Amos 5:21-24 – I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The scripture above is an incredibly frightening section of scripture. The Lord is speaking out against the northern kingdom of Israel, and he has very little good to say to them. God expresses his feelings about their ceremonial religious behavior, and those feelings are not gentle. He says that he hates and despises there ceremonies and feasts. He says that he will not accept or even look upon their offerings. He will not even listen to their songs of worship.
Why is God so upset with Israel? There are many reasons, but the main things in Amos have to do with the evil way that the people of Israel live before him. They oppress the poor, stealing from them and taking advantage of them. They worship false Gods. And they do all these things while arrogantly believing that they can also offer their religious leftovers to the Lord. This is why God is saying that he rejects their offerings, ceremonies, and songs.
Imagine a wife who is unfaithful to her husband. She steals from the family’s bank account to go out, party, and have affairs with several men in her community. She publicly says all sorts of slanderous and degrading things about her husband, and shows no sign of wanting to turn away from her many lovers. Would you expect her husband, knowing all of this, to be happy if this adulteress woman gave him a little birthday gift? Of course not. The gift, even if accompanied by a party with nice food and decorations would by no means make up for her unrepentant adultery and her overall unfaithfulness to the husband and the family.
In much the same way, we ought never expect God to be impressed with our outward religious actions if our lives and our hearts do not match. God will not be impressed with your church attendance on Sunday if you are living like a pagan from Monday through Saturday. He will not love your songs of praise to him if you are worshiping possessions, entertainment, or simply yourself on every other day. He will not be impressed with your dropping a little money in the offering basket on Sunday if you are abusive to your spouse, cruel to the needy, stealing from your employer, or embracing sexual immorality. God hates empty and false religion. He would not accept it from Israel, and he will not accept it from you.
There is, however, another side of the coin. Let me illustrate with another picture of a marriage. I have a loving, kind, generous, and faithful wife. Mitzi is a loving mate and a fabulous mother to my child. I have no fear that she will say or do anything to bring me harm. Unlike the husband in my earlier illustration, I appreciate even the smallest gift from my wife. She does not have to plan a party or decorate a room for me to be completely joyful about a gift she gives me. She does not even have to give me a gift, but simply can say something kind to me to bring me happiness. I can enjoy and appreciate all her gestures of kindness, because I know that she loves me and is faithful to me as her husband. I do not reject her attempts to show me love, because I know them to be genuine, sincere, and pure.
In much the same way, the final call from God in verse 24 gives hope to the people of Israel if they will receive it. He calls them to turn from their evil ways, and turn to justice and righteousness. He calls them to start living in kindness and compassion toward the needy. He calls them to make their lives match their confession of faith. He calls them to live in righteousness, obeying his commands and putting away their false gods. And the understood promise here is, if they will turn from evil to righteousness and justice, the Lord will receive their worship.
If God’s call to turn to him in true worship backed up by a sincere life of obedience to his commands is a good thing for Israel, it is a fabulous thing for us as well. While God does not accept worship that is given to him out of false and empty hearts, he most certainly hears the cries of his children who are broken and penitent. If you confess your sin to him from a genuine heart, he will forgive you in Christ. If you worship him by bringing him songs, prayers, and offerings that match a life of heartfelt obedience, he will be pleased with you and receive your gifts. Let me be very clear here, this can only happen in Christ. We are all guilty before God, and we must receive his gracious forgiveness in Jesus before anything about our worship will ever be acceptable to him. But, if we are in Christ, let us also live in authentic obedience to our Lord in order that our worship might be acceptable in his sight.
Dear Lord, I pray that you will make my worship genuine and acceptable to you. I desire to honor you with my life. Please root out any inconsistencies in my words and actions. I pray that you will help me to be kind to the poor and needy. I pray that you will empower me to obey your commands. I pray that you will show me anywhere in my life that I am living for self or worldly idols instead of your glory. Help me to put away all such evil, that my worship before you might be truly good in your sight. Allow my life to please you, to match what I say I believe about you. I am yours, O Lord, and I long to worship you from a heart of genuine righteousness in Christ.