Amos 1:1-9:15; Matthew 5:20, 38; Romans 3:21-26
Why do we have difficulty telling people the truth boldly like Amos?
What does God say is the solution for a people facing crisis?
How does God issue justice and love simultaneously?
Amos exemplified how Old Testament prophets challenged how the people of their day lived. Amos wrote of his country-people: “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that God’s holy name is profaned” (2:6-7). In the face of this injustice, Amos offers a corrective. “Seek the Lord and live … you that turn justice to [bitter poison]” (5:6). Turn away from the acts of injustice which happen way too often. “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have [been claiming]. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to [you]” (5:14-15).
The solution to Israel’s crisis is made clear: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (5:24). God’s justice. Let it shape your lives. Let God’s justice determine how you people relate to one another. It is crucial for us to look at the biblical teaching on God’s justice within the context of the biblical worldview, and not necessarily the worldview of our modern world. Jesus told his followers in the Sermon on the Mount that unless their justice exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will never enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:20). He then speaks of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (5:38), which is certainly a big part of the world’s understanding of justice. But not so with you. Godly justice has to do with loving enemies, refusing to fight back, rejecting the desire to punish and coerce. Paul writes in Romans about the fullest expression of God’s justice. The justice of God is revealed in the salvation-giving death and resurrection of Jesus. God’s justice has been revealed separate from the legal realm, apart from the law (Romans 3:21-26). God’s justice, expressed toward sinners, has ultimately to do with providing a way of salvation.
Likewise, when Amos calls for justice to roll down like waters, he is calling for Israel’s society to enhance life, especially to enhance life for those who are depersonalized and exploited. To do justice is to support life. Amos adds, by way of emphasis, “Let righteousness [roll down] like an ever-flowing stream.” For a desert people, an “ever-flowing stream” is an amazing resource, a stream that contains water all the time, that doesn’t dry up. God’s justice, God’s righteousness, is an even more amazing resource. Even in the face of faithlessness by the people, God doesn’t quit. God’s love perseveres; it doesn’t dry up. And God keeps working to make things right. God keeps working to heal brokenness.
By Ted Grimsrud, assistant professor of Theology and Peace Studies, Eastern Mennonite University