AMOS- GOD’S CHALLENGE OF JUSTICE –
Seek me and live: Amos 5:4-15 & 21-24, ; Matthew 22:34 40
When people speak about prophets and prophecy, there is a common misunderstanding that the prophetic message of prophets is all about telling the future. Granted, many of the prophecy’s of old were about what would happen in the future to a nation, or a person, but underlining this prophecy of the future was a challenge to change, or a message from God himself stating His dissatisfaction with the actions or attitude of these people.
The Prophets of old such as Elijah and Elisha, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and others were not fortune tellers – they were conveyors of the message and will of God. These prophets would challenge Kings, nations and religious leaders about their hypocrisy, arrogance, oppression and moving away from Gods word. Usually this message was aimed at Gods chosen people. Perhaps more than ever, we need prophets of old to raise their voices and be heard. And so we start a two part series called the “Challenge of the Prophets” focusing on two notable prophets, Amos and Ezra.
Ezra was a prophet in the time of Nehemiah who mobilized the Exiled Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It was Ezra who then led this remnant in worship and by reading out the LAW of God,
Amos, who lived about 300 years earlier, was the prophet who warned the people of Israel as to what would happen if they did not turn back to God.
So in two prophets, Amos and Ezra we hear a challenge to change and a challenge to renew and in their prophecies see Gods warning of impending judgement on the people of Israel, but then we see evidence of God’s Mercy and renewal.
The message we will prayerfully hear over the next two weeks is the hope we find in Gods Justice and God’s Mercy. During the time of Amos, Israel was enjoying a period of prosperity under King Jeroboam II. Yet by this time the kingdom of Israel as known under David, had split into the northern and southern kingdom of Israel and Judah
Israel, the northern kingdom was successful, rich, and economically vibrant, and experienced an “Indian summer of prosperity and influence”, with no real threat of outside attack… they were growing and expanding- they were doing well. Israel was confident and optimistic and believed that God had contributed to their success. The people believed in their privileged position Their prosperity was a validation of Gods claim that they were Gods chosen people, but prosperity for the people of Israel bought about excess.
Affluence led to permissiveness – alcohol consumption increased, there were financial scandals. Bribery, corruption, financial maladministration, a society defined by class where the rich seem to get richer and the poor poorer.You would be forgiven for thinking that I was talking about South Africa, but this was 8th century Israel under King Jeroboam II.
There are so many parallels with the world of Amos, and today’s world that it is uncanny. It was a country of stark contrasts! The rich would have two homes, a summer home, while the poor would have none. A land of the have’s and the have-not’s. Their economy was so important, that trading became a seven day a week affair… There was no time for the Sabbath and no time for the LORD – They worshipped the God of Israel together with the gods of Canaan and Baal. Israel was rotten to the core: full of corruption, bribery, permissiveness, Sunday trading, financial scandals, Religious hypocrisy and idolatry,Injustice and exploitation of the poor.
God was not happy, and so called on Amos to preach against their belief that because they were chosen and blessed they could do anything. And although the people of Israel declared a relationship with the God of Israel, they had forgotten Gods character of Justice and mercy. And so Amos prophesied a message of Justice – God’s Justice.
God wanted his own Righteous, Holy Justice to exist and be evident in Israel and the lives of its people. Not a Justice of the world: like a JUDGE DREDD type of justice – where God is judge, jury and executioner; but a biblical form of justice. Justice for God is not solely based on laws and righting wrongs. Gods justice is not about ensuring the evil doers of the day, are bought before a court and then sentenced to hard labour, Gods justice is not about the victims being compensated for their suffering. God’s Justice is a relationship of fairness, equity and generosity.
The Hebrew word for Justice (being Just) is TZADEQAH, and this refers to a life of right relationships, where a person would conduct all their relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.
In the Hebrew culture this is known as primary justice, a form of righteous justice that should be lived out first. But where Tzadeqah fails, Mishpat is enacted – a rectifying secondary form of justice whereby a person both punishes wrongdoing but also cares for victims of unjust treatment, much like the good Samaritan. It also means that if we live out lives of TZADEQAH, in righteousness, MISHPAT (RECTIFYING JUSTICE) would be unnecessary.
Another more accurate way of defining this rectifying Justice- MISHPAT, is to understand that it means more than the punishment of wrongdoing, but the righting of wrongs, the rebuilding of a relationship wronged, such as for example the rebuilding of a RIGHT RELATIONSHIP with God and with others. Where MISHPAT & TZADEQAH (JUSTICE) emphases the ACTION, CHESEDH looks at the MOTIVE ( LOVE) behind the ACTION, the attitude of the heart. It could be said that justice is coupled with mercy, meaning that Gods justice is all about both relationship, our actions and the condition of our hearts.
The biblical idea of justice and mercy is both a matter of the heart and the will. as it is written in Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said: “Love the LORD your God, with all your soul, with all your heart and with all your mind and to love others as we love ourselves.”
Evelyn Miranda writes that “ When we look at Justice in the light of this scripture, we discover that justice has a dynamic relational quality, and that Gods Justice is a loving determined act between humans and between God” Meaning that the Biblical idea of Justice is all about having a relationship of Love with God and with each other and acting out that love in practise.
And so when God looked down on Israel and her neighbours, He saw the opposite of Justice. All God saw was injustice and the exploitation of the poor. God did not see Love or mercy. No justice. No Love, only exploitation and oppression. A people of Israel who had turned their back on God.
And so, when Amos began to prophesy to the people of Israel, he did not hold back the punches! He told it as it was!
For example in Amos 4, Amos says “Hear this you Cows of bashan…””, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husband’s bring us some drinks’
Amos was saying : “ You women of Bashan – sipping your margaritas and martini’s,Having your nails done and buying at all the boutiques, demand that your husband’s – captains of industry give you more by exploiting the poor and needy.
Look at what you’ve become, you’ve turned your back on God and God’s ways, but even worse – you have turned your back on your own people. A harsh message.
But in Amos 5, he softens the message and hands out a lifeline and says: SEEK ME AND LIVE.
A message for all of us: Seek God and Live. To seek the LORD in all His Glory. To long for the LORD himself. To live in a proper relationship with God Himself and to live in a righteous relationship with others.To live a life of justice, righteousness and mercy. Not a life of exploitation, injustice and religious hypocrisy, but a life that fulfils Gods calling on His people to live in righteousness, a community defined by Love.
And this message of Amos, this call from God is as relevant for us today as it what was for the people of Israel 2700 years ago. When God challenges us about injustice and the poor and exploitation, He is not talking about wealth redistribution, or saying that to be rich is wrong- He is talking about community through HIS Love, meeting the needs of the poor, the have-not’s, the downtrodden, the broken-hearted.
Christ’s Sacrifice was an act of Justice for the downtrodden and broken-hearted. Justice and righteousness were released into this world when Jesus Christ died on the cross. This was an act of love for all humanity which created a new community formed to act out His justice, love and mercy in the world in which we live.
This Godly Justice – relationship of love was emphasised in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came down and made everyone one in spirit. There was no distinction between the haves and the have not’s. They were all together as one and shared together.
The call on us today is to be a community of Christ Followers who allow this river of justice and righteousness to flow through us to the world as an example of what a right relationship with God is like. To live in a proper relationship with God Himself and to live in a righteous relationship with others. That is the message of Amos, to Seek the LORD and live- to long for the LORD himself and discover life.
So what does this life of justice, mercy and righteousness look like?
Living a life like Mother Theresa perhaps? Giving to the poorest of the poor.To minister to the emotionally poor,to assist the helpless and downtrodden. To feed the guys who are stuck on the streets. To offer some form of hope to the lady stuck in a lifetime of prostitution
That is justice. That is love. That is God’s mercy.
Love in Action.