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Omnipotence and Omniscience
The prophet gets clearer and brighter as he goes along. Up to this time we have had visions; now we have the clear, definite, concrete realisation: "I saw the Lord standing upon the altar." We have come past the visions, the outlines, the apocalyptic cloudings, and we are face to face with the living God. This is music, this is progress, this is characteristic of the way of life; we end, not in vision of a poetic, ideal, shadowy kind, but in vision that means sight, touch; an immediate yet not overwhelming, a glorious yet not dazzling and blinding, presence. We were assured by his quality and tone that he would not perish in a cloud. It would have been contrary to the frankness of his nature, and out of harmony with the peculiar tone of his voice, if Amos had faded away. He must leave as definitely as he appeared. When he spoke we knew there was a man amongst us. Now that he is about to go away, and we shall see him, in this exposition, no more, he must speak to us in frankness; he must not leave us in thunder and judgment, he must find for us a gospel. First let him have his own way. He gives us a picture of omnipotence and omniscience unequalled in all poetry. If I say too much for Amos, produce the evidence to the contrary. The poetry of all languages is open to you; disprove the assertion that Amos's description of the omnipotence and omniscience of God is unparalleled in sublimity.
What saith the Lord in his judgment tone? He says men cannot flee away from him. There is nothing beyond the sweep of his arm. But men may dig into hell? The Lord says, I am aware of it, but when they are in hell they shall feel my arresting hand; hell, define it as you may, is mine. But they may escape into heaven? True, yet thence will I bring them down. There is not a chamber in all the infinite palace of heaven from which I am excluded; I built all the mansions in the house called heaven. But have not mountaineers and adventurers and spoilers found refuge in the caves of Carmel? Yes, I made the caves of Carmel; I am the architect and the builder, and I have the key of every cave: men cannot follow into the caves of Carmel, they are so close together, and when the pursuer comes up the hill he cannot tell into which aperture his foe has passed; they represent a network, a honeycomb, and man can hide from man in the caves of Carmel: but I settled the geometry of that honeycomb, I know every figure, and I can divide Carmel as if it were a cloud, and discover the runner in his deepest secrecy: I will search and take them out from thence. But men may drown themselves? True, but they shall not die; in the depth of the sea I will command a serpent, and he shall bite them: the serpent is my servant; I made his tooth, his fang; I entrusted him with his treasure of poison. All things are mine. But men may flee into captivity? True; and yet I will pick them out one by one, and say, You are the man I want. You cannot mingle yourselves up with other people, and be lost in the crowd. God, who holds in his hand the throng of the stars, cannot be baffled by any little crowd of our making. All things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do; the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth; they flame and search; they spare not Thou God seest me.
That is the lay prophet's description of the omnipotence and omniscience of God. He was no layman who had that vision. No matter where he began, he concluded in glory. No mere herd man ever dreamed that dream. There are some things men cannot do; some thoughts men cannot think; some music men can only utter as the organ utters it, because the hand of skill and the soul of genius may be using the instrument for definite purposes. Thus the Bible proves its inspiration. It never made itself. The basket-work may be man-made no doubt it is but the fruit within the treasure are God's: the casket may have been found somewhere by man, and paid for as an article in merchandise, but the inner jewellery, the flaming stone, the stones that look all lights and tabernacle all glories, these were not man-made, they were only man-gathered, that man might see some of the miracles of light, and fall down before new revelations of power and hints of possibility. No herdman and gatherer of sycamore fruit could have made that image of the omnipotence and omniscience of God.
But Amos does not rest there; he still pursues the fascination that is upon him, and still sees God in other aspects and relations: "It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven "; literally, It is he that has built the steps of the heavens; only each riser is millions of miles high, and each step lands the climber on some new world. Or, for stories read "spheres"; and the immensities, gleaming radiant worlds, how many are there of them? A thousand? Ten thousand? The poor little telescope has raked up more than a hundred thousand, and when the telescope is tired with looking, it says, I have not yet begun to see; beyond is the real life of the worlds: improve me, rub these lenses, burnish them, enlarge them, throw them away and replace them with others, for I have not yet begun to see the stories in God's palace. A few of the under-stories I have seen, and they are entrancingly and inexpressibly lovely and glorious; I cannot get inside them, but their windows are ablaze with light; yet I am sure I have only begun, or hardly begun; the stories are miles, millions at once, higher and higher. He was a singular herdman who saw that thousands of years ago. He had no telescope; he had only the natural vision as an outward instrument, but he had a soul that used that vision to advantage. What is the vision worth? Nothing, except for the merest appearances, the most transient and superficial coming and going of shape and colour and weight and bulk. What can you see upon a green leaf? Nothing; and yet there is a population on that green leaf, mayhap, outnumbering the population of the chief metropolis of the world. He was a singular gatherer of sycamore fruit who made all this up in his own mind; he might have made the whole Bible, he might have made the universe; there is fire enough in that man to warm a whole heaven. Do not insult us by suggesting that this man made it all out of his own mind, and had no warrant, guarantee, authority, or inspiration. If so, you increase the miracle, you stupefy the understanding of man.
"Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord" ( Amo 9:8 ).
That is God's voice. Amos could not have said these words in his own person. God must create his own instruments for preaching, for revelation, for exposition, for all manner and quality of teaching; otherwise we misrepresent God. No man has a right to speak in the divine name, unless that right has been given to him by the divine Sovereign. It is impertinence, it is profanity, it is blasphemy, rank and black, for any man to stand up and say, "Thus saith the Lord, and thus will he do," if he be speaking only out of his own consciousness; then is he provoking men, taunting and mocking men; the words he uses are too large for his mouth, and the thoughts that he would express split him like thunderbolts, for they are not his own. That a herdman, a lay prophet, should have stood up and thus represented himself as the vicegerent and minister of God when he was nothing of the kind, adds to the miracle, and does not diminish it.
But will the Lord judge in fury? And will he proceed in his work with the indiscriminateness which makes no difference between old and young, right and wrong, good and bad? Hear this voice in the midst of the judgment storm:
"I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" ( Amo 9:9 ).
We were terrified by the first loud burst of tremendous judgment; we thought it was indiscriminating, that it fell upon the earth in a fury of vengeance, and could make no distinctions between the right hand and the left: and, lo, the whole image is that of a man who is winnowing the corn. Watch him; he puts it all into the sieve; he takes it in his arms, he uses it so, putting it from point to point with his hands, and what falls out is blown away, and what remains is the wheat; and as he conducts this sifting process there breathes a voice through the wind, saying, What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Yet not the least grain shall fall upon the earth. This is minuteness, discrimination, careful criticism. Have no fear, therefore, if you are right; if you are the very least grain you shall not be lost; if you are only chaff you cannot be saved; if you are the rubbish of the universe you shall be blown away. But if there be in you one speck of value, one desire that cannot find words for its agony, one hope in the Cross of the eternal Redeemer of the world, if there be but the turning of an eyelid that the dying eye may catch the eternal Christ, you shall not be lost; that look shall be a whole lifetime of prayer, that one desire shall be magnified into a prevalent intercession. There is nothing ruthless in the government and judgment of God. Men condemn or praise wholesale, and therefore their condemnation or their praise is often worthless. But here is a Providence that separates, distinguishes, puts into contrast, weighs men, considers what is in them in the matter of proportion, so that the bad shall not overweigh the good, but the good that is in them shall be the beginning of their salvation. Keep thy poor little prayer. Let that go, and all is gone. Keep thy "God be merciful unto me a sinner," and it will save thee; that will link thee on to the infinite, the eternal purpose, the boundless love. Keep thine "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," it shall save thee from hell. Do not give up the little least bit of religion that is in the heart, for God begins with that; God created that; it is the pledge and sign of his presence in the soul. Do not give up the tear of penitence, the silent, glistening, dumb tear that no words can express the meaning of; that tear is a crystal prayer; that tear is a jewel in the eyes of heaven; it cannot speak, it is too eloquent for speech, but it means the whole soul; let it stand in thine eye; it shall save thee when the lightnings are abroad.
"All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us" ( Amo 9:10 ).
On whom is the doom pronounced? "All the sinners." Not one of the righteous is mentioned there. All the sinners, all the bad people, all the unsound hearts, all the untrue spirits they shall fall, though they have many a device to which they trust. So it was with the Ten Tribes. They were tribally dispersed, driven about; they were not individually lost. There is a tribal dispersion; there is a corporate dissolution; there is a family break-up. Every member of the family is living, but there is no family. That is one mystery of Providence. Every soul is there, but has nothing to do with any other soul. The tribes were once one in spirit, though twelve in number, a chosen unit; but the time came when they were separated on account of their sins by thunder and lightning and a great tempest, and every soul was alive, yet every soul was alone. Death is not the worst fate that can befall men. Death may be but transition; death may be but translation; death is only change of position, change of relation, change of sphere, change of service; but to be alive and yet to be dead; to be looking at a man and not to know him; to have all sacred memories dispersed or dissolved or turned into roots of poison and bitterness; to have been in the house, and to have left it so that no roof can cover all the members of the family; to be part of a shattered commonwealth, that is the destiny of disloyal souls. Do not mistake life as in itself a benediction and a comfort apart from God. There is a living death; there is a mortal life; there is a sensitiveness that only expresses a deeper blindness than itself; there is a consciousness that covers up a bottomless pit of lost memory, lost affection, lost hope, lost immortality.
Now Amos will talk in a language partly his own. The language he uses will be coloured in some degree by his occupation, or by his observation:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt" ( Amo 9:13 ).
The laws of nature turned upside down! Some people have imagined that the Lord has made a prisoner of himself in his own universe. He has so constructed the universe that he finds that what he has made is in reality a cage out of which he cannot get; he has made laws, and can do nothing with them; he has outbuilt himself, he has gone beyond his own strength, and he is a creature in the presence of his own creatorship. How often in the Bible he comes and tears the whole thing to pieces, and says that he made it, and has a right to do with it what he pleases; and he will put it together again, or partially; or he will gather it so far up, and then he will dissolve the whole thing. And so here we have the plowman overtaking the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the seasons all mixed up with one another, and each pursuing the other without interval, a rush and tumult of action. This is God's way. He really has not made a cage for his deity. Whatever he has done, all things are under his feet The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice. We are the victims of the seasons and of the winds; we are meteorologically bound. We do not know what will happen the day after to-morrow whether it will be a fog impenetrable, or a frost that will seal our front door. God can make it summer when he will, and turn summer into winter by one frown. He can make the snow but the background of the most glowing flowers. What a pity it would have been, and what an impossibility, if God had so built the universe that he could not get out of it, or into it, or round about it, or do anything with it an incredible, preposterous miracle! Our joy is to believe that God knows all his universe; has made it, established its laws; that he administers its economy; that not a bird falleth to the ground without his notice, and that no being can steal one drop of dew without God missing it or going after it. That is the large faith, the tender faith, the Christian faith, the faith in which we stand.
Amos disappears. He came in as a layman, but he has lost his laity in the grandeur, the range, the music of his prophecy. If this is being a layman, would God all the Lord's people were laymen! What a thunder voice he had! How it crashed and roared amid the controversies, oppressions, tyrannies, and wrongdoings of the nations! And yet how gentle he was! He said some of the gentlest things ever uttered by any prophet of the Lord. But herein is the mystery, because only they who can be really angry can be really tender. Only men of tremendous force can be truly patient and really gentle. So when you find true patience or gentleness, you find but another aspect of real force, sensitiveness, and faculty of judgment and destruction. Again I say, the disparity between the prophet and the prophecy is a proof of inspiration. There is nothing in this man's credentials to assure us that we are going to hear something very special and very great. There are some prophets whose prophecy is killed by their personal testimonials. They come with such a sheaf of recommendation in their hands, that having read a few of the pages we say, This is impossible; if all this had been true you need not have had this paper; burn it, and be your own credential. So with this man. He brings no paper, no certificate, no signed assurance, no diploma of the great and mighty and accepted and orthodox, to say that, on the whole, he is a respectable man, and ought to have a cordial hearing somewhere. He comes with nothing but himself, his God, his message, and he projects himself upon his age, and the age soon knows when it is in the grip of a master hand.
Does he end in judgment? No, God always ends in benediction if he can:
"And I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God" ( Amo 9:14-15 ).
And the prophet goes! What an echo, what a vibration! What a strange, deep, tender peace comes after such a song! It is even so with the Christian prophet. He has plenty of judgment to denounce. He must look with eyes of fire upon every form of evil; yet he must find words that are tender, or he must make them tender by his intonation of them, whereby he may express the gospel that God waits to be gracious. But God's purpose about every man is that he shall have vineyard and wheat-field and well-founded city, and that he shall be no more plucked up like an ill-planted tree, and have his roots torn up to the withering sun. Every man professing to be prophet of God or minister of the Cross must end in gentleness. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the good news to every creature." This was said after the crucifixion; this was the supplement to Gethsemane; this was the outcome of the Cross. God plans no man's destruction. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.... Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" The universe was constructed for music, not for discord.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Amos 9". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany