Yeshwanth Bakkavemana

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God’s Rejection of False Religion: An Exposition on Amos 5:18-27

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I. Introduction

How many of us eagerly desire for the second coming of the Lord? Do you think the second coming would be a joyous day? Many a times we tend to think the day of the Lord’s return would be a joyous moment. In the same manner people of Israel expected the day of the Lord would be a joyous and glorious day. “Jerusalem cannot be destroyed” was the watchword of the people of Israel. They strongly believed that God will never destroy the temple. However, the temple was constantly mocked by their complacent, immoral and spiritual lives. Many a times our religion, our faith and our spirituality ends at the door of the church every week. It doesn’t go with us to our homes, our work places and behind our closed doors. It doesn’t affect our relationships. Our religion is just a mockery of the Holy God. God would reject such religion. This is the message that Amos brought to the people of Israel which is very relevant to our church today. Thus, I would like to entitle my sermon as “God’s rejection of false religion.”

Let me lay out the context of Amos before going further for a better understanding of the text.

A. The context

  1. Who is Amos?

            Amos is a shepherd from a small town of Tekova in Judah. He is not an official prophet. He was called to preach to the people of Israel. During his time Jeroboam II (786-746) was Israel’s king and Uzziah was the king of Judah. He is contemporary to the prophet Hosea. Amos’ ministry did not go beyond a year i.e., not beyond 750 BC. One of significant insight we can learn from the call of Amos is that God can chose anyone to preach His word to our perverted generation. He is not looking for smart, intelligent and wealthy people. He is looking for those whose hearts and minds are burdened to preach the word to the generation that is lost.

  1. Amos’ time

            The context can be divided into two categories—external and internal. Externally Egypt, Babylon and Assyria were relatively weak. Therefore, people of Israel were relatively secured. This has led to peace, prosperity and confidence within Israel. Internally, there was economic prosperity. Agriculture flourished coupled with international peace, Israel gained wealth. There was a large-scale of urbanization.

  1. A period of moral and spiritual decline (decadence)

            Though kingdom of Israel prospered, internally it was suffering with spiritual leprosy—absence of consciousness of sin. With the excessive wealth, there arose a leisured upper class that oppresses the poor and the needy. Sexual immorality was rampant (2:7), idolatry (8:14), exploitation of poor and the needy by the rich. There was breakdown of justice (2:7; 5:10-12). Righteousness was lost because of decadent life style—immoral life style. With the disobedience to the covenant, religion was lost. Spirituality was lost. Morality was lost. Therefore, impiety leads to immorality. The irony is that the people of Israel still feel that Yahweh will never abandon them. Their temple will never be destroyed. To this, God said a big ‘NO’ to them. He sends the message of doom and destruction of their religion, and their temple through the prophet Amos. God rejected their religion which is tainted with hypocrisy and immorality.

We can categorize this rejection as rejection of false hope, rejection of false worship coupled with declaration of divine judgment.

II. Rejection of False Hope: Amos:5:18-20

A. Lamentation over those who desire the day of the Lord vv. 18a-18b

Woe for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord?

The word ‘alas/ woe’ in Hebrew is הוי which is a technical word used for funeral mourning or lamenting. This word is usually used as a ‘cry’ over a dead individual. However, Amos uses this word in a very interesting and creative way. He takes this word which is used for a dead individual and uses firstly, to the people of Israel as if there are already dead. Secondly, he uses this word to mourn over their false hope in the day of the Lord. Amos presents his case in the form of argument/ disputation.

This was indeed a shocking message to the people of Israel. There were expecting that the day of the Lord would be the fulfillment of salvation, defeat of their enemies and ultimate revelation. However, Amos did not contradict such aspect of the day of the Lord but he denied that understanding for Israel because of the absolute absence of consciousness of sin marked with hypocritical and complacent spirituality.

  1. Prophetic clarification about the day of the Lord V. 18c

It is darkness, not light V. 18c

Amos, while contradicting their false hope, he explains what would be the day of the Lord to them. Here we need to notice two different words used in reference to the day of the Lord— darkness and light. Darkness indicates death and light indicates life. Therefore, for Israel, the day of the Lord is death but not life. There is no escape from this death that is coming.

   2.  No Escape: Metaphorical explanation about the day of the Lord V. 19-20

            Amos continues his argument while explaining what would be the day of the Lord to the Israel. He explains this by using a parable. The main thrust of this parable is “no escape” — inescapability of the death (2:14-16; 9:2-4). Here Amos speaks against a false security in the deliverance of the Lord. The similes — rescue from a lion and a bear can be compared to Yahweh’s past acts of deliverance. The people of Israel might be feeling secured about the fortunate experience of deliverance in the past but this time the day of the Lord would be a sudden death as “was bitten by a snake” in one’s own house. In verse 20, Amos drives his point home by re–emphasizing that the day of the Lord is death but not life.

3. Spiritual application:

Several years ago a young Frenchman captured the attention of the world by walking a tightrope between the towers of New York’s World Trade Center (1350 feet high). A few months later, however, while practicing on a relatively low wire in St. Petersburg, Florida, he fell 30 feet and was injured. As he lay waiting for help, he reportedly beat his fist on the ground saying, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I never fall.”

In one way or the other we all are walking on the rope of complacency and spiritual leprosy. The worst part is that we are not conscious of sins in the core of our hearts. We tend to think if we offer prayers, come to the church regularly, and praise him and worship him, our way to heaven is set—it is guaranteed. My dear church, I have news for you. The day of the Lord’s return would be the day of death for those who live such a complacent, nominal and immoral lives.

III. Rejection of False worship: Amos 5:21-24

21I abhor, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

     A. The divine detestation of worship V. 21

Suddenly there is an abrupt change in the discourse. The prophetic speech changes into divine speech. It is as if God stepped in and stopped Amos from speaking as if He, himself wants to speak of the rejection. As their hope was rejected, the worship which stemmed out of such a false hope was also rejected. Rejection of worship begins with a big bang. There cannot be any passage in the Bible that more deliberately voices out the divine rejection as this. The harshest and emotionally laden verbs indicate the rejection of festivals, sacrifices, and music—the whole of worship.

In verse 21, the Hebrew words שׁנא and מסא means “abhor” and “reject.” The words indicate the emotional attitude of God who opposed, detested and rejected external religious practices. The festivals (חגים) and the solemn assemblies (עצרת) are used in parallel to indicate three yearly pilgrimage celebrations (Exod. 23:15-18; 34:22-25; Deut. 16:10-16) as well as any other occasions (Sabbaths, new moon festivals etc, cf. 8:5; Hos. 2:11; Neh. 10:33) for gathering to eat and worship. Such worship, now Yahweh rejects. The other verb that we need to notice is לֹא רוח which means “no delight.” The literal meaning is “I will not savor/ breathe in odor of” your festivals, sacrifices and worship. In other words the whole of worship is rejected. The following verses show the acts or the aspects of worship that God rejected.

    B. The divine detestation of the acts of worship V. 22

22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;

And the offering of well–being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.

In this verse the sacrificial system is rejected. The burn offering stands for total consecration to God (Gen. 22:12f). The peace–offering stands for fellowship—fellowship with God and fellowship with man with special preference to helpless and needy. The meat offering symbolizes thanksgiving.

What is the whole point of burnt offering without consecration of life to God? What is the whole point of peace–offering, without having proper fellowship with your neighbor­— rich exploits the poor and oppresses the helpless? What is whole point of meat offering without thanksgiving attitude in our hearts? This is the reason why God said that He would not accept or look upon their acts of worship.

      1. The divine detestation of praise V. 23

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs I will not listen to the melody of your harps

            With the divine rejection of the whole of worship and its activities, the praises we make are noting but “noise” to God. Therefore, God will not listen to the “noise” of our worship. Even our finest musical instruments cannot strike the chords of melody, if our hearts are out of tune with God.

 

  2. Prerequisites for true worship v. 24

24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever–flowing stream.

In all this, God gives them the cure i.e., to do justice and righteousness. The conjunction ‘but’ indicates the neglected factors in the worship. Justice and righteousness were not maintained. What is justice and what is righteousness? Justice is right behaviour in relation to others. It is the fruit of righteousness. It is maintaining correct moral practice in a daily life. Righteousness on the other had is the cultivation of correct moral principles. It is being right with God. In other words, justice and righteousness are outflow of true religion.

Justice and righteousness is God-given gifts to us. We are responsible to cultivate them by “rolling down like waters” and like an “ever–flowing stream.” The two phrases “roll down like waters” and “ever–flowing stream” indicate abundance and perpetuity respectively. These two phrases indicate that there should be consistency and regularity in maintaining justice and righteousness. Justice and righteousness can be maintained consistently through a consistent obedience to the covenant. Only then, there can be a true worship as worship is weighed on ethical and moral obligations of the covenant. Therefore, spirituality and social responsibility are very intrinsic and indispensable. You can’t have one without the other.

     3. Spiritual application

            John Newton was once a slave trade master before he knew the Lord. After his encounter with Christ, he found how unrighteous he has been and how much injustice he has been doing. Out of that experience he penned this famous hymn of all time “Amazing grace.”

Amazing grace! How sweet that sound,

That saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now I am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

 

My dear church, how many of us are blinded to our own unrighteous lives and injustice we are doing to our neighbours? How is our relationship with God? Are we concerned for the poor and the needy outside the church? Many a times we are very concerned about the programs in the church but we seldom think about the poor, needy and neglected people in the society.

 

 

 

III. Declaration of Judgment: Amos 5:25-27

A. Obedience is better than sacrifice V. 25

25 Did you bring to me sacrifices and offering the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?

These verses are bit tricky and very much prone to misunderstanding. I need your undivided attention to these climatic verses of this particular chapter. Firstly, Verse 24 calls for obedience to the conditions that are prerequisite to worship. Here in these verses God points out to the disobedience of Israel.

Secondly, Exodus and the wilderness experience is the benchmark in contrast to the current state of affairs during Amos’ time. God saved Israel and gave them the Law with a command to obey it. In doing so, the gifts of justice and righteousness can be maintained in the land.

Thirdly, it was during the wilderness period sacrificial system was inaugurated or started. It was fully followed only after they settled in the land of Canaan. In other words, there were no regular sacrifices and offerings during the wilderness journey. Even though, they did not give sacrifices and offering during wilderness period, God did not punish them.

Fourthly, the verse vividly points out to God’s grace and mercy and Israel’s obligation to obey than to sacrifice. This aspect we can see in 1 Sam. 15:22–“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifices and to heed then the fat of rams.” Therefore, in v. 25 God seems to be asking “do you think it was sacrifices and offerings that you brought during wilderness that pleases me and delivered you? It is not. It is only because of my grace. You are called to obey than to sacrifice without obedience.”

B. Israel’s rejection of Yahweh for idolatry V. 26

In this verse, God speaks of Israel’s tendency to reject him for other gods. They have rejected Yahweh who redeemed them while they were still in the bondage. They forgot their God who by His grace entered into relationship with them. The disobeyed the first commandment by going after other God.

C. Yahweh’s rejection of Israel to exile V. 27

            Finally God gives His ultimatum to Israel. The reason for such rejection and judgment is disobedience. Therefore, God would reject the people of Israel to exile. This prophecy has come true later through Assyrian empire in 722 BC. It was the fall of Israel. The day of the LORD has come and Israel indeed experienced death.

IV. Conclusion

My dear church, the people of Israel also lived such a decadent life. Their religion was program oriented but they neglected the poor, needy and the neglected of the society. They committed every kind of sin in front of the temple, in the temple and beside the altar and thought God would not destroy the temple. They thought the day of the Lord is a glorious day—a joyous day­—a day when Yahweh would destroy their enemies. However, they did not realize that they became enemies of Yahweh through their disobedience, immorality and complacent spirituality. Their religion became a stench to Yahweh. Yahweh could not smell the aroma of their worship. He could not look upon their worship. He could not listen to their worship

Today, my dear church, we are no better than Israel. God will reject our religion if it is filled with hypocritical, immoral and complacent spirituality. God will reject our false hope; our false security in the day of His return—for it would be a great day of weeping and death for the unrighteous and unjust. God will reject our ritualistic and programmatic worship, if it devoid of obedience to His word. Finally, God will not spare the church, just as He did not spare Jerusalem.

So, let us look into our own hearts this morning. Let us examine our spiritual lives. We have two options—to step out of this church and forget everything what has been said or to prayerfully repent for our sins, for our nominal Christian life and come to the feet of the Cross for forgiveness, transformation of the heart and for a renewed spiritual life. Christ’s hand is not too short to forgive us, if we turn to him with a true repentant heart.

AMEN