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We are watching the kingdoms of Israel and Judah fall.
The tiny-looking compromises of Joshua and David and Solomon have had hundreds of years to multiply and expand and inbreed and infest. At Bethel and Dan stand the abominations, the high places of flagrant idolatry - the worship centers of the golden calves and the Asherim and the false god Baal through cultic prostitution, child sacrifice, self-harm, and every other imaginable blasphemy.
And judgment is approaching.
God warned Israel in Deuteronomy 28, before they had ever entered the Promised Land, exactly what would happen if they turned their backs on Him to serve other gods. Now He is warning them again through the voices of the prophets - so far, we've heard from Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, Joel, and Amos, and there will be more. Even as the marching rhythm of a foreign army crescendos on the horizon, it just seems like too much grace; Jonah-like, I half-wish God would crush them already, for they have trampled His name and still there's hardly a drop of repentance or fear among them.
Then - just last week - we read Joel, and the heartbreak and compassion he has for his people, emulating the heartbreak and compassion of God.
The Lord utters His voice before His army; surely His camp is very great, for strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it? "Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments." Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
God has an army at the ready; He will have His day of justice on Israel - who can endure it? And yet just there, He pleads once more with His beloved to come to her senses. He inspires Joel to remind Israel of His character (using His own self-description from Exodus 34) and offers hope. "Who knows....?"
But going through the motions won't do. Lip service means nothing. Torn clothes, fasting, sackcloth and ashes - it is all empty unless Israel rends her heart before God and comes to Him broken.
It's all empty unless I rend my heart before God and come to Him broken.
When I see God's incredible longsuffering, His laborious love for His precious Israel that desires nothing more than to see her rescued from her own self-destruction, yes, I have a moment where I wonder - like Jonah - why He just keeps giving more grace. And then I am reminded that if He had any less grace for Israel, I - a Gentile - would have no hope of salvation whatsoever.
God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. He promised to send a Messiah for His people through David. He promised to unleash His Spirit on all mankind (Gentiles included!) through the ministry of Jesus and His disciples.
Only His grace - amazing, longsuffering, generous grace toward the people who rejected Him again and again and again - makes any of these promises possible, much less all of them.
I am saved today because God had grace toward Israel when my petty, self-righteous sense of justice wouldn't have.
And in Israel, I have the proof that His grace stretches farther and wider and deeper than even the most despicable of sins - that I can safely rend my heart and bring it to Him broken, trusting in His compassion and lovingkindness to make it whole.
Amos: God of the Oppressed
Total read time: 30 minutes
Isaiah: God of Glory
Total read time: 4 hours
Micah: God of Justice
Total read time: 20 minutes