Amos 1:3–2:5; 3:9–11; 7:14, 15; 9:11–15
The message of justice permeates the writings of the Hebrew prophets. Though Amos was merely a shepherd, not trained as a prophet nor a son of a prophet (Amos 7:14), he was compelled to communicate the Word of the Lord. “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8, ESV). The message he gives is one of judgment against the nations: delivering to the people of each nation an account of their sins and the judgment that they will face because of them. The repeated formula “for three sins . . . , even for four” (Amos 1:3–2:5, NIV) indicates that the sins of the nations had reached their full measure and were overflowing. Here we see God, as judge of all nations, justly executing a fair judgment. The sins listed include slavery, taking advantage of the poor, oppressing the vulnerable, and other sins against humanity.
These prophets recognize that the problem of injustice . . . is too severe to be solved merely through education or social reform.
God judges because God loves—He cannot keep silent in the face of injustice, nor can His people. Here, though, we find Judah and Israel included in the list of nations that will face God’s judgment. The law of God entrusted to them should have made them a light to the other nations; rather, we find that Israel has the longest list of sins of any nation. When the people of Israel turned away from God’s law, they not only sinned against God but also violated the most vulnerable people living among them.
Interspersed in Amos’s message of judgment are no words of hope. The people of Israel are told that they will go into captivity (Amos 7:11). Rather than respond in repentance, they proudly resist the Lord’s message through Amos, only further ensuring their demise (Amos 9:10). But the God who judges remains faithful to His covenant, even when Israel has broken it. Amos ends by anticipating a day when God shall bring His people out of captivity (verses 14, 15). Their sins will be met with judgment, but ultimately the judgment will serve to restore God’s people unto Himself.
Micah 3:8–12; 6:6–8
Micah, like Amos, has a word of judgment for all the world (Mic. 1:2) that focuses, in particular, on the people of Israel (verse 5). God identifies that His people “have risen up as an enemy” for the way they mistreat strangers, women, and children (Mic. 2:8, 9). All of the leaders are corrupt. Even the priests and prophets, who should serve to direct the people back to the way of God, have compromised their message for the sake of material prosperity (Mic. 3:9–12). They find false comfort in God’s temple presence, saying, “ ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us’ ” (verse 11, ESV).
Micah exposes their sin, leading them to ask how they might right themselves before God: “ ‘Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? . . . Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ ” (Mic. 6:6, 7, ESV). Their response indicates that they have become captive to the thinking of the surrounding nations, believing that the gods were to be appeased by multiplying sacrifices. But the Lord requires something else: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (verse 8, ESV). God desires an entire reorientation of the individual.
Sin corrupts the way we relate to others, to ourselves, and to God, with pride taking the place of love. Micah reminds us that God seeks to restore proper relationships with others (do justice), ourselves (love kindness), and Himself (walk humbly). Ultimately, God is calling us to live as divine image bearers, as God Himself is One who does justice, loves kindness, and desires to walk humbly with His people—even to the point of the Eternal One condescending to be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). It is through His ultimate sacrifice that we can truly come into right relationship with God and humanity.
Ezekiel 34:2–4 and Isaiah 1:15–23
The theme of justice that we have found throughout the messages of Amos and Micah also permeates the messages of the other Hebrew prophets. Ezekiel rebukes the people of Sodom for failing to aid the poor and needy while they enjoyed prosperity (Ezek. 16:49). Israel, too, stood condemned: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them” (Ezek. 34:4, ESV).
Isaiah joins the appeal for God’s people to “ ‘learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause’ ” (Isa. 1:17, ESV). Ultimately, these prophets recognize that the problem of injustice (Isa. 59:14) is too severe to be solved merely through education or social reform—though these play important roles. Rather, Isaiah recognizes that the ultimate solution to humanity’s inclination to oppress and abuse is One who will Himself enter into and experience oppression and abuse to be “pierced for our transgressions” (Isa. 53:4–6, ESV) to bring peace—both with God and with one another.
1. Identify the sins of the nations listed in Amos 1–2. What sins might God list if He were to announce judgment on His people today?
2. What does it mean “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, ESV)? Write a brief description for each of these.
3. Where else do you find the call to do justice in the writings of the other Hebrew prophets?