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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (3): The Prophets on Worship



Hosea and 5 KingsOne of the great gifts God gave to Israel and Judah were the prophets. Abraham, the father of the nation, was a prophet himself. Moses, the great Lawgiver, was a prophet. David, the ideal king of Israel, was a prophet. There were many others. Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Micaiah Ben-Imlah, Elijah, Elisha – and the list goes on. These “oral prophets” spoke to kings and the people in the name of Yahweh. Samuel could be an exception, as he may have written at least part of the first book bearing his name.

Then, there were the “writing prophets.” During a span of more than four hundred years, from the mid-800’s through most of the 400’s B.C., sixteen prophets wrote the seventeen books we categorize as Prophecy.

The task of these men was to call the people to faithfulness to the Covenant the LORD made with them at Sinai and to point to the glorious fulfillment of His promises to Abraham in the coming Messiah. They explained what God was doing among the nations that surrounded Israel, including how He used those nations to punish Israel when they strayed from following the LORD.

Some of the prophets, such as Jeremiah of Anathoth, apparently were priests. Some, like Isaiah, were relatives of Kings. Others, like Amos, were from the common people. All spoke with passion calling Israel (and even foreign nations) to repent to avoid coming judgment in “the Day of the LORD.” We remember Jonah’s message to Nineveh that brought repentance for all from the King down to the lowliest servant. Consider this passage from Joel, perhaps the first of these “writing prophets:”

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” “Rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity And leave behind him a blessing – grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God? – Joel 2:12-14 (NIV).

The Eighth Century Prophets

Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos all prophesied in the Eighth Century B.C. A theme common to all three of these men of God was concern that Israel and Judah were neglecting God’s concerns for the poor and disadvantaged while they still worshipped Jehovah. They all talked of how worthless such worship is.

Consider these excerpts from these prophets:

Hosea:

Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. “There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. “Because of this, the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. “But let no man bring a charge, let no man accuse another, for your people are like those who bring charges against a priest. “You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you. So I will destroy your mother. “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children. – Hosea 4:1-6.

God had commissioned Israel as a kingdom of priests at Sinai. They were not living up to their priestly duties and character. Hence, God rejects them.

Israel’s arrogance testifies against them; the Israelites, even Ephraim, stumble in their sin; Judah also stumbles with them. When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them. – Hosea 5:5-6 [

When they bring sacrifices as they seek the LORD, they will find Him gone.

Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning. I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien. They offer sacrifices given to me and they eat the meat, but the LORD is not pleased with them…. – Hosea 8:11-13a

Worship without faithfulness does not please God.

Amos:

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies.

Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

Note: this does not speak of God’s abhorrence of instrumental music; He had commanded such music, as well as the burnt offerings and grain offerings of the previous verse. This Old Testament quote does not disprove the use of instrumental music today. To ban instruments from worship today, look elsewhere for justification.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! – Amos 5:21-24

The very worship of Israel was hateful to God in the absence of justice and righteousness.

Lest any object that these prophets to the Northern Kingdom spoke this way because the worship of Israel was at the shrines of Bethel and Dan, listen to similar words from Isaiah who prophesied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah where they still worshipped at the Temple Solomon built.

“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have moreIsaiah than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.

Why is this? Why does the LORD hate the worship Judah brought to Him? Isaiah continues:

Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

The problem is not in their ritual of worship; the problem is in their hearts and actions.

Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

In spite of their sin, God offers them redemption – if they repent. – Isaiah 1:11-20

The prophets wept over the condition of God’s people, even as they called them to repentance in the name of the LORD.

See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her – but now murderers!

….Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Therefore, the LORD, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies. “I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. “I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” – Isaiah 1:21-26

Israel was supposed to be a light to the Gentiles, but they became as depraved as the nations around them. Yes, they were sometimes guilty of idolatry and the worship of strange gods. That, however, was not their only problem. They were guilty of oppressing the poor and needy, and the prophets spoke against this in strong terms:

You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:11-12.

The government and courts were corrupt and had become instruments of oppression of the poor. Because of this, the prophet said Israel would be destroyed.

How could worship from such corrupt people be acceptable to our Holy God? Any people who turn away from the Righteousness of God, as these had, cannot worship Him in holiness and truth.

Acceptable worship begins with hearts in tune with God’s heart, and with hands that are ready to serve Him by serving others, especially those who are most needy.

Our next post will look at a familiar example of rejected worship – the incense from Nadab and Abihu.

NEXT – (4) Acceptable Worship: Nadab and Abihu

PREVIOUS – (2) Acceptable Worship: Cain and Abel

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