Sunday, January 15, 2012

Thoughts on seeking God

"They take a bribe and they turn aside
the poor in the gate" Amos 5:12 - Artist unknown

 TODAY'S SPECIAL: Amos 5:1-15

TO CHEW ON: "Seek Me and live;
But do not seek Bethel
Nor enter Gilgal
Nor pass over to Beersheba;
For Gilgal shall surely go into captivity,
And Bethel shall come to nothing
Seek the Lord and live ... "(Amos 5:4-6)

Amos, speaking to a backslidden Israel, warns her people to stop their frantic religious activity and start actually looking for God. The three cities of pilgrimage he names—Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba— all had significance in Israel's faith story.

Jacob first attached the name Bethel to the place where he dreamed of angels ascending and descending from heaven (Genesis 28:16, 17, 19). But Jeroboam 1 corrupted it when he set up an idol calf there. Bethel's reputation continued to go downhill so that Hosea named it not Bethel (House of God) but Beth-Aven—House of Nothing (Hosea 4:15). Amos reinforces that name when he says here, "Bethel shall come to nothing."

Gilgal was the place the Israelites camped just after crossing the Jordan River from their wilderness wanderings. There Joshua had them set up twelve stones of remembrance taken from the Jordan's riverbed, signifying God's faithfulness to the twelve tribes of Israel (Joshua 4:19-20). Since then it had become an idol shrine: "Gilgal was a place where high places and altars were erected, and idols worshiped as it had formerly been a place of worship of the true God. The ten tribes made use of it in the times of their apostasy for idolatrous worship" - Hosea 4:15" - Gill's commentary on Amos 4:4.

The patriarchs—Abraham (Genesis 21:31-33), Isaac (Genesis 26:23-25), and Jacob (Genesis 46:11)—had worshiped God in Beersheba. Now, however, it was associated with the "sin of Samaria" and linked, along with the city of Dan, to idol shrines (Amos 8:14).

There is a lesson for us in Amos's plea to the Israelites to seek the Lord as opposed to going to Bethel, Gilgal and Beersheba. Three aspects of this seeking come to mind:

1. We need to guard against trying to duplicate the past. When we have met God in a place or time, like the Israelites had in these three cities, it's tempting to make a shrine there, hoping that we will relive what happened if we go back.

2. We need to be vigilant against syncretism, i.e. molding our experience into something it wasn't or isn't by adding in elements, like Israel added idols. Meshing our worship of God with the practices of other religions is always dangerous.

3. We need to follow Amos's simple instructions on how to find God. It is not by going to a sacred place or enacting a religious ritual, but by nurturing an awareness of who God is, and by doing what He values. In simple words, He meets us when we are obedient.

"Seek good and not evil
That you may live;
So the Lord God of hosts will be with you..." Amos 5:14.

PRAYER: Dear God, help me to keep my relationship with You fresh and alive with my obedience. Amen.

MORE: One Master

"A man is a slave for obeying unless behind his obedience there is a recognition of a holy God. Many a soul begins to come to God when he flings off being religious because there is only one Master of the human heart, and that is not religion but Jesus Christ" - Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, July 18 reading.

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