‘Still You Have Not Returned To Me’

These are among the most frightening and shocking words found in Scripture:

Chatting online with some old friends in Europe the other day I mentioned that for all the global upheaval of the Covid virus, I have not seen much evidence that people are flocking to the Lord as a result. Sometimes a calamity or a disaster or some life-altering experience can have that sort of impact, but from my limited vantage point I am not seeing very many indications of this.

I have written about this before of course. Very early on during the Covid outbreak I discussed whether God might be using this in part as divine judgment to get our attention, and to get us to repent, flee from our sins, and turn to him: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/20/plagues-panic-and-providence/

I said that it could be, but we cannot say for sure. God certainly has used various disasters in the past in this way. And more recently I looked at some passages from the book of Revelation where we are repeatedly told that despite the judgments of God, the unrepentant still refuse to repent! billmuehlenberg.com/2021/06/28/corona-judgment-and-our-response/

Well those are not the only such verses on this matter. Reading again today in the book of Amos I came upon the same thing – this time in relation to the people of Israel. God brought upon the people various plagues and calamities yet the people still did not return to the Lord. For a general introduction and overview of the book, see here: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/09/18/bible-study-helps-amos/

What I want to discuss here is the following passage: Amos 4:6-13. It says this:

“I gave you empty stomachs in every city
    and lack of bread in every town,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I also withheld rain from you
    when the harvest was still three months away.
I sent rain on one town,
    but withheld it from another.
One field had rain;
    another had none and dried up.
People staggered from town to town for water
    but did not get enough to drink,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
    destroying them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I sent plagues among you
    as I did to Egypt.
I killed your young men with the sword,
    along with your captured horses.
I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“I overthrew some of you
    as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
    yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the Lord.

“Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
    and because I will do this to you, Israel,
    prepare to meet your God.”

He who forms the mountains,
    who creates the wind,
    and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth—
    the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Wow, strong words! Here it is made quite clear that such natural disasters were not just random occurrences or mere accidents, but the direct and wilful results of the hand of God on a sinful and rebellious people. As Amos had stated a chapter earlier (Amos 3:6b), “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?”

But the amazing thing is this: once again, the people did not turn from their sin. They did not repent. They refused to listen to what God was trying to say to them. The covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 would/should have been very well known to the people. While obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings curses. And those chapters made it clear that natural disasters, war and the like would be the means God uses to judge his wayward people.

Image of The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah
The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah by Smith, Gary V. (Author), Smith, Dr. Gary V (Author) Amazon logo

Let me draw upon just one commentator here. A lengthy part of the commentary on this passage by Gary Smith is worth running with. He asks, “Why does God send troubles?” and then says this:

When one hears about people losing their business in a tornado, farmers having their crops destroyed by a flood, or the burning of homes in a wild forest fire, it is hard to understand why these things happen. In the end, few people in the church today can ever fully know the reasons for these kinds of events. But Amos records five cases (4:6-11) where God himself planned and brought disasters on his people for a specific purpose. These verses emphasize that God was and still is sovereignly in control over nature (rain, wind, and heat), animals (locusts), and historical events (wars). These “natural disasters” are really “acts of God” that do not just happen by the chance blowing of high-pressure weather systems or accidental political mistakes.

 

Believers need to see the presence of God’s hand in the circumstances that surround them. This does not mean that every problem is caused by God, for Job 1-2 indicates that Satan is hard at work trying to tear down believers, and evil people have freedom to sin. Nevertheless, God can use evil deeds to bring glory to himself and growth in the hearts of his people. His purposes may sometimes be unknown, but his acts can be a means of bringing people to their knees.

 

In Amos’ case God brought these difficulties on the Israelites in order to cause them to turn from their sinful worship and come back to him (4:6–11). “God wanted his people to approach their worship with a fresh vitality and turn to him for mercy and help. Since we usually do not know what God’s reasoning is in sending problems into people’s lives today, it is impossible to suggest that difficulties have come into a person’s life because of sin. Yet in spite of our limited knowledge, it is always appropriate for us to examine our lives and to turn to God for wisdom, strength, and grace. If we refuse to do so he will probably deal with us in the same way he dealt with the Israelites.

 

If the church and its members are repeatedly unwilling to respond positively to God, he has only two options available: send another plague to wake us up and motivate us to turn to God, or give up on the possibility of change and bring judgment. The book of Jonah is an example of how God pursues a rebellious prophet to transform his behavior, while Romans 1:18–32 describes how God gives some people over to their evil desires and depraved minds because they purposely reject the revelation they have received. A stubborn unwillingness to listen to God will inevitably lead to judgment.

As Smith reminds us, and as I have often said, care is needed today when disaster strikes. We do not have the same sure prophetic word that ancient Israel had back then. Indeed, the very next verse to follow the one I mentioned above says this: “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

It would be terrific if we had the same thing happening today, where we have the divine, inerrant word on everything that befalls us, be it a flat tire on the way to work or a major earthquake or tsunami. But we don’t. However, we do have enough of God’s sure word in the form of the Bible.

There is enough material there in general, as well as what we find in places like Amos 4 in particular, to help us to realise that God very much is concerned about both his people and those who do not know him. He is quite capable of using natural disasters and things like that to try to get our attention, to wake us up, to get us to reconsider our course, and so on.

The real issue is this: Will we allow God to do so? Or will we remain hardhearted, closing our ears to anything that God has to say to us? The verses in Revelation that speak about folks refusing to repent after God brings upon the earth his just judgments are shocking to read.

But so too here when those who should have known better – God’s own people – are sent divine chastisement and punishment, yet they still refuse to turn to God. Five times in just six verses (Amos 4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11) Yahweh said this of Israel, “yet you did not return to me”.

That should get every single one of us to sit up and take notice. If God can use such strong medicine on his own people, we all better wake up and wake up fast. Whether Covid is the direct and deliberate judgment of God on a sinful people can be debated.

But what cannot be debated is that God’s patience and mercy will not continue forever. Those who refuse to listen to God and turn from their wicked ways WILL face judgment – if not now, then soon enough. I close with some remarks by R. C. Sproul that I have often used. His comments on Romans 1 are just the thing we all need to take to heart:

We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.

[1663 words]

23 Replies to “‘Still You Have Not Returned To Me’”

  1. Yes, God is indeed a God of grace, peace, mercy, infinite love, but He is also very much a God of justice and judgement (eg, Christ’s crucifixion for mankind’s sins, the Great White Throne Judgement). For too long only His love has been preached, one rarely hears a sermon today on “Christ crucified”, hence, wishy washy Christians, and few coming to repentance and life in Christ

  2. I am wondering if the troubles that come upon mankind are not so much the direct hand of God, but rather the result of God withdrawing His protection allowing the enemy to have his way?
    The troubles we run into as a result of God’s chastising as individuals can be also be of this nature don’t you think, being natural, or supernatural results of our own poor choices?

  3. Thanks Brendan. Yes to both your queries – or at least a qualified yes! It partly depends on one’s theology, but as to your first question, that can be another way of looking at it: God withholding his protective hand of grace and blessing. And there is always a somewhat mysterious interplay between divine purposes, human choices, and Satanic interference.

    So yes – and as to your second question – the bad choices humans make will have bad consequences. And again, that can fit in with God’s chastening hand as well. It is not a question of choosing one or the other. God achieves his purposes through all sorts of means and instrumentalities, including human choices.

    Christians are not Deists, who think God sits backs and has no direct and personal dealings with us and the world. Simply considering the verses quoted in my article makes this clear. But yes, how it all works together can often be rather mysterious to us with our partial and limited understanding of God and his ways.

  4. I think of everything America went through socially in the 20th century and it reads a lot like this every social ill “and yet you did not return to me”!

    The roaring 20’s were not pure, we had a great depression where people turned to government (the multi programs of FDR), we had a world war losing many, the discovery soon after of the “wall of separation between church and state”, and the Kinsey books (based on “research” conducted by molesters and info collected from deviants passed off as everyday Americans), the teen rebellion of the 50’s-60’s, the hippies and sexual revolution of the 60’s-70’s, feminism of the 70’s, the unholy alliance of Christianity and political power, the daycare scandal moral panic, feminism of the 90’s, gay activism of the 90’s, 9/11 (this put people in churches but only for comfort when comfort was over they left rather than hear the gospel), a 20 year war, economic problem, a generation of emotional not rational adults, and now a virus that is more akin to a bad flu but is being used for total control of the populace. “Yet you still have not returned to me”.

    I have the feeling the point of no return has been passed awhile back now it is simply a matter of when not if judgment comes. We can still our head in the sand as way too many Christians are doing ignoring everything we see, we can think we are special (more than Israel) and thus God WON’T judge us, or we can prepare for what will happen. I remember one king of Judah was told about the judgment coming on the nation but told, because of his faithfulness I believe it was, that HE wouldn’t see the judgment. I wonder if we have someone like that today?? That they won’t see the judgment but it will come after they die?? I don’t know. But I am VERY certain it IS coming.

  5. Thanks Paul. Yes I believe God has been trying to get America’s – and the West’s – attention for a long time now. How much longer before he finally says: “Too late – you had your chance”?

  6. Lockdown Day 3 of ? days. (Dictator Dans “7 days”). One active case in Ballarat. Complete lock down a la Melbourne. Creeping Regional lock down coming. Watch it!- Geelong, Mitchell Shire and Surf Coast now in lockdown. Prisoner 9776.

  7. Yes Christine, and for us poor souls in Melbourne, in just a few days’ time a new world record will be established: the longest, harshest, most severe lockdown anywhere on the planet! And Dictator Dan is STILL keeping us locked down with barely any relief in sight. We will be doing well to get most of our stolen freedoms back maybe sometime next year – at least until the next virus or crisis arrives.

  8. Your commentaries are quite insightful and challenging, the thrust of each certainly on the mark. My gratitude for your service to God and the world for your pragmatic theology addressing the issues posed by a world going increasingly wrong while encouraging the faithful remnant.

  9. Don’t let’s forget that the OT is the trace of God’s preparing the way for the Messiah. All of Israel’s and tribulations are about forming the people from whom would come the Messiah. Our situation today is entirely different and is completely explained by: the depravity of man, the work of the prince of the power of the air and the operation of a fallen world. The only thing we need to know is that Christ’s return will be like a thief in the night. The only thing we need to do is to keep about making disciples.

  10. In his second letter sent to Christians at Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul talked about the future when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again. But before He does, the “Man of Lawlessness” will appear. He will be empowered by Satan and will exert global power with absolute control. Anyone who does not worship him and take his mark on their forehead or their right hand will be barred from buying or selling.

    Paul was given a special revelation by God and he explained in his letter what will happen in the future – “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (v.9,10)

    So, we know that there are going to be many who will be deceived by this lawless one or the Antichrist as he is also called.

    If you read the next verses, it is quite a shock to know that God Himself is going to send a delusion so that they will forever be damned in their sin and rebellion and unbelief. “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (v.11,12)

    Can you believe it? God is going to cause these people to be deluded supernaturally in order that they might believe lies and be condemned! That’s a terrible judgement of God.

    I know we are not there yet because the Apostle Paul also made it clear that that would happen only when the Restrainer is “out of the way.” (v.7) I also know we are not there yet because the Bride of Christ – the Church – has not been taken up to heaven in a supernatural rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17).

    I don’t know about you but the current global delusion we’re seeing right now looks to me like God has already sent some supernatural delusion as a foretaste of what is to come. When it comes to covid and vaccines, the only conclusion I can make when people with very high IQ deny the truth and believe lies is that there is a delusion the likes of which the world has never seen.

    If you are one of those who have believed a lie, despite the evidence to the contrary, my prayer is that you will wake up and see the truth.

  11. I’ve been encouraged to hear the revival reports of mariomurillo.org and the “Flashpoint” programs on govictory.com
    There are definitely pockets in different areas where God is moving… surprisingly in the darkest areas: California, New York, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Keep praying, keep on sharing the Gospel!

  12. Amen!

    And when we see scriptures like “Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel  and because I will do this to you, Israel,  prepare to meet your God” we can be sure they point to the fact that the last time people will be overcome it won’t be by Babylon nor Egypt but by by a power much more terrifying – God Himself.

    Yes the evidence is clear. Look at when the Ark of the Covenant was lost to the Philistines (1 Sam 5). Firstly the Philistines were afflicted by tumors so they sent the Ark off to the Gittites at Gath and they were then afflicted so then it was then sent to Ekron and then they were afflicted. Three times the affliction followed the Ark but when the Ark was miraculously returned to Israel they still had not learned their lesson and a man from Judah had to die. So then the Israelites passed the Ark off, yet again, this time to a household of another Gittite apparently living on the outskirts of Gath and then something different happened – he was blessed.

    What we see after this is that, after the Gittites had seen their champion, Goliath, defeated by young David and then the witness of what happened with the Ark and how it is possible for them both to be cursed and then also blessed by the Ark, many Gittites start joining with Israel. They are even assigned as gatekeepers to the temple. Surely this sort of theme is seen all throughout the Bible and is an example of something greater.

    Have people not noticed it has been the once Christian nations which have been inordinately hit by Covid 19? I can’t say I know for sure what God is doing now but I believe we can definitely see what He has done in the past.

  13. Re Dave Connor’s comment above.

    He is sort of on the right track except there is no mention of anyone worshipping the supposed single Antichrist in scripture. This was a theory from hundreds of years ago but can now fairly easily be disproved from scripture.

    The Apostle John in his epistles was very clear that there is not just one antichrist and, even though the terminology Paul uses in 2 Thes 2 is singular, I’m sure Paul would be horrified to think that anyone could read what he wrote and possibly think that there was just one man of sin or just one person going into destruction.

    In English you could imagine a senior police officer saying “the man who speeds will be caught and fined” without anyone ever thinking that only one person would be speeding. So using singular terms does not necessarily mean there is just one of something. It is simply a method of speaking where a single example is used to explain a more common occurrence, in this case Paul is likening the end-times, mass apostasy to Judas Iscariot whom Jesus Himself defined as the “Son of Perdition” ( John 17:12 KJV).

    In 2 Thes 2 the man of sin is in the Temple declaring that he is God but this does not mean anyone is worshipping him but that he, himself is attempting to usurp God. Paul is telling us that this is what those who are apostate, in the end times, do – they, essentially, are worshipping themselves and saying they are God but Paul is showing that they are worse than others who have always sinned because they are doing it from the Temple, which in other scriptures, such as in 1 Corinthians, he makes clear believers now are. We, the church, are now the Temple and “…where two or more are gathered….” etc. and so opposing God under those circumstances is vastly worse than just the sin itself.

    Paul, in his common legal sense, is showing that the apostate are worse than those who have never come to God, because they are also defiling the Temple.

    They have tasted that God is good but still choose to oppose Him and go their own way and work unrighteousness so Paul is saying this is an idolatry of self.

    The whole passage is describing what the end times falling away looks like – not a supposed single antchrist . The Apostle John did, however, point to those who fell away as being multiple antichrists, even back then but to be an antichrist, by the bible definition, you have to deny Jesus came in the flesh, but to be apostate, or even a false prophet, you don’t have to do that. You could declare that Jesus came in the flesh but still be setting yourself up as knowing more than God and thereby be “working iniquity”, as some translations put it or opposing God and His law.

    Satan, himself, now knows Jesus came in the flesh and Jesus clearly described people who would call Him Lord but who would be working iniquity or lawlessness. So, just like Jesus, this is Paul saying how end-time apostasy would come to be like.

    Clearly the bit about excluding God and thereby being deluded is, however, quite correct and is observable in numerous other scriptures and, I think, is very, very obvious in what we are now seeing. The delusion we now see is miraculous.

    So what we now see is the 2Thes 2 prophecies being fulfilled before our eyes. We don’t need a single Antichrist for this prophecy to be fulfilled and that idea simply leads people’s thinking away from the real problem being described by Paul.

  14. Most Australians and most other westerners hearts are hardened. Most Australians and most other westerners don’t want to know God and don’t want to hear about God. Most Australians and most other westerners are too busy living and being caught up in their shallow superficial narcissistic hedonistic materialistic lives. It is sad but it is also true.

  15. Hi Bill

    I was booked to be in the the Twin Towers in New York the day after they were hit by two suicide piloted planes. Thank God He protected me.
    But what I found amusing sitting in church the following week a visiting Pastor mentioned how wonderful to see the churches filling up because of this tragedy.
    But I remember musing this is wonderful,, but how long will the new converts stay? Fast forward 20 years, the answer is clear, most are emptying out and forgetting their first love (Jesus) and shutting down.

    Terry Hill

  16. Michael you seem to be spiritualizing quite a bit and taking the preterist (sp) approach to the temple.

    Terry yes I think far too many pastors saw full churches and thought ka-ching! They weren’t interested in converting the heathen or gathering back those gone astray but exploiting the moment for financial gain. Mammon has gripped many a pastor!

  17. “What is a Church without a congregation after all? Just an empty building” from Neil’s moving 6 min “Winter of Discontent” monologue:
    ‘Neil Oliver: Upcoming months will determine who Britain is as a country.’

    Did God give his Church an opportunity to be His witness? To show and give courage to a world that knows no Salvation other than the Safety offered by Government? Why would the Culture who approves the actions of the Conforming Church care for it? While those outside sidelined or who battle tyranny get no comfort from it.

    Every step I have thought – now the Church will as tell the Authorities, no, they have no authority here. Every time they make the claim but leave out the no and “voluntarily” comply. Empty words that cost nothing. And now the moral pressure of the second commandment seems to have supplanted the first – or be the very means by which we achieve the first. Repentance lost in the endless affirmation of love is love is love.

    Thank you for your ministry.

  18. There comes a time when a nation can no longer repent – it is “too late”, as John MacArthur explains so well in this sermon:

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