First of all… if you are wondering why the reading plan skipped Jeremiah and went straight to some of the “minor prophets” after Isaiah (“minor” because their books are shorter), it is because the reading plan is following the prophets more or less in the order they would have spoken to Israel and Judah. So Isaiah, Amos, Joel, Hosea were some of the earlier writing prophets while Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel wrote later. The plan reads the prophets in historical sequence.
As you read through the prophets you recognize some distinct themes. You’ll see where God condemns the pagan nations that do harm to Israel (Amos 1-2, Obadiah, for example). God charges the leaders of Israel with corruption (Isaiah 1:23, Hosea 5-7). And, the prophets continually foretell of God’s redemption and the future salvation he will bring about for his people.
One theme that appears in almost every prophetic book is the theme of true worship versus false worship. Reflect on these texts for example:
Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
saying, “When will the new moon be over,
that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?”
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
“Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."
You get the idea. There was a direct connection in God’s eyes to the meaning and value of Israel’s worship practices and the way they treated people, especially the poor and needy. It is pretty blunt. God says, “You take advantage of poor people, set your hearts on making a buck cheating and oppressing them - and then you make offerings and sing songs to me? I hate that you do that! I won’t listen to you! That is not worship, that’s a lie! If you want to worship me do justice, be generous, help the poor.”
As I read these kinds of accusations against Israel and God’s pleas for them to repent I have to wonder about myself. What does God hear when I sing? Does my religion reflect my true heart or do the things I do make my religion a lie? Is my whole life worship or do I just try to get Sunday out of the way so I can go back to making a buck at the expense of others? Do I notice the needy and take God’s compassion on the poor and oppressed, or am I blind and indifferent?
These are good questions.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.