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In November 2012 an Oklahoma judge sentenced a teen convicted of first-degree manslaughter to attend mandatory worship services at a church for ten years. In contrast to the American judge who thought church attendance would benefit the teen, the prophet Amos standing on the front step of the temple (7:13) condemned the worship practices of the nation of Israel as unbeneficial because the lifestyle of the people did not correlate with the profession of their worship. Attending church may be harmful.
As a consequence of the separation of worship from lifestyle, the Judge pronounced a death sentence on the people (5:1-2). Yet God offered Himself as the source of healing.
Our worship may honor God or provoke God. Worship, then, is vital. What is true biblical worship? What worship activities does God condemn?
First, biblical worship focuses on the person of worship, not the place of worship (Amos 5:4-6). God graciously offered Himself as the remedy to the approaching death of the nation. God invited the people to seek Him urgently. The invitation to seek Him is a command. God invited people to seek Him diligently. The Hebrew term translated “seek” means “to seek with care” or “to be intent.” God invited the people to seek Him personally. The inviting God is Yahweh or Jehovah, the covenant name for God. Seeking God involves repentance, entering into God’s presence, walking in His ways, and doing His will (Ps. 24:3-6; Isa. 55:6-9).
Amos does not downplay the importance of the physical location of worship; he condemned trust in the mere religious rituals performed in physical locations of worship. A worship center may have positive and negative aspects. Jacob worshiped God at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-15). Because the people trusted in worship activities, God threatened to turn Bethel (“house of God”) into Beth-Aven (“house of nothing”). Joshua commemorated the crossing of the Jordan by means of memorial stones at Gilgal. If the people refused to repent, the worship center at Gilgal would become a place of exile rather than entrance.
Second, biblical worship exalts attributes of God (Amos 5:6-9). In a few brief verses, Amos detailed the character God. First, God is a holy God who judges sin like a consuming fire. Throughout his prophecy, the prophet condemned the people for a lack of justice, that is, their treatment of other people. The people turned justice into wormwood—a small poisonous plant. Amos detailed the actions people committed in violation of justice: corrupt court system, lack of integrity, oppression of the poor, and bribery (Amos 5:10-12). Instead justice and righteousness should serve as the theme song of the people of God (Amos 5:24). Second, God is the Creator God. The people worshiped Sakkuth and Kaiwan—Assyrian heavenly deities associated with Saturn made by humans (Amos 5:26). Perhaps the people were seeking guidance through astrology. God, however, created the constellations, the regular order of nature (day and night), and the tides. The Assyrian gods were powerless to help the people. The creator God possesses all power. Third, God is personal. God’s name is Yahweh—the covenant name for God who enters into relationship with people based on their need. If the people sought the intimate God, then the Warrior God (God of Hosts) would become their defender.
Third, biblical worship rejects superficial worship (Amos 5:21-24). These words express the strongest language attributed to God of something He dislikes in the entire Bible. God hates, despises, rejects, and has no regard for insincere worship of religious hypocrisy. God hated that which the people assumed pleased Him. The worship involving regular scheduled worship feasts, special times of religious assembly, required sacrifices, voluntary sacrifices (fellowship offerings) and music displeased God because of the hypocrisy of the people.
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