoy ourselves? The feasts should be enjoyable, but those who go there to give love and serve others profit the most from them. Those who go to get love usually become offended and leave the feast, telling anyone who will listen how "cold" others were to them.
From the biblical events that occurred in these places, Bethel pictures reorientation and hope; Gilgal, possession of the promises; and Beersheba, fellowship with God. We can have these things in Christ if we abide under the terms of our covenant with Him. In the example of Israel, we can see that hearing and knowing the way of God intellectually is not enough. The lives of the people of Israel did not match what they knew.
The lesson we can learn from the events in Bethel are particularly illustrative of God's transforming influence. At Bethel, Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and angels walking up and down on it (Genesis 28:12). When he woke up from his dream, Jacob reckoned that God was surely in that place and named it "Bethel" or "house of God." The ascending and descending angels, messengers of God, depict God, not man, initiating communication. In other words, the ladder brought God to Bethel. When God arrives on the scene and descends to communicate with a man, He makes a difference in his life.
Certainly, Jacob's life quickly began to change, especially his attitude. He had been fleeing for his life, but when he got to Bethel, his future changed dramatically because God made contact with him. God reconfirmed to Jacob His promises to Abraham and Isaac. A transformation began then that did not end as long as he lived.
On the run from Esau, a man to be feared, Jacob felt at any moment his brother would appear around the next rock. He arrived at Bethel hopeless, but he left a man with a future—God said that He would be with him. So Jacob arose and made a covenant with God that if He would bless him, then he would give a tenth, a tithe, to God (Genesis 28:18-22).
When Jacob returned to Bethel after serving Laban for some twenty years, God appeared to him again, changing his name to Israel (Genesis 35:1-15). In the biblical record, a name change, normally occurring during a period of crisis in a person's conversion, signifies a change in his heart. Undoubtedly, a significant change happened here and another at Peniel where Jacob wrestled with Christ (Genesis 32:24-30). Peniel was a stepping stone to what occurred at his return to Bethel and between them, we see Jacob's spiritual conversion.
To Israel and Amos, then, Bethel represented reorientation and hope. There the old life and the old man became new. This idea is later reflected in New Testament teaching about our spiritual transformation into the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:12-15, 20-24; I John 3:2).
Contact with God causes transformation, and Bethel represents this hopeful reorientation. Israelites may have journeyed to Bethel, but Amos shows that no transformation occurred. There was no change in holiness or morality. They enjoyed the fellowship and good times of the feasts, but they returned to their homes, and it was "business as usual." Unlike Jacob, they had not repented.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
Given insight into what God would soon do, Amos was distressed over whether Israel could survive. God relented both times, probably as a result of Amos' prayer. But because of His earlier pronouncements and the people's lack of repentance, there is a sense that God would not postpone Israel's punishment much longer.
The first vision of Amos 7 may be a natural calamity of locusts rising out of the earth and destroying the crops and the grasslands "after the king's mowings," a practice akin to our income tax. Without the late crop, the first cutting for the king would be sparse, and without produce for their personal needs, the people would starve. God decided that Israel would be protected from natural calamity in the main, but a few people may suffer very badly and may even die.
The second vision, a divine fire, could literally be fire on the earth. "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 4:24; see 29:20). Fire, in biblical symbolism, is a purging and purifying punishment against sin (Malachi 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:29). To save and turn the people back to morality and obedience, God decrees a purifying fire to come upon Israel, probably in the form of a divinely inspired war. Again, God relents, giving the nation another chance to repent.
This exchange between Amos and God illustrates a wonderful method He uses to teach us what we need. God sometimes leads us into situations that force us to decide what we really need. We ask Him for it, and then He gives it to us. We think He answered our prayer—and He did—but He also led us to pray the prayer (see Romans 8:26)! He guides these situations so that we come to think like Him! When He wants to produce character in us, He will work in whatever way is necessary to build it.
We can learn much from this technique. In our earnest prayers, we cry out to Him, believing we truly need what we have requested. We should also pray to understand how God is working, molding, shaping, and leading us to grow and overcome. When we finally see things from His perspective and pray that prayer, He will respond.
That is what He wanted from Israel: He desired the Israelites to understand that they should return to Him. However, Amos 7:9; 8:3, 10; and 9:1 indicate their destruction would be total because the people did not respond.
The example of ancient Israel's shortsightedness has present-day implications for spiritual Israel—God wants His people to look through the coming crisis and see that He brings it to pass, controls it, and sets its limits. He will use it to bring about His purpose in individual lives or in the life of the nation. In the near future, conditions will become so difficult that, if possible, even the elect will be deceived—"but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened" (Matthew 24:24, 22).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
Our English word pearl is derived from Sanskrit, meaning "pure." The biblical concept of holiness carries the idea of purity with it.
The pearl is an interesting study. Unlike other gems, pearls are produced by a living organism, an oyster, as the result of an injury. It usually begins forming around a grain of sand or an egg of some parasite that invaded the oyster. The oyster protects itself by layering the irritant with nacre—mother-of-pearl—until, out of pain and suffering, it forms an object of great beauty. The offending particle actually becomes a gem of great worth!
So it is with us spiritually. We are an irritant, a botch, a scab on God's creation because of our nature and our sins. But because He loves us, we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and gradually we can become a thing of beauty, clothed with the righteousness of Him who bought us.
We can make a number of other comparisons between pearls and other objects used as teaching vehicles in the Bible, such as the mustard seed. Both begin as something quite small but achieve different results. The mustard seed grows into the largest of herbs, but the pearl remains small. What is the lesson? Size does not determine value.
We can make a second comparison with ourselves. The pearl is first embedded in a mass of live but corruptible flesh, then separated and cleansed from its surroundings so that it can appear in its purity and beauty. So it is with the church. It is surrounded by, deeply embedded in, this corruptible world, and must be separated from the world before it can make a proper witness. As long as the pearl (church) remains in the oyster (world), it is of no value.
The production of the pearl is a gradual, even tedious, process. Slowly, the oyster adds layer after thin layer of nacre until the pearl is transformed. So it is with the church. For nineteen-and-a-half centuries, it has been in the making. If we add all who will be in the first resurrection from the time before Christ, then God has been working and adding to its lustrous value for almost six thousand years! All of this has occurred, and the world has hardly noticed, if at all, that this awesome process was progressing right under its nose.
In essence, the formation of the pearl is happening in secret. Colossians 3:3 says that our "life is hidden with Christ in God." Jesus tells His disciples: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). The world does not know where God's truth is transforming people into beings of glorious beauty. They are now just as we were before God revealed Himself to us. They are blind to the beauty of holiness. In fact, they are not merely blind, but as this verse shows, hostile to it.
Drawing the comparisons further, we know the oyster is at home in the depths of the ocean, a scavenger living off the garbage that sinks to the bottom of the sea. Revelation 13:1 shows the beast rising out of a sea: "Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name."
The Bible often uses a sea to represent multitudes of people, sometimes multitudes of enemies. Revelation 17:15 says, "And he said to me, 'The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.'" Isaiah 59:19 reads, "the enemy comes in like a flood." God must take the pearl, the church, from among the ungodly just as the oyster must be lifted from the muck and mire of the sea bottom.
Psalm 18:4-6, 15-16 expresses this analogy beautifully:
The pangs of death encompassed me, and the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. . . . Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils. He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.
So the church, an object of beauty to God, is presently hidden from the world because they do not really know true value when they see it. But it will not be that way for long.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
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