Their religion was all a pious farce!
(J. R. Miller, "Devotional Hours with the Bible")
"Go to Bethel and sin! Go to Gilgal and sin yet more! Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings—boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do!" declares the Sovereign LORD. Amos 4:5-6
"Go to Bethel and sin!" cried the prophet. Bethel was their place of worship—but every time they came there, they sinned because their worship was sin. Instead of bowing before the true God and adoring Him, they bowed before idols and gave them the honor which belonged to God alone. The more devout they were, therefore, the more they dishonored the Lord. Their great zeal, as shown in their sacrifices and tithes and free-will offerings, only multiplied their sin and heaped up sorer judgment against them!
Their religion was all a pious farce, and the more there was of it—the more of an abomination it was unto God. God cannot be pleased with mere forms of worship and with ceremonials. The more we multiply these, the more do we grieve Him—if our heart is not in them.
We may say that we have no idols now in our churches; but are we sure of this? Do we truly worship God in our church services? When we sing the hymns—are our hearts fixed upon God? When we pray—are we really talking to God? When we confess sins—is the confession sincere? When we sit in God's house—are we truly in God's presence, breathing out our heart's love and worship to Him? If not, what or whom are we adoring, praising, worshiping? Empty religious forms—must have some idol at the heart of them!
The prophet told them very plainly what was in their hearts. "This is what you love to do!" You love this! You love to make a great display in your religion. This display of piety—is just to your taste. You like to cover up your sins—with forms of worship, appearing as saints before the world, though in secret cherishing and practicing all manner of wickedness!
This is God's own picture of these ancient 'worshipers'. We need to look honestly at it—to see if it is OUR picture. God looks at the heart! No external appearances are of any value—unless they are genuine expressions of what is in the heart! Pirate ships carry reputable flags—to cover their dishonorable character. Religious hypocrisy often puts at its masthead, the colors of devout saintliness. But God cannot be deceived.