This passage comes from the book of Amos. Amos was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jereboam II, a time of peace and prosperity, and he called the people to righteous behaviour in keeping with authentic religion.
Amos condemned the people of Israel for three main social sins. Speaking God's words to Israel, Amos condemned the people because:
- 5:7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground.
- 5:10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court and detest the one who tells the truth.
- 5:12 There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
- 5:4,6 Seek the LORD and live.
- 5:14,15 Seek good, not evil ... hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
- 5:24 Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos offered scant comfort in this passage. He suggested if the people seek good rather than evil, "perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph" (5:15). This was only a possibility, and it was only offered to a remnant, not the whole of Israel. (In this verse, Joseph was mentioned because the half-tribes descended from his sons Ephraim and Manasseh became the most prominent tribes of the northern kingdom.)
One thing was certain: because of Israel's sin against their neighbours, the LORD declared "I will send you into exile beyond Damascus" (5:27).
A paraphrase of 5:4-5:
This is what the LORD says to me:Idols are not simply the statues of Buddha at fish and chip shops on the corner. Idols are anything we put our trust in to save us other than God, anything we worship other than God, anything that receives the love and devotion we should be giving to God.
"Seek Me and live.
Do not seek idols.
Do not go to places of idolatrous worship.
Do not travel to apostate churches, or put up with heretical preachers.
For the idolaters who teach lies will surely be exiled from Me,
and their apostate churches will be reduced to nothing."
Even an incorrect view of God, whether derived from naively confused or from blatantly heretical teaching, is an idol. We know this because in this passage, God tells the people not to worship him at the places set up as alternative sites of worship, with alternate idols which were partially designed to emulate God.
This means that Muslims and Latter-day Saints (for example), although they claim to worship in a manner descended from Abraham's faith, are idolaters, because their teaching about God is not entirely true (in concordance with the teaching of the whole Bible). Some of their beliefs about God are heretical. While they may believe they are worshiping the One True God, they are in fact worshiping a distorted idol with some of the LORD's characteristics, but not all.
Either a person believes the truth about God, or they believe a lie. The lie might be subtle, merely rendering a small change from the truth [remember the lies the serpent told Eve in Genesis 3?] but it is a lie none the less.
But none of what I have just said justifies unrighteous behaviour on the part of Christians. Idolatry and heresy is reason to lovingly direct a person to the truth and warn them of the danger of judgement they face. It is never a justification for injustice or oppression.
> Are you guilty of idolatry because your view of God is misinformed or flawed?
> What can you do to improve your knowledge of who God really is?
Why do I love and worship Jesus?
I love Jesus because he came to judge as well as save. My Lord punishes evil and I am grateful.
Thanks be to God
that judgement is in the hands of one who sees the hearts of mankind
and is not swayed by the inside.
I worship you because you make no mistakes in your judgement.
Tomorrow's reading: Exodus 12:1-30.