For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
“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,
Lest He break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
And devour it.” Amo 5:4-6
Amos was an early prophet, more or less contemporary with Joel and Jonah, prophesying in the generation after the death of Elisha. This is the first place in the prophets where the house of Israel is equated with the house of Joseph.
To recap some of the history we have learned: there were two kingdoms established in Israel after the reign of David and Solomon. The house of Judah (with Benjamin) kept the sons of David for their king, and established the kingdom of Judah, or the southern kingdom. While the ten remaining tribes took Jeroboam the son of Nebat for their king, and established the kingdom of Israel, or the northern kingdom. Jeroboam immediately set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan, banished the Levites from serving the LORD, and made up other feast days for Israel to worship on besides the LORD’s feast days established in Torah.
So Bethel has been a place of worship ever since Jacob gave it its name, “house of God.” It is at Bethel that he had the dream of the ladder that reached into heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it (Gen 28:10-22).
Gilgal is the place of the first encampment of Israel after crossing over the Jordan to enter the land, and remained Joshua’s headquarters all through his campaigns conquering Canaan. It was a high place, a center of idol worship, before Joshua, and returned to the idolatry of its Canaanite roots after Jeroboam caused Israel to sin. During the tenure of the northern kingdom, as a place of idol worship, it was second only to Bethel.
Beersheba was a major city in southern Judah. In essence the LORD is saying, Listen, this captivity is decreed for you. The population will be reduced to just 10% of its present strength (Amo 5:3). You can try to run to Bethel and plead with the golden calf there to help you. It won’t do any good. You can try to run to Gilgal and plead with the even more ancient idol there to help you. It won’t do any good. You can even try to run to Judah to escape what has been decreed for you. It won’t do any good. Would you like to escape the death that is coming? Then seek Me, Me only, and you will live.
“Seek good and not evil,
That you may live;
So the LORD God of hosts will be with you,
As you have spoken.
Hate evil, love good;
Establish justice in the gate.
It may be that the LORD God of hosts
Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Amo 5:14-15
The LORD is saying, Israel, when you celebrate feast days, and offer sacrifices, and sing songs (Amo 5:21-23), while at the same time you get rich by oppressing the poor and perverting justice (Amo 5:11-12), then I hate your outward forms of obedience, which you have been careful to not let touch your heart. If you would seek Me, then you must also seek good and hate evil, and let justice run down like water (Amo 5:24).
Any claim of a relationship with the LORD, if it is not merely outward ritual, will also be accompanied by a devotion to and practice of goodness, justice, and righteousness! Otherwise we have not yet sought the LORD until we have found Him! May we have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the ekklesia, LORD God!