Saving Justice – The Prophet Amos

Saving Justice – The Prophet Amos

Saving Justice – The Prophet Amos.

“I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them. Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  (Amos 5:21-24). 

Mishpat (mish-pawt) = Hebrew word for “saving justice;” treating people equitably and fairly; giving others their human rights in freedom; advocating for what is properly due to others as fellow human beings made in the image of God; wisely defending others who are being treated unfairly, including the powerless, the vulnerable, and those who are unable to defend themselves; exercising the righteous judgments that reflect the character of God. “Dispense true justice, and practice kindness and compassion each to one another; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” (Zechariah 7:9-10).

Tsaddiyq (tsad-deek) = Hebrew word rooted in the word for righteousness; a person who is upright, just, godly, in right standing with God; who lives according to God’s standards; a title in Judaism given to people who are especially outstanding in piety, holiness and righteousness; the “tzaddik” has been described as someone who oozes goodness, who takes joy in justice, who loves to blamelessly puts things right. A righteous person is one who lives a life pleasing to God. “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10). 

Around 750 BC, a humble, isolated shepherd and farmer named Amos was taking care of business as usual in his rural region of the southern kingdom of Judah. Out of the blue, Yahweh tapped Amos to proclaim His words of coming judgment to the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos was not a “professional,” he had no prophets or priests in his family line, he had no experience being God’s prophet. His name means “burdened” and he revealed in his brief prophetic ministry that God had indeed burdened his spirit with His words to the Israelites. His role as prophet only lasted a few days, and tradition has it that he was beaten to death by a group of rebellious priests in Israel. From the beginning of his prophet role, Amos let the people know that he was speaking for Yahweh, that he was God’s spokesman. Amos spoke with the authority of God behind him, and he didn’t mince words. Amos used the phrase “declares the Lord” at least 21 times in his book of prophecy. He constantly reminded the people that God himself is speaking through him, and they need to listen and take note in a serious way.

The Lord was angry with Israel, and He decided to use Amos as His mouthpiece to announce His coming judgment. Why was Yahweh so angry with His chosen people in the North? Apparently, Israel had developed economic control over the major trade routes in that region, and they became extremely wealthy as a result. In their opulence, they became self-indulgent to the point of gluttony, drunkenness, idolatry, and were sexually permissive. The society was dominated by an aristocratic class that thought nothing of the oppression of the poor in their midst. This is what seemed to offend the Lord most of all. In their greed, the Israelites even sold their poverty-stricken brethren into slavery.  The unjust treatment of the poor only became more entrenched in their corrupted society as the nation grew in prosperity. Their self-centered complacency extended to their empty and meaningless worship. The Law meant nothing to the Israelites as they continued to exploit and mistreat the poor in Israel. In their worship, they were only going through the motions, even allowing pagan observances to filter in, to the point of bowing to a golden calf in Bethel. Amos let them know in no uncertain terms that they were liable to experience foreign captivity if they didn’t repent and return to righteous living. Amos also let the Israelites know that the faithful love of Yahweh would bring restoration to Israel if they repented of their national sins. “Seek the Lord and you will live, or else he will rush like fire upon the House of Israel.” (5:6).

The key verses in Amos are 5:21-24“I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them. Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”  Yahweh rejected all their religious celebrations and assemblies, because they were not intended to be substitutes for obedience to God. Religious activities mean nothing if there is not a lifestyle of obedience to accompany them, treating people with justice and dignity and compassion. The Lord hates hypocrisy in all its forms, especially when it comes to religion. When we care for the poor, we are caring for those made in God’s image, and He accepts it as done unto Him.

Amos turned out to be quit the poetic prophet. He used a number of very graphic and striking metaphors from his life as a shepherd and farmer as he proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the unrepentant Israelites. The metaphors all referred to the impending judgment, the “day of the Lord.”

2:13 – “Like a cart overloaded with sheaves of grain, I shall crush you where you stand. I will slow your movements as a wagon is slowed when it is full of cut grain.” 

2:13 (other versions): “Behold I am weighed down beneath you, as a wagon is weighed down when filled with grain. You’re too much for me. I’m hard-pressed, to the breaking point. I’m like a wagon piled high and overloaded, creaking and groaning.” 

3:4, 8 – “Does a lion ever roar in a thicket without first finding a victim? Does a young lion growl in its den without first catching its prey? The lion has roared – So who isn’t frightened? Who will not fear? For the Lord has spoken!

4:1, 2 – “Listen to me you fat cows of Bashan living in Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy, and who are always calling to your husbands, ‘Bring me another drink!’ Every last one of you will be dragged away like a fish on a hook and flung onto a refuse heap!”

5:19-20 – “In that day of the Lord you will be like a man who runs from a lion, only to meet a bear. Escaping from the bear, he leans his hand against a wall in his house, and he’s bitten by a snake. Yes, the day of the Lord will be dark and hopeless, without a ray of joy or hope.” 

6:12 – “Can horses gallop over boulders? Can the sea be plowed by oxen? But that’s how foolish you are when you turn justice into poison, and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness.” 

The Lord gave Amos a number of visions that proved to be warning the people of the coming judgment. Sure enough, the Assyrians soon plundered the nation, took it over, and took many Israelites into exile. In the first two visions Amos fulfills his prophetic role as intercessor for the people before God, and he succeeds. But in the visions after that the intercessions of Amos do not succeed. The Lord does not relent from the punishment due the Israelites.

The Locusts (7:1-3) – The Lord prepares a locust swarm that devastated the king’s crops. The locusts didn’t let one blade of grass survive. Amos asks for mercy, since Israel would not survive such a destructive judgment. God relented from this calamity, and said the locusts won’t happen.

The Fire (7:4-6) – The Lord calls up a firestorm that burned up the ocean depths and then the Promised Land. Amos once again intercedes, saying Israel is such a small nation, they couldn’t possibly survive such a destructive force. Once again the Lord relented and said that it won’t happen.

The Plumb Line (7:7-9) – The Lord holds a plumb line in the midst of Israel. The wall of Israel is not straight, Israel is unrighteous according to the standards of the Lord. The crooked walls of Israel will collapse. The straight edge of Yahweh’s righteousness reveals how crooked Israel had become. And the door of mercy is shut. Israel will be judged accordingly.

The Summer Fruit (8:1-14) – The Lord shows a basket of summer fruit to Amos. It has begun to overripen, to spoil. Israel is ripe for judgment and punishment from the Lord. He will not delay punishment again, and the spoiled fruit is a picture of how Israel is to perish soon, just like the fruit.

The Lord at the Altar (9:1-15) – The Lord is standing beside the altar, whether in Bethel or in Jerusalem, we don’t know. There is no escape from judgment at this point. Judgment begins at the altar, the very place where people expected security, a refuge. The Lord will smash the altar, the walls will come down like in an earthquake, and many people will be destroyed in the process.