For an introduction to this series, click here.
Nov. 8, 2006
Here we have Amos listing the sins of Israel and the attempts of God to get the people's attention. Their sins include oppression of the poor, taking bribes and idolatry. God sent famine, drought, and military defeat to the Jews, and they did not turn back to Him.
Should we infer from passages like this that natural disasters and the like in our day are the judgment of God? I don't think so. God had a special relationship with Israel, one that is not replicated with any city, state or nation in the age of the church. If we think that way, we will end up aimlessly looking for meaning in all kinds of bad circumstances. We won't see that God can use such things for His glory. Example: When Paul was sailing to Rome, a storm came up on the Mediterranean and eventually destroyed the ship. Was that God's judgment on Paul? On the Roman government? Not really. God used the storm to allow Paul to minister to the captain and crew and lead some of them to faith.
This passage also contains the famous passage that Jesus quoted:"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the pace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (5:21-24, ESV)
God commanded feasts, solemn assemblies and sacrifices. But God did not want to receive them from people whose hearts were not right with Him. He does not expect perfection - what are sacrifices if not a confession of guilt? - but He did and still does expect a heart that longs to worship Him and know Him, not ritual ceremony done merely out of duty. Even the words of praise coming from these people were just useless noise to God. Amos told the people to work out justice and righteousness in your lives and then worship God. This is similar to what James says in his epistle when he says that pure religion includes being a blessing to the orphan and the widow. We can't expect to be right with God when our hearts are hard to the needs of our fellow human beings.
I wonder how many of our church services and worship times are just empty rituals in the eyes of God. I hate to think of it. It is certainly not measured by how emotionally stirred the service is, because people get emotionally stirred in lots of situations that have nothing to do with worship. I honestly wonder if I know what worship of God really is. I think I do, but my own life is such a mess most of the time that I'm not sure I would recognize true worship if I saw it or if I would be totally freaked out if I ever saw or experienced true worship. Don't get me wrong: I know that God loves me for who I am- why else would He save me?- and I know that it is dangerous to be always looking for something "deeper" - that is really self-deception. But at the same time I can't help thinking that we are missing the point in a lot of ways.