2 June 2014Amos 5:18-24
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v 24)
In the Lord's Prayer we ask for "your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven". But here the prophet Amos warns those who desire the day of the Lord. Why would the people of Israel not want the Lord to come, and grant Israel ultimate victory over its enemies? Amos's answer is that Israel has moved so far from what God wants of it, that it can no longer assume that God's enemies are the same as Israel's enemies - in fact Israel has become God's enemy. This is a great threat of judgement.
In today's passage Amos warns against worship being offered as a substitute for upholding the covenant - the language is strong: God despises festivals, assemblies and sacrifices, everything that the people of Israel would expect to please their God. But God is not saying that worship is worthless; rather that it cannot be a substitute for the covenant between the people and their God. Worship cannot hide a lack of justice and righteousness in a society.
If God is to take notice of worship, Amos says, it must come out of a commitment to justice. However much praise is offered in solemn assemblies, if the people are indifferent to what is going on in the world outside, to the oppression and corruption beyond the walls, they are not only wasting their time, but they are bringing the judgement of God upon their heads.
Amos notes that Israel is obeying the instructions that God gave them about observing religious festivals and feasts. However the people are forgetting a related and no less important command: to ensure that their ritual is not divorced from a concern for the poor. And it's this failure that provokes the withering dismissal of their songs, and a demand that justice will flow down.
In a land where streams were mainly wadis, streams which dried up in the summer, the image of an "ever-flowing stream" would be a rare and comforting one. But the reference to justice rolling down could be taken as far from comforting. Either the people are called to practise justice - or God will send down God's own justice, which threatens to wash away all those who do wrong. No wonder Amos warns that "the day of the Lord" will be dark and full of terror.
- Do we long for the day of the Lord, or secretly dread it? Why might that be?
- What is your response to the image of God's justice rolling down "like an ever flowing stream"?
- How far is your church - and personal worship - infused with a commitment to justice?