Amos 5:18-24

Let Justice Roll

Dr. Mickey Anders

In preparing for this sermon, I came across a quote from an old time evangelist named Billy Sunday. He said, “The best thing that could happen to a man would be to get saved at a revival meeting, and then walk out into the street and get run over by a truck.”

What does that say about the theology of Billy Sunday? It says that he thinks the most important thing in life is to walk down the aisle of a church and give your life to Christ. That is the high point of your life. After that, it is all downhill. You will only mess things up. You are better off to end it there.

This view discounts the whole idea of the Christian life. It discounts what we have to do as Christians.

I remember once going to a Holy Week service where an evangelistic pastor was asked to lead the invocation. In his prayer, he preached the Roman road to salvation and gave an invitation to accept Christ.

Some churches only do evangelism; others only social action. Somehow we surely have to balance the two, but we are not saved for heaven only. The best thing is not to die quickly, but to make a difference with the life we are given.

The people in Amos’ day were a lot like Billy Sunday in that they thought that worship was all that mattered. There were many people who regularly came to the Temple and offered their sacrifices, but they were living lives that were not consistent with their actions on the Sabbath. Amos pointed out this mistake.

Amos prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, at a time when Israel was enjoying great political and economic power. It was a time when the economy was booming and worship attendance was up. The people thought that if they performed the right sacrifices, it didn’t matter how they lived.

Amos lists some examples of their abuse in 2:6-8:

“Thus says Yahweh:

‘For three transgressions of Israel, yes, for four,
I will not turn away its punishment;
because they have sold the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of shoes;

They trample on the dust of the earth on the head of the poor,
and deny justice to the oppressed;
and a man and his father use the same maiden,
to profane my holy name;
and they lay themselves down beside every altar
on clothes taken in pledge;
and in the house of their God they drink the wine
of those who have been fined.'”

In 3:15, he writes, “I will strike the winter house with the summer house; and the houses of ivory will perish, and the great houses will have an end,’ says Yahweh.”

In 4:1, he says, “Listen to this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who tell (your) husbands, ‘Bring us drinks!'”

These were the kinds of evil of social justice about which Amos complained. Later he accuses them of plotting evil while lying on beds of ivory and of buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.

Amos was an unlikely person to be a prophet, especially a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. That is because he was from Tekoa in Judah, the southern kingdom. In 7:14-15, he says, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was a herdsman, and a farmer of sycamore figs; and Yahweh took me from following the flock, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

Since Amos was an outsider, he had to use a creative technique to get the people to listen to his message of judgment. He begins his speaking with condemnation of Israel’s enemies. Only after condemning the nations and tribes surrounding Israel does he come to mention their judgment.

In 1:3, Amos begins, “Thus says Yahweh: “For three transgressions of Damascus, yes, for four, I will not turn away its punishment….”

In verse six, he says, “For three transgressions of Gaza, yes, for four….”

In verse 9, we read, “For three transgressions of Tyre, yes, for four…”

In verse 11, “For three transgressions of Edom, yes, for four….”

In verse 13, “For three transgressions of the children of Ammon, yes, for four….”

In 2:1, “For three transgressions of Moab, yes, for four….”

In 2:4, “For three transgressions of Judah, yes, for four….”

And finally in 2:6, he gets around to Israel, “For three transgressions of Israel, yes, for four….”

In his message of judgment, he says, “Yes, though you offer me your burnt offerings and meal offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat animals. Take away from me the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps” (5:22-23).

Amos preached some time about 750 B.C., and his message of judgment was fulfilled in 722 B.C. when the Assyrians invaded and conquered the northern kingdom.

Amos made a great appeal to justice and righteousness, by saying, “But let justice roll on like rivers, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (5:24). He went on to explain that justice by comparing it to a plumb line, “Thus he showed me and behold, the Lord stood beside a wall made by a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. Yahweh said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ I said, ‘A plumb line.’

Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, I will set a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel. I will not again pass by them any more'” (7:7-8).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for justice means that the neediest in society are cared for. A just society takes care of those who are needy. Amos says that we can measure our true spirituality by this kind of justice. But some of us must be prepared to change our lives, and that is not easy.

The solution to the problems of the people of Israel was clearly presented in 5:6, “Seek Yahweh, and you will live.” Martin Luther once said that reading the Bible is like undergoing surgery. There’s something inside us that will kill us. But it is painful to have it removed. We have to turn to God and turn away from our injustice.

This message of justice is not just an Old Testament message. Jesus was equally concerned about issues of social justice. He talked more about how we treat others, how we spend our money, and our attitudes toward life than anything else.

In Matthew 25:35-36, we read, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”


“Dick, you do good work. I couldn’t be involved in business and be a part-time pastor without the help I get from you.”

Once Mother Teresa was invited to a hunger conference in Bombay. She lost her way, and arrived late at the appointed place.

On the steps outside, she noticed a man, dying of hunger. Instead of going in, she took him, and fed him. Inside, they were talking about so much food supply in so many years, statistics here, statistics there — while a real person was dying on the steps outside.

There is another great moment in her life when a wealthy woman from America found Mother Teresa, whipped out her checkbook, and said, “I want to write you a check to support your work.”

Mother Teresa looked up, shook her head and said, “No money.”

“What?” the lady replied, “No money. You won’t take my money? I have a lot of money, this money can help you.”

And again she heard, “No money.”

“No money! Well then, what can I do?”

Mother Teresa smiled that inimitable smile, took her by the hand, and said, “Come and see.” She led this woman deep into the barrios of Calcutta, searching, until finally she came upon a small, grimy child. Mother Teresa said, “Take care of her,” and the woman took a cloth, and bathed the little girl, took a spoon and fed her. And she reported later that her life was changed.

When Mother Teresa first came to the United States, she made a great speech in New York, in which she said, “You don’t have to go to Calcutta to share in my work. Calcutta is wherever you are. Wherever you are, there are people who hurt, who need love. Find them. Love them. For in loving them, you love Jesus.”

Another great Catholic saint from the 16th century (Teresa of Avila) said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2004, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.