18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, 19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
Hypocrisy is alive and well in our culture, and when it couples with religion it gives birth to particularly ugly offspring. The Southern Baptist Convention, of which we are a part, has certainly seen its share of examples in recent days.
- The head of the most powerful committee in our convention was discovered to have lied blatantly about his educational credentials and non-existent military service, getting better jobs and more compensation as a result of his deceitfulness. He was dismissed with a severance package, the details of which have not been made known.
- The head of the Southern Baptist children’s homes in one of our states (not Arkansas, I hasten to add!) was recently found to be misappropriating funds for personal use.
- One of our best-known national preachers just sued the Southern Baptist Convention saying that the affair he had with a congregant was a sin between two private people and should not have been included in an SBC report of scandals.
- The former head of one of our universities is now suing the university for firing him over his consistent debaucheries on the grounds that he can prove that board members and other bigwigs were having their own affairs and misuses of funds overlooked and forgiven while he was punished. In his lawsuit, other SBC celebrity pastors are named.
- A Texas pastor was arrested earlier this week for assaulting a number of church members over a number of years.
- A minister in the Midwest was recently arrested for arson and attempted murder.
Now I ask you: Does this represent the majority of Southern Baptists? Absolutely not. Why, then, do such cases get such attention? For this reason: the world knows that sin exists, but what it finds particularly stupefying is how such blatant atrocities exist among those who are ostensibly leaders in the body of Christ. We invite this kind of scrutiny by claiming to be the people of God.
In other words, even the world knows that there is something particularly heinous about religious hypocrisy, especially religious moral hypocrisy or religious criminal hypocrisy.
In a weird way, the world’s shock and even the lost world’s glee at religious hypocrisy is a compliment to the church, for behind it is the idea that if there is a God and if we are His people then our lives really should look different. No, not perfect, but different nonetheless. Is it not so? Should those who have professed allegiance to Jesus Christ not have lives that are least striving to be different, to be holy?
One atheist writer, in his expose of a recently-fallen Christian apologist, wrote this:
I consider it fair fighting to suggest that if Christianity were true, Christians would be different. The religion’s official documents speak mightily of the sanctifying power of the blood of Jesus. This is one of the few testable claims Christianity makes. If being a “new creature” in Christ means anything, it means being significantly different from us old creatures. If Jesus really sanctifies we should see more than mere anecdotes about lost wretches getting found; we should see vast differences between God, Inc. and Tobacco, Inc…
Thoughtful readers will spare me the “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” straw man. No skeptic worth her salt considers the absence of perfect Christians to be evidence against the truth of the religion. The claim is, rather, that if Christianity were true, Christians would be noticeably different around the things that matter, like money and integrity in business. They aren’t. Therefore, . . .
Let us talk about hypocritical religion, but which term I mean this: A self-deluding practice in which there is a chasm between the externals of religious observance and the internal realities of the practitioner’s rebellious heart.
Hypocritical religion fools its practitioners into joyful expectation when they should feel dread.
One of the dangers of hypocritical religion is that it blinds its practitioners to the dread they should be feeling at the Lord’s return. Instead, the mere practice of religion and the externals of religion—gatherings and feasts and songs—lulls the hypocritical practitioner into a false sense of joy. It lies to the practitioner, convincing him or her that everything is ok between him or her and the Lord, when in reality the heart of the person is far from God.
In Amos’ day, the children of God were looking forward to “the day of the Lord,” that coming day when God would visit His children with salvation and his enemies with judgment, when God would set His children free from the oppression of their opponents and lead His children into bliss and eternal joy. So, many of those who were practicing hypocritical religion in Amos’ day were joyfully awaiting this “day of the Lord” when the enemies would be subjugated and the people of God restored. However, the Lord asks a most interesting question:
18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, 19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
Do you see what is happening here? The Lord, through Amos, is saying, “Why are you who are living wicked lives, who are enslaving people, who are oppressing the poor, who are persecuting the lowly, looking for the day of the Lord? You think your earthly opponents are bad? Wait until you fall into the hands of the God who you are rebelling against!”
Imagine escaping a lion and running into a ferocious bear! That is what it is like to be delivered from, say, Assyria only to fall into the hands of the God you have offended! It is like leaning against a wall because you think you are finally safe, but then a serpent bites you! Incidentally, Tchavdar Hadjiev makes the point that that image of leaning your hand on a wall only to be bitten by a snake may hold “a subtle wordplay” pointing to the problem at hand, if you will.
The word “to bite” (nāšak) reminds the reader of the word “interest” (nešek) which was one of the means by which the ruling class drove people into economic dependence.
In other words, the phrasing of this might be linking one of Israel’s specific sins—the financial exploitation of the poor through punitive interest rates—with the coming judgment of God.
Ralph Smith writes of Israel’s longing for “the day of the Lord” during this time:
The term refers to the popular concept that Yahweh would come in judgment upon his enemies and with blessings for his people. Amos did not deny or refute the doctrine. He simply did not agree with his hearers about who God’s enemies were and who were his people.
The Old Testament scholar Robert Alter writes, “Amos makes emphatically clear that such expectations [of a “grand era” in which God “elevate[s] Israel”] are a delusion and that the day of the Lord will be a day of dire retribution for Israel’s sins.” That is a good word for what hypocritical religion does: it “deludes.”
The assumption on the part of rebellious Israel that they were in good standing with God, that the wrath of God would fall only on their earthly enemies, and that the day of the Lord would be a happy day for them was a delusion. Yes, in the day of the Lord the enemies of God would receive judgment, but what if Israel had become the enemy? And what if their hypocritical religion had blinded them to this fact?
It can happen! It is possible to have your religious credentials in proper order and yet be far from the heart of God. It is possible to be right with the church and wrong with the Lord. It is possible to be faithful in worship and unfaithful where it really matters: before God. And it is possible to think that the return of the Lord is a good thing when, for you, it might be anything but. Let us remember what Jesus said in Matthew 7:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
“Lord, we did all these religious things, and oftentimes very successfully!”
“Depart from me. I never knew you.”
Hypocritical religion fools its practitioners into joyful expectation when they should feel dread.
Hypocritical religion fools its practitioners into thinking they are worshiping when actually they are blaspheming.
The most pernicious aspect of hypocritical religion is how it fools us into thinking we are actually worshiping. However, acts of worship when arising out of hearts of rebellion are distorted into blasphemies. Listen:
21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
Why does God say here that He “hates” and “despises” their acts of worship, their feasts and assemblies and offerings and songs and music? Because worship, properly understood, is the joyful expression of the redeemed heart’s true desire: the glory of God. But their behavior revealed that they were in no way seeking God’s glory. True worship is both a recognition and an exultation, an exclamation and a glorification. But when a person who is in rebellion against God—who is, say, abusing the poor, rejecting the commandments, and crushing the hurting into the dust—dares to offer the language of worship and adoration to the God he or she is openly defying, it makes a mockery of worship and heaps scorn on the “worshiper.”
God is incensed by their “worship” because of the radical and mocking disconnect between it and their own hearts. Robert Alter writes, “God’s revulsion from the Israelite cult is because it is conducted by people whose moral behavior is vicious.”
Your heart can render your worship obscene!
This idea is what is behind Paul’s stern caution for us to examine ourselves before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes:
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
In other words, if your heart is far from God and you are rebelling against God, what are you actually doing if, in this state of rebellion, you partake in the outward signs and symbols of the cross, the bread and the juice of communion? If you are in rebellion against God, does it not make your outward show of communion with God a farce, a blasphemy? I am not speaking here, and I do not think Paul was speaking here, of the believer’s sanctification and ongoing battle against sin. We are speaking here of rebellion and rank hypocrisy. Surely we can agree that heart rebellion when coupled with outward shows of religious devotion equate to blasphemies.
Kierkegaard understood this well in the 19th century when he wrote of the false worship of his day that “it is a frightful thing to know…that one’s worship is blasphemy, and then to continue it, because after all one is used to it.”
Indeed, it is. Let us make sure that the reality of our hearts matches our words and actions and posture of worship!
Hypocritical religion is rejected by the truly redeemed person who refuses to traffic in lies.
All of this raises an important question: What does God want from us? Is true worship possible? Dare we even try to worship if the warnings against hypocritical religion are so severe? Yes, we should worship! What does God want from us? Watch:
24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 25 “Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?
Ah! Yes! God desires justice. God desires righteousness, ever-flowing like a stream! In other words, God desires a heart turned towards Him more than He desires the external accoutrements of worship and of religion. Let us be clear: it is not that our behavior earns us the right to worship. Rather, it is that a transformed heart is evidence that we already are worshiping God in and through our lives! For the person who is practicing justice and righteousness, worship is what is already happening, so there is no disconnect between the inward worship of the heart and the outward forms of worship we practice either individually or corporately!
Verse 25 is important. The point there appears to be that in the wilderness Israel did not offer sacrifices, yet the Lord God was with Israel in an amazing and intimate way. In other words, it was not the externals of religion (i.e., sacrifice) that brought about their closeness with God in the wilderness when He led them as a pillar of cloud and fire. Rather, it was their dependency on Him, their trust in Him, their love for Him.
The chapter ends on an ominous note, a prophecy of Israel’s further and coming rebellion and exile.
26 You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god—your images that you made for yourselves, 27 and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.
Israel, the Lord says, will turn to false gods. As a consequence, they will be exiled. Or this might mean that when they are sent into exile they will embrace the false gods of Assyria. What a tragedy!
But how about us? How about you? How about me? Will we reject hypocritical religion? Will our children look at us and say, “My dad went to church and did all of that stuff…but his life showed that he did not mean a word of it.” And children, what of you? Are your parents saying, “Does she really believe? Does he really believe? Do our children actually love the Lord?” And what of all of us? Is our worship real, authentic, and true? Or is it hypocritical and shallow and plastic.
Imagine this scenario: A church of blood-bought children of God—not perfect, not infallible, not immune from falling, but who love the Lord and love His word and love His way—gathering together to praise the name of Jesus, to sit beneath the preaching of the word, to do works of service and mission and love. And imagine the watching world saying this: “Those people over there, those people in that church, they seem to truly be trying to honor the God they say they believe in with their lives. They love justice and righteousness and goodness. They seem to actually love Jesus!”
Church! Church! Let us reject hypocritical religion and embrace instead the Lord Jesus Christ! Let us reject hypocrisy and choose instead the cross. Let us follow our King!
 Baughman, Steve. Cover-Up in the Kingdom: Phone Sex, Lies, And God’s Great Apologist, Ravi Zacharias (pp. 9-10). BookBaby. Kindle Edition.
 Hadjiev, Tchavdar S. Joel and Amos. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Vol. 25 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020), p.147n4.
 Smith, Ralph. “Amos.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed. Clifton J. Allen. Vol. 7 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.115.
 Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible. Vol. 2 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), p.1268n18.
 Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible, p.1269n21.
 Soren Kierkegaard. Attack Upon Christendom. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), p.232.