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GOD’S CONDESCENSION TO PRAYER
Amos 7:2-3. Then I said, O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, saith the Lord.
IT is very instructive to see, amongst all the servants of Jehovah, whether Prophets or Apostles, how love was blended with fidelity in the whole of their ministrations. They were constrained to declare all which “God had shewed unto them [Note: ver. 1, 4, 7.].” But did they “desire the woeful events” which they predicted? They could appeal to God that they did not [Note: Jeremiah 17:16.]. The Prophet Amos had been commanded to foretell that the fruits of the earth, with the exception of those which had been gathered in, should be eaten up by grasshoppers [Note: ver. 1, 2.]. But he immediately betook himself to prayer, and, by his importunity, prevailed on God to suspend the threatened judgment. He was directed afterwards to foretell the destruction of a part of the land by fire [Note: ver. 4.]: and again, in the same terms as before, he interceded for the land; and obtained for it a similar relaxation of the impending calamity. The judgments had been begun to be inflicted [Note: Amos 4:9; Amos 4:11.]; but at his request they were removed. It is probable that these judgments were also threatened in a figurative sense; and related to the invasions of Pul, king of Assyria, who contented himself with imposing a tribute of a thousand talents of silver; and that of Tiglath-pileser, who took several cities, and carried away the inhabitants captives to Assyria [Note: 2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 15:29.]. But, without entering into the history of these events, I wish to fix your attention on the repeated intercessions of the prophet, (for the repetition of them in the same words, and the repeated answer to them in the same words, render them peculiarly deserving of our attention;) and to shew you from them these blessed truths;
That the judgments we fear may be averted by prayer—
Judgments of the heaviest kind are denounced against us—
[Temporal judgments, such as those referred to in the passage before us, would be very terrible: yet are they nothing, in comparison of what we have cause to fear. “The wicked,” says David, “shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” In another psalm he is more explicit still: “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup [Note: Psalms 11:6.].” Who amongst us has not forgotten God, days without number? and who, therefore, has not reason to tremble at these awful declarations?]
But they may all be removed by fervent and believing prayer—
[Look into the Scriptures, and see the wonderful efficacy of prayer! If ever there was a person that had reason to fear his prayers could not be heard, it was David: because he had long known the Lord; had received the most distinguished favours at his hands; and yet committed adultery and murder, and continued impenitent for a long period, till his sin was charged home upon him by the Prophet Nathan: yet, behold, he, the very instant he acknowledged his transgressions, was forgiven. “I have sinned against the Lord,” says he: and instantly the prophet replies, “The Lord hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die [Note: 2 Samuel 12:13.].” Hear the prayers which he offered on the occasion: “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation [Note: Psalms 51:2; Psalms 51:14.]!” Hear with what confidence he prayed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow [Note: Psalms 51:7.].” What! you clean! you whiter than snow? Yes, I, even I. Hear how particularly he himself notices the speed with which his prayer was answered. “When I kept silence (and refrained from prayer), my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. But at last I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity I hid not: I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and (instantly) thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin [Note: Psalms 32:3-5.].”
We may notice, also, the instance of Manasseh, who was perhaps the most daring in his impieties of all the human race: “He built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; he reared up altars for Baal, and worshipped all the host of heaven; he built altars for them all, even in the house of the Lord itself, and set a graven image there; he made his son to pass through the fire; he caused his subjects to do more evil than had been committed by the nations whom God had driven out before them; and to all these impieties he added this, that he shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem with it from one end to the other [Note: 2 Kings 21:3-16.]. Now can we suppose that such a monster of impiety as this could ever be forgiven? Yes: not even his prayer was shut out, when he besought the Lord. We are told, that “in his affliction he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him; and He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God [Note: 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.].” Repeatedly is this noticed in the history respecting him; “his prayer unto his God, his prayer, and how God was entreated of him [Note: 2 Chronicles 33:18-19.]:” and no doubt it is thus repeated in order to shew us, that, whatever be our demerits, we shall not be cast out, if, with humble, fervent, and believing supplications, we betake ourselves to the prayer-hearing and sin-pardoning God.
The whole people of Nineveh attest this blessed truth. There was no call to repentance suggested by the Prophet Jonah: the judgments denounced by him were altogether unqualified with the smallest hope of mercy: the Prophet himself seems scarcely to have contemplated a possibility of forgiveness to them; yet were they, even the whole population, spared at the voice of their cry [Note: John 3:10.].
I say then, without hesitation, to all the sinners of mankind, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord; and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” and multiply his pardons above all the multitude of their sins [Note: Isaiah 55:7. The margin.].]
My text leads me to notice another most important truth; namely,
That the weakness we feel may be urged by us as a plea—
The state of Israel at that time seemed indeed to be very desperate: for “God had already begun to cut them short.” But the prophet, instead of desponding, twice urged this very circumstance as a plea with God to grant him his request: “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee! by whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.” And each time the success of his plea is mentioned, “The Lord repented for this: it shall not be, saith the Lord [Note: Compare ver. 2, 3, and 5, 6.].”
Now such may be our plea before God—
[We are ready to make our weakness a ground of despondency before God: “How can I turn to him? How Song of Song of Solomon 1:0 effect a reconciliation with him? How can I hope ever to emancipate myself from my cruel bondage?” “There is no hope:” ‘I may as well continue as I am: I can but perish at last [Note: Jeremiah 3:25.].’ But all this is wrong: for God often delays his interpositions for this very end, that he may bring us to see how destitute we are of help or hope in ourselves: nor is he ever better pleased, than when, with a total dereliction of all hope in ourselves, we cast ourselves wholly and unreservedly on him. Let us once be brought to say with king Jehoshaphat, “We have no might; but our eyes are unto thee;” and we may be sure that our deliverance is nigh at hand [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:12.]. The prophet succeeded thus.]
And such success shall we also obtain—
[I have said that God orders his dispensations, for the most part, so as to bring us to self-despair. Hear his own words: “The Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left [Note: Dent. 32:36.]. If there were any power in ourselves, we should be ascribing our deliverance to our own arm: but when we see how destitute we are of all strength, then are we willing to give God the glory of all that he effects in our behalf. See this in the Apostle Paul. He was assaulted with some grievous temptation, which he calls “a thorn in his flesh.” Thrice he cried to the Lord to remove it: and by his repeated entreaties he obtained this answer; “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” And what was the effect? His fears are dissipated; his sorrows are dispelled; and instantly he bursts forth into these triumphant exclamations: “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me: for when I am weak, then am I strong [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.].” Here is the great truth which I would impress upon your minds; “When I am weak, then am I strong.” It is not possible to have too deep a sense of your own weakness.” Perhaps in the whole world there does not exist another passage comparable to that in the Prophet Isaiah, where he represents whole mountains of difficulty to be encountered, and Israel, as a mere insignificant worm, groaning under them: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob: I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument, having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff: thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the Lord, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel [Note: Isaiah 41:14-16.].” Endeavour to realize this idea. Place mountains before your eyes: then look down upon a poor helpless worm; and then see, through his exertions, the whole mountains beaten to dust and scattered as by a mighty whirlwind; and then you will have some faint conception of the truth inculcated in my text; sins, that reach unto the heavens, scattered to the winds; and judgments, deep as hell, removed for ever from your sight. Bring every threatening which the word of God contains: and to every one in succession I will say, “Respecting this the Lord hath repented: and this shall not be;” “neither shall that be.”]
Let me now, in my application of this subject, adress,
Those who despise the judgments of the Lord—
[Many there are who look upon the threatenings of God with as little concern as if there were no truth in them; and who, like Amaziah in the chapter before us, condemn the preachers as exciting groundless fears; and say to them, “Prophesy not against Israel, and drop not thy word against the house of Israel [Note: ver. 10, 16.].” But to all such persons I must say, that the word of God shall stand, and not one jot or tittle of it shall ever fall to the ground. Look back, and see, “Did not God’s word take hold of” the disobedient Jews [Note: Zechariah 1:6.]? Go to Assyria, and see; or go to Babylon, and see; or look upon them in their present dispersion, and see. You may put far from you the evil day; but it will come at last; and with augmented terror, in proportion as it has been despised. I call upon you, then, yea, on every one amongst you, to turn unto the Lord, and to cry, “O Lord God, forgive, I beseech thee [Note: The Text.]!” For where is there one amongst you that does not need forgiveness? or who can obtain forgiveness, if he will not ask? But, “if ye will not turn to God, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and rundown with tears, because of the ruin that awaits you [Note: Jeremiah 13:17.].”
If you would ask, “How shall I arise?” gladly do I declare, that there is One able to save, and as willing as He is able. “God has laid help for you on One that is mighty:” and you shall have no want of grace or strength if only you will flee to him for succour.
But this leads me to address,]
Those who are sinking under discouraging apprehensions—
[Beloved Brethren, what is that which you are saying? “How shall I arise? for I am small.” Hear the answer which God gave to his Church of old. Zion of old laboured under your very infirmity: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? Yes, saith the Lord; even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee; and I will save thy children [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.].” You see how readily God interposed for Israel, at the cry of Amos; and that too for an obstinate and rebellious people: and will he not hear your cry, which is offered for yourselves? Moreover, you have a better intercessor than Amos: the Son of God himself “ever lives” in heaven, whither he is gone on purpose “to make intercession for you.” Put your cause into his hands: commit yourselves entirely to him, and you have nothing to fear: for “him the Father heareth always.” Say to him, as Hezekiah did under the most desponding apprehensions that could be conceived, “Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me [Note: Isaiah 38:14.]:” and be assured, that if, with a renunciation of all self-dependence, you cast your care on Him, he will speedily interpose for your relief: “he will, in love to your souls, deliver them from the pit of corruption, and cast all your sins behind his back [Note: Isaiah 38:17.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Amos 7". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent