Commentary by Walter Albritton


June 3, 2007


Amos reminds us that God still demands justice for the poor


Amos 5:10-15, 21-24; 8:4-12; 2 Kings 13:23-25


Key Verse: Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. – Amos 5:24


The prophet we know as Amos lived about eight centuries before Christ. It was a sad time for the Israelites. God’s chosen people were not one people. They were living in two separate kingdoms. The northern kingdom was Israel; the southern was Judah, which included the holy city of Jerusalem.

Amos comes onto the stage when God becomes displeased with the return of idolatry to the worship of the Israelites. They were even worshipping golden calves again. Even worse the poor were being mistreated by the rich and dishonesty ruled the day. All the while the Israelites were worshipping the Lord – bringing their offerings, singing their songs, and following their customary ritual.

Sickened by such worship, God calls a sheep herder to prophesy. As a shepherd Amos was aware that sheep are no match for the powerful lion. He likens the call of God to the sound of a vicious lion which he had no doubt heard many times. What striking imagery! God’s voice is like that of a lion roaring. Such fear gripped him that he could not help but do God’s bidding. \

Amos was not merely a shepherd. He was also a southerner, and his assignment was to go up north to do his prophesying. So like Moses he left his sheep and made his way from Tekoa to the town of Bethel in Israel. There he began prophesying like a man on fire for God. He spelled out plainly the sins of the people and called on them to repent. The people responded not with repentance but with anger.

Though his message was not welcomed by the people or the priests, Amos refused to be quiet. He warned the people that they would face the wrath of God unless they changed their wicked ways. One of the priests, Amaziah, told Amos to go back home and mind his own business. But Amos was a man sent from God and it was His Voice that he had to obey.

Amos used a term the people understood: the plumb line. It is a simple tool consisting of a line and a lead weight. Builders use it to determine if something is perfectly vertical or upright. This calls to mind a story told about my friend Roy Johns.

A master carpenter and builder, Roy put a crew to work building a brick wall. Later he returned, eyed the wall and then checked it with a plumb line. Observing that the wall was not perfectly vertical, he said his crew, “Tear it down and start over. This time make sure you get it right.”

God’s plumb line determines whether people are living upright lives. Amos confronts the Israelites with the ugly truth about their unholy living. Far from upright in the sight of God, the people were oppressing the poor, ignoring justice, and allowing the needy to suffer. Amos tells them flatly that their way of living is out of plumb with God’s standards!

What needs to get our attention is how God feels, according to Amos, about the worship of the Israelites. Using the strongest possible language, Amos says that God “hates” their worship festivals and refuses to accept their offerings. God does not even want to listen to their singing!

Why is their worship unacceptable to God? Because they are not practicing justice! They are living a lie. They pretend to love God while oppressing the poor and that is an abomination to God. God wants more than to hear us say we love him; he wants us to prove it by first caring for the needs of the poor. As long as the Israelites were willing to trample on the poor, God considered their worship worthless.

We need to heed the warning issued by Amos. If we want our worship to be acceptable to God, we must stand up for, and work diligently for, the poor and the needy. God’s demand for justice has not changed since the days of Amos. He still expects us to do all we can, as individuals and as community leaders, to “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Until we are willing to make justice for all people a priority in our lives, we might as well keep our offerings in our pockets and stop singing our songs of praise. Let us look for ways to practice justice and to offer a helping hand to the poor and needy who are always with us. And let us make sure we are not feathering our own nests at the expense of the poor.  

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