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Amos 5:1-27

February 1, 2016

This chapter forms the center of the book and contains some of the most famous lines spoken by Amos. I will divide my comments into three sections:  1-17, 18-20, and 21-27.

The first section of this chapter, verses 1-17, is a funeral dirge. Amos, already anticipating the death of the nation of Israel, is, in effect, singing its funeral song. The song laments the massive loss of soldiers in war, and continues to accuse Israel of acts of bribery, oppression and injustice against the poor. There is also a repeated call to repent:  to “seek the Lord and live” and to “seek good and not evil, that you may live.”  Such repentance will not avert the death of Israel as a nation, but perhaps it will mean a few individuals will escape death.

The second section, verses 18-20, is remarkable for proclaiming something never heard before from a prophet in Israel: that the “day of the Lord” will be a disaster rather than a triumph for Israel. The “day of the Lord” most likely refers to a common hope in Israel of the future day when the Lord will triumph decisively over Israel’s enemies. The great victories of the past–such as the drowning of the Egyptian army, or the fall of Jericho, or the triumph of Gideon’s tiny army–were likely examples of “the day of the Lord.” These were times when God’s power, not human power, rescued Israel from mortal danger against superior forces. The Israelites, encouraged by what God had done in the past, hoped for a great divine victory in the future–much as Christians now await God’s final triumph over evil and the coming of Christ’s Kingdom.

But, contrary to all accepted beliefs, Amos declares that the day of the Lord is the day God destroys Israel, not rescues it! Imagine a Christian prophet today announcing that the coming of Christ will mean the destruction of the church and nearly all Christians! That, in essence, is the kind of thing Amos is saying. This is turning all hope and theology upside down. This, along with what he says in the next section, is the most radical concept in the book of Amos.

The third section, verses 21-27, continues this radical upside down expectation by announcing that God hates Israel’s worship of God! God hates their religious festivals and worship services, will not accept any of their offerings or sacrifices, and can’t stand the noise of their sacred songs and prayers. All of Israel’s worship is being rejected. In its place, God demands justice to be done. Until that happens, worship is an affront against God.

No passage in the Bible is so critical of worship, and such a passage should give all of us pause. Does our worship actually please God, or is it an affront to God? It is not a matter of how fervent our prayers are, or how meaningful our rituals are, are how inspiring our songs are, or how insightful our sermons are. It’s a matter of being committed to doing what is right (not what is religious). And what is right? Fairness and protection for the vulnerable. If we get that right, then we can worship right.

So what proportion of worship in American churches nauseates God? It would take a true prophet to know. The fact is, we are always to some degree blind to our own hypocrisy. And the more affluent and comfortable we are, the greater our tendency will be to be blind to the real situation of the poor, and to be concerned with self-protection and maintaining the status quo. We are also perhaps prone to being blind to the world situation, ignoring the plight of others if it inconveniences us or threatens our prosperity and a free flow of enjoyments.

The only wise religion is humble religion. We should always be in an attitude of humility and confession, actively seeking out our blind spots, motivated by undeserved grace to extend grace and help to others.

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