Someone one said that anyone who likes either politics or sausage should carefully avoid seeing either being made. I love sausage, and in my case, it certainly could be said that “ignorance is bliss.” I don’t know exactly how sausage gets made, and I don’t want to know. Ever.
The reason I bring up this rather morbid segue is because of the 1st verse in today’s passage. Amos, ever the picture of subtle criticism, compares the upper income ladies of Israel to cows. Bashan was a region of Israel just east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, and it was famous for its choice, pampered cattle. One of my favorite comic strips was The Far Side, and I remember seeing one in which cows are in a line leading to the slaughterhouse, and one of them is cutting ahead of the others, and one of the cows is yelling at the cutter “Hey, you! Get back to the end of the line!”
You see my point. He was comparing these wealthy women to cattle because they were pampered and supposedly had their every need cared for, but they were just being prepared for the slaughter.
And what specifically were they guilty of? Well, they crushed the poor, oppressed the needy, and treated their husbands with contempt. All they cared about was their luxurious lifestyle. And that was going to come to an end very shortly and very painfully. The fish hooks in the mouth were an extremely torturous way of carrying off prisoner of war into exile. By the way, that was something in particular that Assyria was famous for, and this was in fact the nation that the Lord used to punish Israel and destroy her.
But what I’d like to focus on even more sharply is what the prophet says about their worship. What did the Holy Spirit think about it?
Well, he invited them to “Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more.” Bethel and Gilgal were very sacred in Israel’s history as places in which God intervened on their behalf. Bethel was the place of Jacob’s famous dream, and Gilgal was where all Israel was circumcised as they entered the Promised Land.
They offered their tithes just like they were supposed to, except they were supposed to be using unleavened bread most of the time. However, leaven was used in the thanksgiving offerings, which Amos references in vs. 5. Scholars are divided as to whether he's condemning them for using leaven, but based on the context, I don’t think so.
You see, the main issue wasn’t following the correct formula. The main problem was the condition of their hearts, which then overflowed into how they treated the poor and other people.
Now matter how often they went to corporate worship or how often they sacrificed, God was not impressed. They didn’t come with a right heart, and that was all-important.
You probably didn’t notice this, and I certainly didn’t until commentators pointed it out to me. Do you notice anything missing in his description of their worship? He lists thank offerings and freewill offerings. What’s not there? Like the non-barking dog in the The Silver Blaze, it’s what’s missing that’s all important.
There’s no sin offering mentioned here. There’s no indication that they had any sense of how much they’d offended the Holy God of Israel.
You see my friend, there’s no true worship that he accepts until the sin issue is dealt with. Now hopefully you know that just killing an animal and spilling its blood—even if the ritual is performed perfectly—would not solve the problem. There had to be—as Joel put it—a rending of the heart. There had to be, there has to be, an acknowledgement of the seriousness of our sin. That leads to confession, and there has to be a blood sacrifice.
And of course all the blood of all the animals in the Old Covenant were only shadows of the one and only true sacrifice which would appease God’s wrath for all time.
But for those of us who are believers, who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, there’s still something we need to consider: How’s our worship? Is it something he finds acceptable? Something with which he’s pleased? Is the sin in our lives dealt with? If not, then what are we doing?
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.