Amos 5 Devotional
by Pastor Lawrence
Out of all nine chapters in the book of Amos, verse twenty-four of chapter five is the most quoted and well known by far. These famous words, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” are given as the second solution to Israel’s half-hearted worship in the sanctuary and moral quagmire in their society. The first solution, as usual, is to seek the Lord and live. All throughout these prophecies, there are many hints at idolatry and even the worship of false gods in Israel. Thus, the first step of repentance is to put away the idols and to seek the Lord and live. That is the only proper response to restore a right relationship with God. One must turn away from his idols and purse the first and greatest commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
The second solution that Amos provides to Israel is based upon the second greatest commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Because the Israelites loved money more than their neighbor, they sought ways to take money from their neighbor, especially the vulnerable ones. Widows, orphans, the poor and the immigrants were the most likely to be the victims of injustice based on the fact that they didn’t have strong, faithful men standing up for them against corrupt and underhanded men in power. Thus one recurring theme in this passage is the pursuit of righteousness and justice.
Although sometimes those two words are used interchangeably, often they have a slightly different nuance in meaning. Righteousness means simply doing right by others, especially the vulnerable. Justice, on the other hand, is seeking to defend the rights of the vulnerable against those who are not righteous. There are always people within society who seek to “turn justice to wormwood (or bitterness), and who cast down righteousness to the earth,” which means to trample upon the righteous and the vulnerable themselves. In every other religion in the world, the gods were identified with the ruling classes and the powerful, but in Israel’s experience, the Lord had come to the aid of slaves being held captive in Egypt. Thus, from the very beginning, the Lord established laws to defend the poor and the vulnerable against the rich and the exploitative.
Nevertheless, over time, there were some powerful elites in Israel who continued to keep up the pretenses of religion all the while taking advantage of the poor and the widow. As a prophet, Amos boldly addressed their sins and said to them that their vain worship meant absolutely nothing to the Lord, since He didn’t accept their half-hearted sacrifices. If they really wanted to make things right, two things were required. First, they must get rid of their idols and to really seek the Lord. And second, they must also act righteously in their dealings with others, and stand up for those being victimized by unsavory characters.
Hence, the Lord tells them that He hates their sacrifices and demands real justice instead, saying “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” In one sense this is a command and in another it is a blessing and a prayer. “In evil days the prudent keep silent,” Amos says. In other words, out of fear of retribution by the wicked, they do not speak up when something wickedness abounds. They don’t defend those who are being mistreated. They don’t stand up for the many injustices against those who can’t defend themselves. But the prophet envisions a day when true righteousness and justice rolls on like an everlasting steam throughout the land.
Certainly, on the day of Christ’s return we will see this literally with our own eyes. But in the meantime, in these evil days, the prudent should be silent no longer, following the example of the prophet, and speaking out boldly against injustice wherever one sees it. For worship alone in the temple is not enough in order to be in right fellowship with God. One must also be in right relationship to his creatures, especially those whom He takes special interest in because of their vulnerability. Because the Lord is a father to the fatherless, a husband to the widow, a friend to the immigrant and a benefactor to the poor, anyone who claims to walk with God must also take interest in their welfare.
Of course, like every other passage in the Old Testament, this should be applied first to the church rather than the United States since it is the people of God that the prophet is addressing. And that is why in the New Testament James speaks of not showing favoritism to the rich, and why Paul speaks of helping widows in their need and warning the rich in the church not to be haughty and to be generous in good works. The clearest manifestation of God’s righteousness and justice today is to be seen in the Church. For in the Church, Christ’s love is fully on display in how we care for one another, stand up for one another and help to bear one another’s burdens. If justice and righteousness is going to roll down like waters in our nation, it must first roll through Christ’s Church.