Search for Jehovah, the Examiner of Hearts

“Search for me, and keep living.”​—AMOS 5:4.

1, 2. What is meant when the Scriptures say that Jehovah “sees what the heart is”?

JEHOVAH GOD told the prophet Samuel: “Mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.” (1 Samuel 16:7) How is it that Jehovah “sees what the heart is”?

2 In the Scriptures, the heart is often used figuratively to represent what a person is inside​—his desires, his thoughts, his emotions, and his affections. So when the Bible says that God sees the heart, it means that he looks beyond outward appearances and focuses on what a person really is.

God Examines Israel

3, 4. According to Amos 6:4-6, what conditions existed in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel?

3 As the Examiner of hearts looked down upon the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel in the days of Amos, what did He see? Amos 6:4-6 speaks of men who were ‘lying down on couches of ivory and sprawling on their divans.’ They were “eating the rams out of a flock and the young bulls from among  fattened calves.” Such men had “devised for themselves instruments for song” and were “drinking out of bowls of wine.”

4 At first glance, this might appear to be a pleasant scene. In the comfort of their well-appointed homes, the rich enjoyed the best in food and drink and were entertained by the finest in musical instruments. They also had “couches of ivory.” Archaeologists have found exquisitely carved ivories in Samaria, the capital city of the kingdom of Israel. (1 Kings 10:22) Very likely, many of these had been attached to furniture and inlaid in wall paneling.

5. Why was God displeased with the Israelites of Amos’ day?

5 Was Jehovah God displeased that the Israelites were living comfortably, savoring tasty meals, drinking fine wine, and listening to beautiful music? Of course not! After all, he provides such things richly for man’s enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17) What displeased Jehovah were the wrong desires of the people, their wicked heart condition, their irreverent attitude toward God, and their lack of love for fellow Israelites.

6. What was the spiritual condition of Israel during the time of Amos?

6 Those ‘sprawling on their divans, eating the rams out of a flock, drinking wine, and devising instruments for song’ were in for a surprise. Those men were asked: “Are you putting out of your mind the calamitous day?” They should have been greatly distressed over conditions in Israel, but they had “not been made sick at the catastrophe of Joseph.” (Amos 6:3-6) Looking beyond the nation’s economic prosperity, God saw that Joseph​—or Israel—​was in a catastrophic spiritual situation. Yet, the people went about their daily affairs unconcerned. Many people today have a similar attitude. They may acknowledge that we are living in difficult times, but as long as they are not affected personally, they care little about the plight of others and manifest no interest in spiritual matters.

Israel​—A Nation in Decay

7. What would happen if the people of Israel did not heed divine warnings?

7 The book of Amos paints a picture of a nation in decay, its outward appearance notwithstanding. Because of their failure to heed divine warnings and correct their viewpoint, Jehovah would abandon them to their enemies. The Assyrians would snatch them from their splendid ivory  couches and drag them off into captivity. No more comfort for them!

8. How had Israel come to be in a bad spiritual state?

8 How had the Israelites come to be in such a state? This situation had begun to develop in 997 B.C.E., when King Solomon was succeeded by his son Rehoboam and ten tribes of Israel separated from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The first king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel was Jeroboam I, “the son of Nebat.” (1 Kings 11:26) Jeroboam convinced the people of his domain that it was too much for them to travel to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah. However, he was not truly concerned about the welfare of the people. Instead, he was trying to protect his own interests. (1 Kings 12:26) Jeroboam was afraid that if the Israelites continued to go to the temple in Jerusalem for annual festivals honoring Jehovah, they would eventually switch their loyalties to the kingdom of Judah. Seeking to prevent this, Jeroboam set up two golden calves, one at Dan and the other at Bethel. Thus calf worship became the State religion in the kingdom of Israel.​—2 Chronicles 11:13-15.

9, 10. (a) What religious observances were arranged for by King Jeroboam I? (b) How did God view the festivals held in Israel in the days of King Jeroboam II?

9 Jeroboam tried to give the new religion an air of respectability. He arranged for observances somewhat similar to the festivals held in Jerusalem. At 1 Kings 12:32, we read: “Jeroboam went on to make a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival that was in Judah, that he might make offerings upon the altar that he had made in Bethel.”

10 Jehovah never approved of such false religious festivals. He certainly made that clear through Amos more than a century later during the reign of Jeroboam II, who became king of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel in about 844 B.C.E. (Amos 1:1) According to Amos 5:21-24, God said: “I have hated, I have rejected your festivals, and I shall not enjoy the smell of your solemn assemblies. But if you people offer up to me whole burnt offerings, even in your gift offerings I shall find no pleasure, and on your communion sacrifices of fatlings I shall not look. Remove from me the turmoil of your songs; and the melodious sound of your stringed instruments may I not hear. And let justice roll forth just like waters, and righteousness like a constantly flowing torrent.”

Present-Day Parallels

11, 12. What parallels can be drawn between worship in ancient Israel and that found in Christendom?

11 Clearly, Jehovah examined the hearts of those engaging in Israel’s festivals and rejected their observances and offerings. Similarly today, God rejects Christendom’s pagan celebrations, such as Christmas and Easter. For worshipers of Jehovah, there can be no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness, no fellowship between light and darkness.​—2 Corinthians 6:14-16.

12 Other parallels can be noted between worship carried on by the calf-worshiping Israelites and that found in Christendom. Although some professed Christians accept the truth of God’s Word, Christendom’s worship itself is not motivated by genuine love for God. If it were, she would insist on worshiping Jehovah “with spirit and truth” because that is the kind of worship that pleases him. (John 4:24) Moreover, Christendom does not “let justice roll forth just like waters, and righteousness like a constantly flowing torrent.” Instead, she consistently soft-pedals God’s moral requirements. She tolerates fornication and other gross sins and even goes so far as to bless homosexual unions!

 “Love What Is Good”

13. Why do we need to comply with the words of Amos 5:15?

13 To all who yearn to worship Jehovah in an acceptable way, he says: “Hate what is bad, and love what is good.” (Amos 5:15) Love and hate are strong emotions that emanate from the figurative heart. Since the heart is treacherous, we must do everything in our power to safeguard it. (Proverbs 4:23; Jeremiah 17:9) If we allow our heart to nurture wrong desires, we may find ourselves loving what is bad and hating what is good. And if we act on such desires by practicing sin, all the zeal in the world will not bring us back into God’s favor. Let us therefore pray for God’s help to “hate what is bad, and love what is good.”

14, 15. (a) In Israel, who were among those doing what was good, but how were some of them being treated? (b) How can we encourage those who are in full-time service today?

14 Not all Israelites were doing what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. For instance, Hosea and Amos ‘loved what was good’ and served God faithfully as prophets. Others took vows as Nazirites. For the length of their Naziriteship, they abstained from the use of products of the vine, especially wine. (Numbers 6:1-4) How did the other Israelites view the self-sacrificing course of such doers of good things? The shocking answer to that question reveals the extent of the nation’s spiritual decay. Says Amos 2:12: “You kept giving the Nazirites wine to drink, and upon the prophets you laid a command, saying: ‘You must not prophesy.’”

15 Upon seeing the faithful example of the Nazirites and the prophets, those Israelites should have been ashamed and should have been moved to change their ways. Instead, they unlovingly sought to discourage the loyal ones from giving glory to God. Let us never urge fellow Christians who are pioneers, missionaries, traveling overseers, or members of the Bethel family to discontinue their full-time service simply to return to a so-called normal life. Rather, let us encourage them to keep up their good work!

16. Why had the Israelites been better-off in Moses’ day than they were in the time of Amos?

16 Although many Israelites were enjoying a materially satisfying life in the days of Amos, they were “not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21) Their forefathers had eaten only manna in the wilderness for 40 years. They had not feasted on manger-fed bulls or sprawled sluggishly on couches of ivory. However, Moses had rightly told them: “Jehovah your God has blessed you in every deed of your hand. . . . These forty years Jehovah your God has been with you. You have not lacked a thing.” (Deuteronomy 2:7) Yes,  the Israelites in the wilderness always had what they truly needed. Best of all, they had God’s love, protection, and blessing!

17. Why did Jehovah lead the early Israelites into the Promised Land?

17 Jehovah reminded the contemporaries of Amos that He had brought their ancestors into the Promised Land and had helped them to clear it of all their enemies. (Amos 2:9, 10) But why had God led those early Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of promise? Was it so that they could live a life of idle luxury and reject their Creator? No! Rather, he had done so to make it possible for them to worship him as a free and spiritually clean people. But the inhabitants of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel did not hate what was bad and love what was good. Instead, they were giving glory to graven images, not to Jehovah God. How shameful!

Jehovah Holds an Accounting

18. Why has Jehovah set us free spiritually?

18 God was not going to ignore the disgraceful conduct of the Israelites. He made his position clear when he said: “I shall hold an accounting against you for all your errors.” (Amos 3:2) Those words should make us reflect on our own deliverance from slavery to modern-day Egypt, this present wicked system of things. Jehovah has not set us free spiritually so that we can pursue selfish goals. Instead, he has done this so that we can give him heartfelt praise as a free people engaging in clean worship. And all of us will render an account for the way we are using our God-given freedom.​—Romans 14:12.

19. According to Amos 4:4, 5, what had most Israelites come to love?

19 Sadly, the powerful message delivered by Amos went unheeded by most inhabitants of Israel. The prophet exposed their spiritually diseased heart condition in these words recorded at Amos 4:4, 5: “Come, you people, to Bethel and commit transgression. At Gilgal be frequent in committing transgression, . . . for that is the way you have loved, O sons of Israel.” The Israelites had not cultivated proper desires. They had not safeguarded their hearts. As a result, most of them had come to love what was bad and to hate what was good. Those obstinate calf worshipers did not change. Jehovah would hold an accounting, and they would have to die in their sins!

20. How can one pursue a course in harmony with Amos 5:4?

20 It must not have been easy for anyone living in Israel in those days to remain faithful to Jehovah. It is difficult to swim against the current, so to speak, as Christians today, young and old, well know. Yet, love for God and a desire to please him did motivate some Israelites to practice true worship. Jehovah extended to them the warm invitation recorded at Amos 5:4: “Search for me, and keep living.” Today, God similarly shows mercy to  those who repent and search for him by taking in accurate knowledge of his Word and then doing his will. It is not easy to pursue this course, but doing so leads to everlasting life.​—John 17:3.

Prosperity Despite Spiritual Famine

21. What famine befalls those who do not practice true worship?

21 What awaited those who did not support true worship? Famine of the worst kind​—spiritual famine! “There are days coming,” said the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, “and I will send a famine into the land, a famine, not for bread, and a thirst, not for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah.” (Amos 8:11) Christendom is in the throes of such a spiritual famine. But honesthearted ones in her midst can see the spiritual prosperity of God’s people and are flocking to Jehovah’s organization. The contrast between the situation in Christendom and that prevailing among true Christians is aptly shown in Jehovah’s words: “Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame.”​—Isaiah 65:13.

22. Why do we have reason to rejoice?

22 As Jehovah’s servants, do we personally appreciate what we have in the way of spiritual provisions and blessings? When we study the Bible and Christian publications and attend our meetings, assemblies, and conventions, we do indeed feel like crying out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart. We rejoice in the clear understanding that we have of God’s Word, including the divinely inspired prophecy of Amos.

23. What do those who glorify God enjoy?

23 For all humans who love God and want to give him glory, the prophecy of Amos contains a message of hope. No matter what our present economic situation or what trials we must face in this troubled world, we who love God are enjoying divine blessings and the best spiritual food. (Proverbs 10:22; Matthew 24:45-47) All glory, then, goes to God, who provides all things richly for our benefit. May we, therefore, be determined to give him our heartfelt praise forever. That will be our joyous privilege if we search for Jehovah, the Examiner of hearts.

How Would You Answer?

• What conditions existed in Israel in the days of Amos?

• The state of affairs in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel has what present-day parallels?

• What foretold famine now exists, but who are not affected by it?

[Study Questions]

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Many Israelites lived in luxury but did not enjoy spiritual prosperity

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Encourage full-time servants to keep up their good work

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There is no spiritual famine among Jehovah’s happy people