In Amos 5:21-24 God says:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
But weren't those assemblies and festivals and offerings ordained by God in the first place? Is God creating new expectations for his people here?
This is actually part of a theme that runs through prophetic literature: the idea that the people of Israel are doing the ritual right but getting all the important stuff wrong. It is consonant with, for example, in the book of Hosea:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings. (Hosea 6.6)
Or in Isaiah, specifically about fasting:
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58.4-7)
The passage from Amos is quite similar to these ideas: the rituals of worshipping the God of Israel are pointless if they are not accompanied by a transformation in behaviour. The festivals and music and offerings are pointless in themselves: their point is to worship the God of Israel, or to express repentance. If the fasting is without righteousness and the assemblies are without justice, they cease to be of any value.
And no, these expectations are not new. The idea that the people of Israel should love their God above all else comes in a very important passage of law: Deuteronomy 6.5. The whole point of the book of Amos is to recall Israel to this practice, to stop them from treating the law as something merely to be observed on a superficial level.Tweet