Putting away the evil of the day

Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem

“Ye that put far away the evil day,” Amos 6:3.

Today, I read Amos chapter three as part of my daily reading. I follow the Robert Murray M‘Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar, a wonderful aid to a proper reading and systematic of God’s Word which I recommend to all. It can be easily obtained as a ‘down load’ from the internet.

The chapter begins with those familiar words: “Woe to them [that are] at ease in Zion,” Amos 6:1. As I read them I could not help but think that is what afflicts us all today! There is a spirit of ‘ease’ amongst us when the very opposite ought to be the case. I always think of Nehemiah when I think of these words.

“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and [certain] men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province [are] in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also [is] broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned [certain] days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,” Nehemiah 1:1-4.

Without imputing any fault to Nehemiah, it is obvious that he had his state of mind and heart altered due to the report by his brother Hanani of the state of the remnant of the Jews still in Jerusalem and the condition of the city. He later explained his crestfallen state to Artaxerxes the king in the following words: “Let the king live for ever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, [lieth] waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” Nehemiah 2:3.

I believe that Nehemiah had been somewhat blissfully ignorant of the state of his native city and the Jews living there. I believe that some opening words in the prayer Nehemiah offered upon hearing the sad report of Hanani have to be carefully noted.

“Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned,” Nehemiah 1:6.

Would the word ‘NOW’ not suggest that he had not prayed such a prayer before, for he was unaware of the state of Jerusalem before this. Whether he should have been aware of the state of his native city and been praying for it and the people there, is a subject upon which we may speculate. But the change of demeanour upon hearing the words of his brother would suggest that this startling report was indeed news to him!

Nehemiah had been born in the land of exile and as a high official in the luxurious palace of the king, his circumstances would have been very far removed from the conditions under which the Jewish remnant suffered in Jerusalem.

Ease of circumstances has ever had a tendency to cause one to sink down into a state of carelessness and contentment. The Lord Jesus, in Luke’s account of His sermon on the mount, directed stern and telling words to those surrounded by circumstances which bred such a spirit. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep,” Luke 6:24-25.

Riches and comfortable circumstances are inclined to give rise to ease. It ought not to be, for wealth in itself is not a sin. However, riches can beguile us into a state of carelessness like that of the man in the parable told by the Saviour. “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, [and] be merry,” Luke 12:16-19.

The circumstances of this generation are so much better than previous generations. I have vivid memories of my early days living in the townland of Keenaghy, outside of Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh. I can recall my maternal (both of my paternal grandparents had died before I was born) grandmother’s funeral and some years later, that of my maternal grandfather, Jamie (as he was called) and Lizzie Prentice. Both of them were born in the latter half of the 1800s. The old farmhouse in which they lived, comfortable and as up to date as the other farms around, would nevertheless shock and astound today’s rising generation! The amount of money passing through their hands was a mere pittance in comparisons to the pensions, family allowances and the various other perks available today! Such circumstances tended to keep people alert to the needs of soul and body in a way that life today does not provoke.

The chief victim of such ‘ease’ is a proper consideration of the eternal and spiritual aspects of life. It is chiefly that which Amos is writing about. As James says: “Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter,” James 5:5 and such spiritual carelessness breeds a harvest that will end in ‘slaughter’! Judgment was drawing nigh to those Amos addressed, even both kingdoms which comprised Israel, represented under the terms of ‘Zion’ and ‘Samaria’.

The text at the head of this article refers to that which sprang from the spiritual carelessness — and ignoring or putting out of their thoughts of ‘the evil day’ that was coming because of their sins.

As I read the words the first thing I considered was that for the people to ‘put far away the evil day’ they must first of all have been in possession of a KNOWLEDGE of such a day!

A backslidden, erring people may indeed have managed to put out of their thoughts all consideration of what price will have to be paid one day for their sin. But when the spirit of backsliding first arose in their hearts and minds so too did an awareness of the judgment that would follow their sin!

They were not always so indifferent to God and His Word as they had now become!

I can recall a Free Presbyterian Church that wept and prayed with a burdened heart over the sin of the land and trembled at the thought of the terrible consequences of the wickedness of Ecumenism and the fruit of the carnal and worldly spirit springing up all around in the major denominations!

Are such broken-hearted gatherings and days of seeking God to be found today! It is hard to conceive of ‘zoom’ gatherings being overwhelmed by such humility and brokenness! A very much more casual and lackadaisical spirit is widespread today amongst Christians.

The reason for this ‘new’ attitude is because we have ‘put far away the evil day’ that once filled our hearts.

Earlier this month (November 9th-10th) I read the first two chapters of Joel. As I did so, I was transported back to the old Ravenhill Church and the preaching of Dr Paisley in 1964. He preached on these two chapters on successive Sabbath mornings. I can still recall the impact that his exposition of the threatenings of God upon the backsliding people and the call He issued for repentance and an earnest seeking of Him in prayer. I can still hear in my mind Dr Paisley repeating the words of Joel 1:14-15. “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the LORD, alas for the day! for the day of the LORD [is] at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come,” Joel 1:14-15.

I was so affected by the message that Dr Paisley asked me as I was leaving with the rest of the congregation: “What’s wrong lad?” I explained briefly the burden placed upon my heart by what he had said that morning. I can still see and hear him as he clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Just wait until you hear next week’s message!”

The following Sabbath Dr Paisley emphasised the verses 17-27. I will quote them all for they are so wonderfully precious.

“Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where [is] their God?

Then will the LORD be jealous for his land, and pity his people. Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen: but I will remove far off from you the northern [army], and will drive him into a land barren and desolate, with his face toward the east sea, and his hinder part toward the utmost sea, and his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things.

Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.

Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first [month]. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.

And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I [am] in the midst of Israel, and [that] I [am] the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed,” Joel 2:17-27.

Anyone reading these words and who were in those meetings will know the impact the verse 25 had upon us all.

“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.”

Yes, Dr Paisley was right, my heart was lifted and filled with joyful hope as a result of the second message. I believe that the promise of God was fulfilled, to a great measure, in the following ten years!

Today there is no such anxiety, concern of heart evident to any great extent. As Amos said: “That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph,” Amos 6:6.

There is no crying unto God as there was back then in 1964 and its is all because we have lost all awareness of the evil day’ that apostasy and backsliding and compromise is bringing upon Ulster.

Another thought arose within my heart when I looked at these words: A spirit of ease permits people to think that they can ‘put far away the evil day’!

Spiritual carelessness gives rise to many foolish thoughts and notions. None more dangerous than the idea that we can remove the threats of God’s judgments by simply putting them out of our minds! Banishing God’s warnings from our minds will in no way hinder God’s accomplishment of His purpose! Such thinking can only add sin to sin!

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” Ecclesiastes 8:11. How dreadful it is that the merciful forbearance of God should but encourage men to misread providence and and throw themselves more eagerly into sin!

That is what is happening today with the increasing defiance of God by Church and State as it brazenly supports sodomy and all its offshoots in spite of the clear denunciations of God Word and dreadfully compromising response by many Christians. Organisations like the DUP, which once was boldly against sodomy, but is now, at best, mute and at worst guilty of supporting this wickedness. All the time many Christians within its ranks remain silent!

Do they think that by closing their eyes to the wickedness with which they have allied themselves for some 14 years and by remaining silent they can put far away the evil day’ — the judgment of God that will surely follow their actions?

If they think they can then they are even more blinded than I imagined!

Heed the words of verse 8 of Amos 6.

“The Lord GOD hath sworn by himself, saith the LORD the God of hosts, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces: therefore will I deliver up the city with all that is therein.”

Such indifference will not put far away the evil day”, rather it will but make, as it were, the Lord more determined to bring judgment upon those guilty of this evil indifference.

May Christians even yet awaken to the danger of the hour and what lies ahead of this unrepentant Province, already under the chastening hand of God, if only for their children’s sake.

Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
17th November 2021.