Amos – a Prophet from the Past – a Message for the Present
Part 3 of a five part series
So called “Christian” and church activity abounds in our world. Many great things are claimed in the Name of the Lord. Christian music and worship have become so popular it's now the focus for many church services. We see both men and women preaching new revelations that they have supposedly received from God, usually in some type of vision, while thousands of people flock to their meetings looking for the latest ‘Christian’ experience. The question is, however, what does God think about all of this? Let us turn to Amos Chapter 5.
I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not savour your solemn assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Have you offered to me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, 0 house of Israel? But you have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your gods, which you made for yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, says the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts. (Amos 5:21-27)
We can divide these few verses into four headings:
- The Problem Perceived
- The Solution Suggested
- The Focus Favoured
- The Punishment Promised
The Problem Perceived:
What then was the problem with the worship being offered? What is the problem with most of the so-called worship being offered today? What is worship? It's certainly a lot more than singing a few songs. Perhaps the simplest answer to this question is to say that worship is the expression of our relationship with God. In everything we do, we should worship Him. If our thoughts and actions are not predicated on worship, then there is something wrong with that relationship. He is the almighty creator of everything, and by His very nature, He is deserving of our worship, Him and none other. Therefore, God will not allow anything to supplant or replace Him in our worship. This was at the heart of Amos' message, here in Chapter 5.
The overriding concept here is God's attitude to hypocrisy. It is clear that in God's sight, the actions of His people were hypocritical and He would judge that hypocrisy. Remember also, that this is one continuous book we are studying, so the attitude presented here has developed from what has gone before.
In part one, we saw the four transgressions with which God charged Israel:
- Perverting Justice;
- Oppressing the Poor for Personal gain;
- Sexual uncleanness, immorality and incest;
- Idolatry- Profaning the Name of God.
These are reiterated in the earlier verses of chapter 5:
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel, Seek me, and live: But do not seek Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and do not pass to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nothing. (These were places of idol worship) Seek the LORD, and live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be no one to quench it in Bethel. You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest in the earth, Seek him that makes the seven stars and Orion, and turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the day dark as night: that calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name: That strengthens the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress. They hate him that rebukes in the gate, and they abhor him that speaks uprightly. (Amos 5:4-10)
Oh how true this is. People who stand for righteousness and speak out against much of what is occurring in the ‘church’ today are reviled and scorned. The danger is that we succumb to the problem of verse 13.
Therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and you take from him taxes of wheat: you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink wine from them. For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: you afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time.(Amos 5:11-13)
Can we, should we be ‘prudent’ and keep silent in these evil times? Unfortunately, many do; it’s safer and easier, but it’s NOT what God wishes from us. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to help?”
It was while still practising this sin that they came to offer worship and sacrifices to their God. Thus were their actions judged as hypocritical in the sight of the Lord God Almighty.
Earlier we considered the “bread offering”, here in verse 22 we read about three other offerings, the “burnt offering”, the “meat offering”, and the “peace offering”.
Though you offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts - Amos 5:22.
It's interesting to note, that some translations render “meat offering” as “cereal”, or “grain offering”, linking it to the earlier reference. Both are acceptable renderings of the original Hebrew. Either way, here are three more offerings which were unacceptable to God because of the hypocritical works of the people making them. Let's examine the significance of each.
The ‘burnt offering’, is the Hebrew word Olah. It was the offering for sin that was totally consumed on the altar; nothing was to be spared. It involved the sacrifice of a pure and spotless lamb, which is always a symbol of Christ. This lamb, had the sin of the person who brought it, imputed to it by the laying on of hands. Note, the lamb bore the sin, it did not become sinful; it remained a pure, sinless and therefore a totally acceptable offering, just as Christ was Himself.
The blood of this offering was sprinkled by the priest in accordance with the rituals outlined in the book of Leviticus. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin. This offering signified the total surrender of the worshipper's heart and life to God. It had to come first, for no other offering or sacrifice was acceptable if sin hadn't already been dealt with. It is no different today. Jesus is our perfect offering for sin and without Him, nothing we do will be acceptable to God. Our lives are to be totally surrendered to Him. It's a prerequisite for everything else.
However, while the people of Israel were making an outward show with their burnt offering, there was no equivalent inner change in their heart. As we have already seen in previous studies, they were still enjoying their sin and there was no true repentance. God could therefore not accept this hypocritical offering, thus making all further ones, a waste of time.
This offering for sin, the burnt offering, parallels the free offering made by our Lord, of Himself on the Cross at Calvary and therefore, should have been as central to the lives of the people of Israel, as the Cross should be to us. If the Cross is not central, then everything else we say and do is also a hypocritical waste of time and is unacceptable to God.
The second offering is the Hebrew word Minchah which is used to signify both meat and grain offerings and is translated both ways, often depending on the context in which it is being used. Therefore, we can probably assume that either could be used for this offering.
The key to this sacrifice is that it involved no blood. It was a gift, or an oblation that could take several forms. Not all was consumed by fire, as certain parts of this offering were reserved for the priests, as their portion. In a sense, this offering was a tribute, something owed. When the Romans, for example, conquered a nation, then those people owed and paid tribute to Rome. In return, Rome protected and administered their government. It was often something you paid for having your life spared, (by a conqueror). I think the Christian parallels are obvious.
The third offering, is in some ways, the most interesting. It is the Hebrew word Shelem, which means a thank offering, usually for peace. This voluntary sacrifice did not entail burning the offering, rather, the animal was first consecrated and presented to God, then most of the flesh was eaten in a fellowship meal. It was the Old Testament equivalent of our Holy Communion. People were having fellowship and communion with God, sharing an offering dedicated to Him, to give thanks in remembrance of His goodness and provision in their lives.
However, at the time of Amos, this offering too, was no longer acceptable. We can see the parallels for today, in the warnings about eating and drinking the Lord's Supper unworthily. Doing this causes some to become sick, or die cf. 1 Cor. 11:30. Today this can apply not only physically, but also spiritually. There are a lot of spiritually sick and dead ‘Christians’ out in the world today, who mirror the people to whom Amos' warning came unheeded.
Just how applicable is verse 23 to the modern church.
Take away from me the noise of your songs for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments – Amos 5:23.
Most of the so-called contemporary Christian music being produced today is worldly noise given a religious facade. It certainly doesn't glorify God and is more about the worship of worship, than the worship of our Saviour. Its focus seems to be more on ‘me’ and less on Him. It is frequently unscriptural. I firmly believe that God is once again speaking to us through Amos in the area of music.
The Solution Suggested:
Verses 22 and 23, have presented to us the Problem. God cannot and will not accept unholy, hypocritical worship. What then is the Solution? This is to be found in verse 24.
But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream – Amos 5:24.
Judgement and righteousness, justice and mercy flowing through the land like pure, unpolluted, freely running water. This is what God wanted, not the bribery, corruption, injustice and perversion we have seen abounding in the land in our previous studies. Do you comprehend the similarities with our own society? Consider these verses:
Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgement, and show mercy and compassion every man to his brother - Zech. 7:9.
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings - Hos. 6:6.
Or the following well known passage:
And Samuel said, has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams - 1 Sam. 15:22.
Righteousness, mercy, obedience, repentance, compassion and a knowledge of Him; in other words, to know the Lord and His nature. This is what God desires. One final verse on this issue:
He has showed you, 0 man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6: 8.
These three things were not being done as we have seen in the earlier articles so a solution is suggested.
The Focus Favoured:
We find it in verses 25 and 26.
Have you offered to me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, 0 house of Israel? But you have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your gods, which you made for yourselves – Amos 5: 25-26.
The focus is to be on God alone. God will not tolerate idolatry; the Bible repeatedly tells us that He is a jealous God. The people of Israel, while they wandered for forty years, seldom gave genuine sacrifices and offerings to God. In fact, some of the sacrifices and offerings recorded during this time, were made to idols. Yet, God watched over them, and protected them. He was ever faithful, while they were not.
Stephen in Acts 7:43 quotes this passage in his final sermon as he castigates those who are about to stone him. Moloch, you will remember, is the god who demands child sacrifices by fire as part of his worship. Chiun, is variously represented as Saturn, reflecting the worship of the stars and planets so loved by the New Agers, and is even linked in some writings to the fertility gods such as the later Roman god Priapus, the god of debauchery. It is not a pretty picture.
While God may excuse the outward, physical sacrifices as being mere ritual, He can never excuse the absence of the inner spiritual sacrifice involved in prayer, praise and worship. God never changes, and His Word tells us that He looks on the Heart, not on the outward show. That is where His focus lies.
The Punishment Promised:
Finally, in verse 27, we come to the Punishment Promised for this idolatry.
Therefore I will cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, says the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts – Amos 5: 27.
The greater the privileges, the greater the responsibility; the greater the sin, the greater the punishment! God's wrath and judgement on the surrounding nations were as nothing compared to His indignation over Israel. Israel’s captivity was worse than that handed out to Damascus and they were to be taken into exile further from their homeland than any other nation. Since they loved their idolatry, they were to be taken captive by the Assyrians, an idolatrous people themselves. Great was to be their destruction.
The message here is simple. If we follow the path of the people of Israel, then a similar judgement will be ours. We know what God demands and it is our responsibility to fulfil His requests. We are to grow into the likeness of His Son; that's what being a Christian is all about. We are to show forth His Love, and His nature and His character, not our own. We are to have mercy and compassion to judge fairly and righteously, with the righteousness that can come from Him alone. Finally, we are to worship Him alone, with all our strength and with all our might and with all our power.
We have perceived the problem with not only Amos' generation, but also our own. We know what God's suggested solution is. We are aware where His favoured focus lies, and we recognise the inevitability of His promised punishment for disobedience and idolatry. What then is our response?
Will we continue as did the people of Israel, to their eventual destruction, or will we repent, turn to the Lord and follow Him. That has always been His call; ‘Come and follow Me; Learn of Me; My yoke is easy and my burden is light’. Now is the time to check out your relationship, your standing, with our Holy God.
One day soon, everyone is going to come under one of His two outstretched hands. Which one will it be for you the hand of mercy and grace, or the hand of eternal judgement?
Chose this day whom you will serve, says the Lord, the God of Hosts. Amen.
About The Author
David is a retired high school teacher, a semi-retired church pastor and a foundation member of CWMF. After many years with both CLC and the AoG he and wife Margaret became associated with Philip and Kathleen Powell about 11 years ago and recently completed his current preaching series on the Book of Amos. David and Margaret have two adult children. They live in Tanah Merah Queensland.