Summary: The failure of Israel to make a connection between their religion rituals and their daily lives should serve as a warning for us in the church today that justice and righteousness are still priorities with God and judgment results with these are absent.
THE PRIORITY OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
Every now and then we come across stories that are both humorous and sad. During World War II in the Pacific Theater our forces set up a base on the island of New Guinea. We built an airport with runways, a tower, lights along the runways, and the necessary buildings. Cargo planes would fly in and people would unload supplies for distribution to other battle areas in the South Pacific. Some aboriginal people on that island were very primitive. They had never seen an airplane and they thought it was a great bird that brought gifts. It was obvious to them that these outsiders had come to the island and built a trap that would lure these giant birds so they could get the gifts. They built their own version of an airport. They cleared the land for a runway, put up a tower built of sticks and thatch, set out torches along the makeshift runway and waited for the great bird to come bring them gifts from the sky. They manned their “airport” day and night and faithfully watched but no birds came. Humorous? Maybe. In a way, it is sad!
I sometimes wonder if we, in the church, have not drifted so far away from true worship of God that we are doing nothing more than going through the motions of religious practice without anymore basis than the natives of New Guinea had for their “airport.” In a way, it is even more sad in the case of the present-day churches in that many who attend do not even have the anticipation and expectant hope of the aborigines. When we do not connect our worship and relationship to God to real life, then those things we do in our rituals are superficial and meaningless.
During the time of Amos, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had allowed their religious practices to become disconnected from real life. Though this disconnection existed, they still carried out their ritualistic rites of religious routine. After this “performance” was over, they treated each other without regard for what God wanted in their relationships. This lack of justice and righteousness, especially in relation to the poor and needy, angered God and He sent Amos to warn the Israelites of the impending judgement that was to come upon them.
1 Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria, Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, Who say to your husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!” 2 The Lord God has sworn by His holiness, “Behold, the days are coming upon you When they will take you away with meat hooks, And the last of you with fish hooks. 3 “You will go out through breaches in the walls, Each one straight before her, And you will be cast to Harmon,” declares the Lord. Amos 4:1-3 (NASB95)
Interestingly, God had Amos speak a warning to the women of the area. In their greed for luxury they goaded their husbands into acts of injustice. Amos’ message was that the walls of the city (what they trusted in for security) would fail them and their enemies would lead them away with hooks in their flesh.
4 “Enter Bethel and transgress; In Gilgal multiply transgression! Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days. 5 “Offer a thank offering also from that which is leavened, And proclaim freewill offerings, make them known. For so you love to do, you sons of Israel,” Declares the Lord God. Amos 4:4-5 (NASB95)
In a mocking way, God told them to keep up what they were doing with their false, hypocritical worship. Bethel and Gilgal were two of the more popular worship centers in Israel. It was at Bethel that Jacob had his vision of the ladder that spanned between heaven and earth. It was at Gilgal that Joshua dispatched the spies to Jericho. Both these places that had begun with meaningful religious significance for the nation had now become centers of perverse religious practice. God had already pronounced the coming judgement or consequences of what they were doing. They could ensure that judgement would come upon them by just continuing in their sins.
The reference to “bring your tithes every three days” may be better translated “bring your tithes on the third day.” Going to a religious center required a significant journey and the visit lasted several days. Each day would start with morning sacrifices and apparently on the third day, the tithe would be given.
Much of their religious practice was done to be seen of other people. Just as Jesus had criticized the Pharisees for praying on the street corners to be seen of men and the hypocrites for sounding a trumpet when they helped the needy, God was critical of Israel for bragging about the help they provide to others as a freewill offering. God looks at the attitude of the heart and He was not pleased with Israel though the people were going through the motions of religious practices.