One of the most complex and challenging judgments a parent has to make is how to correct a disobedient child. How do we discipline a child well? Does the situation call for a firm hand or mercy? Is a punishment needed or an expression of affection, or both? What will stir the child’s heart from doing wrong to right? That is the aim of all loving discipline, after all, to correct and protect. And that is what we see in our reading today in Amos.
God, the perfect Father, is disciplining His children, the people of Israel. He is calling them from sinful rebellion back to faithful obedience. He begins by telling them what they’ve done wrong. In verses 1–3, He calls them to account for their oppression of the poor and misuse of wealth and power. In verses 4–5, He scathingly points out how they love to offer sacrifices that aren’t genuine and thus multiply their sins because of their hypocrisy and inauthentic worship.
But God isn’t interested in just berating His people. As a loving father, He wants them to come back to Him. Verses 6–11 describe the lengths God went to so that His people would turn back to Him. He withheld necessities and inflicted hardships, even to the point of death. If that seems overly harsh (and it’s tempting to view God this way), consider the hardness of the people’s hearts: “Yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6).
God’s motive is not retribution; it is repentance. He disciplines us to call us back from an even worse fate, eternal judgment. He yearns for the response and the understanding of the people in Hosea 6: “Come, let’s return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1). Return to the Lord—that’s what repentance is. And that is why God disciplines.
It can be easy to read passages like this one in Amos and think God is unfair or heavy-handed. But that is to miss the reality of His heart. His discipline is provoked by our rebellion, not His bad mood or capriciousness. Hebrews tells us that, as our Father, He disciplines us “for our benefit, so that we can share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Do you see that? His desire is to transform us to be like Him. So when God disciplines, it is not to harm us but to call us to repentance so that we can walk with Him.