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Amos and Hosea were contemporary prophets to the nations of Israel and Judah during a period of material prosperity and external religiosity. Inwardly, however, the people’s hearts were empty, their religion was shallow, and care for the poor was absent.

Both prophets criticized a religion that lacked true compassion. In our reading from Amos, God declares His hatred for their religious festivals, assemblies, offerings, and songs because their lives failed to display any spiritual fruit. Instead, Scripture exhorts: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24). Likewise, Hosea condemned the people’s love for God as “the early dew that disappears” (Hosea 6:4). What God really wants is deeper: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Outward religion without heartfelt action is of no interest to our God.

Jesus’ ministry repeatedly emphasized this contrast between empty religion and genuine faith-in-action. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Himself quoted Hosea 6:6 in an encounter with the Pharisees. The Pharisees attended synagogue regularly, tithed faithfully, and applied the strictest measures of the Law to themselves. Yet when they saw Jesus proclaiming the gospel to so-called tax collectors and sinners, they took great offense. Their concern for outward religion had trumped concern and compassion for the poor, the outcast, and those in need of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophetic call of Hosea and Amos. He demonstrated God’s concern for true justice, mercy, and knowledge of God. His response to the Pharisees underscored this call to exercise our relationship with God through spiritual fruit in our lives rather than mere formality.

Apply the Word

How many of us lead religious lives that ignore God’s concerns? Does church attendance trump Christ’s deeper concern for the poor and sinners? Ask God to help you express your faith in Him in tangible ways. Look for opportunities to serve at a soup kitchen, visit prisoners, or share the gospel with others, all as way to show your love for Christ.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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