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Village Church of Lincolnshire

Let Justice Roll Down Lesson 6: The Hope of Justice (9:11-15)

This is the expanded guide to our Sunday School series on the book of Amos. To watch the livestream, click here.

Introduction: The Heavenly Vintner

In the second chapter of his gospel, the apostle John records two seemingly unconnected scenes in Jesus’ life. The first of these is the famous “wedding at Cana,” when Jesus performs his first “sign” to manifest his glory to people, a big heads-up that he was the Messiah. When the wine runs out at the wedding feast he and his disciples are attending, Jesus instructs the servants to put water into some jars, and afterward to draw some water out and bring it to the master of the feast. When the master of the feast drinks what is brought to him, this is his response: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now!” (John 2:6-10).

Then, almost abruptly, John cuts to another scene in Jesus’ life: the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem (2:13-22). Jesus enters into the temple and makes a whip of cords, driving away all those who were buying and selling, extorting and money-changing, and he overturns their tables. These men had turned the temple into a trading house, they’d prohibited the people who used the outer courts for prayer (because they were not allowed any further into the temple) from doing so. In anger Jesus exclaims, “take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade!” (2:13-16).

These two stories seem to us very distant from one another, but if we look harder, they begin to make sense together. If we look to the prophets, we read of the Righteous “branch of David,” who will come with the fury of justice to cleanse God’s people and establish justice in the land (Isa. 11:1-14; 32:1; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-16). Malachi talks of the Lord appearing “suddenly to his temple,” with the intention of purifying and bring righteousness (Mal. 3:1-4). This son of David, this righteous One, will come and judge his people, restoring righteousness and rebuilding what has been broken down.

But that’s not all the Righteous King will do. Amos, in chapter 9:13, talks of when the Davidic king will return as a day of overflowing abundance, a day when “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (see also Joel 3:18). This will be a day when crops will yield in such numbers that the people shall not be able to keep up, when the Lord will bless and “plant” the people themselves in the land (Amos 9:15). This vision of the coming day is one when abundance will flow, when the wine will never run out, and when the people will taste God’s goodness in the land. That’s what the Just and Righteous King from David’s line will bring.

Now, as we look back to John, we start to see these things making sense. John calls these acts of Jesus “signs,” signals of his place as the Messiah. When Jesus turns water into the best wine, and cleanses the temple, he is showing himself as the Just and Righteous Branch of David, the King who will come and restore what has fallen, who will execute justice and righteousness in the land, and who will bring abundance overflowing. When Jesus shows up on the scene, the message is clear: God is beginning to fulfill his promise made throughout the Old Testament, including here in Amos 9:11-15. God is going to bring true justice, and that is the hope we cling to as we pray: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Justice and Peace Lost; Justice and Peace Regained (9:11-15)

For the last six weeks we’ve been going through the book of Amos and have apprehended this basic message: God holds all peoples, nations, and leaders accountable for their injustice. We’ve seen the sins of these people, with their blinding nationalism that caused them to stop their ears to the cries of the poor, and the deceitfulness of their wealth that they accumulated off of unjust systems and unrighteous decrees. We’ve heard in detail about their idolatry and their inability to grasp God’s just judgment on them. We’ve looked with horror as they refused God’s offer to seek him and in so doing to seek justice, but rather turned to stoking fear through conspiracies of sedition and government overthrow. And we watched last week as God promised to judge them, finally and with unflinching severity, for their injustice.

Throughout this time, the picture has been one of gloom and destruction. Amos is rejected, and the people dig in their heels. They refuse the offer of repentance, even when God had brought warning sign after warning sign their way. They looked, not to God, but to lying prophets such as Amaziah for guidance, and they bought into the false hope that “disaster shall not overtake or meet us” (9:10). As we read these unflinching prophecies, we could be tempted to despair, to shake our heads with indignation, and to say with David “all mankind are liars” (Ps. 116:11).

But then we read these last five verses of Amos’ prophecy (9:11-15), and suddenly through the darkness and gloom comes a brilliant ray of sunlight. Now, when before we cowered at the “day of the Lord” and its terrifying wrath, we read of another “day”:

 

“In that day I will raise up
the booth of David that is fallen
and repair its breaches,
and raise up its ruins
and rebuild it as in the days of old,
 that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations who are called by my name,”
declares the Lord who does this.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the plowman shall overtake the reaper
and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:11-15)

This “day” is a day of restoration, a day of renewal, a moment of abundance. Full of imagery and symbolism, these five little verses close Amos’ prophesy with a note of encouragement and hope. Justice has been lost, but it will be found again. David’s “booth” will bring it back.

The Rebuilt Booth of David (11-12)

Amos starts this message of hope by referencing the “booth of David that is fallen” (v.11). A “booth” was simply a tent, a kind of brush-dwelling constructed while on the go (see Jonah 4:5). Amos refers to it probably as a “booth” due to its dilapidated status; “in Amos’ time the Davidic dynasty had fallen so low that it could no longer be called a house.”[1]The king of Judah was no more righteous than the king of Israel, and the lineage of David had so fallen so as to no longer resemble a house but rather a run-down shack. The days of David and Solomon were long gone, when the king executed justice and righteousness in the land and the people prospered under their hand (1 Kings 3:28; 10:8-9). Instead there was kings and rulers on both sides of the border who issued “iniquitous decrees” and turned “aside the needy from justice” (Isa. 10:1-2). Solomon had written the proverb that “by justice a king builds up the land, but he who taxes heavily tears it down” (Prov. 29:4), and that proverb had proved true over and over. The people of both Judah and Israel languished under evil king after evil king, and that injustice from the top had festered and spread all throughout the land. The old image, of a king like David, seemed almost gone.

It is in this context that the Lord says he will “raise up the booth of David that is fallen, and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (v.11). This is a promise that both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah will experience the righteous rule that was theirs before the schism of a hundred years prior. It is a promise of reunification, of a return to “the days of old,” of the placing on the throne one who is like David. As Isaiah prophesied:

When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land, then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness. (Isa. 16:4b-5).

This promise in Amos to “raise up” David’s tent is essentially a promise to place on the throne, finally, a just king, one who not only follows David’s example but who is the fulfillment to God’s promise to David himself (see 2 Sam. 7:9-16). It is a promise to restore justice in the land, and to do so through the rule of one who sits on David’s throne, in such a way that “of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isa. 9:7). The land would finally by at peace, a true peace, a peace where the true Just One walked by the law of the Lord and led the people in righteousness.

There is throughout the Old Testament this assumption that lands and the people within them really only live in peace when justice is done within them. Solomon’s song (psalm 72) highlights this connection with the king’s justice and the prosperity of the land. When the king has God’s justice, and he judges the people in righteousness, “the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!” (Ps. 72:1-2). Solomon’s prayer for blessing for the nation is justified because the king “delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight” (Ps. 72:12-14). Isiah remarks that “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isa. 32:17).

It was vital that the king pursued justice because if he didn’t, the land and its people would suffer. To a certain extent people follow their leaders, and if their leader leads them into injustice, many will follow blindly. Therefore, kings who did unjustly were given the harshest punishments (2 Sam. 12:1-15; 2 Kings 21:8-19, 22:8-23), and the land itself suffered under their injustice. This was a large part of God’s giving of the promised land to Israel in the first place, as the nations living there before them had become “unclean” and so the land had “vomited out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:24-25). But, if the people did not follow God’s laws, the land itself would be burdened under them, and it would in turn “vomit [them] out…as it vomited out the nation that was before [them]” (Lev. 18:28).[2] Justice brings peace; without it, no true peace can exist.

It is this peace that the renewed booth of David will bring, and with it comes a new promise, and a new possession for the people. Amos records the Lord’s words in verse 12 that because of this restoration of peace the remnant of Israel will “possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations who are called by my name.” Here the plan of God going all the way back to Genesis 12:1-3 is put back on track, to bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham’s offspring. The reference here is beyond the border to Israel’s arch nemesis, the Edomites, who had warred against Israel and at times oppressed them bitterly (Amos 1:11). God points to a “remnant” even there, as well as a host of other nations who are “called by” his name. To be called by God’s name is to be his special people (Deut. 28:10; 2 Chron. 7:14), and so the Lord is pointing out far and wide to nations known and unknown, who he promises will become in a way a part of the promised people of God. Isaiah had promised a similar moment when all the nations would come to the “mountain of the Lord” to be judged by the Lord himself, eagerly learning his laws and beating “their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isa. 2:1-4).

In a fascinating way, the apostle James picks up this promise in Amos when trying to figure out how to understand Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 15:13-21). James quotes Amos 9:11-12 (from the Greek version of the Bible called the Septuagint), noting how the apostles shouldn’t be surprised that Gentiles are coming into the body of believers, because this was God’s plan all along. James looks to this promise back in Amos and sees it being fulfilled in his time.

It’s for this reason that, while we could be tempted to see this as all future prophecy, we have to say that in some sense that this prophecy of a coming king who will bring in the Gentiles has already come to pass. As Thomas E. McComiskey writes, “if this passage in Amos predicted only a future inclusion of Gentiles in the millennial kingdom, it is difficult to understand why James would have appealed to it for support of Gentile admission to the first-century church…James understood the restored Davidic monarchy to be represented, at least in its invisible sense, in the church in his time.”[3]When Jesus Christ shows up, he is the direct fulfillment of this promise of a coming Righteous king, and the spreading of his gospel is the direct fulfillment of this promise of the inclusion of “all the nations who are called by [God’s] name.” One thinks of when Jesus declares that he, as the good shepherd, has “other sheep that are not of this fold,” and that he will bring those sheep into the flock of God’s people so that “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16; see Isaiah 56:8). Jesus, in restoring the broken booth of David, was also inaugurating this new day when all “middle walls of partition have come tumbling down between people and between people and the Lord.”[4]

There is in this prophecy, as in many prophecies, a sense of realization and expectation. F.F. Bruce and J.J. Scott describe this as a “a tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ of the Christian hope,” in which we recognize that in many ways the “end of the ages” has already come with the appearing of Jesus (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom 13:11-14), and yet we still await the final consummation.[5] When we read the story of Jesus, he is in many ways directly fulfilling these promises in Amos, but he is also pointing us to the ultimate fulfillment of them when he returns. The tent of David has been rebuilt, and it is rebuilt as a redeemed community who live under the just reign of the Son of David. Gentiles come into this kingdom by faith in that Son of David, and experience a foretaste of that final moment, when all nations will experience healing under the canopy of the tree of life (Rev. 22:2, see 21:22-24). 

The Abundant Peace of the New Kingdom (13-15)

The promise that Amos gives in verses 11-12 is one of a restoration, a realignment back toward God’s promises to Abraham and David, with the forward-looking hope of the inclusion of the Gentiles. The Just One will come and bring restore justice and Israel’s place as a “light for the nations” (Isa. 42:6). One thinks back to Jesus cleansing the temples’ outer court and opening in his body a way for the Gentiles to be included in the people of God (John 2:13-22).

This promise is more than enough, and by it the people would have more than enough to wait and work faithfully for the Lord. Yet Amos doesn’t stop there. Using vivid agrarian imagery, Amos describes what “those days” will look like, when the coming King will bring justice again. The fields will burst with such intensity that “the plowman shall overtake the reaper,” and the “treader of grapes him who sows the seed” (v.13). The only problem with crops that these people will have is their abundance! All the talk of famine, and pestilence, and destruction are replaced with this wonderful agricultural image of abundance, when the corn again is “knee high by 4th of July,” and even more so. Amos says that “the mountains shall drip sweet wine,” evoking the image of celebration and jubilant blessing at God’s provision. The people are not only safe, but they are flourishing.

While these agrarian images may be lost on us, they would not be lost on the Israelites. Theirs was a day when people understood that all sustenance was grasped solely by the working, toiling “sweat of your brow” (Gen. 3:19), that the day’s food was not guaranteed but really existed in supreme doubt. In our world, where so many steps exist between the growing and cultivating of our food and the actual eating of it, we forget how precarious that growing and cultivating actually is. The ancients were people who realized that they lived on the edge always, but we have forgotten.

And so, these promises in Amos 9:13-15 are probably the best thing that any Israelite had ever hoped for. This dream, of having provision enough and safety to cultivate the land, was theirs by promise (Deut. 28:1-6), and yet the reality had been sore and harsh for them. This hyper natural abundance was really a “miracle of the old creation,” when God would do his creative work as he used to do back in the garden days.[6] Jeremiah had prophesied of a similar “day,” when the people would ‘be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd” (Jer. 31:12). The hope for these people was plain: “their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.”

There is a whole host of promises in these little verses. Amos describes the restoration of “the fortunes” of Israel, a time when the people will rebuild their cities and plant vineyards and gardens (v.14). The image is startling earthly to us, a time not when the people will become less connected to the earth but rather more so, when the curse of Eden will no longer prohibit a kind and loving relationship between the ground and the man who came from it. Cities will not be forgotten, but “rebuilt,” in such a way that they become more of what they were meant to be than before. The vision here is of a restored world, a world in which human culture has not been destroyed but rather redeemed, put in its right place; where the world basks in the good, the true, and the beautiful; where people live under the peace-bringing rule of the Just One, the righteous booth of David, and receive abundance by that rule.

The ultimate promise comes in the last verse of the book:

‘I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,’ Declares the Lord (9:15)

Whereas before God had said that he will “destroy” Israel “from the surface of the ground (Heb. Adā-ma(h))” (9:7-8), not he says he will “plant them on their land (Heb. Adā-ma(h)).” What was before thought of as total destruction is now reframed as really a long-term transplant, where the remnant of God’s people, now constituted of both Jew and Gentile (Rom 11:11-36), is placed again in the land of Israel as a redeemed people, never to be plucked up again. This is the idea of enduring safety, enduring prosperity, and enduring sustenance, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Ps. 1:3).

This promise is really what Jesus means when he says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When Jesus makes wine from water or turns the scarce provisions of a few fish and some loaves into overflowing abundance, he is signaling this same promise. In Jesus there is this promise of life bubbling over, life as it was meant to be lived, a reality where all things are renewed and exist free from the curse. This promise begins now, but it really waits for the new heaven and new earth, a renewed and redeemed and restored world that both returns us to the garden of Eden and propels us into an even greater reality. In Christ, we have this promise of restoration to us as sure as we know that Jesus rose from the dead, and his resurrected body now is a foretaste of what all creation will be like when he makes all things new (Rom. 8:19-22; 1 Cor. 15:50-56). This is the peace that the true Just One will bring when he comes.

Your Labor Is Not in Vain

 Paul, after his long discussion of the reality of the resurrection (both of Christ and of us in Christ), ends with these words:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Amos, after nine long chapters of gloom and doom, leaves us with a similar encouragement. These wonderful words of prophecy, which find their “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20), are all the encouragement that we need to “hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15). While all those warning signs, those blaring sirens, were important as “negative motivation” for the people to seek the Lord, 9:11-15 consist of “positive motivation” to stir them to the same.[7] Now, as the book ends, they’ve seen before them the two options: glory, restoration, and blessing on the one hand, and destruction, doom, and judgment on the other.

For us, these words of Amos are what really stir us to seek justice in our world. A prophecy like this fights against two errors. On the first hand, there is no room in these promises for those who do not seek justice now; they don’t make it to this abundant land. Yet it also stops us from placing all the emphasis on our justice seeking and peacemaking, on simple human action, and encourages us to look rather to the true Just One to bring true justice to the world. In other words, it reminds us to seek justice now but also remember that justice is ultimately linked to God’s plan to restore the world in Christ.

In positive terms, these final words of Amos remind us that we seek justice and righteousness now because we trust that the true Just King, the Lord Jesus, has appeared, that these last days are upon us, and we know that our King will come again and finish what he started. The ultimate hope of justice is not our justice-seeking, but rather Jesus’ justice bringing. We don’t work for justice on a merely secular platform, as though the work would be done if all people had the same opportunities and there were no poor among us. No, rather we seek justice because we are under the rule of the Just Son of David, who propels us now to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

We must take care, in this humanistic age, that we don’t buy into the idea that the ultimate solution to all our problems is our social action. The imperative to seek a better world finds its place in the Christian narrative, not out of a humanistic appreciation for human progress, but rather out of an understanding that we become part of Jesus’ kingdom making work that he will ultimately finish. We fundamentally do not believe that human beings are getting better or moral; in fact, we believe that, without Christ, they’ll continue down the pit of injustice and away from what it means to be human. We don’t use the gospel as an excuse not to seek justice, but we remember that the ultimate hope of justice is the gospel promise of restoration under the rule of the Just King.

 

Footnotes

[1] Thomas E. McComiskey, “Amos,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 329.

[2] 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, 719.

[3] McComiskey, “Amos”, 330.

[4] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 466.

[5] F.F. Bruce and J.J. Scott Jr., “Eschatology,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 389.

[6] F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983),72.

[7] Karl Möller, “Amos, Book Of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville, Black Dictionaries on the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 5–15, 10.

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/.