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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?

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Excellent. I've always read it one way, but don't think I've ever seen a robust argument for it. –  Ray Oct 27 '11 at 14:20

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I think lonesomeday has a good answer, but I would like to add another dimension:

The festivals and sacrifices being observed in Israel at the time of Amos were also displeasing because they were bound up with idol worship and violated many of the statutes God has given regarding them. The vision Amos receives is written to the people in the day of Jeroboam son of Jehoash (Amos 1:1) when they were going to Bethel to make sacrifices (Amos 3:14, 4:4, 5:5-6).

The sins of Jeroboam son of Jehoash follow the pattern of the kings of the northern kingdom: "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat." Jeroboam son of Nebat set up the worship system in the northern kingdom that persisted to the day of Amos and Jeroboam son of Jehoash, and which we ready about in 1 Kings 12:28-33 (ESV):

So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.

Besides the idolatry, there are couple things worth pointing out:

  • God had commanded that the people worship him at the temple in Jerusalem (Deut. 12:11-14). They were not permitted to worship at Bethel.
  • God had commanded that only the people from the tribe of Levi were permitted to serve as priests. But the priests at Bethel were from any tribe.
  • God had commanded that the festivals be observed on certain days (Lev. 16:29), but Jeroboam had selected other days and month "in his own heart."

The whole situation sadly recalls what happened in Exodus 32:4f, where even as the Law was being given the people had Aaron fashion a calf of gold who then proclaimed "Here are your gods" (cf. 1 Kings 12:28) and ordained a festival and sacrifices. The people then, too, indulged in revelery not too dissimilar from the sins of Israel mentioned in Amos 2:7-8. God was not pleased with the people in Exodus 32; so neither was he pleased with them in the days of Amos when Jeroboam led the people into sin in this way.

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Great adage - lots of juicy details here, thank you! –  stringo0 Oct 27 '11 at 20:58
    
The syncretism and comingling of Yahweh and Baal (in particular) betrayed a cavalier, or even faithless, understanding of whom Yahweh was/is was what was particularly revolting. The rituals that were ordained were to foster relationship with Yahweh, but were twisted into festivals celebrating other gods, taking for granted that Yahweh would be OK with it since it was something that he ordained. –  swasheck Mar 12 '12 at 17:00

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.

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5  
+1. Excellent answer. Just going through the motions is not enough. –  Gone Quiet Oct 27 '11 at 15:03
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The theme predates the Prophets. Look at Lev. 26 and Deut. Chapters 28 and 30. Or see my answer. –  Bruce James May 13 '13 at 15:00
    
@BruceJames Leviticus (especially) and Deuteronomy (to a lesser extent) were written after much of the prophetic literature. –  lonesomeday May 13 '13 at 15:54
    
@lonesomeday -- You're saying that Leviticus wasn't written by Moses? No, I don't agree. –  Bruce James Jun 17 '13 at 18:50
    
@BruceJames That is, of course, your prerogative. –  lonesomeday Jun 17 '13 at 19:26

I'd like to add the words of Philo, who lived in the 1st century A.D.

In Concerning Noah's Work as a Planter (De Plantatione), Ch. XXV, Sec. 107-108, Philo writes,

107 For some persons have fancied the sacrificing of oxen to be piety, and they assign a portion of all that they steal or obtain by denials, or by cheating their creditors, or by plundering, to the altars. Impious wretches that they are, thinking that thus they are paying a price to buy themselves off from suffering punishment for their offences. 108 But to such persons I would say, O ye men, the tribunal of God is not to be corrupted by bribes; so that those who have guilty minds will be rejected, even if they sacrifice a hundred oxen every day; and those who are innocent will be received, even if they never sacrifice at all. For God delights in altars on which no fire is burned, but which are frequented by virtues, and which do not blaze with great flame, such as those sacrifices do kindle which are offered by impious men, and which are no sacrifices at all, and which serve to remind one of the ignorances and wickedness of each of the sacrificers; for Moses has somewhere spoken of a sacrifice “reminding one of sin.”

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My wife summarizes it well: "Sometimes, saying 'sorry' is not enough"; i.e. you have to mean it. In the long list of increasing punishments that the Jews could receive if they should reject G-d's statutes (Lev. 26:14-41) even confessing one's sins, and those of one's father, will not be enough, causing G-d to work on behalf of the enemies of the Jews. But, Lev. 26:42-45 tells us that once we are "humbled" then G-d will remember His covenants with the Patriarchs. See also Deut. 28:15-69; 30:1-10. However, G-d reminds us (at Lev. 26:43-45) that no matter what, He has no intention of breaking His covenant with the Jewish people and they can restore their status with Him at any time.

Moreover, Talmudic commentaries on the laws of bringing Temple offerings, whether they be the grain offerings (mincha) or blood offerings, gave special importance that the person bringing the offering, and the kohen (priest) accepting the offering have the proper intent. If not the offering was deemed pigul -- disqualified, and therefore forbidden to be eaten. Scripture's plain meaning (see Lev. 7:15-18), would seem to count as piggul only those offerings not brought at the correct time. The rabbis, however, something within the commandment that went beyond the plain meaning in scripture. As Maimonedes summarizes the rabbis (in his Hilkhot Pesulei Ha-mukdashin 13:2-3):

It was learned from oral tradition that the verse in Scripture, "And if any of the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering be eaten at all on the third day" (Lev. 7:18), refers only to where there was an intention at the time of the offering that some of it will be eaten on the third day; and that the same law applied to any sacrifice... if there was an intention that they be performed after their proper time the offering was deemed to be piggul.

In the case of an offering, however, where the intention had not been improper and its blood had been sprinkled upon the altar as required by law, but part of it remained after the proper time for eating it – that part which remained was called "leftover" (notar), and it was forbidden to eat it, but the offering itself had already been accepted and effected atonement.

So the Jewish sages were stricter than the Torah here in that they added a requirement of intent, but more lenient in that leftovers, although forbidden to be eaten after the designated time, were not piggul if the intention at the time of the sacrifice was just and appropriate. It might seem that the Rabbis deviated from scripture, but in full context with other verses of the Torah and the prophets, their ruling is actually consistent. G-d did not want offerings for their own sake, but He wanted offerings that reflected the humility and acceptance of blame by the people bringing the offering. Offerings were not meant to be an excuse for a barbecue or an opportunity for one to show off his wealth. Rather, as Isaiah points out G-d wants His people to fear Him and obey Him -- including His laws of sacrifices -- if one does so with a sense of righteousness. Isaiah 50:10 - 51:1.

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