The prophet Amos had not always been a prophet. He started out his working life as herdsman and a tree pruner in the nation of Judah. But God called him from his home and his work and gave him a message to preach to his neighbors to the north, in the country of Israel (cf. Amos 7:14-15). The message of God, delivered via faithful Amos, was one of judgment and condemnation. God instructed Amos to tell the Israelites that their lives were wicked, their worship was wrong, and that God was going to send them away into perpetual captivity for their sins.
This was not a message well received.
The Israelites had convinced themselves that God did not care about their immorality, their prostitution, their drunkenness, or their generally materialistic lives. They told themselves that though they were worshipping in a way different than the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem, God accepted their worship just as well as He accepted the worship He had commanded through Moses. Though they worshipped idols, they were convinced that God was pleased with them, their country was strong because God would never abandon them, and that there was no reason to believe that God would ever punish them.
So unpopular was Amos’ preaching, in Amos 7 we read how Amaziah, the priest of Israel, demanded that Amos leave the country and go preach his message to his own people in the south (cf. Amos 7:12-13). But Amos could not do that. The message of God had to be preached, even when men did not want to hear it. And refusing to listen to the message did not change the truth of the message. Though they rejected God’s messenger, they could not avoid God’s judgment. Israel was destroyed, and the people of Israel went into a captivity from which they never returned.
Men as a whole dislike hearing from those who condemn them, their culture, or their religion. We have a tendency to assume that the way we do things must be right, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing them. Like the Israelites of old, we are likely to assume that God is pleased with our religion and worship, our lifestyle and culture; or at least if He is not pleased, that He is ambivalent enough to accept us as we are.
When the message is contrary to this expectation, frequently men reject message and messenger alike.
The apostles of Jesus faced a similar reception from the Jewish leaders of their day. Though there were those amongst the Jews who heard the Gospel preached and converted to Christianity, the message was not always pleasing for it told the Jews that not only did they need to repent, but that they were in large part responsible for crucifying God’s anointed (cf. Acts 2:23, 3:15) and that if they did not repent, they would face certain judgment from God, as God had said through Moses, “it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people (Acts 3:23; ESV; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18-19).”
Just as Amaziah the priest had commanded Amos to stop prophesying, so too the Jewish Sanhedrin brought the apostles before them and demanded they cease their preaching (cf. Acts 4:18). The apostles, like the prophets before them, refused to give in to such demands. Peter and John replied to this decree by saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20; ESV).”
The message may not be popular, but that does not make it less true. The message may not always be popular, but that does not mean that we don’t have an obligation to listen to it. The message may not be well received, but that does not mean that God’s servants don’t have the responsibility to preach it.
The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers of that passage which read, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’ (Hebrews 4:7-11; ESV)”
This reminder is still relevant today. When we hear the words of God, let’s not harden our hearts or turn away, even if it is not one that is comforting or personally pleasing. When God tells us to change, those who love God should listen to the message, obey that message, and faithfully share it with others.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.