…let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5:24 (NIVUK)
An important way God spoke to Israel was through the prophets. Some spoke in a very down to earth way and others used visions and obscure language. We often think of prophets as people who foretold the future, but that was not the only way that the Old Testament prophets worked. In general, the prophets’ role was to help people understand what it meant to be the people of God, in their particular circumstances. He spoke for God, and he especially tried to get Israel to turn back to God and back to keeping the covenant when they slipped away from him.
Amos was doing an ordinary job as a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore-fig trees (7:14) but was called by God to deliver a particular message to Israel. The nation was oppressing the needy by exacting heavy interest payments. The wealthy, arrogant and brutal found it easier to get their rights in court, so the whole structure of society was unjust (5:10,12).
Amos said that Israel was multiplying their transgressions by going to the temples in Bethel and Gilgal to worship, yet their religion did not affect their lifestyle and so they were being hypocritical, worshipping God whilst treating others badly. As a result, the Lord wanted to take away their songs (vv. 21-23).
The lesson for Christians today is if our worship in church isn’t accompanied by a lifestyle that honours God by loving others, then it is worthless. We can honour Jesus with our lips in a church service but what value is it if we dishonour him the other six days a week by treating other people badly? The prophet tells Israel to seek good and not evil (v.4) and let justice and righteousness roll on (v.24) – can it mean anything less for Christians today?
How do we treat the people we see everyday, in our families, in the workplace and at the supermarket? What about on a wider scale? Are we concerned about those in our world who are enslaved, dispossessed, or persecuted? Do we care about those who are discriminated against for their gender, race, or sexual orientation? Do we consume as much as we can while being blind to the poor and needy? God’s people must be honest, just, caring, kind, compassionate and not self-indulgent. We should treat all people properly, giving them the value they deserve, never assuming certain groups have more rights than others.
As a nation, Israel never did get it right. But one Israelite did. In his humanity, Jesus the Israelite expresses fully who God is and invites us now to bear the restored image of God through the Holy Spirit living in us.
Justice and righteousness are seen perfectly in Jesus, and may they flow into and out of us as he lives in and through us.
Loving Father may our worship not just be singing your praises, but caring for the poor, the despised, and the discriminated. May justice and righteousness flood this nation, as we share the love and compassion of Jesus with others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Study by Barry Robinson
About the writer:
Barry Robinson is a Minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for the South of England
Grace Communion International Camberwell
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