Amos 4 is an interesting chapter.
It would appear that Israel has gone through some really tough times. There has been famine (verse 6), drought (vss. 7-8), blight and plague (vs. 9), and war (vss. 10-11).
They must have been absolutely horrible days.
You’d think Israel, the people of God, would have turned their eyes heavenward and prayed for deliverance.
In fact, they did. They were very religious, scrupulous about offering the right sacrifices at the appropriate times and giving their tithes to God. And sure enough, their fortunes did turn around. Amos speaks of their great luxury repeatedly in his book. But in spite of this, God says they have not “returned” to Him.
Their blessings were deceptive. They led them to believe they were ok with God. But they weren’t and while they were very religious, their ritual faith did not bring them closer to the Creator. What God wanted was a changed life, a value system that mimicked His own. He wanted not just religious lives, but holy lives and that, Israel was unwilling to give.
Don’t get the wrong idea: religious ritual is required by God, it’s just not the only thing. Jesus will put it like this: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
In our own time, people often reject religion (bound up in such rituals as church going and church involvement, Bible reading, communion taking, baptism etc.) in favor of living a good life. And some embrace the same facets of religion and ignore holy living. Both ways stand condemned by God in Amos, and they continue condemned even to this day. God requires both.