Israel's false religion, represented by the altars of Bethel, is at the root of her problems. The violence and injustice in Israelite society ultimately stemmed from the false teaching proclaimed from the pulpits.
For this reason, God shows that the preacher, not the civil authority, is the most vital part of the community. God set up the Levites within Israel to function as the teachers of His way of life, and He sent the prophets as watchdogs on the Levites and civil leaders. In many cases, when the king or the nation had wandered from the way, the prophets were sent to correct them (e.g., II Samuel 12:1-15; I Kings 18:17-19; II Kings 21:10-15).
At the foundation of every community is a way of life that its people live and teach their children. Does that way of life conform to the God of the Bible, or does it spring from the mind of men? If it is of men, it will not work very long. So it was in the northern kingdom of Israel after its division from the kingdom of Judah. The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God (I Kings 12:26-33).
- He established a feast in the eighth month to replace the true Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh.
- He may have replaced the Sabbath with Sunday worship.
- He replaced the Levitical priesthood with men of his own choosing.
- Lastly, he replaced God with golden calves in Bethel and Dan.
A religion with such a beginning was doomed to fail, bringing the nation down with it.
When religion is ungodly, its power is destructive, and every institution in the nation suffers. For instance, Amos 2:7 describes a deliberate act of ritual prostitution in a pagan temple: "A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name." What was the rationale behind this perverse, immoral act?
Because Baal was neither alive nor a moral force, his worshippers felt they could communicate with him only by ritual actions that portrayed what they were asking him to do. Since Baal was, like almost all ancient deities, a fertility god, the human act of intercourse demonstrated that they wanted Baal to prosper them. But what was its real effect on the participants and the nation? Ritual prostitution only served to erode the family, eventually leading to the destruction of the nation.
Baal was different from his adherents merely in that he was above them. God's difference from us is that He is holy; He is moral and we are immoral. After we accept His calling, He commands us to become moral as He is.
The basis of all immorality is selfishness, the exact opposite of what God is. God wants to transform us from people who are bent on pleasing ourselves to people who show concern for others. This is the crux of our salvation through Jesus Christ. In those God calls out—those who, by faith, will voluntarily yield to Him—He is building character based on outgoing love.
Immorality lies in the desire of men to live self-centered lives independent of God, as when Adam and Eve took of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-19). To become moral, we must kill our selfish egos through the use and guidance of God's Holy Spirit. When we see that our thoughts and ways are not His, we should reform and repent. By submitting to Him, we take a small step in being transformed into what He is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)