By Rev. Jeremy Grove
Amos 5:19 “As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.”
On April 10th, 1912 a brand new ocean liner left port heading from Southampton, UK to New York City. It was the largest ship afloat at that time in history. It was designed to be the ultimate luxury liner, the biggest and best of its time. The plans show that the first-class lounge was styled after the palace at Versailles. The vessel housed an onboard swimming pool, a gymnasium, and a squash court. It boasted a top-of-the-line Turkish bath. It had three libraries where passengers could check out books at their leisure. But for all of those things, that’s not why we remember the RMS Titanic.
We remember it because on April 15, 1912, the unsinkable ship . . . sank. The sinking of the Titanic is still regarded as “one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.” We all know the story. The ship hit an iceberg in the middle of the night, and the Titanic went down. It is recorded that 1,502 people lost their lives. That was the end of the story, or so it seemed.
But something interesting happened in 1985. You see, that year the Titanic was rediscovered. Scientists found it resting on the bottom of the ocean floor. At that point, scientists began to examine the wreckage and, in 1996, they made a discovery. For over 70 years everyone had assumed that an iceberg tore a huge hole into the side of the ship and that as a result, the ship sunk. Scientists had even estimated the size of the hole. The prevalent theory was that it was 300 feet long. But looking at the wreckage, scientists discovered that there was no gaping hole. There was no huge gash, no large dent. It never existed. In fact, the side of the ship where it had collided with the iceberg was completely intact.
Instead, scientists discovered that the only thing that sent the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean was a simple series of six narrow slits. They noted in their study that the largest of them wasn’t any wider than a human hand. They also added that the entire area of damage was less than the size of two sidewalk squares. Think about it: 900 feet of ship was no match for six narrow slits and 12 square feet of damage.
Many times our lives work the exact same way. It’s very rarely the big circumstances or the big mistakes or the huge, gaping holes that take us down. Instead, it’s typically the little things that cripple us. It has been said that integrity isn’t built year by year; it’s built moment by moment. It’s not the big circumstances or the big instances of life that define us. But many times it’s the day-by-day, little decisions we make along the way.
In the Book of Amos, we have God’s man of the hour speaking to God’s people. If we were to summarize Amos 5 to 140 characters–the size of a twitter post–it would say: “Lament for Israel. She is fallen. Seek me and live. You shall not dwell in your houses. I despise your feasts. Let justice roll like waters.”
Those aren’t exactly the kinds of things you want to hear God say about your life. But within the chapter as Amos is prophesying and venting and warning and speaking on behalf of God, as he’s listing out some of the grievances of Israel, as he’s talking about the ways they’ve wronged God and the different things they’ve done . . . within all of that, we hit verse 19.
And as we do, we see that Amos inserts a story. It’s a parable. It’s a story to teach. He’s making a point. And even though the King James Version is fairly clear here, I feel the New Living Translation puts it a little better: Amos 5:19 (NLT) “In that day you will be like a man who runs from a lion—only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house—and he’s bitten by a snake.”
Talk about a bad day. Amos tells of a man who meets up with a lion and having good sense . . . he runs. He does something. We don’t know what he does, but he does something. Maybe he runs. Maybe he climbs a tree. Maybe he throws the lion a steak. But whatever it is that he does, it works. The man escapes. But no sooner does this man escape the lion than he runs into a bear.
And it’s the same story . . . steaks included. I’d imagine the commodity price for beef probably went up that day.
No sooner does he escape the lion and no sooner does he escape the bear, than he gets home. He reaches his refuge. The ONE place where he feels he’ll be safe. The place where he can kick off his running shoes, grab a drink of water, and hit the shower. It’s there in that place of solitude and protection that he leans his hand against the wall to catch his breath. And as he does, he feels a sharp pain, lets out a howl, shakes his hand, and catches a quick glimpse of a tiny tail slipping effortlessly into a crevice in his wall. He’s bitten . . . by a snake . . . in his own home.
There was a snake in the cinderblocks . . . and not just any snake. The word that’s used implies a poisonous, deadly snake. It’s the kind of encounter that could potentially end a life. Scariest of all is that Amos’ parable man doesn’t stand alone. We’re right there with him every moment that we live. In our lives it’s very rarely the lions and bears of life that destroy us. They may crush us. They may change us. They may affect us. We may walk away from those instances limping and thinking and feeling and living differently than we did before, but it’s rarely those things, the big things in life, that cripple us. Instead, it’s when we find ourselves in a place where we feel safe. It’s when we let our guard down. It’s when we begin to say, “Let me loosen up and relax some things. This is my home. These are my walls. No one will ever know.” It’s then that we set ourselves up to find snakes in our cinderblocks.
They’re not very big. They don’t take up a lot of room. They don’t seem to get in the way of anything. They’re just sort of off in the crevice. You wouldn’t see them if you weren’t looking for them. They’re small, never noticed, forgotten, ignored. But it’s those things, those tiny, forgotten things that have the potential to cripple us. It’s those things that bite us when we’re down. It’s those things that come back to haunt us when we least expect it. The reason the man in Amos wasn’t safe in his own home was because he had allowed some snakes to roost in his walls.
Taking that to heart, be careful what you allow to roost in your home. Be careful what you allow to roost in your heart. Be careful what you allow to roost in your mind. Be careful what you allow to roost in your relationships. Be careful what you allow to roost in your health. Be careful what you allow to roost in the walls of your life. Whatever goes in will eventually come out.
If it went into your walls, it’ll come out of your walls. If it came into your life, it will inevitably make its grand reentrance at another time. At some point, that man’s snake entered his walls and it was when he was weakest from going and going and running and fighting all day, when he was worn down, when he was tired, when he finally let his guard down and decided to take a rest; it was then that it struck.
The things you allow into your life will catch you when you least expect it. You may not be out on the corner with the prostitutes. You may not be shooting up somewhere in a dark alley. You may not be drinking yourself to death in your living room. You may not have a mouth like a sailor. And that’s great; those are lions and bears that have been conquered in your life. And sometimes, contrary to popular belief, the way to conquer those things is to run away, just like the man in Amos. Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful lusts.” But while you’ve been out fighting lions and you’ve been out fighting bears, what things have you allowed into the crevices of your life? Has the snake of pride crept in? Has the serpent of offense begun to roost? Is the snake of bitterness present in your life? Do you have a 6-inch-long bad attitude hidden in your cinderblocks? We could list sin after sin. Issue after issue. Problem after problem. But that’s not the point. Psalm 90:8 says God already sees our secret sins. But I like what David says in Psalm 77:6: “I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.”
Notice that last phrase: “my spirit made diligent search.” David says, “I’ve searched my heart diligently” and then by inference, he adds, “God, don’t let there be any secret things in my life. Remove those things, even the things I may not be aware of.”
In Song of Solomon chapter 2, Solomon says it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vines.” The little foxes. Not just any foxes. THE LITTLE FOXES.
They start out cute. They start out cuddly. They’re orange and warm and fuzzy. They’re literally balls of fur with black noses and little ears. They’re so pretty that companies put pictures of them on calendars . . . and people buy them! They’d never go near them in person, but they’ll look at them on a calendar.
Foxes start off small and cute, but even then they do damage. They spoil vines. They gnaw on the vines. They bruise the grapes. They knock them off the vines. They do damage. And not only that, but here’s the bigger problem: small foxes become big foxes.
And that’s how it is in our lives. Integrity is created in the moment. Little decisions become big decisions. Little lies become big lies. Little mistakes become big mistakes. Little things become big things. In our lives, it’s not the gaping holes that do the most damage. It’s the little slits that send ocean liners to the ocean floor. It’s the little foxes playing in the fields. It’s the snakes hiding in the walls. The little decisions. The things we do day after day after day.
Pride. Hatred. Lying. Bitterness. Offense. Attitudes. Sin. They all start out small, but they don’t end that way. While little foxes may ruin grapes and fields, big foxes become predators, and predators are a lot harder to deal with. In Judges 15, we have Sampson getting revenge on the Philistines. Here’s what he does — he catches 300 foxes, splits them into pairs, ties a torch between their tails, and then sets them loose in the Philistines’ corn fields.
Judges 15:4-5: “And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks [still talking about corn], and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.”
Imagine this picture. The foxes are scared. They’re running in circles. The corn fields are burning to the ground. And as the fire gets hotter and the flames grow higher, the foxes become more and more terrified. So, what do they do? They run home. They run to their place of safety. They run to the vineyard. They run to the place where they used to frolic and play as kits. They run to the place where they feel the safest. They run to the vineyard. It’s their place of refuge. It’s where they’ve taken up residence.
Be careful what you allow into the crevices of your life because the baby fox problems of today become the predator fox problems of tomorrow. If you let them grow, they will take up residence in the crevices of the vineyards of your life. The Titanic had its slits: the width of a hand, the length of a sidewalk. The vineyard had its foxes, tiny enough to run under the vines. The cinderblocks had their snake, small enough to live in the crevices. They were small. Easy to ignore. Easy to miss. Easy to forget. But each one did irreversible damage. Don’t be like Amos’ parable man. It’s time to clean house. Banish the snakes from the cinder blocks, patch up the holes, and forbid them ever to return.