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I brought you up out of Egypt, and I led you for forty years in the desert to give you the land of the Amorites. I also raised up prophets from among your sons and Nazirites from among your young men. Is this not true, people of Israel? declares the Lord. But you made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.
(Amos 2:10-12, NIV)

This is a very interesting portion of Scripture, in it the Lord, through the prophet Amos, speaks to His people Israel and reminds them of what He has done for the nation. In verse 10 the Lord says that He brought them out of Egypt. They needed a Savior, they needed freedom from their oppressors, and the Lord was their deliverer.

In the book of Exodus, Moses provides us with a rather detailed account of how the Lord delivered His people (chapters 7-12). This event was a very significant moment in the life of the nation. However, the Lord’s activity in the life of His people did not end with the Exodus. After He delivered them from Egyptian bondage, the Lord stayed with Israel; He led them for forty years in the desert.

He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exod. 13:21-22). During the course of this time, He also fed them; He provided them with manna to eat the whole time that they were in the desert (Exod. 16:35). The Lord stayed with His people even though at times they were less than grateful. Scripture tells us in a number of places about their complaints and their sins (Exod. 16:2-8; 17:1-7; 32:1-35).

God stayed with His people because he wanted to bring them into an inheritance; His leading was purposeful and intentional. He brought them out to bring them in (Deut. 6:23). In verse 11, the Lord also says that He raised up prophets and Nazarites from among their young people. All of the emphasis thus far has been on what God had done.

In verse 12, the emphasis changes. Now the Lord speaks about what Israel did with reference to His work of raising up prophets and Nazirites from among their young people. He says that Israel made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophesy.

God had called and raised up spiritually dedicated and gifted people and the larger community, the community of God’s people, had shut them down.

The Nazirite vow dates back to the time of Moses; it was a voluntary vow, and we find a record of what it entailed in Numbers 6. Nazirites were not to drink wine or other fermented drinks or eat grapes or raisins; they were not to partake of anything that came from the grapevine (Num. 6:3-4).

They were also not to cut their hair while they were under a Nazirite vow, nor were they to go near a dead body, even if a close family member died (Num. 6:5-8). God raised up people with this special consecration and dedication, and the Israelites had made them drink wine.

In other words, they compromised them; they caused them to break their special dedication. God also raised up prophets, inspired speakers who had His Word, His message, and the people told the prophets not to deliver the Word of the Lord.

How awful! How could they, the people of God, do such a thing! Why would they do such a thing? I think that there are a couple of possible explanations as to why Israel put down what God had raised up.

One reason why Israel may have undermined the Nazirites and prophets is because of unbelief. The text says that God raised these consecrated and gifted individuals up from the sons of the people. The nation may not have received them because they were young or because they were known. “We know where they are from; we know their families; we know their sins and their shortcomings. Surely God would not call them!”

This ties in with what Jesus said in the New Testament. He said that a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and in his own house (Matt. 13:57).

Israel may also have resisted the Nazirites and prophets that God raised up because consecrated and gifted people like them make others uncomfortable.

The dedication and zeal of a Nazirite or prophet could be very convicting to a people who know that they are not following the Lord as they should (they definitely do not want to hear from the prophet what God thinks of them). In an attempt to ease their own sense of guilt, they undermined the spirituality of the committed. These are a couple of possible explanations of why Israel treated the Nazirites and prophets as they did.

We need to ask ourselves, have we done, or are we now doing, the same thing? As God is raising up a new generation of spiritually dedicated and gifted people, are we discouraging those that God is calling? Don’t dismiss this idea too quickly. Do we fail to believe that God could use our sons or daughters or other young people who are in our churches?

Or are we compromising them by encouraging them to continue in their faith but at the same time urging them not to become too involved, “Don’t go crazy with this.” How many future apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers and missionaries will never answer the call of God because they have not been encouraged by the church?

In the twenty-first century we have an additional reason for discouraging them; serving the Lord doesn’t tie in with the American dream. “Don’t go that way; you can’t make any money serving the Lord!” May the Lord help us to recognize who He is calling, and may we do everything that we can to help them on their way to answer the call and follow through with it. God’s way is the best way for them, and every generation needs good Christian leaders. May what the Lord said to Israel in this text never be said to us.

 

Source: This article appeared as chapter 12 in my book The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship and Ministry. It has also been published in Vista Magazine and Christian Trends Magazine.

 


John P. Lathrop - United States

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Zion Bible Institute, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (CUME). He is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies and has twenty years of pastoral experience.

 

 

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