John T. Willis

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters--Amos 5:18-27

Following three oracles in Amos 3-6, namely: 3:1-15; 4:1-13; 5:1-17, each beginning with the summons or call: "Hear this word" in 3:1; 4:1; 5:1, there are now two "Woe" or "Alas" oracles in 5:18-27 and 6:1-14, each beginning with the term "Woe" or "Alas" in 5:18 and 6:1. Several English translations add "Woe" or "Alas" in 6:4, but this is not in the original Hebrew. This addition is probably to keep the hearer or reader following the line of thought. This blog is a brief study of the first "Woe" oracle in 5:18-27. This falls into three parts.

I. "The Day of Yahweh" is very near. Amos 5:18-20.
a. Christians initially assume that "the Day of the Lord" is the second coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the world. While this term may occur a few times in the Bible, usually "the Day of the Lord" is a commonly relatively near future to come. "The Day of the Lord" may be a time of salvation or deliverance, or it may be a time of punishment and destruction. Each context must determine the meaning of this phrase or expression.
b. Amos 5:18 indicates that the people of Yahweh, the Israelites, assumed that "the Day of the Lord" will be a time of deliverance from hostile enemies. For them, this "day" will be a "day" of "light," deliverance, salvation. Verse 18.
c. Yahweh through Amos proclaims that this day will be a time of "darkness," punishment, destruction, because of the sins of the Israelites. Verses 18, 20.
d. When this day comes, there will be no escape. It is like a person fleeing from a lion and encounters a bear, or a person goes into a house and rests his hand on the wall to rest from travel, and a snake bites him and kills him. Verse 19. [Note once again, the recurring references to "lions" throughout the Book of Amos].

II. Yahweh Desire Justice and Righteousness. Amos 5:21-24.
a. "Justice" and "righteousness" in the Bible mean impartial arbitration, equitable treatment, or adherence to an ideal that is right. Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 24:17 demonstrate that "justice" and "righteousness" refer to non-biased juridical decisions in which the judge or jury avoids preferential treatment of litigants based on gifts, money, or the status of the litigants [bribe]. These text specifically teach that God's people must not deprive the orphan, the widow, the poor, or the alien of "justice" and "righteousness." THIS is the central message of the entire Bible. See James 1:26-27.
b. Those who claimed themselves to be the "religious" people of God prided themselves in festivals, solemn assemblies, burnt offerings, grain offerings, offerings of well-being, songs, and harps. Verses 21-23. Throughout Exodus through Deuteronomy, Yahweh through Moses commanded the people of God to do precisely these things to please God and worship God and glorify God. But now, Yahweh through Amos denounces and rejects all of these "religious" practices. But these denunciations must be read in the context of verse 24 [see below]. Yahweh is certainly not opposed to worship services, animal and grain sacrifices, religious songs, and religious hymns sung with the harp and other musical instruments. On the contrary, Yahweh is very much in favor of all these practices. But verse 24 emphasizes that there is a much deeper issue here. [As an aside, isolated individuals and local church groups in Churches of Christ sometime argued that Amos 5:23 proves that God is against the use of instrumental music in worship. Fortunately, most people realize that Amos 5:23certainly does not support this idea. This same verse denounces the use of "songs" in worship. But the reason for this is the heart and activities of the worshippers, not singing or using instrumental music in public worship].
c. Verse 24 emphasizes the "real problem." The people of Yahweh went to church and performed a variety of external religious acts, but during the week they abused and mistreated and blackballed and oppressed their fellows. They PRACTICED injustice and unrighteousness, the very opposite of what Yahweh desires: "justice" and "righteousness." Once the people of God learn how to treat others in a godly, loving, gracious, generous way, they may be ready to approach God in public worship.

III. Yahweh's Exile is Near. Amos 5:25-27.
a. Once again, Yahweh announces that Yahweh will send an enemy to overthrow his sinful people and carry them into exile. The Israelites indeed brought sacrifices and offerings to Yahweh forty years during the wilderness wanderings, but this was not the primary concern of Yahweh or of Israel. Nor should it be now. Verse 25.
b. Many Israelites are worshipping foreign gods: Sakkuth, Kaiwan, their images. Verse 26. [Here one needs to consult several commentaries and articles on this verse. One finds that there are several interpretations of these deities. It seems inappropriate to delve into the detailed arguments on these various issues about the nature of these deities. PLEASE do your own study on this tiny point].
c. Because of Israel's sins, Yahweh will take them into exile. Verse 27. Historically, this happened in 721 B. C., when the Assyrians overthrew Samaria, the capital of North Israel, and carried the Israelites into captivity. The idea of Israel "going into exile" is a major theme throughout the Book of Amos. See for example 5:5; 6:7; 7:11, 17; etc.

What are YOUR thoughts in response to a study of Amos 5:18-27? Share YOUR ideas and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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