Amos: Justice Rolls Down
- Main Text: Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 21-24
- Accompanying text: John 7:37-38
“Amos towers as defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God’s name to legitimize their sin” (1).
It was around 760BC. The prophecies of Amos had antagonized the court of Israel’s King Jeroboam II and the religious élite at Bethel, the alternative centre of worship that had been set up by Jeroboam I to mirror the sacrifices and high days that happened in Judah (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). Jeroboam II sent the priest Amaziah to tell Amos, the shepherd-turned-prophet, to limit his preaching to his sheep farm and orchards and not to preach anywhere else. Amos’ reply explains how Amos had been called by God, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15 ESVUK). Amos felt compelled to follow the Lord’s instructions — “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (3:7-8).
God inspired Amos to use rich and dramatic imagery to describe the sin-filled faithlessness not just of prosperous Israel but also of the surrounding nations, including wealthy Judah whose “lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked” (2:4). Even though God had led the combined people of Israel out of Egypt and had chosen to know and to work with them out “of all the families of the earth”, still they “sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals” (3:2; 2:6). Despite all the natural disasters and problems that came their way, the people refused to turn to God. There was no longer a meeting of the minds between them and their divine deliverer. “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?”, asked Amos (3:3). Even when they met on their sabbaths and religious high days, it was not to engage with God, but it was rather to celebrate an outward show of spirituality while in fact they would be multiplying their transgressions. They would bring “sacrifices every morning”, “tithes every three days” and “proclaim freewill offerings” for so they “love to do” — but none of this would justify how they would “oppress the poor” and “crush the needy” (4:4-5,1).
Amos prophesied that, despite the relative peace and safety at that point in history, Israel would reap the results of its own sinfulness as shown by their inhumanity to others, religious hypocrisy and spiritual indifference. The northern kingdom will fall, “never to rise again”, and the day will come when justice will “roll on like a river” and “righteousness like a never-failing stream” (5:2, 24). Later the people of both Israel and Judah would go into captivity. Their feasts would be turned “into mourning” and their “songs into lamentation” (8:10). But the time of justice and righteousness did not arrive until the dawn of a new age.
Thoughts re application today
“Scripture clearly teaches God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed, and he expects his people to share in that concern…the prophets repeatedly denounced injustice and oppression of the poor (e.g. Amos 5:11-12)” (2).
Some have asked whether our preachers should use the GCI pulpit as a platform to support causes linked to movements to do with feminism, racism, sexual issues, etc. Please remember the Code of Ethics for GCI Elders in this regard: “take care not to allow political issues to create polarization within the congregation, or to be a focus in sermons, Bible studies, or other church meetings” (https://www.gci.org/articles/code-of-ethics-for-elders/). We preach “Christ crucified”, as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 2:2. In preaching Christ crucified, we join in Christ’s concern for everyone caught up in poverty, prejudice and injustice. Jesus came to proclaim “good news to the poor”, “liberty to the captives”, to give “sight to the blind”, and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). He accused the religious leaders of neglecting “justice and the love of God” (11:42). He is “Jesus Christ, the righteous” and we participate in his spirit of justice and of righteousness — “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (I John 2:1; 3:18). Our calling is to point others to Jesus, their Saviour, and to join him in his ministry of care and reconciliation.
Jesus, the Incarnate Word, came to us and walked among us. He set an example of compassion for us in that he intervened in and shared in our sufferings and afflictions. When we enter into others’ affliction, it’s not just to greet them and/or to feel sorry for them, but to intervene and help — “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10).
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word… Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:21, 27).
- Isaiah 59:1-15
- James 2:14-18
- Micah 6:1-8
Footnotes and references
- Eugene S Peterson, THE MESSAGE: The Old Testament Prophets in Contemporary Language, published by NAVPRESS in the USA, 2000:474.
- Craig Ott, Stephen J Strauss with Timothy C Tennent, Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues, published by Baker Academics in the USA, 2010:145.