Committed to Justice
Amos 5:10–24; 8:4–12; 2 Kings 13:23–25
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the evils that Amos condemned.
2. Compare and contrast the evils cited in today’s text with those seen in modern society.
3. Make a plan for his or her church to help correct one societal injustice.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, May 28—A Plea for Justice (Psalm 82)
Tuesday, May 29—Where Is Justice and Truth? (Isaiah 59:9–15)
Wednesday, May 30—Do What Is Just (Jeremiah 22:1–5)
Thursday, May 31—God Admonishes Israel (Amos 3:1–10)
Friday, June 1—Protect the Poor (Amos 8:4–8)
Saturday, June 2—Seek Good, Not Evil (Amos 5:10–15)
Sunday, June 3—Let Justice Roll Down (Amos 5:20–25
Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Why Teach this Lesson?
Drivers have to deal with blind spots on the road. A blind spot is the area between the views of the mirrors of a vehicle, where the driver cannot see. Safety demands that a driver be aware of these blind spots.
Similarly, believers sometimes have spiritual blind spots. A believer may think that he or she correctly perceives a situation, while actually being out of step with God’s truth. Yet blind spots are very real! Amos’ ministry was, in part, to point out spiritual blind spots to the Israelites. They didn’t seem to realize that they had missed his Word and his will. Today’s lesson points to a very crucial truth for believers: once our eyes have been opened to spiritual blind spots, we need to change and follow God’s Word.
A. The Price of Telling the Truth
Have you ever had to tell someone an unpleasant truth? Have you ever paid a price for telling the truth? Amos the prophet was a truth-teller. He paid the price of ridicule, even direct repudiation (Amos 7:12-13).
Telling the truth was dangerous in Amos’s world. Even today, a person with a message like Amos’s might be dismissed or killed. Yet what the world needs today are more people like Amos, willing to stand up for the truth when it is inconvenient or even dangerous.
Amos is often ignored in the contemporary church. This might be understandable if we had solved all the problems Amos talked about, but we haven’t. Maybe we ignore Amos today for the same reason people ignored him in his own time—he hit too close to home.
B. Lesson Background
Amos is one of what are often called the Minor Prophets. These prophets are not called minor because their books are insignificant. They are called minor because the books are relatively short. The Minor Prophets are collected in a group of 12 books that could be contained on a normal-sized scroll.
Amos prophesied around 760 b.c. He prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel, about 38 years before it fell to Assyrian invaders. It appears that Amos prophesied around the same time as Hosea and Zechariah, perhaps a little before Isaiah and Micah. Those desiring to know more about those times should study 2 Kings 14:23–15:7 and 2 Chronicles 26.
Amos is, in certain respects, a rather unusual choice to deliver prophecy. First, Amos himself confessed that he was not a trained prophet, nor was he related to any prophet (Amos 7:14). In some places in the ancient world, there were schools for prophets, where groups of men studied under a prophet. Other places had a notion of succession—that children of those who prophesied might well be prophets themselves. Amos had neither of these credentials. He was a simple farmer and shepherd. Yet God had written on Amos’s heart a message he could not suppress (Amos 7:15).
Second, Amos was from Tekoa, a small town about 20 miles south of Jerusalem (Amos 1:1; compare 2 Chronicles 11:6). That makes him a Judean, yet he was called to go northward from Judah to Israel. There was friction between the two nations, and the northern kingdom was quite resistant to a prophet from the south calling them to account (Amos 7:10–13). Yet God gave Amos a burden. Thus Amos had to speak up.
To the casual observer, it seemed that things in Israel were going quite well at the time. It was a time of general prosperity, and many had become quite wealthy. But Amos looked beneath the veneer and saw great social and religious corruption. The real picture was one of decadence (Amos 2:8; 4:1; 6:1–6), immorality (2:7), and—worst of all—idolatry (8:14).
In chapters 1 and 2, Amos indicts eight regions for their sins. At the end of the book, chapters 7–9 relate certain visions that Amos received. They contain images of grasshoppers, fire, a plumb line, fruit, and God and the altar. All of these visions relate to Israel’s judgment.
In the middle of the book, chapters 3–6 appear to contain three sermons. Scholars have different methods by which to distinguish the three. One common method separates the sermons by the phrase “hear this word” in Amos 3:1; 4:1; and 5:1. So the first sermon is chapter 3; it deals with the sinful affairs in Israel. The second sermon is chapter 4; it speaks of Israel’s past sinful conduct. The third sermon is chapter 5; it warns of Israel’s punishment if they do not change.
Today’s lesson comes from this third sermon. This entire section of Amos 5:1–17 is also called a lament (see v. 1). The tone of the sermon in chapter 5 is set in verse 5. There Amos warned the people not to go to Bethel. Bethel was historic; it was the place where Jacob saw the vision of angels (Genesis 28:10–22). Nevertheless, Amos did not want the Israelites to go there because of corrupted worship in that place. People had turned Bethel into a substitute for Jerusalem. The worship in Bethel was blatantly idolatrous.
This fact leads Amos to condemn Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba as a group. Amos looks for evidence of genuine worship in these places and finds none (compare Hosea 4:15; Amos 8:14). This condemnation continues through Amos 5:6. In verse 7 the concern switches from one of false religion to one of false justice. With the tone of the sermon now set, we break in at Amos 5:10.
I. Beware of Social Sins (Amos 5:10–15)
A. Indictment (vv. 10, 11)
10. You hate the one who reproves in court
and despise him who tells the truth.
We catch Amos in the middle of a strong indictment against the behavior of God’s people. Translations that are more literal use the word gate instead of court because legal proceedings are held at the city gate. That is where many business and legal transactions take place. It is where the city elders meet (examples: Deuteronomy 21:18–21; Ruth 4:1–11).
One who reproves is someone in authority who renders verdicts. Amos thus charges his listeners with being completely uninterested in justice and truth. In modern terminology we could say that people don’t want honest judges or witnesses (compare Proverbs 24:23–25; Isaiah 29:21).
11. You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
What Do You Think?
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). What are some proper and improper ways to react to this verse?
[Be sure to consider James 1:27 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 in your answer.]
The rich have robbed the poor of their livelihood. Tying in with verse 10, the picture is of the rich abusing the court system to steal grain from the poor. There will be punishment! Though the rich may build fine houses, one day they will stand empty. Though the rich may plant vineyards, one day they will stand unpicked. The ancient curse of Deuteronomy 28:30 is about to be fulfilled!
B. Warning (vv. 12, 13)
12. For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
God’s anger is justified because the people have committed such injustice. One of the great … sins is the rich giving bribes to those who pass judgment. Thus the rich use the court system to deprive the poor of their livelihood. If the legal system is corrupted so that those who can afford a bribe can get the outcome they want, then there is no hope for the poor. Denial of justice is specifically forbidden in the covenant (Exodus 23:1–8; Deuteronomy 16:18–20). The penalty for such denial is severe (see Isaiah 10:1–4; 29:20-21).
Taking a Bribe
In the 1980s a major American city was hit by Operation Greylord, an effort to expose corruption among public officials. The facts disclosed were frightening. Corrupt lawyers conspired to request bribe money from their clients to pay off cooperative judges. In the corridors of the court building, courtroom personnel often bickered over the split of the bribes that were flowing into the judge’s chambers.
A young state’s attorney took $50 from misdemeanor defendants on the “understanding” that they would not be prosecuted vigorously. A secret FBI recording caught one judge requesting help from city politicians to get a different assignment, promising to help support the proposed political slate of new judges. One judge accepted $10,000 to acquit a man accused of assassinating a labor union official. Another judge was accused of “fixing” at least three murder trials.
By the time the investigation ended, 92 individuals were indicted. They consisted of 17 judges, 48 lawyers, 8 policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, 8 court officials, and 1 member of the state legislature (www.fbi.gov).
Amos would not have been surprised by such revelations. Even in his time, officials afflicted the just, accepted bribes, and denied the poor their rights. Amos calls these “offenses” and “great … sins.” What do we call them? —J. B. N.
13. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
This seems to be a strange verse at first glance. Aren’t we supposed to speak up when we see injustice and not keep quiet?
Amos is merely describing the situation as it exists at the time as he observes it. He is not recommending that people stay quiet—he himself certainly hasn’t! He is illustrating that things have become so corrupt that even sensible people are afraid to speak the truth. Things have become so bad that prudent people just keep quiet. They don’t want to make trouble for themselves. They live in a society that does not reward tellers of truth—it punishes them.
C. Plea (vv. 14, 15)
14. Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
The people think that God is with them. But Amos points out that God is with them only if they decide to pursue good. Those who pervert justice have a powerful enemy!
15. Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
What Do You Think?
Why do you find it difficult at times to hate the evil and love the good? How do you overcome this difficulty?
Not only are the people to pursue the good, they also are to hate the evil (compare Romans 12:9). This suggests that the commitment to righteousness, while involving the behavior of the people, finds its source ultimately in the heart.
The phrase remnant of Joseph hearkens back to Amos 5:6, which has “house of Joseph.” Joseph was father to Ephraim and Manasseh, after whom 2 of the 12 tribes are named (Joshua 14:4). The dire predictions against the house of Joseph in verse 6 are balanced against a promise of hope. It’s not too late to repent!
II. Beware the Day of the Lord (Amos 5:16–20)
A. There Will Be Weeping (vv. 16, 17)
16. Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:
“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
Amos paints a picture of a nation that will be in total despair. Everyone will cry out, from the city dwellers to the simple farmers to the professional mourners.
17. There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.
What makes the judgment all the more poignant is that the wailing will take place as God walks through their midst. Leviticus 26:6 speaks of what happens when people obey the Lord—it is a time when “the sword will not pass through your country.” The case before us is just the opposite. The defeat that will come shortly in 722 b.c. will indeed be severe (2 Kings 17).
What Do You Think?
If God were to come walking through the garden of your life or the life of your church, in what areas would he find you lamenting your state of affairs? What would you confess to him? How do you think he would respond?
B. There Will Be Darkness (vv. 18–20)
18. Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
The phrase day of the Lord appears about two dozen times in the Bible. It is a popular concept at various times in the history of prophecy. In addition to Amos, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Zechariah, and Malachi use this phrase.
The Day of the Lord is that time when God balances the scales and defeats the enemies of his people. Usually the ancient Israelites anticipate this to be a great day. But Amos warns that that day will be bad news for all who oppose God, even if they are of Jewish descent. What Amos’s audience fails to see is that the Day of the Lord is a time for God to judge sins. (In the New Testament, see Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10.)
19. It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Visual for Lesson 1
Keep this map of the Assyrian Empire posted for several lessons to help your students gain a geographical perspective.
Amos uses two figures of speech to illustrate what happens on the Day of the Lord. The images could be almost humorous were it not for the real tragedy that awaits. Think about it: first a man flees from a lion only to run into a vicious bear. The one who escapes from the lion must feel a sense of relief. “Whew, that was close!” he says. But this is a false sense of security.
The second figure is of a man who makes it to what he thinks is the safety of his home. The pain of a snakebite then jolts him out of his false sense of security!
Out of the Frying Pan
The old adage out of the frying pan, into the fire is familiar. This adage applies when people try to get out of a very negative situation only to discover themselves in an even worse one. The 1964 movie Father Goose demonstrates this. Cary Grant plays Walter Eckland, an unshaven runaway from Western civilization who is forced into the role of a coast watcher for the Royal Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. (Fire #1: he escapes civilization and winds up in the middle of a war.)
Then Grant is asked to remove a fellow coast watcher from another island. But instead he rescues a diplomat’s daughter (played by Leslie Caron) and seven school children, all girls. (Fire #2: he avoids capture by the Japanese but winds up responsible for eight females.) The list of fires goes on!
Father Goose is a charming comedy, but the situation Amos describes is neither charming nor funny. Fleeing a lion, you meet a bear; safe at home, you’re bitten by a snake. You survive the travails of life only to experience the Day of the Lord—finding yourself in a time of darkness, rather than light. God’s judgment will not be what many delude themselves into believing! Are you ready for it? —J. B. N.
20. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
The ancient Israelites may assume that only the non-Jews have anything to fear on the Day of Judgment. But Amos says, “Not so fast.” When God passes judgment, he will have to do so on the people of God themselves. To Amos this is more than just a maybe—it is a certainty. Darkness stands for distress and trouble in many Old Testament passages (examples: 1 Samuel 2:9; Job 5:14; Psalm 35:6).
III. Beware of Spiritual Sins (Amos 5:21–24)
A. False Feasts (vv. 21, 22)
21. “I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
God established three yearly pilgrimage celebrations (see Exodus 23:14–17; 34:22–25; Deuteronomy 16:10–16). God also established Sabbath days, new moon festivals, etc. (see Nehemiah 10:33; Hosea 2:11). God now hates what the people have done to those days. God hates the very things the people think are pleasing to God. The people have made a mockery of God’s holy days.
22. “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
The opening chapters of Leviticus established various kinds of offerings. God himself is the author of what those offerings are to be and what they are to represent.
Yet Amos says that these offerings have become completely unacceptable to God. God has not “canceled” the offerings in and of themselves in Amos’s day. Rather, it is improper motives and unholy lives of the people who offer false acts of worship that disgust God.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do our twenty-first-century offerings and assemblies please and displease God? How can we do better?
B. Insincere Songs (v. 23)
23. “Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Music is a vital part of Old Testament worship (Ezra 2:65; Psalm 150; etc.). Usually God delights in our music of praise but not if offered insincerely. Songs of praise that don’t match holiness in one’s life are so displeasing to the Lord that he demands they be removed from his presence.
What Do You Think?
How will your songs offer worship that is acceptable to God?
Many churches are struggling these days over styles of worship and music. While that concern is understandable, a greater concern should be the kind of person the music comes from rather than the kind of music that comes from the person.
C. Blessed Behavior (v. 24)
24. “But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
This may well be the most familiar verse in the book of Amos. The great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted it. The verse describes what God wants: justice and righteousness to permeate the land like a never-failing stream bringing life-giving water to the people. Justice must flow continually—day and night. Justice cannot be an intermittent, three times out of four, proposition.
Amos was not a professional prophet. He was not even a citizen of the northern kingdom of Israel. He might well have contented himself with pruning the fruit trees and watching sheep. But he could not keep silent. He chose to tell the people the truth, an unpopular truth at that.
The people’s complacency was exactly why they needed a prophet like Amos. Gary Smith says that Amos’s challenge was much like a doctor telling a patient he has a terminal disease. Sometimes people get angry with the messenger. Instead of being angry with the messenger, they need to take the cure. Amos did not just diagnose, he also prescribed. The problem is that the people did not want the prescription.
Amos drew a lot of attention when he came north. His activities were reported to the king himself (Amos 7:10–12). By coming north and condemning the worship in Bethel, he was coming to the center of idolatrous religion in the northern kingdom. Amos caught the ire of the lead priest at Bethel. That man told Amos to go home and prophecy to his own people if he was determined to preach (Amos 7:12-13).
We know that Amos’s prophecy was true, for history reveals Amos was right. We don’t know if Amos remained a prophet for the rest of his life or if he went back to farming. One thing is sure: his message has not been forgotten. Or has it?
Thought to Remember
Repentance, not ritual.
Commitment, not complacency.
Dear Father, help me to be concerned about the things that concern you. Help me to live in a way that reflects my commitment to you. In my worship let not my rituals be isolated from my behavior and my devotion of the heart. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing