Amos 5-6: Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters
December 10, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
A “lamentation” is not a common form of writing or poetry or discourse today. We are so enamored with “positive talk” or “positive thinking” that we find it hard to see the value in pointing out failings, let alone celebrating a sadness. In other cultures, the bittersweet feeling of ennui or hollow emptiness is utilized as a form to bring us back to the fuller kind of living.
Similarly, though now with deep theological substance, this lamentation is intended to bring God’s people back to joy. When all else fails, commiserating about someone’s situation when they think they are doing well is strong medicine—and might be the wake-up call they need. When a person devotes themselves to wealth over and above God, instead of admiring them, perhaps we should lament them. It would at least surprise them if we were to do so. Israel, apparently, had no idea that their situation was so dire. There was a lot of religious activity and, after all, was that not the point? What else could God possibly want? But that religious activity was not always devoted towards God and often hid a fickle heart, a pagan idolatry, and a dull desire to turn to other gods. So, in Amos’ famous words, we are told:
Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal… (5:4-5)
It is a powerful word today too. So often we seek other things, other ceremonies, other celebrations, instead of actually seeking God himself. We are not told to seek sacrifices; we are not told to seek other religious celebrations; we are told to seek God. He and no one else. In our pluralistic age it is important to remind ourselves to seek God and God alone.
But this is not mere empty piety. It results in action.
Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. (5:14)
To seek God means to seek good and avoid evil. We are not to combine our actual seeking after God with our actual commitment to practice what is evil. Without seeking God and good, the day of the Lord, Christ’s return, is only going to be darkness. Religion will not do it. Pretending to seek God while practicing evil—that will not do it either.
Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him… (5:18-19)
In fact, God says, most shockingly, but one wonders whether sometimes he feels the same about the religious activity of our day—done for show, not truly seeking God:
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. (5:21)
Instead, again in Amos’ famous words:
let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)
Chapter 6 carries on the lament over those who do not hear the warning of chapter 5. Let us then not be like those who practice religion in a human way, only to please ourselves, or “go through the motions.” But instead seek God. And therefore seek what is good. So let justice roll down like waters!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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