Amos / chapter 5 (read the chapter)
We live in a world where death is common. And even though it’s an everyday occurrence, we still live as though it should follow some sort of guidelines. We live as though we ought to have advance warning of death—or else why are we “shocked” and “surprised” whenever we hear of someone we know passing away? We live as though death should be reserved for the old and infirm—or else why do we “grieve” differently for the young than the old? Of a 90-year-old deceased person, we say, “He lived a good, long life,” while we lament the passing of an 18-year-old as someone “gone too soon.”
The truth is, we all know someone (and probably more than one) who has passed away at a “young” age (even though 90 itself is young, relative to the span of eternity), struck down in the prime of life with so much ahead of them. It’s particularly hard to attend the funerals of babies and young children. A little 8-year-old boy from our community drowned this past summer. In times like those, you’re just struck with a sense of tragedy that feels larger than a freight train. The death of that potential life makes the loss seem so much greater.
If you’ve felt that feeling lately, then you know exactly how God was feeling when Amos memorialized these thoughts from Him: “Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: ‘Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up.’” (vs 1-2)
Bible commentator Robert Hubbard said this about the word virgin in verse 2: It “depicts the vulnerability of Israel and the special sadness that accompanies her death, as though she should have had a whole life of love and fruitfulness before her.” What God was doing here was mourning for the nation of Israel in the same way someone mourns the loss of a young person—a person whose life has been cut short before she can experience all the promises it held, of love, of motherhood, of adventure. In a moment, all her plans are dashed, all her dreams, gone.
That is how God sees spiritual death. Physical death is not a problem for God. It’s simply sleep. He ends it with a word, sometimes just a touch. He can reverse physical death in an instant. But that is not the case with spiritual death. In lamenting Israel’s demise, God was lamenting their spiritual death, the death that had come from their rebellion against Him. He was lamenting the one thing He can’t reverse—in the very same way we lament physical death, because it’s the one thing we can’t reverse.
Death—physical death—isn’t a tragedy. The tragedy is that some people never truly live. The tragedy is that some people choose to place themselves beyond God’s healing reach. Like “Virgin Israel,” they cut short their true life, a life which would have been full of so much pleasure and promise.
This is the kind of death God mourns. This is what He reserves His sorrow for. Everything else is fixable. Everything else is easily restored. Only the irrevocably-rebellious heart is irredeemable. Only the permanently-hardened heart is lost forever.