Amosby J.R. Hudberg
As far as the Israelites are concerned, they have been faithful and religious. At the shrines in Bethel and Gilgal, they are worshipping with sacrifices and offerings (Amos 4:4-5). In their minds, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing–following the laws of worship as set out by God in the law.
Amos has already accused Israel of practising their religious rites just for show, of doing them just to make themselves look and feel good (v. 5). Now, God tells Israel directly what He thinks of their religious practices. In case there was any doubt about what He said previously, Amos 5:21 makes it explicit: ″I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.″
We might ask: Isn't there something good in at least part of what they are doing? Shouldn't they get some credit for keeping the festivals, bringing in their offerings, and singing the songs of worship? (vv. 21-23). Weren't the rituals themselves correct, even if they were carried out in the wrong place and for the wrong reasons? Yet it is not these faults to which God points when He expresses His disdain for their religious life.
Ultimately, God's loathing and rejection of the Israelites' worship is caused by their unjust society (v. 24). The twin attributes of justice and righteousness are what God desires of His people, not mere religious practices. This is a message that is repeated throughout Scripture: God does not want obedience to a set of rules, but desires a heart that is devoted to Him and a life that is lived from that devotion.
Religious practices do not make you right with God. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus quotes Hosea in telling His listeners that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Several times Jesus accuses the Pharisees of ignoring the more significant matters of the law (like justice, mercy and faithfulness), while keeping some of the more minute points about tithing (for example, Luke 11:42).
In contrast, James lays out what it means to be truly religious: ″Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world″ (James 1:27). Religion is not about songs, offerings, and prayers. Rather, it is about how we care for one another, especially the vulnerable. If we are lacking in this area of life, then all our ″correct″ religious practices mean absolutely nothing.
To what extent does your faith consist of religious habits like attending church, taking part in worship, tithing, and hearing the sermon? How much do you rely on these things to demonstrate your relationship with God?
How do you care for the vulnerable that you come into contact with?