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What the Bible says about Religion of Israel
(From Forerunner Commentary)

1 Kings 12:26-33

The religion of Israel began with a man, Jeroboam I, who changed the true worship of God.

• 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.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Amos 3:13-14

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)

Amos 4:4-5

Transgress in verse 4 means rebellion, not just sin. God considered Israel's syncretistic approach to religion to be an outright rejection of His way of life.

Amos is speaking sarcastically when he suggests that the people sacrifice and tithe more often. "If you bring your tithes every three days (NKJV, AMP) instead of every three years," he says, "maybe your god, Baal, will respond." This sounds somewhat like Elijah's sarcastic comments in I Kings 18:27.

Amos mentions "leaven" in verse 5. Leaven was not allowed to be in any sacrifice: "No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire" (Leviticus 2:11). Only one offering, the wave loaves on Pentecost, was made with leaven (Leviticus 23:17). A sin offering preceded the offering of the wave loaves, the leavening in them representing the sins still in the congregation of Israel.

Here, Amos' sarcasm continues. The Israelites might as well have been making all their sacrifices with leaven because all their traditions, doctrines, customs, and religious duties were nothing but vanity. Even though they were sincere in doing them, they were nevertheless a leaven brought in from the world. In like manner, Jesus tells us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6-12), that is, of their doctrine and their traditions.

Even a quick glance at modern religious practices reveals how thoughtlessly people accept the doctrines and traditions they have learned—without proving them. Millions of sincere people attend church every week, celebrate the holidays, and send their children to church schools without ever proving their beliefs. They sing in the choir and donate generously when the plate is passed, but they do not really know—have an intimate relationship with—the god they worship. They just blindly accept the leaven they were taught while growing up.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Amos 5:15

Consider modern America. Are we not the greatest "Christian" nation that has ever graced this earth? Have we not distributed Bibles all over the world? Have we not given more money for charitable works than practically all the nations in the world combined? We feel we are a separate, distinct, and greater nation than others. The Bible was deeply ingrained in the thinking of our people until this last generation or so. Surely the Lord is with this nation!

But Amos injects an element of doubt into this line of reasoning for both us and ancient Israel. "It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph" (Amos 5:15). God was with their father Joseph, but was He with his descendants? They went to church and the feasts, but such actions do not necessarily impress God.

Because of his earlier reference to Beersheba (verse 5), Amos mentions Joseph, whom God blessed even in slavery. God told Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Beersheba, "I will be with you." To Israel, the shrine in Beersheba represented God being with them, an idea that is equally important to us. Does God really walk with us as He did with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph? Can we look forward to the future with great hope? Will we sail right through this life into the Kingdom of God and avoid the Great Tribulation? If God is really with us, do we not have His promise, "I . . . will keep you from the hour of trial" (Revelation 3:10)?

Or are we, as a nation or as a church, complacently assuming that He is walking with us? Have we considered that He may not be? The people of Israel assumed it, and Amos announced very plainly that God was not walking with them. They were deceived!

The Israelites were wallowing in wealth and power. They were supporting their religious institutions and attending worship services and festivals. But in God's eyes, they were "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked"—just like the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:17). In reality, God was not in their lives, though He wanted to be. Through Amos, He was knocking on their door (verse 20).

Should we allow ourselves to relax because we are part of God's church? The Jews in Jeremiah's time relied on the presence of the Temple to give them security (Jeremiah 7:1-4). Not long thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar's army carted the nation into slavery in Babylon. The Jews of Jesus' day felt secure because they were born under the Old Covenant and could trace their ancestry back to Abraham (John 8:33). Within forty years Rome reduced Jerusalem to a pile of rubble.

Is it possible, then, that even though we consider ourselves Christians, our future may not be a time of serenity and hope but of great testing? Are we not fast approaching "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7)? Now is no time to rest either on our oars or our laurels!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Amos 6:6

God's complaint against Israel's religion is that it had form but no substance. The people made pilgrimages to their shrines, but they did not grieve for their nation's sins (Amos 6:6). They went to church, but they continued to cheat and steal and lie (Amos 8:5-6). They made a great show of being religious, but their religion caused no changes in their conduct.

God's Word shows that true religion is having concern for and helping the weak, as well as showing hospitality and generosity to those who cannot return the favor (James 1:27). It is sacrificing oneself in service; as Christ said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). It is speaking the truth and being honest—even swearing to one's own hurt (Psalm 15:4)—not backbiting or gossiping. True religion is not exacting the last cent on a deal, or impatiently watching the sun go down on the Sabbath to do one's business or pleasure. It is not taking usury and so on. To use a cliché, Israel talked the talk but did not walk the walk.

Even after giving them His law, God did not leave the people of Israel without a witness—a right example—of how to live. While they were drifting away, He gave them the Nazirites, people who had consecrated themselves to God (Amos 2:11; see Numbers 6:1-21). A Nazirite, a "separated one," was anyone from a tribe other than Levi who dedicated himself to God for a special period of time. Nazirites were separate because of their holiness; they vowed not to drink wine, cut their hair, or touch dead bodies.

God apparently called enough Nazirites within Israel to exemplify pure living before His people. Additionally, He sent prophets to testify against the nation and expose the direction she was going. How did Israel react? Probably through some kind of persecution, they forced the Nazirites to break their vow and muzzled the prophets (Amos 2:12).

The more holy we become, the greater the contrast between us and the world—and the more likely the world will seek to persecute us. When Jesus Christ, the most holy, moral, and different human being who ever lived, walked this earth, His own people killed Him. They could not tolerate His holiness. Thus, He warned His disciples, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)


 




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