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Has Not the Lord Done It?

Written By
William O. Einwechter

Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? (Amos 3:6)

The horror of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon that killed and injured thousands and made the once mighty towers nothing more than a heap of smoking ruble left us stunned on the day they took place. Now, many weeks past these events, we still stand aghast at the magnitude of the loss of life, the suffering, and the destruction that has been visited on our nation. We grieve and we are angry. But beyond these emotions, the question, “Why did this happen?”, presses itself upon us. Furthermore, for those who profess a belief in God, the question arises, “Where was God on September 11?”, or, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

For Christians, the answer to these questions only can be answered authoritatively by the Word of God. This article will look at Amos chapter 3, a passage of Scripture that promises to provide a vital (and much ignored) perspective on the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. 

Amos Speaks to Israel

The prophet Amos prophesied to the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II. Jeroboam was an able king, and under his leadership the Northern Kingdom moved into a “golden age,” second in prominence only to the time of Solomon. But with national strength and economic prosperity came pride and self-security, and the nation declined morally and spiritually. In time, wickedness abounded, and God raised up Amos to preach the coming judgment of God for their sin and to call them to repentance.

Amos 3:1-15 is an oracle of judgment against Israel using the sequence of cause and effect as a literary device to drive home the message. Amos’ message to Israel in expressed under the following four headings.

1. Spiritual privileges bring greater accountability (3:1-2).

In 1:3 - 2:5 of his book, Amos delivers God’s word of judgment to the nations that surround the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Now, he would have them hear the word of the Lord against them: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

Israel had been chosen from among the nations. God in His grace had brought them forth from Egyptian slavery and entered into covenant with them. They were privileged above all peoples. Therefore, they are all the more accountable for their sins. If God punished the heathen nations who walked in darkness, how much more will He punish Israel who walks in the light.

2. Disasters and calamities come from the hand of God (3:3-6).

Here, through a series of cause and effect illustrations from the natural world presented in the form of rhetorical questions, Amos presses home the point that sin (the cause) brings judgment (the effect). These illustrations lead up to the final question, “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Amos is saying, “Is it not the case that when there is evil in a city that Yahweh is the one who has brought it to pass?” The rhetorical form of the question makes the answer an explicit, “yes, Yahweh has done it!”

The Hebrew word for “evil” that is used here can refer to ethical evil, but often it designates physical evils that cause injury, destruction, and suffering. Such physical evils are commonly called, “calamities” or “disasters.” There is no doubt that physical evil is in view here. God is never the cause of ethical evil, but He does send physical calamities as judgment against sin (the Flood  of Noah’s day is the prime example).

Furthermore, the context points to the meaning of “disaster.” Amos is preparing the way for his prophecy in 3:9-15 that the chief cities of Israel will be visited with ruin and destruction. He would have them know that the “evil” that befalls the cities of Israel is not due to chance, fate, men, or devils, but is due, ultimately, to the will of God (though God may use men or the forces of nature as His instruments).

Amos’ teaching is firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of the sovereignty of God. There are no chance events in God’s universe. All is planned and brought to pass according to the One who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (cf. Eph. 1:11; Isa. 46:10-11). The question is not, “Has the Lord done it?” but, rather, “Why has the Lord done this?” Based on the revelation given through Moses that God will bless obedience and judge sin (Deut. 28), wayward Israel should not have to search too far for the answer to that question.

3. God’s prophets speak because God has revealed His word to them (3:7-8).

The pattern of cause and effect is continued in these verses. Just as the roar of a Lion causes fear in those who hear it, so does the revelation of God’s word to “His servants the prophets” cause them to prophesy. These verses are closely connected with what proceeds. Verse 6 stated that if there is “evil” in a city the Lord has done it. Verse 7 indicates that the Lord will do nothing unless He first reveal “His secret,” i.e., His counsel to His prophets. Thus, Amos prophesies because God has revealed to him that many evils are about to be visited upon the cities of Israel due to their many sins.

It is not a pleasant thing to preach to others of their sins and to announce to them that God is about to judge them. Why, then,  is Amos doing this very thing? Because “the Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” Israel ought to pay earnest heed to Amos’ message because he speaks the word of the Lord!

4. Israel’s particular sins will bring specific judgments from God (3:9-15).

Having stated the principle of Israel’s accountability, the cause and effect relationship between sin and judgment, and his commission to prophesy, Amos here states the sins of Israel and the judgments that God will visit upon them.

The first cycle of sin and judgment is given in verses 9-12. Their sins are many. First, their are “great tumults” among them. “Tumult” refers to uproar and confusion. In this context, it speaks of the moral confusion of the people that put things in an uproar, the evil passions that disturb the peace and harmony of life. This moral anarchy has thrown the towns and cities of Israel into turmoil. Second, due to corrupt leaders (both civil and religious) there is much oppression. Injustice and abusive rule abounds. Third, “they know not to do right.” This indicates that they have set aside God’s Word for their own corrupt reason as the standard of morality. God’s law has been renounced for a “more enlightened” rule of ethics. Fourth, “violence and robbery” is practiced by those in power. These are military terms that indicate looting and plundering. Those who dwell in the palaces of Israel are plundering their own people!

Because of these sins, God will raise up an “adversary,” i.e., an enemy, to “bring down thy strength” and to spoil thy “palaces.” This means that Israel’s military strength in which they trusted would be unable to protect them and the Assyrians would defeat them and attack, plunder, and destroy the fine buildings that Israel boasted in.

The second cycle of sin and judgment is stated in verses 13-15. The focus in the first sequence was on the socio-political sins, here the focus is on the corruption of religion. On the day in which God judges Israel, He will destroy the altars of Bethel where the nation engaged in its idolatrous worship. Israel had defiled the true worship of God with man-made inventions. They had turned their backs on God and pursued a religion of expedience. The cycle ends with a declaration that the “houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end, saith the Lord.”

Amos Speaks to America

As all of Scripture is profitable for our understanding (2 Tim. 3:16), so Amos  3:1-15 is particularly profitable for interpreting the terrorist attacks of September 11. The ancient word that was spoken by this prophet of God to Israel still speaks with power today to those who will hear its message.

And so, having briefly studied Amos 3:1-15 in its original  context, this section will endeavor to apply the theology of that text to the terrorists' assault on America.

1. America’s spiritual privileges bring a high accountability.

The biblical theology that stands behind the text of Amos 3 is the truth that God holds nations and peoples accountable to His moral law and judges them for departures from it (Ps. 2; 9:8, 15-20; 67:4; 96:10; Jer. 1:9-10; 18:7-9; 25:12ff; Rom. 1:18ff). Amos began his prophecy by announcing the judgments of God against the ungodly, heathen nations, that surrounded Israel, for their “transgressions” (1:3-2:3). In addtion, Scripture also teaches that personal and national accountability increases in proportion to the light of truth that one receives (Luke 12:47-48). A people blessed with the revealed Word of God will be held to a higher standard than those who do not have that revelation.

As this theology is applied by Amos to Israel, so should we apply it to America. American history shows that we have been blessed with the light of God’s truth in marvelous way. The  moving purpose behind the founding of America is summarized in the opening words of the 1643 articles of the New England Confederation: “Whereas we all came into these parts of America with one end and aim, namely, to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace. . . .” Those who settled the colonies entered into explicit covenants to glorify God and promote the kingdom of Christ.[1] From the beginning of America, the light of truth has beamed brightly.

But our day reveals a great falling away from God and His Word. What was written of Israel’s fall in Jeremiah 2:1-13 could easily have been written of us. On all sides the sins of this nation rise up as witnesses against us. Do we think that we can sin with impunity? Do we think that God would judge heathen nations such as Syria, Edom, and Moab for their transgressions of His law, but He will not judge a Christian nation like ours for our transgressions?

In view of the truth that God judges nations for their sins and that Amos 3:1-2 teaches that spiritual privileges bring even greater accountability, how should wayward America interpret the great national tragedy of September 11? We are answerable to God for our transgressions. Our Master has revealed His will, yet we have not done it; so we will be chastened with many stripes.

2. The disasters in New York and at the Pentagon are from God.

Amos asks us concerning the calamities of September 11: “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Many Christians would answer Amos with a resounding, “No, the Lord has not done these things! After all, He is a God of love. . . etc.” But can we be faithful to Scripture and Amos 3:6 and answer in this way? No! God is sovereign, and if a sparrow cannot fall to earth apart from His will, surely two massive towers filled with people cannot fall to the ground apart from His will either.

In agreeing with Amos that there cannot be calamity in a city unless the Lord has done it, we are faced with explaining how it can be that God was the cause of the murderous actions of evil Islamic terrorists.

First, let it be stated at the outset that God’s relation to evil and suffering cannot be entirely comprehended by man. Scripture teaches that God is holy and cannot be part of evil or even tempt men to evil, yet It also teaches that God is sovereign and has ordained all things that come to pass, even the evil acts of men[2] (e.g., the crucifixion of Christ, Acts 2:23). Scripture reveals that God is love, yet He often ordains suffering for those He loves. Though we may not be able to fully reconcile how a holy God can ordain evil and still remain holy, and how a loving God can ordain suffering, we must, as Christians, believe that God is both holy and loving because Scripture teaches both. None of God’s attributes were suspended by Him on September 11. He was that day and remains forever sovereign, holy, and loving.

Second, the relation of God’s will to evil is that of permission. God does not originate evil, but He permits it for His own purposes. However, this is not a bare or grudging acquiescence, but divine authorization to allow evil to exist and take place. God allowed the terrorists to hijack and plow those jetliners into the Trade Towers and the Pentagon because He has a purpose in it; if He didn’t these disasters would not have come to pass (cf. Lam. 3:37).

Third, God’s awesome greatness is seen in how He can use evil to accomplish His good and perfect will (this is why He permits it). He uses the wrath of man to praise Him. He takes what men intend for evil and turns it for good. He transforms the killing of Jesus, the most wicked act in history, into an event that redeems the world. Likewise, He will bring good out of the September 11 attacks. Exactly how and when remains to be seen.

Fourth, God uses suffering to lead men to repentance. Throughout biblical history we see the hand of God bringing afflictions and calamities to lead the lost to salvation and to perfect the character of His people. We do not yet know the many ways that God is using the suffering caused by the Islamic terrorists, but we can be sure that He is using it to bring individuals to repentance. Let us pray that He uses it to bring the nation to repentance!

Fifth, in saying that God caused the disasters, we do not mean to imply that God put the evil desire to kill thousands and to destroy massive amounts of property into the hearts of the terrorists. The wickedness and hatred was already in the hearts of these corrupt men by nature. What God did was remove His restraint so that these men could carry out their designs. God is constantly restraining the wickedness of men. If He did not, men would completely devour one another in no time at all. But when it suits His purposes, God permits men to carry out the thoughts of their own evil hearts. We have no idea of how many times God has restrained the plans of evil men against us. For some reason (and we are contending that Amos 3:1-15 gives the reason) God decided to grant the terrorists success this time in their grim undertaking.

But some will ask, “How could God allow all those innocent people to die?” We grant that from our perspective these people were innocent, and the terrorists had no just reason to kill  any of them. These men (both those who carried out the hijackings and those who were their accomplices) are murderers who deserve to die for their crimes. However, from God’s perspective none are innocent, and all of us not only deserve to die, all of us will die someday. We will die because we are sinners, and wages of sin is death. Adam sinned and brought death to mankind. Even Christians, who have been forgiven their sins, still must pass through the valley of death for that consequence of sin will not be removed until the last day. God determines the time and manner of our death. If it pleased Him to determine that over a thousand people should die in these terrorist attacks, what can we say? That it was unjust?

During Jesus ministry, a tower in Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. Apparently some were thinking that these died because they were more wicked than others. Jesus disabused them of that faulty notion by saying, “think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay; but except you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). He was saying that these people did not deserve to die anymore than you do. Learn from the example that God has made of these people of what all of you deserve, and repent lest you perish in the same way. Let us learn from the example of those who died in the World Trade Towers and repent lest we all die in a similar fashion.

Though we may struggle to understand Amos 3:6 in regard to September 11, the conclusion of the Word of God is inescapable: the Lord has done it (cf. Lam. 3:38). Let us contemplate why He has done it and be wise.

3. The duty of the church is to speak to America about what God has revealed concerning national sin and national judgment.

As Amos explains in 3:7-8, it is a simple cause and effect relationship: When God reveals His Word those who hear it are responsible to herald it to those who need to hear it! As Cohen explains:

When the lion roars, everybody understands its warning sound. In like manner when God speaks to the people, is there anyone so obtuse as to not interpret the message? “It needs no special inspiration to foretell so plain an issue; the meanest may see and read the signs. On one and all is laid the burden of prophesying that Israel may turn to penitence” (Edghill).[3]

God has clearly revealed that national sin brings national judgment. It is the church’s duty to preach this to America. The terrorist attacks can be described as nothing but an “evil.” Is the church too obtuse to see that God has a controversy with this nation for its sins? Sadly, in so many instances, this appears to be the case. Sin abounds on every hand, and all that many of our “prophets” can say at the occasion of this national calamity is a mindless, “God bless America.”

Jerry Falwell almost got it right. He sought to make a sin and judgment connection between the rampant sins of abortion, homosexual perversion, and the godless ideology of secular humanism and the events of September 11 before he backpeddled. But he made two mistakes.

First, his timing was bad. Second, he failed to put the blame where it chiefly rests: the apostate, backslidden, effeminate church in America. Liberal Humanists and homosexuals did not found America, and they never before had dominion in the land as they do today. Christians once had dominion, but they gave it away through indifference, worldliness, laziness, false doctrine, and outright apostasy. Sin triumphs here because the church does nothing to hinder it, and often does much to promote it! All America stands guilty for its great moral and spiritual decline, but the church bears a special guilt for its part in allowing it to happen. Let those in the church who understand the cause and effect relationship between sin and judgment, begin by calling the church itself to repentance. National repentance will begin at the house of God.

Also, as we preach a message of sin and judgment (Ps. 9:17), we must also preach a message of mercy. God’s judgments are designed to bring us to repentance so that He can show mercy to us. How grand is the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14!

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

4. America’s particular sins will bring specific judgments.

The cause and effect relationship between sin and judgment applies as much to America as it did to Israel. There are many parallels in Amos 3:9-15 between ancient Israel and America. Like Israel in the 8th century B.C., America is in a time of economic prosperity and military strength. But also, like in Israel, this has led America into pride, indulgent life-styles, and moral and spiritual degeneracy.

You can see in America “great tumults.” There is moral confusion on all around — in our families, churches, communities, courts, legislative and executive offices. Evil passions are destroying the peace and harmony of life. Our evil passions are seen in the violence and perversion that fills our movies, literature, art, music, games, and Internet. Our evil passions are displayed in the sexual sins of adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, and pedophilia. Drugs and alcohol control the lives of millions. The sin of divorce destroys countless homes and countless lives.

“Oppression” is seen in the myriad of laws and bureaucracies that strip American citizens of their God-given rights and liberties. Our substance is seized by governing authorities by oppressive taxation so that our leaders can advance their humanistic agendas and live and work in their “ivory palaces.” But the greatest oppression of all in America, is the one visited upon the unborn children who are slaughtered in our abortuaries by the thousands every day!

We have raised throughout this land that was once dedicated to the worship and service our own corrupt “altars of Bethel.” Syncretistic worship fills our churches. Entertainment, not edification, is the overriding concern. Every false cult and religion is given honored status among us, and the ones who feel the heat of persecution are usually those who adhere to biblical Christianity.

The “God” of America is no longer recognized as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but as the God of all “faiths.” This has been made plain in all of the “interfaith prayer services” that have taken place in response to the terrorist attacks. These services mix together Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, and so on, as if they all worship the same God.

Our leaders and the national media are going out of their way to assure us all that the Moslem religion is a religion of peace. We are told that it is a great religion and should be honored as such. We are told that the Moslem terrorists present an aberration of true Islam. Theologians and historians these leaders, reporters and, writers are not!

God is not pleased with all these “altars of Bethel” in America where once, by the grace and mercy of God, the pure altar of Christ reigned. His is angered by our many sins, and His judgment has now come. God has raised up an “adversary” against us. Our national “strength” in which we trust was unable to protect us. Two of our “palaces” lay in complete ruin. Yet most Americans cannot see it for what it is, because they cannot see our sin and idolatry. Because we are blind, we will not repent. If we do not repent and turn to the Lord, then the judgment of God will not only increase, but will also intensify in its severity. God will not be mocked, for what men or nations sow, that shall they also reap — the wages of sin is death.

Conclusion

Amos, the prophet of God, still speaks today through the prophecies he recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His word to ancient Israel, is not a dead letter, but a living testimony to the truth that spiritual privilege brings great accountability; that calamities come from the hand of God; that God’s prophets speak because God has revealed His Word to them; and that specific national sins bring specific national judgments. The relevance of this passage to America is stunning. So as we reel at the horror of the terrorist assault on America, let us not ignore the timeless words of Amos, “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” or the context of his words that explain why the Lord has done it.

May God be pleased to raise up “prophets” to carry the message of Amos 3:1-15 (and other pertinent Scripture) to the church and the nation. Let us, in our time of national judgment, heed the admonition of Jeremiah written at the time of Israel’s national judgment:

Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens (Lam. 3:40-41).

1. ^ See William Einwechter, “The Christian Colonial Foundations of America,” and David McAllister, “The Christian Character of the Colonial Governments,” in The Christian Statesman, vol. 142, no. 4 (July - August 1999).

2. ^ The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin (Chapter V).

3. ^ A. Cohen, The Twelve Prophets (London, 1948), 95.

 

This article was originally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 144, no. 6, November - December 2001.