Thursday, November 14, 2013

Amos 2-3: Grace Entails Divine Discipline

Amos 3:1-3 Hear this word the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel — against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins."  Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? (NIV)

Clearly, Israel is a people chosen sovereignly by grace: "You only have I chosen of all families of the earth" (v.2). Moses affirms this principle in his song found in Deuteronomy 32:8-10 where it declares that Israel was "the apple of his eyes": "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.  In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye." In case Israel ever thought that they were chosen because they were special (works), Moses had to remind them times and again that they were special because they were chosen (grace): 
  • Deut 7:6-8 "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
  • Deut 9:6 "Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people."
So, Israel was never chosen because they kept the Law; they kept the Law because they were chosen. Again Moses was careful to make that distinction in Deuterononmy: "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?" (Deut 4:7-8). The Law was a blessing of grace under Moses. It was given to Israel because she was chosen to display and declare God's glory. Unfortunately, Israel failed to obey the Law which was given to help them live righteously before God: "For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because they have rejected the law of the Lord and have not kept his decrees" (Amos 2:4). And their failure to keep the Law which is a blessing of the Mosaic covenant resulted in divine discipline instead of divine favour: "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins." It was because Israel was chosen by God that she would be judged for her sins. 

Grace did not spare Israel from suffering divine discipline. In fact, grace requires that Israel be disciplined for failing to display God's glory: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). While the Law of Moses has been superseded by the Law of Christ (Matthew 5-7), after Christ's death, the principle of grace remains unchanged: viz., grace is the basis of God choosing us to be His people. But grace requires that we live in a way consistent with the Law of Christ, otherwise we will experience divine discipline:
  • Heb 12:7-11 "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
So, divine discipline is not a curse, but a blessing of being God's people because the goal of divine discipline is holiness and righteousness. Grace puts us in the place where we can experience divine discipline instead of divine wrath: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3, NKJV). So can we claim to walk with God and have fellowship with Him unless we accept His standards of holiness and righteousness set by Jesus Christ in the Gospels? The obvious answer of course is no. So, even though we are under a different and better covenant than Israel, the principle that grace entails discipline still applies: if we refuse to walk by the high moral standards set by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we will experience divine discipline, which is a negative form of divine favour.

Father, thank You that through Your Son, You have given us a superior covenant and also a higher standard of morality. May we count it a privilege to have the Law of Christ. Amen.

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