Digging in Deeper: Amos 5:14-15

“Pursue good and not evil so that you may live, and the Lord, the God of Armies, will be with you as you have claimed. Hate evil and love good; establish justice at the city gate. Perhaps the Lord, the God of Armies, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

One of the most dangerous things in life is to be convinced we are on the right track when we are really on the wrong one. More than once in the writings of the Hebrew prophets we find them including the response of the people to God’s declaration of judgment coming on them. And in several of these responses we find them expressing shock at the reprimand they have received. They genuinely believed they were on the right track and weren’t doing anything wrong. After all, they were practicing various aspects of the religion faithfully. Wasn’t that enough to make God happy? Yet He wanted more. Let’s talk about what more He wanted from them and what this might mean for us.

I can be pretty stubborn. If you don’t know me at all, you probably aren’t reacting much to that except perhaps to say, “Amen, brother, me too.” There are also a few folks reading this who just thought, “And?” When I have convinced myself I am right on some proposition, convincing me otherwise is no small task. This is especially true when it comes to my children. The last thing in the world I generally want to do is to admit to them they were right on some point, and I was wrong.

None of us likes to be wrong. We want to be right about whatever it is. And if, perchance, we happen to be wrong, we are very willing to buy into a delusion in which we really are right. There are lots of people out there (and there may even be one sitting in your chair…right now) who are running at full speed down the wrong track, fully convinced all the while that they are heading in the right direction.

People who are wrongly convinced they are right are capable of all kinds of things. For those folks, it is the people opposing them who are in the wrong. But they aren’t just wrong. If we are in the right and they are committed to the wrong path, they are tempting us away from the right. The Bible tells us we should flee temptation, so we obviously can’t have a relationship with them any longer. If they persist in urging us in the wrong direction, it soon becomes apparent they are not merely wrong on the facts of the matter. They have a flaw in their character. Why else would someone persist in what is wrong with such vehemence as this? And of course, what kind of a character flaw could leave someone doggedly pursuing the wrong other than evil itself dwelling in their heart? They aren’t merely wrong, then, they are evil – perhaps even the embodiment of evil. More than simply doing right and letting the chips fall where they may, it is our moral duty to oppose them. Why, we can’t even stop there in good conscience. We must put a stop to them. Forever if they won’t quit.

Do you see how quickly we can get in a messy situation like this?

As we read through the story of the nation of Israel in the Scriptures, it is obvious from the editor’s clear (not to mention inspired) perspective that they got off the track of righteousness from the moment of their foundation. Jeroboam didn’t want his people going back to Jerusalem to worship alongside their former fellow citizens, and so he created a kind of mutt religion from a variety of Israel and non-Israel laws and customs and assured the people that the gods he was presenting to them were really the ones who led them out of Egypt. It was their brothers and sisters to the south who were worshiping in the wrong way.

Because of this, when God started sending prophets to the people in an attempt to call them back to the right path, their work was far more difficult than it was in the southern kingdom of Judah (and it was difficult enough there). He had to use grand signs and miracles to get their attention. They were utterly convinced they were in the right. So, for this prophet to come along and announce that not only were they not on the right track, but that they were facing terrible judgment for it, their reactions ranged somewhere between apathetic indifference and angry opposition. After all, they would assure themselves, we are very religious. We’re checking off all the right boxes. There’s no reason God should be upset with us. This guy is just a cranky curmudgeon looking to ruin someone else’s day.

The thing was, though, God didn’t really care about their religion. He wanted their hearts. The reason He got so fired up about their bad religion was that it was a revealer of the state of their hearts. We become what we worship. By worshiping the wrong things, even if they were worshiping them in the “right” ways, they were becoming something other than He wanted them to be. All of these other gods were nothing more than reflections of the people worshiping them. Well, the character of the people worshiping them wasn’t good. Those people (we people…) were unjust and unkind and cowardly. They lacked compassion and mercy for the weak and the hurting. They were violent and flew to anger quickly when they didn’t get their way. They were happy to trample over anyone who attempted to be an impediment to their desired ends. The various ancient pagan gods and goddesses reflected all of these petty and not-so-petty foibles. When the people worshiped them, this created a kind of echo chamber effect that boiled the righteousness out of them while concentrating the sinfulness into an ugly mess.

If they wanted to avoid the judgment that was coming their way, the solution was to start reflecting God’s character again. They needed to pursue good and not evil. They needed to hate evil (which they understood not to be an emotional rejection the way we think about it – although we don’t have to completely remove that sense from the word – but rather a thorough rejection of evil) and love good. They needed to commit themselves to justice in all of their dealings both public and private.

Yet how were they to do this if they didn’t have these things in them from the start? Well, remember what we said just a second ago? We become what we worship. They needed to worship something – or better yet, someone – who did have all of these characteristics. They needed to worship Him consistently and carefully until they started to reflect His characteristics in their own lives. Are you with me? This is why God ultimately made such a big deal about worship in the prophets. Their worship was His vehicle to their hearts, which was His ultimate goal.

The ways God was interacting with Israel and the kinds of expectations He had for them may not be relevant to us directly any longer since we live in the days of the new covenant, but the foundational truths here still very much matter. God still wants our hearts, and our worship is still one of the chief vehicles He has for accessing them. When we worship the wrong things in the wrong ways, or even the wrong things in ways that are ostensibly right, we will gradually come to reflect those things. Since they aren’t God, they won’t share His character of righteousness meaning we eventually won’t either. All the while, we can remain blissfully – or perhaps not so blissfully since sin always brings destruction – unaware of the fact that we are on the wrong track. We can even get pretty grumpy over attempts to convince us otherwise.

If you are riding along on the wrong track, going in the wrong direction, the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins so you could have eternal life through Him is going to do everything He can to get you pointed in the right direction again. He’ll try with care and gentleness at first, but if you refuse to listen as we are too often wont to do, He’ll turn up the volume. He will go out of His way to allow you to taste the bitter fruits of your path in hopes of convincing you to leave it behind in favor of His. None of this will be a reflection of anything but His love for you. He wants you to enjoy the blessings of living in His kingdom, and to avoid entirely the pain of sin’s terrible end. The question is: Will you listen? I hope you will.

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