“Won’t the day of the Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it? I hate, I despise, your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Israel was a very religious nation. They observed any number of festivals and rituals. They offered sacrifices. They sang songs and prayed prayers. And it seemed like all of this religiosity on their part was working. After all, their economy was booming, and their military was strong. Clearly God was for them and nothing bad could happen to them. And then Amos came out of the fields from keeping his sheep and delivered this warning to them. Let’s talk today about what this meant for Israel and what it might mean for us.
One of the cliches you’ll sometimes hear from folks who have been around the church for a sufficient amount of time when things are going haywire is some version of, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Those words, which appear right near the end of John’s revelation of the events culminating in the end of the world, are intended to be an invitation and pleading for Jesus to return and make all things right, especially the particular bit of brokenness staring the person in the face.
And, as someone who has been a follower of Jesus for many years, I understand the sentiment. Throughout the Scriptures we find numerous promises of a day coming when God will bring judgment on sin and restore the righteous to peace and abundance. He will bring heaven to earth, and we will all live perfectly blissful lives in His eternal kingdom. Who among His followers doesn’t want that to come sooner rather than later?
This longing for God’s restoration of all things is not something on which modern followers of Jesus have a monopoly. The Israelites of Amos’s day must have expressed a similar sentiment. And, given the relative peace and abundance their nation was experiencing, it probably came off just as tone deaf and detached from the real problems of the weak and vulnerable of their society as ours sometimes does. That is, sometimes we don’t want Jesus to return to save us from evil so much as we want Him to save us from inconvenience.
The trouble with this desire in the form it often has is that when Jesus returns to make all things right, He is going to make all things right. When He comes to judge sin, He is going to judge all sin. All sin, that is, including our own. If we have sin in our lives that isn’t covered by Christ, we’re going to have to bear the consequences of that on our own. That won’t be pretty.
What Amos wanted the people of Israel to understand was that they had sin in their life too. A lot of it, in fact. They were steeped in sin. They just didn’t see it. Kind of like we talked about yesterday, they had convinced themselves they were on the right track when nothing could have been further from the truth.
So, after perhaps hearing a listener openly wish for the Day of the Lord to come on Israel’s enemies in response to hearing Amos’s assurances of judgment coming in the form of an invading nation, the prophet quickly corrects this thinking. Why would you wish for the Day of the Lord to come? “Won’t the day of the Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it?” Do you really want that? When God comes to judge all sin, He is going to judge your sin. And believe you me, you have a lot of it.
At this, perhaps, the people reacted a bit. How could he say they have all this sin that would make them not want the Day of the Lord to come? Just look at how faithfully they are keeping the Lord’s ways? Look at how rigorously consistent their worship was.
I wish I could have seen the people’s faces when Amos responded with a word from the Lord for them. “I hate, I despise your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies. Even if you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will have no regard for your fellowship offerings of fattened cattle. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.”
In other words, “All this worshiping you are doing that leaves you thinking we’re good? Get rid of it. I can’t stand it. I hate it. It is disgusting to me. Nothing about it is right and I want you to stop it.”
What were the people doing that was so wrong in their worship that prompted such a strong reaction from God? Were they not getting the rituals right when they thought they were? Were their songs off key? What could make God this furious about their worship?
Their worship was fine in form. That wasn’t the problem. The heart of their problem was a problem of heart. They weren’t actually worshiping the Lord. They thought they were, but they weren’t. Their hearts were elsewhere. And they didn’t really think that was a problem. They believed – as we so often do today – that worship is mostly an external series of rituals. As long as the form is correct, the intention doesn’t matter as much. As long as you get the sacrifices right, how you live your life is a separate matter.
The trouble is, though, that how we worship does matter. It doesn’t matter in the sense that there are necessarily right and wrong ways to do it. Indeed, there are many different ways to legitimately worship the Lord. It matters in the sense that it is a reflection of where our hearts really lie. If worship is a banal formality that we do because we are checking some cultural or political or familial box, and once we have checked that box we can live as we please, then we are not worshiping the Lord. We are worshiping any one of a number of other things, but it is not God. Our lifestyle reflects the object of our worship because we necessarily become like what we worship. If we are really worshiping the Lord, then our lifestyle is going to reflect His character more and more clearly and consistently. If it’s not, then we are worshiping something else while pretending we are worshiping Him.
This lived out lie is doubly dangerous. It is dangerous for us because we can convince ourselves we are on the right track when the truth is anything but that. We are sailing on a fast ship toward Hell, all the while thinking we are bound for Heaven. God loves us far too much to leave us drifting along in such a delusional state. Seeing us deceived or deceiving ourselves like that infuriates Him because sin is winning the battle for our heart.
This lie is also dangerous for the people around us. It will lead them to think things about God that aren’t true. And, if they follow up on those things and adjust their lifestyle accordingly, we will have played a direct role in leading them away from Him. We will set them on a path to Hell because of our dishonest lifestyle. Jesus had some things to say about people who lead other people away from His kingdom. They were rather unsettling.
How we worship matters because it is a revealer of who we are worshiping. God wants us to worship Him and Him alone. This is not because He is arrogant and insecure. It’s because He knows who He is and wants us to know Him as well. When we know Him, we will worship Him. There is no other possible response. Israel failed on that point and eventually paid for it. So will we if we follow their path. Let’s learn from them rather than with them.