Questions From Readers
● What is meant at Amos 5:5, which says, “Do not search for Bethel”?
The Israelites of the northern kingdom were very zealous in their pursuit of false worship. This is evident from the words directed to them through the prophet Amos: “‘Come, you people, to Bethel and commit transgression. At Gilgal be frequent in committing transgression, and bring your sacrifices in the morning; on the third day, your tenth parts. And from what is leavened make a thanksgiving sacrifice to smoke, and proclaim voluntary offerings; publish it, for that is the way you have loved, O sons of Israel,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.”—Amos 4:4, 5.
Bethel was a center of false worship. It was there that Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom, set up a golden calf. (1 Ki. 12:28-30) Gilgal, too, must have become a site for apostate worship. Therefore, Israel’s offering sacrifices at Bethel and Gilgal was really a transgression against Jehovah.
It is noteworthy that in their idolatrous worship the Israelites also adopted other practices that would have been contrary to the Law. The Law stated: “No grain offering that you will present to Jehovah should be made a leavened thing.” (Lev. 2:11) Yet apostate Israelites offered leavened items as a “thanksgiving sacrifice.” Similarly, the whole spirit behind voluntary sacrifices was that they not be advertised. Idolatrous Israelites, however, gave them publicity. They loved their false worship, but Jehovah hated it.
Hence, by continuing in their unfaithful course, the Israelites could not escape the execution of Jehovah’s judgments. Only by abandoning false worship and repentantly returning to Jehovah could they hope to escape. That is why the prophet Amos was inspired to declare: “This is what Jehovah has said to the house of Israel, ‘Search for me, and keep living. And do not search for Bethel, and to Gilgal you must not come, and to Beer-sheba you must not pass over [that is, pass over to this enclave city of Simeon]; because Gilgal itself will without fail go into exile; and as regards Bethel, it will become something uncanny [evidently a desolate ruin that would fill passersby with a superstitious fear]. Search for Jehovah, and keep living, that he may not become operative just like fire, O house of Joseph [the ten-tribe kingdom, descendants of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh being the major part], and it may not actually devour, and Bethel may not be with no one to extinguish it.’”—Amos 5:4-6; Josh. 19:1, 2.
It was not by making pilgrimages to Bethel, Gilgal and Beer-sheba, all these being cities of the northern kingdom of Israel, that the Israelites could hope to escape calamity. Searching for divine favor at these places would only bring God’s wrath upon the people. Bethel, Gilgal and Beer-sheba, along with their sanctuaries, would come to nothing. Israel’s only hope was to “search for Jehovah,” to return to him with a complete heart.
Likewise today, no matter how zealously people may pursue religious practices, if such are not in harmony with the truth of God’s Word, they are of no benefit.