The Book of Amos: Lesson Ten (Amos 4:4–5) – Sinful Worship

Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifice every morning, and your tithes every three days; and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them: for this pleaseth you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah. Amos 4:4–5

Israel had made itself guilty of many sins. Amos is sent to the house of Israel to warn them that God’s judgments will certainly come upon them for these sins. Israel was shocked that the picture drawn by the prophet should be so dark. They were religious people. They kept the law. They prided themselves on their ancestry. They were far different from the other nations.

Amos had referred to the reason for the evils in Israel before. Though they are religious, their religion is not pure. The heart is not right with Jehovah. They worship, but they do not worship as he has commanded. Their religion is man-made. No matter how religious they may be, it does not find favor with their God; it opens the way to all manner of sinful practices. If one’s religion is not genuine, very little good can be expected of his walk of life.



The prophet uses bitter irony in these two verses. Come to Bethel and transgress and to Gilgal to multiply transgressions! These were the places where Israel worshipped. Should not the prophet be pleased that these people bring their sacrifices? The prophets had often been sent to urge the people to sacrifice. Israel now brings sacrifices and the prophet criticizes them for doing it. He is never satisfied! The people bring even more than is required. They are zealous.

Where do they worship? Why, at Bethel and Gilgal, of course. Bethel was the place where Jacob had seen the angels of God. God had appeared to him there. Later Jacob had been commanded to erect an altar there (Gen. 35:1). This was a holy place. Jeroboam I had, very naturally, chosen Bethel as one of the places where Israel might come to worship. Gilgal was also an important place in the history of God’s people. There Israel had encamped when they crossed the Jordan into Canaan. There the stones had been set up as a memorial to God’s wonderful deliverance of his people. No, their places of worship were not chosen haphazardly. They were very carefully chosen. Surely, Israel can not go to Jerusalem to worship. That city is in Judahl Besides, at Jerusalem it is all tradition. The worship is so cold. Here at Bethel and Gilgal they feel at home.

In God’s sight the place of worship was not an insignificant matter. Jerusalem had been chosen by himself as the place where Israel was to worship. Regardless of the history of other places or the circumstances which made it difficult to go there, Jerusalem was the place! They sin in “coming” to Bethel and Gilgal. They had dedicated these places as places of worship, but they would not find Jehovah there.

They do not only sin in coming to worship at the places which God had not chosen; they also sin in their manner of worship. Israel looks the part of the cheerful and liberal giver at both Bethel and Gilgal. However, the prophet is not blinded by the number or value of the offerings. They bring their sacrifices every morning. There is nothing wrong with that. They bring their tithes (the third day?) regularly. They also offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened. Besides the unleavened bread, they also sacrifice that which was not demanded. Free-will offerings are brought besides all this. These offerings are “published” so that everyone may be aware of their religious zeal. They go beyond the demands of the law. These people are indeed religious! If one gives so liberally is it not usually a sign of real spirituality? These people do Dot only speak of their religion with the mouth, they also practise it at the altar. Yet, in spite of it all, the prophet speaks his woes over this people.

Why is the prophet not pleased with their exhibition of spirituality? Because real spirituality is totally lacking! Amos is sent by Him who looks on the heart of man. Despite all their sacrifices, the hearts of this people arc still far removed from him. Externally all was in order. Within their hearts everything was wrong. The people who brought their many offerings at Bethel and Gilgal were the same people who oppressed the poor and crushed the needy. The multitude of their offerings had to serve to cover up their social sins. If the smoke of the altar became thick enough, they might not be able to see the misery of the poor. If they would sing their Psalms loudly enough, they might be able to drown out the cry of the oppressed.

The manner of Israel’s Old Testament worship revealed many dangers. The altar was the center of their worship. The law prescribed the various offerings to be brought. It was so easy to live up to all the demands of the law and still engage in sinful worship. The prophets were sent again and again to warn the people that their God demanded more than the blood of bulls and goats. The heart, the attitude, of the worshipper was the important thing. Then only would the sacrifice be acceptable if it were brought with a believing heart. These dangers have not disappeared with the removal of the altar.

The prophet uses sarcasm in speaking to Israel concerning its sinful worship. “Come to Bethel…come to Gilgal…Go ahead! Keep it up! Of course, he does not urge the people to keep on sinning. This manner of speaking is intended to show them the evil of their ways most clearly. They believe that they are observing all that which Jehovah commanded them. If they go on in this way, it will lead them to ruin!

Why do the Israelites still practise their religious rites if their hearts are not in it? Essentially, it is to please themselves. That is the heart of their religion. It is not to please God but themselves. Regardless of the fact that he has chosen Jerusalem, they will worship at Bethel and Gilgal! Although he demands much more than numbers of sacrifices, they bring these sacrifices and believe that all will then be well. The place, the manner, the purpose…all is sinful! No blessing will attend such worship.

Questions for Discussion:

1. Calvinism stresses the influence of religion for all of life. Why is this not so apparent among others?

2. Why was the place of worship so important? Is this still true?

3. How only can our gifts be an expression of true spirituality?

4. Was there more danger of externalism in Israel’s religion than in ours? Explain.

5. If the heart is right do externals still matter?