Throughout history, and even to this very day, there are people who treat God like a chemistry experiment: “A little of this, a little of that, and now I have something ‘new’ and ‘improved’!” To be sure, many inventions and structures have come about as the result of combining disciplines or elements in ways never tried before, but Christianity is one that is instead corrupted by whatever variation is attempted. The very definition of the Greek word “heresy” is actually to lay truth side-by-side with error. Just as you wouldn’t drink a cup of water with only one drop of poison in it, neither does 99.99% truth abide well with even just .01% error. And just like the science of chemistry, it seems that people are constantly looking for the formula that will make everything work right for them, often seeking such formulas from the pages of the Bible itself.
Read verses 1-3
Q: What is a dirge? How is it applied here?
A: A dirge is a mournful song most often sung at funerals AFTER someone has died. It speaks volumes of how God now sees the Northern Kingdom of Israel, judged already dead for its wickedness and rebellion.
Q: If they have become so spiritually corrupt, why are they referred to as “the virgin Israel”?
A: It’s a statement about what has been permanently lost, both spiritually and physically. Physically in that the Northern Kingdom of Israel had never before been conquered, spiritually in that they have turned so completely to other gods there is little chance they will turn back. Neither her government nor the false gods in which she’s trusted will be able to rescue her.
Q: To what does v.3 speak?
A: It speaks first to the fact that they will most certainly be defeated, and secondly that only a small remnant will survive.
Point: It is about 25 years before the final destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and its being carried away into captivity by Assyria. Amos’ words come at a time of relative peace and prosperity when the people don’t see that their behavior is leading in this direction. In fact, because they’re acting the way they are and not suffering bad consequences, they don’t see any benefit to changing their way. How does this sound exactly like the situation today?
Application: The people, living in a time of relative peace and prosperity, don’t see their need to change because they’d don’t see their self as God sees them: Already dead.
Read verses 4-7
Q: What is the phrase used here which specifically identifies that God is speaking to the Northern Kingdom of Israel?
A: “O house of Joseph”. (v.5) It’s the tribe of Joseph’s son Ephraim that is most often the short name given to mean the whole of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Q: Why should they seek God, but “not resort to Bethel”?
A: Although “Bethel” means “House of God”, a place where both Abraham and Jacob had special encounters with God, it has become a center of false worship, one of the places Jeroboam set up a golden calf and a false temple and priesthood. In Scripture it is sarcastically renamed “Beth-aven”, the “House of Idols”.
Q: Why should they seek God, but “do not come to Gilgal”?
A: Although it was a place where Abraham erected an altar and the first place occupied by Israel when it crossed the Jordan, it too was turned into a center of idolatry and false worship.
Q: Why should they seek God, but “not cross over to Beersheba”?
A: Although it was once a place of worship for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it was now a center of idolatry and false worship as well.
Point: A major component of their false spiritual legacy was to “re-write” history, so to speak, converting those places of special heritage and testimony to the One True God into “new” testimonies for the false gods they now worshipped.
Q: How are these transformations described?
A: As turning “justice into wormwood” (v.7) – a representation of something sweet made extremely foul and bitter and representing false teaching – and as casting “righteousness down to the earth” – a way of summarizing their actions as holding God’s Word and ways so utterly worthless that they threw them out with the garbage, so to speak.
Point: When people begin to “re-write” their spiritual heritage and misapply God’s ways, the end result from God’s point of view is a complete lack of respect or regard for His Word in general, and for Him specifically. This is not about keeping traditions established by men, but adhering faithfully to His Word and ways.
Application: Spiritual deception is identified by an attempt to re-write both God’s Word and one’s own spiritual legacy to fit with what is now worshiped.
Read verses 10-15
Q: What are the specific charges God levies against Israel? What defines the depth of their wickedness?
A: Their mistreatment of others and their selfish desire for only their own personal needs, also at the expense of others.
Point: God does not have to point out that they’ve completely disregarded the first tablet of the Law to love God with all their heart because their mistreatment of others clearly shows their disregard for the second tablet of the Law to love their neighbor. One might be able to argue to some degree that it can’t be proved whether one loves God or not, but their actions in life undeniably prove the degree of their love for their neighbor, especially if they reprove (v.10), abhor (v.10), impose heavy rent (v.11), exact a tribute (v.11), accept bribes (v.12), and turn aside the poor (v.12). There can be no right relationship with God without a right relationship with one’s neighbor. This is a prelude to why God rejects their worship of Him personally in v.21-27.
Q: Based on the admonition provided in v.14-15, how would you describe Israel’s spiritual condition? How were they acting?
Instead of seeking good, they were seeking evil. (v.14)
The loved evil and hated good. (v.15)
They had no interest in fairness or justice. (v.15)
These were not merely “backsliders” who had temporarily strayed from God’s path, but are wholly devoted to behaviors and ways completely contrary to His Word and character.
Personal Application: How well do you consider that one of the strongest, personal testimonies of the quality of your walk and faith in Christ is the way you treat and deal with others? How does this prove/disprove your Christianity?
Application: God’s proof that spiritual deception has matured into false worship:
The visible evidence: Breaking the second tablet.
The invisible evidence: This proves the breaking of the first tablet.
God always proves there is no true love nor worship of Him by how people treat each other.
Read verses 16-20
Q: Throughout all of Scripture, what are the similarities displayed by people that come into direct contact with God, even those in the New Testament who suddenly realized they were in the presence of the True Messiah?
A: They commonly fall to the ground, unable to look up, acknowledging not just God’s sovereignty and authority, but their own personal inadequacy and sinful nature. Even for the most righteous of examples such as Moses or Daniel or Isaiah, it is a moment of great fear and trepidation to suddenly come into the actual presence of the One True God. NO ONE measures up!
Q: How does this compare to the generation Amos is addressing?
A: Having no real respect for God or His ways, their embrace of false gods has also led to a false notion of what the “day of the Lord” means, what coming before a holy and righteous God in their present wicked and unrighteous condition would really mean. When it comes, there will be “wailing” and “mourning” as described in v.16-17. They have not just changed God’s holy places into redefined corruptions, but done the same to the meaning of His Word.
Q: How does the Bible define the “day of the Lord”?
A: It is that time period in which the wrath of God’s judgment is released upon the wicked. It is NOT the day that all believers go to live with Him or receive heavenly rewards or anything connected with subsequent actions He will take on behalf of the righteous. It is something to be witnessed and experienced by those who have resolutely rejected and defied Him.
Application: The second most visible evidence of spiritual corruption is the attempt to redefine God’s Word to fit their unbiblical behavior.
Read verses 21-27
Q: What is God refusing and why?
“I reject your festivals” (v.21)
“your offerings...I will not accept...” (v.22)
“Take away from Me the noise of your songs” (v.23)
Although they were actually devoted to other false gods, these people apparently still continued observing the Old Testament rituals so that they could claim that they were being lawfully observant and still providing right, legal worship of the One True God. Knowing the true nature of their heart and loyalty, God refuses to accept what is essentially their “going through the motions”.
Q: What is the precedent for this as explained in v.25-26?
A: During the time of the unfaithful generation in the wilderness, their worship was actually divided between false gods (such as the golden calf and the Egyptian gods here mentioned) and the One True God, Who recognized this and therefore refused to accept their efforts.
Note: Go back to v.4-7 and revisit how they took the places where God once worked in great, spiritual ways, and turned them into centers of idolatry.
Q: Does v.25 really say that those Israelites did not offer ANY sacrifices or offerings?
A: No, it specifically states that they did not present “Me with sacrifices”. Worship that is divided between God and false gods is, in reality, no worship of God at all, as again was the case for the people of Amos’ time.
Q: What do these false gods represent and how are they contrasted to the One True God?
A: They are names for the stars and planets to which was ascribed godhood. Sun, moon, and star worship was very common in the ancient world. However, they are contrasted by the final statement, “says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.” This literally means the God of all the heavens, of all the stars. Just as He points out in v.8-9 that they are elevating created things over their Creator, so here too they are elevating things to godhood that are subject and beneath God who created and rules over them.
Application: Can God be “forced” to act in a certain way? Can He be “bound” to respond to us because of a ritual, prayer, or formula? While He wants us to do things His way, is that enough if our heart is not in it? [This is what Israel was trying to do.] How does this relate to people that believe the “Prayer of Jabez” or of the “Word Faith” movement obligates God to bless them financially?
Q: What is the irony of their punishment as proscribed in v.24?
A: Whereas they are withholding justice in their earthly dealings, God will unleash the working of His true justice. It’s a way of setting straight their redefinitions of His Word and ways.
Q: What will this result in?
A: As explained in v.27, some 25 years or so before it actually happens, they will go into captivity, displaced from Israel into lands belonging to the Assyrian Empire. This is indicated by the fact that one must go through Damascus to get to Assyria, a common way of describing this in the jargon of their day.
Application: The biblical definition of “heresy” is to lay truth alongside error.
They continued to observe the Old Testament rituals right alongside those to other gods, believing they were still compliant with God’s Law.
Worship that is divided between God and false gods is, in reality, no worship at all.
God cannot be bound by a formula, even if you think it comes from His Word.
How can your relationship with God be precisely measured? [Answer: In the way we treat others.] Does our love for others equal our love for God?
What is a pretty good indication that we’re straying from God? [Answer: When we begin to change the original meaning of His Word, creating stranger and biblically unsupportable versions of the Truth, even changing the meaning of history or our heritage.] How can we ensure we’re steady and on the right spiritual course?
What happens to our worship of God when we embrace other things as well? [Answer: Divided worship if no worship of God at all.] How can we ensure that our worship remains true and pure and acceptable?
What happens when we attempt to use formulas to bind an outcome from God? In reality, where do all things have to start in order to be right? [Answer: A right heart.]