A Lament and Call to Repentance
The dominant theme is clearly stated in verse 24, which calls for social justice as the indispensable expression of true piety. Amos was a vigorous spokesman for God’s justice and righteousness. Amos declared that God was going to judge his unfaithful, disobedient, covenant-breaking people. Despite the Lord’s special choice of Israel and his kindnesses to her during the exodus and conquest and in the days of David and Solomon, his people continually failed to honor and obey him. The shrines at Bethel and other places of worship were often paganized, and Israel had a worldly view of even the ritual that the Lord himself had prescribed. They thought performance of the rites was all God required, and, with that done, they could do whatever they pleased—an essentially pagan notion. Without commitment to God’s law, they had no basis for standards of conduct. Amos condemns all who make themselves powerful or rich at the expense of others. Those who had acquired multiple splendid houses, expensive furniture and richly laden tables by cheating, perverting justice and crushing the poor would lose everything they had.
–NIV Study Bible notes
1Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:
2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel,
never to rise again,
deserted in her own land,
with no one to lift her up.”
God foretells the judgment that is coming to Israel.
3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Israel:
“Your city that marches out a thousand strong
will have only a hundred left;
your town that marches out a hundred strong
will have only ten left.”
Their military forces will be decimated.
4 This is what the LORD says to Israel:
“Seek me and live;
5 do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were once places associated with great privilege and spiritual heritage. Bethel was the place where God met Jacob (Genesis 28:11-19, Genesis 35:1-7). Gilgal was the place where Israel’s spiritual reproach was rolled away in the days of Joshua (Joshua 5:1-12). Beersheba was connected to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 21:22-33, 26:23-33, 46:1-5). Now these were places of vain, empty worship.
6 Seek the LORD and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground.
Their justice system is now only a legal system, for the true end of justice is discarded.
8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out over the face of the land—
the LORD is his name.
9 With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
and brings the fortified city to ruin.
The LORD is able to create the cosmos and take care of it day by day — surely, Israel, he is able to save you!
10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
Amos tells us the cause of coming judgment — the terrible way that the people of Israel treat one another, especially how the strong take advantage of the weak. The weak have no voice in the courts, are robbed by oppressive taxes. The rich take advantage with bribes and pay off the system to drive the poor from justice . . .
11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their 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.
12 For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
Amos proclaims God’s cure for Israel’s sin. They must begin to seek good and not evil. They must transform their corrupt courts and establish justice.
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.
17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the LORD.
The Day of the LORD
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.
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.
20 Will not the day of the LORD be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
“But, Lord, I was in church every Sunday! I helped with the youth! I served on various committees!”
And the Lord will say, “Depart from me. I don’t know you.”
(See Matthew 25:31-46)
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.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—
which you made for yourselves.
27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.
This is serious business, says the Lord. I cannot tolerate your sinfulness and idolatry; there will be extreme consequences. But even now I call you back to me.
HERE is Chris Christensen and “Let Justice Roll Down.”
Let justice roll down like a mighty river,
And righteousness roll on and on;
Till the desert becomes like the Garden of Eden
Where the nations will come and be healed
And the glory of God is revealed!