This semester, I have been studying the book of Amos with the college girls I meet with at UCA. I really enjoy the Old Testament, so I was excited when they told me they wanted to pick one of the minor prophets for our discussions, since they were books they didn’t know much about.
I’m going to be honest, though. There were a couple of weeks where I was a little doubtful that this material was helpful for them. I mean, I 100% believe the entire Bible is inspired-by-God. I believe it is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that God’s Word does not return void – that it will accomplish His purposes for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).
But, all that to say, maybe Amos was just a little too far removed from our everyday lives. I mean, Amos is full of accusations of Israel’s sin and God’s impending judgment. The nation of Israel has continually rejected God’s attempts to get their attention, with famines, with droughts, with pestilence… in the midst of all of these devastations, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11). God’s sovereignty is made known, but so is His wrath, and that’s a little uncomfortable (and not to mention depressing).
Things are dark for the nation of Israel in the first 8 and a half chapters… but that last half of chapter 9, the last few verses of the book, is the turning point of redemption and promise.
“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the group, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord… “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:8, 14-15 emphasis mine).
When we sat down to discuss this passage this week, we all excitedly said the word FINALLY!
This promise of hope, which was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned from exile and which will not fully be fulfilled until Jesus establishes His kingdom here on earth, snatches my breath away.
Hope shines most brightly in the darkness. By that, I mean that promises of coming redemption mean the most when you recognize your need for that redemption, when you have been waiting for something to change, when you need comfort that everything is going to be okay.
Hope is not something people generally talk about when everything in life is going fairly well – no one’s life is perfect, but in the seasons of calm, you can acknowledge that God has brought you to a place of rest; your hope feels fulfilled, and you aren’t looking towards what’s coming.
But when things are difficult, and you are tired of carrying your burdens, you need hope more than ever. You are desperate for the reassurance that God is still in control and God is still at work in your situation. You need something to cling to, a reminder that even if things are about to get darker, they will eventually get lighter again.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6)
Advent is upon us, and I am reminded not simply that Jesus came, but Jesus came as the fulfillment of a promise. He was the hope that the nation of Israel was clinging to, even if they didn’t know exactly Who or how that hope would be fulfilled. He told them in the beginning that Someone would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15), that there would be victory, and Israel had to cling to the fact that God had not forgotten to be faithful.
The above passage in Isaiah is surrounded by prophecy of a coming invasion and the reasons the nation of Israel is facing judgment. Not even all of chapter 9 is a feel-good passage. But woven in-between the messages of the struggles ahead, God gives His people promise that He is still in control, and He is sending relief.
Hope becomes more valuable as you are immersed in desperate situations, places where your only option is to cling to God.
If you are walking in darkness (literally), you unconsciously strain your eyes in hopes of finding light. And as I walk through season of darkness metaphorically, I find I do the same thing, continually looking for something, anything that shows that there is purpose, or there is hope, or there is a relief ahead. I am eager to find that light.
This Advent season, I am reminded that Jesus is that light.
Not a relief from daily struggles. Not an answer to the uncertainty ahead. Not a change from unmet expectations. But Jesus Himself – He is the light in the midst of the darkness, and the more willing I am to acknowledge my desperate need, the more beautiful it is that He is the answer to that need.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)