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Village Church of Lincolnshire

Let Justice Roll Down Lesson 2 Expanded Study Guide: Visions of a Sinful People (Amos 3-6)

This is the second expanded guide to our series on Amos entitled Let Justice Roll Down. You can find the a recording of the live streamed study by clicking here.

Introduction

When the tornado sirens blared, we knew what was coming. I can remember over and over again throughout my childhood experiencing the piercing intensity of a tornado siren. Whether it was the monthly test, or the sickening, hollow sound in the midst of raging winds, my ears were trained on that sound. We would usually watch storms brew in the sky for a long time, with the cornfields stretching out far in front of us providing a great tarmac for tornado build up. We’d stand in the backyard, hands in our pockets, braced against the wind as the world turned a kind of orange and large, fomenting clouds seethed in the distance. We’d grown immune to those warning signs, as every summer we had seen wall cloud after wall cloud pass on by, without once feeling a tornado’s real wrath.

But when the sirens started blaring, that’s when we knew things were serious. The low whoop of a siren in the middle of a funnel cloud gazing-party chilled you, infected you with its terror, and begged you to get inside and get ready. It warned of danger, of calamity, and of disaster. It was terrifying. That was, the first couple of times it was terrifying.

The reality is, I remember dozens of times throughout my childhood when we heard those sirens and did nothing. We simply stayed outside, hands in our pockets, and actually hoped to see something on the horizon. We’d grown immune to the call of danger, and even when the sirens boomed with eardrum-breaking loudness, we ignored them. For some reason, we never thought the doom, the destruction, would touch us. We’d grown immune to the siren’s threat.

That’s what happened to the Israelites in Amos’ day. For a long time, God had been sending warning, had been giving clear, unmistakable indications of his coming wrath. He’d brought famine and plagues and fires (Amos 4:6-11); they didn’t get the message. He had sent prophet after prophet, but they had been silenced (2:12). Over and over again the sirens of doom and destruction rang in their ears, but they’d grown immune. And now there would be one last warning, one last, ear-splitting cry, before the destruction came. It would be like a lion roaring in the forest, or a young lion snarling in its den (3:4). It would be like a bird foolishly trusting the ground, when a snare lies beneath it (3:5). It would be like a trumpet blowing in the city, or the cry of disaster coming from the ramparts (3:6). “The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (3:8).

The Lord will speak and will lay out the destruction coming their way. Vision after vision of these sinful people will emerge, and doom after doom will be proclaimed. The question is, will these people listen now, finally get the message, and heed the blaring sirens?

Visions of a Sinful People (chapters 3-6) 

Last week we went into detail about Amos’ opening speech, where he begins by laying out the injustices of other nations, and by so doing lulls Israel into a sense of safety before delivering the crushing blow. Turns out, Israel is the worst of all these nations, and God’s universal s standard of justice applies to them too. Amos convincingly lays out these people’s injustices, focusing in both on systemic problems and personal apathy. The end result: destruction is coming for Israel.

But there is lurking behind this proclamation, as is often the case, a way out. These prophecies of doom are in reality a warning, a siren, calling the people to repent and turn to the Lord. Like in the case of the Ninevites, the proper course of action when a prophesy of destruction comes your way is to repent in sackcloth and ashes (Jon. 3:1-10). When people do this, God reveals himself as “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster,” sometimes even to the prophet’s chagrin (Jon. 4:1-2). The purpose of these prophesies is not to get Israel wholeheartedly resigned to destruction, but to motivate them to repent, seek the Lord, and live (Amos 5:4, 6).

First things first, however. In order for Israel to really get the image, the sirens must blare in their ears. Amos moves, in chapters three through six, to both lay out these damning visions of how unjust the people are, as well as to compel them to repent. Today’s lesson will be focused on the detailed visions of the people’s sinful behavior and the destruction coming their way in these three chapters, and next week we will circle back to the Lord’s offer of restoration in chapter 5.

The first Vision: Oppression and Violence

With a supreme level of irony, Amos invites the Philistines and Egyptians (the textbook bad guys in Israel’s mind) to climb up with him to the top of the mountains of Samaria and look at how Israel lives. “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria,” he tells these pagan nations, “and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed within her midst.” (3:9).

Amos continues, as if giving the nations a lesson on real evil:

“’They do not know how to do right,’ declares the Lord, ‘[they] store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.’” (3:10).

This is the most common, recurring vision of the people of Israel in chapters 3-6: violent oppressors. Instead of doing right, their culture majors in hā-mās, “violence”, and âšû-qîm, “oppression.” Over and over again Amos lays into these people for these sins, pronouncing woes on the privileged who abuse the poor:

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’” (4:1)

“O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!” (5:7)

“They hate him who reproves in the gate, they abhor him who speaks the truth…you trample on the poor and exact taxes of grain from him…you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.” (5:10-12)

The sins of the people here include what we may call both the suppression of justice and the institutionalizing of injustice. The power players of society “turn justice into wormwood,” that is, they make it bitter, unpleasant, and seen as wrong. Their system of taxation is unjust, as they “exact taxes of grain” only from the poor to build up their big houses (5:11). The government system is not one of justice, equity, and righteousness (Ps. 99:4), but rather one of affliction and suppression.

It is important to notice how Amos does not distinguish between individuals and systems here. In the Hebrew mind, there is no “nation” as separate and distinct from the people who make it up, but rather the nation is its people and the people are responsible for the action of their nation. Those with power, the wealthy and privileged, had a greater responsibility to ensure just systems and equitable judgments. A great example of a just Israelite using his privilege well is Boaz, who not only gave Ruth an extra portion of grain (beyond what the law required, Lev. 23:22), but who also advocated for her in the gatherings of those responsible for administering justice (Ruth 4:1-12). The city gate was the center for justice, and what transpired there was symbolic of the attitude of the entire city.[1] All of the people, especially those of the privileged classes, were responsible for what occurred there.

But instead of ensuring justice in the gate, the wealthy and privileged used the gate as a tool of oppression. Isaiah describes a similar situation in Judah, where they “cause a person to lose a lawsuit,” and “set a trap for the arbiter in the gate,” and “deny justice to the one in the right” (Isa. 29:21, NRSV). In Amos’ case, these people hate not only the poor but also the môkîah, the “reprover” or advocate, who tells them that their actions are wrong (5:10).[2] Court cases were not moments of true justice but rather a show by which oppression and violence were done on the vulnerable in society.

Amos distinguishes these vulnerable by two names, likely synonyms: dâl “low, poor”, and êb-yôn “needy”. Throughout the Old Testament, and especially in the law, these groups are among the most protected in legal proceedings. The poor are mentioned in contrast to the “rich” and “great”, with the people told to regard neither’s status when judging justly (Exod. 23:3; 30:15; Lev. 19:15). Moses instructs masters not to “oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns” (Deut. 24:14). Recognizing the likelihood of systemic sin, perverting justice in the case of the needy is strictly forbidden (Exod. 23:6), and the people are to exercise continual generosity toward them (Deut. 15:4-11). The poor and needy refer not only to economic realities, but ethnic as well, with the dâl and the gēr (“sojourner, foreigner, resident alien, refugee”) often being linked (Lev. 19:10; 23:22; 25:35; Deut. 24:14; Ezek. 22:29; Zech. 7:10). B.P. Irwin describes the rational for these protections of the vulnerable well:

Individuals included in these categories were those who fell outside the social support system of land ownership, family and/or patriarchy that serviced ancient Israel. In the language of today, such individuals could be described as facing “systemic discrimination,” since their very identity left them outside of the “systems” that existed to protect those living in Israel. As a consequence, [these] individuals…came under the special care of Yahweh, his surrogate the king, and were to be cared for as a covenant obligation by the people at large.[3]

When Israel oppressed the poor, corrupting the seat of justice and profiting from extortion and slave-trading (see Amos 2:6, 9), they in essence broke God’s covenant with them and severed their relationship with him. No matter how much national pride they stoked, or how many religious services they attended, until justice was restored there was no hope of redemption.

The Second Vision: Idolatry and Religiosity

While injustice ravaged their streets, the Israelites went to church. As Amos records,

“Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish then; for so you love to do O people of Israel!” declares the Lord God. (4:4-5)

It seems that these people loved to display their religion; they were partial to feasts, offerings, and solemn assemblies. But God felt differently:

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (5:21-24).

Israel’s preoccupation with religious theatrics, coupled with their flirtations with idols (5:25-27), led only to further a culture of apathy, prejudice, and injustice.

Amos makes a subtle yet important link here between what one might call “false” religion and injustice. In other words, idolatry and religious theatrics are linked with social evil. As Alec Motyer writes, “Godly social values depend on commitment to God.”[4] When the people broke the first commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me”), the whole list of social evils prohibited in the sixth through the tenth commandments followed. Idolatry, in all its forms, is in a sense the first domino to fall on the path to injustice. “In the prophetic analyses,” writes Rob Barrett, “idolatrous worship does not usually stand alone, but rather is connected to a wide variety of moral failures, including such things as oppression of the helpless, murder and adultery (e.g., Jer. 7:6, 9; Ezek. 22:2-12).”[5]

Added on top of their idolatry is what we will call religious theatrics, that is, participating in religious ceremonies or services while not pursuing actual obedience to God’s commands, particularly for justice. Not surprisingly, this was a problem for Judah as well, when the people offered sacrifice after sacrifice while perverting justice in the streets. The mixture of these two things, perverting justice and engaging in religious ceremonies, was particularly egregious to God:

Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Isa. 1:13-15).

It is important to note that these condemnations of religious theatrics are not saying all ceremonies and services are in themselves evil. It goes without saying that God had prescribed these solemn assemblies and these feasts to be an important part of Israel’s worship, as just a cursory reading of the Pentateuch reveals. The problem rather is this admixture of “iniquity and solemn assembly,” the combination of a perversion of justice alongside religious ceremony. Just as transgressing the first commandment leads to injustice, pursuing justice without holiness leads at best to shallow moralism.

Jesus made a similar point when rebuking the Pharisees. His major problem with them was, similar to Amos, their religious theatrics, their participation in religious ceremonies and services while neglecting what he called “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” His advice? “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the other” (Matt. 23:23). The point in both cases is clear: to put on a religious show while perverting justice is not pleasing to God. Every sphere of life, from running Sunday morning services to designing neighborhood districts and the distribution of tax dollars; from morning prayers to dialing 911; it all falls under the same umbrella as either acceptable worship, or gross disobedience.

The Third Vision: Opulence, Apathy, and Pride

The vision of these people thus far is grisly and disheartening, but it gets worse. Not only were the people perverting justice in the city gates; not only were they engaged in false worship; but they had fallen into a state of what we might call affluent lethargy, a kind of relaxed, nonchalant attitude that was totally unconcerned with matters of justice for the vulnerable. While they “crush the needy,” they also cry out “Bring, that we may drink!” (4:1). While they worship false gods and the true God falsely, they retain their summer houses and their winter houses (3:14-15). Their luxury is described by Amos in great detail:

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes!…Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory, and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (6:1-6).

This attitude was rooted, as are all sins, in pride. Rather than seeking the Lord with “a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17), they rather gloried in their strength and interpreted their economic success as a sign of God’s favor. While they looked at other nations with distain, they saw no problem in the disparities in their own nation, but rather sought to increase the gap between rich and poor by unjust decrees and taxation (5:11; cf. Isa. 10:1-4). Their whole way of living was rooted in this idea: God is for Israel, no matter what. This ideology was so rooted in their minds that they refused any sign that might say otherwise, from famine, to drought, to plague, to fire (4:6-11). God was for them, and so they would have peace. Eat, drink, and be merry!

It is vital to see how this cultural narrative reinforced the people’s perspectives on power and law. In a real way the injustices that occurred in their midst were furthered by the absence of critical voices because of this narrative of national pride. If, fundamentally, Israel was God’s nation and could do no wrong, any internal voices against policies and injustices must be silenced as, frankly, anti-God. This went to the extent that to speak at all against the king was to speak against God, and all laws, no matter how unjust, had the stamp of divine approval. This will come up clearly in chapter seven when the people’s main complaint against Amos is that he says these things “at Bethel, the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom.” (7:13). In other words, Amos’s message is interpreted as anti-Israel, anti-king, and anti-God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Amos sees his calling as primarily to point back to what God had always said about his covenant with his people, about what it truly meant to be in relationship with him, and how the people would experience his just wrath as he always said. The god that the Israelites wanted simply did not exist: a god always for their nation, unconcerned with their actions in the social realm, and uninterested in holding them accountable. As Howard Moss states, Amos was trying “not to change the rules, but to have them fulfilled. He wanted to go back to a moral order, not to propound a new one.”[6] It was the people who were anti-God (the real God, that is), not Amos.

And so, Amos describes in vivid detail what it truly means to be God’s people and sin against him. While these people waited with anticipation for the day of God’s judgment, (the “Day of the Lord”), it would mean destruction to them (5:18-27). While they had ignored God’s warnings over and over, now Amos instructs them to “prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (4:12). To be God’s people meant, first and foremost, that God expected holiness from them, and when that did not occur the Lord punished them (3:1-2). Did they really want God? What about when he actually showed up?

“In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled at lamentation, and in all the vineyards there will be wailing, for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord. (5:16-17).

Cultural Narratives, National Identities, and Injustice

 

As we have seen, injustice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The Israelites had created an entire society that reinforced oppression and violence and had even come up with convenient theological perspectives that would essentially give them a pass on God’s commands. This proved to be disastrous for them for two reasons. First, they stood completely condemned. They had no biblical leg to stand on, and it was clear without a shadow of doubt that they were headed toward invasion and exile by the powerful nations surrounding them (6:7, 11-14). Their disobedience had earned this, as the Lord had outlined in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

But these cultural narratives and theological perspectives were disastrous for a second reason. Because of their national pride, their sense of superiority, and their in-grained belief that God was for them no matter what, they had become dull to the warning signs. In other words, they were unable to think critically about their own culture and systems, and so saw no need to repent. They had put forth a cultural narrative that always made them out to be the good guys, and the other nations to be the bad guys, and so when it became time for them to come to terms with their injustice, they just couldn’t go there. They’d not only re-written history to serve their purposes, but they’d re-written theology as well.

These three chapters of Amos are a warning sign for us, a blaring siren: be careful with conflating national identity and theology. No matter how much one might believe that God is for their nation, in no sense is that ever an excuse to not think critically about its institutions, systems, and cultural narratives. Too often in American history this conflagration has resulted in what is called American exceptionalism, the idea that America is God’s nation (similar to Israel) and God’s light in the world. Amos would tell us to be very, very careful with that idea.

Why? Because once you make that jump, from seeing America as a nation that must stand under God’s judgment to “God’s nation,” it becomes easy to create cultural narratives that always praise and never blame, to see systems as always the good guys, and to equate “law and order” with God’s law and God’s order. The category of civil disobedience, which the Bible endorses in cases of injustice and gospel-suppression (Acts 5:12-42), becomes always wrong, because it is “anti-America.” Injustices in American history, such as the genocidal treatment of first peoples (https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states), the kidnapping and enslavement of over four million Africans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II (https://www.britannica.com/event/Japanese-American-internment), and the many other examples of discrimination, racism, and domestic terrorism, get swept under the rug or minimized as just issues of the past. Deep in our hearts we remain convinced that we are God’s nation, and we look with suspicion at anyone who suggests that the injustice present in our midst is worthy of God’s judgment.

But Amos’ basic premise remains true: God holds all nations and peoples accountable for their Injustice. At the end of the day, it was irrelevant whether or not the Israelites “saw” the problem; the only ones that would suffer for that ignorance was them. Their refusal to repent, to think critically of their cultural narratives, would bring disaster on them. God was the judge, not them. We would do well to listen to the blaring sirens here in Amos, to think critically about our own cultural narratives and biases, and do the hard, soul-searching work of asking those on the margins of society how they experience the laws, systems, and policies of this land.

Next week we will be talking about how to do just that.

Excursus: Systemic Injustice in the Old Testament 

A large part of the current debate swirls around the idea of “systemic racism.” While many in the Black community, including many in the Black church[7], insist that racism is not just an individual problem but is inculcated into many American institutions, organizations, and cultures, the response from some in the majority has been that racism remains simply an individual problem. Many in the majority church find all the fault simply in individual choices and perspectives, not in broader social or economic narratives or practices. Added to this, many suggest that the Bible has little to say about nations or larger organizations when it comes to justice issues and focuses rather only on the individual, and thus Christians shouldn’t focus so much on “systemic” racism. Instead, the proper Christian response is to foster family values in Black communities, evangelize black children, and support missions in impoverished areas. To do anymore is to go beyond the Bible (so the argument goes).

When discussing this issue, it is important first to define our terms. For the purpose of this study, “systemic” refers to something “fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice.”[8] A virus is “systemic” if it affects the entire body, and a problem is “systemic” when the functioning of an institution, organization, or cultural norm has the problem as an essential component of its functioning. Injustice (such as racism) is “systemic” when it is baked into the policies and/or practices of a certain system. One clear example of this is government sponsored segregation. Other examples include the exclusion of black men to the benefits of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the GI bill) after WWII, the determination of neighborhood investment values based almost entirely on race (known as “redlining”) by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation, and the creation of “restrictive covenants” explicitly prohibiting Black residents from certain neighborhoods.[9]

Most people can agree that the above practices are wrong, but some find such statistics irrelevant to their own situation. We are often used to making a large distinction between a system and an individual, and so these systems, while bad, are not problems for us to solve. Yet, the Bible makes no such distinction. As we have seen in Amos, the system is comprised of the people, and the people are thus culpable for the functioning of that system. The reality is that Scripture does not see an essential difference between injustice in individual relationships and injustice at national and regional levels. Injustice is injustice, period.

Part of the reason for this perspective is because the idea of a government “system” as a separate entity from the people is foreign to the Bible. It would be anachronistic to say that the Bible addresses systemic injustice directly, because in the Bible the systems were not democratic republics but rather monarchies or theocracies, and were often tyrannical. The people’s culpability to the administering of justice was rooted, not in their direct engagement in the functioning of those systems, but rather in their status as part of a people who did or did not pursue justice from top to bottom.

Societies were expected to pursue justice in every sphere, from the king’s court to the threshing floor. The first responsibility for the just functioning of structures lay upon the king (Psalm 72; 140:12; Isa. 32:1; Prov. 29:4; Prov. 31:9). Israel was not unique in this regard. As B.P. Irwin points out, kings in the Ancient Near East were responsible for administering justice by virtue of their “connection with the divine realm.”[10] “The failure of the king to establish justice,” Irwin continues, “or, worse, to actively pervert justice was a violation of the monarch’s fundamental obligation to both God and subjects.”[11]

But it was not the king’s sole responsibility to pursue justice. All of the people, from local judges (Deut. 1:16), to wealthy landowners (Ruth 2-4), to everyone within the town itself (Deut. 31:12-13); everyone had the responsibility to pursue justice and righteousness, to “hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15). Isaiah instructs the wayward people to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause” (Isa 1:17). This command for community-wide justice was an essential part of their identity as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). This extended to their creating and enforcing of law and order (Isa. 10:1-4).

While such was the intention for Israel, the much more common picture throughout the Old Testament is of injustice in the institutions and cultures of both Israel and the surrounding world. More often than not people pursue, not justice and righteousness, but rather pride, oppression, and violence in their communities. The first eleven chapters of Genesis illustrate this well. There is the first unjust law decreed by Cain’s descendant, Lamech (Gen. 4:23-24), and the gross wickedness of Noah’s day (Gen. 6:1-4). There is the violence of Nimrod, the ruler of Babel, whose tyranny becomes the archetype for all oppressive, violent kingdom building (Gen. 10:8-12, 11:1-8).[12] The injustice perpetrated and baked into the societies of Genesis 1-11 is so great that God institutes retributive justice as central to his covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:5-6. The image of Genesis 1-11 is of a people going from bad to worse, refusing to pursue justice and thus angering God.

It is in this kind of world that God calls Abraham to be a “great nation” and a “blessing” to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham’s covenant with God, albeit unconditional, included the vital aspect of Abraham and his descendant’s pursuit of justice. When the Lord and two angels stop and visit Abraham on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, God decides to tell Abraham of the coming destruction because “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Gen. 18:18). The Lord continues,

For I have chosen [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring Abraham what he has promised him. (Gen. 18:19).

Sodom is then displayed to Abraham (and to the reader) as a bit of an object lesson; a warning against allowing injustice in any form in the covenant community. Not even ten righteous people exist within it, and the society itself loves violence, oppression, and wickedness. When angels show up in Sodom, only righteous Lot treats them justly, while a mob from the city seeks to rape them (as seemed to be the norm, Gen. 19:1-4). The people of Sodom lived in such a way that their cultural norms (what we might call a “system”) perpetuated injustice (rape, murder, etc.), and so the Lord would destroy them.

Sodom and Gomorrah become epitomes of injustice throughout the rest of the Old Testament and into the New. Amos himself references them as a clear warning sign of how bad the Israelites have become (Amos 4:11), as does Isaiah (Isa. 1:10; 3:9). God’s people were called to be a light to the nations by their pursuit of justice from top to bottom, but they too often looked like Sodom and Gomorrah. A particularly telling example is the story of the gang-rape and murder of the Levite’s prostitute in Judges 19. Instead of going to a foreign city, the Levite decides to rest the night in Gibeah, and Israelite city, thinking he’ll be safer. As the night goes on, a gang from the city comes to where the Levite and his prostitute are staying, and using almost the exact words of Genesis 19 they say “bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him” (i.e., rape him, Judges 19:22). In desperation the Levite gives them his prostitute, and the result of the night’s long abuse is her death (Judges 19:25-28).

The comparison is unmissable. The people of Gibeah had become so sinful that they’d created the same culture of oppression and violence as the Sodomites. Just as God destroyed the people of Sodom for their injustice, he would destroy this people too. Remember Amos’ message? God hold all nations and peoples accountable for their injustice. What we see in Gibeah, or Bethel (Amos 2:6-7), or Jerusalem (Isa. 10:1-4) could rightly be called “systemic” injustice, that is, injustice baked into the cultures, institutions, and legislation of these people. The problem was not just individual; it was community-wide. Whole swaths of people are condemned for these unjust actions, for there remained for each one of them the responsibility to seek justice, to advocate for the oppressed, and to rebuke those who walked in such flagrant disobedience. Job’s witness describes how every Israelite should have lived:

I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him. The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy and I searched out the cause of him who did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth. (Job 29:12-17)

Unlike Job, silence on the part of Israelites regarding the injustice all around them simply perpetuated that injustice. The entire people bore the guilt in part because of their refusal to speak out.

In conclusion, there is ample Scriptural evidence that unjust social structures are a large part of God’s decision to punish whole nations and peoples. As Timothy Keller writes, “contrary to our western individualistic view, the Bible recognizes that our character and actions are not purely the result of our personal choices. A person’s character is in large part forged by family and community.”[13]Whole peoples bear culpability for unjust systems and cultural norms, even if the origin of those systems and norms is long gone, as was the case with the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-16; 1 Sam 15:1-4). Our analysis of our obedience must go deeper than simply actions which one would blatantly call “unjust” or “racist,” but rather must descend into the cultural narratives and norms, institutions, and policies that we endorse or perpetuate. We can and must follow Daniel’s example by repenting, not just for our own personal, blatant sins, but for the sins of our people as well:

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs the righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. To us, O Lord, belongs the open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. (Daniel 9:4-8).

REFERENCES

[1] Merrill C. Tenney and J.D. Douglas, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, n.d.), 507-508.

[2] Francis I. Anderson and David Noel Freedman, Amos, AB 24A (New York: Doubleday, n.d.), 498.

[3] B.P. Irwin, “Social Justice,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, Black Dictionaries on the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 719–34, 721.

[4] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 49.

[5] Rob Barrett, “Idols, Idolatry, Gods,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, Black Dictionaries on the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 351-35, 352.

[6] As quoted in Leland Ryken, Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2015). 306.

[7] Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

[8] “Systemic,” in Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary, accessed June 19, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/systemic.

[9] Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, 123-124.

[10] Irwin, “Social Justice,” 722.

[11] Ibid, 723.

[12] Alexander, T. Desmond, From Paradise to Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 130.

[13] Timothy Keller, “The Sin of Racism,” Gospel in Life, no. Q2 2020 (June 2020), https://quarterly.gospelinlife.com/the-sin-of-racism/?fbclid=IwAR2I62KIXtygQb89Z_l8WpI0O6DvfvCUktU4-KOuT3DWWFBGsG0AVyyzUw4.

Pastor Casey is the Associate Pastor at Village Church of Lincolnshire. He graduated from Trinity International University with a B.A. In pre-seminary studies in 2018, and from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Mdiv) in 2019. You can read Casey's thoughts on his blog, https://revivalrenewal.wordpress.com/.

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