God's Warning to a Wayward People

* * * * * * * * * * *

Hear this word which I take up against you, a lamentation, O house of Israel. (Amos 5:1)

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Old Testament prophets have a reputation for being "fusty old men" (Philip Yancey), but none are more blunt and direct than Amos, the shepherd-prophet whom God sent to 8th-century BC Israel. Chapter five of his book is a excellent summary of his message--and a sobering warning to our own nation today. 

Social conditions in the nation were appalling. The poor were trodden underfoot (v. 11), and those who held the reins of power took brides and trampled the powerless without shame (v. 12). The few honest people who remained were hated and reviled (v. 10), and intimidated into silence (v. 13). 

The wicked justified their evil conduct by maintaining a thin veneer of piety, complete with feast days, sacred assemblies, sacrifices, and worship music (v. 21-23). Cheap religion has always been the refuge of scoundrels. 

God's message to the defiant nation, of course, was a warning of judgment (v. 16-20). The day of the Lord would be "very dark" (v. 20), leading to captivity in a foreign land (v. 27). When God says, "I will pass through you" (v. 17), that is not an idle threat; He has very creative ways of letting us feel His displeasure. 

This calamity was avoidable, but it would require a reformation that the nation was ill-equipped to perform. The terms were simple: "Seek good and not evil, that you may live. . . . Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate" (v. 14-15). Our behavior is a function of what we love, and these people needed a serious heart transplant. But like most nations that travel down this road, Israel had passed a point of no return. There would be no turning back, only the terrifying blows of divine retribution. 

God's plea in verse 24, "Let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream," was adopted as the battle cry of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. Justice and righteousness are the foundation of a nation's strength, and once a society rejects those responsibilities, their demise is inevitable. 

America is not immune to this ancient principle. If we are to survive as a nation, justice and righteousness must be restored to our character. 

And the restoration begins with me.