Will There Be Justice? (A Study of the Prophet Amos)

            On August 9th, 2014 Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson.  Crowds have gathered in Ferguson, MO for protests and answers.  The crowds continue to shout, “No justice, No Peace!! No Justice, No Peace!!” The conversation birthed from this incident has spread from water coolers to living rooms, break rooms to dinner tables about what is true justice. Was the killing justified? Was Michael Brown innocent?  Regardless of how people may differ in how they answer those questions, it clear that both sides are pleading for justice.  In his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King was a voice for justice for a people who had no justice.  The Civil Rights movement was a quest for justice. We all want to know, will there be justice? Will wrongs be put right?

            We all have an innate sense of justice.  We desire to live in a society where justice rules.  Unfortunately as much as we desire justice “out there” in society, we do not often want that same justice to be demonstrated against us.  When people protest and beg for justice and the heavy hand of the law against the oppressors, those same people often beg and plead for mercy when it comes to their own injustice. Jesus shares this parable in Matthew 18:23-29,

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’

The servant wanted mercy and patience from this master while he wanted justice from the one who owed him his debt.  This is human nature.  We demand justice when we are wronged by others and mercy when we wrong others.  And yet the question remains, “Will there be justice?”

            We hope to answer this question in the book of Amos.  Amos was a shepherd and fruit farmer that was called to be a prophet to Israel in the 8th century B.C. The biographical information was given in Amos 1:1,

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

And in Amos 7:14-15,

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Amos was a blue collar servant.  He was not called because of his heritage, but by the Lord’s mercy. In this way Amos is like us who as Paul writes, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor.1:26). Amos is the every-man prophet.  Amos prophesies that the Lord will bring justice. 

There Will Be Justice on the Rival Nations

            Amos starts his prophecy against the nations with a common refrain, “For three transgressions of (fill in the nation) and for four, I will not revoke punishment, because…”  Amos says because of the multiple sins of the nations I will bring justice.  He is not referring to only 3 or 4 particular sins, but to multiple sins that each nation is consistently guilty of committing.  The nations have mistreated Israel and therefore they deserve to be punished.  God sees what they were doing and He will avenge His people.  The Lord will avenge His people like a mighty lion.  Amos 1:2, “And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem.”  It is hard for our cultural blinders to understand the power of this imagery.  A Lion roars to show his power and his ferocity.  We may have watched a lion roar on the television, internet climb or at the zoo, but we probably have not heard a lion’s roar in the open field of the African plains. Imagine standing, frozen under a tree in the plains of African with a lion running at you at 40 miles per hour having him stop 5 feet from you before he bellows out his ferocious roar.  The Lord will execute His Justice with this type of ferocious anger. 

            As the Israelites heard this prophesy that God was going to roar and execute His powerful justice on the nations, they would have felt vindicated from their oppressors.  They have been crying out again and again, “No Justice, No Peace!! No Justice, No Peace!!” before finally justice was pronounced.  They demanded justice against the wrongs of their enemies and they were ecstatic to get what they demanded…until that judgment was rendered upon them.

There will be Justice on God’s Nation

Amos turns from the nations towards God’s people to pronounce God’s justice upon His own people. God shows no partiality.  Listen to God’s judgment against His people:

Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. So I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.” Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; (Amos 2:4-7 ESV)

God shows no partiality.  He will judge the nations for their injustice and He will judge His own people for their injustice. The Lord will not all forgive the guilty, but,

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:6-11).

This is when God’s justice starts to feel uncomfortable.  We are fine with God bringing justice “out there” against the oppressors but we want mercy and grace extended towards us.  How did it come to this? How did God’s people become like the nations?  They harden their hearts to warnings and rebukes. 

            It can be very hard to hear about God’s justice.  It is powerful and it is total.  No one is going to stand against the Lord.  Amos 2:14-16,

Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain his strength, nor shall the mighty save his life; he who handles the bow shall not stand, and he who is swift of foot shall not save himself, nor shall he who rides the horse save his life; and he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day,” declares the LORD.

No one will be able to stand against the Lord, but that does not mean that God has not shown His people mercy.  Mercy and grace always come before judgment. God gives warning and rebuke and corrections as signposts to repent to turn back to the Lord.  Amos 4:6-11, the Lord announces to the people how He send various calamities and trials to the people so they would be warned of their waywardness, but sadly, we hear the refrain, “yet you did not return to me.”  All those trials and difficulties were to serve the people so that they would repent and turn.  Joel used the swarming locusts to remind the people of a greater day of suffering that awaits them if they do not turn.  Justice does not come without warning, but it will definitely come. 

There will be Justice for God’s Name

            God’s people represent God’s Name.  Throughout the prophets, there is pronouncement of woe on God’s people because their conduct profanes His name. Due to their gross sin and mistreatment of the poor, God says, “my holy name is profaned.” His name is desecrated.  The Lord will bring justice for His name, Amos 9:5-6,

The Lord GOD of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the LORD is his name.

And Amos 4:13,

For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the LORD, the God of hosts, is his name!

The Lord will act according to His Name. And how does the Lord refer to Himself,

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7).

The Lord’s anger has been slowly building.  He has to punish the guilty, yet He will forgive iniquity and transgression.  He does this on the basis of His promises.  He says that if we turn and seek Him we will live.  Amos 5:14-15,

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

And who is the remnant of Joseph, but those who are under the promise of Joseph’s forefather Abraham and God’s great promise to bless every nation through him. 

The Lord promises that the punishment of Israel will not be final, but only to ultimately serve as a blessing to the whole world. We know that the Israelites' disobedience opened the way for the Gentiles to be grafted into the kingdom through the Vine, Jesus Christ. In Acts, following Paul and Barnabas’ testimony of the Gentiles being saved, James stood up and said,

“Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, (Quoting Amos 9:12-13) “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

James saw what Amos prophesied.  There was coming a day when God will bless every nation through the promised line of David through the Lord Jesus Christ. 

            Jesus came to answer the question, “Will there be justice?” The answer is yes.  The Lord will
forgive the iniquity and the transgression of the people, but by no means clear the guilty.  The guilty must be punished, or someone has to be punished in their place.  This was why Jesus came.  He came to bring justice to God by paying the penalty for sin and death.  He died to satisfy God’s justice against sin. He forgives us by placing our sin upon His Son.  Jesus has given justice to everyone who will seek Him.  God promises to restore us if we turn and trust in Him, but if we spurn His warnings and do not return to the Lord, He will roar from Zion in His wrath. 

            There will be justice.  It will be God’s merciful justice given to the sinner through the shed blood of Jesus Christ or it will be God’s powerful justice given to the sinner when He roars from Zion.  We all want justice and we all will get justice, but the question is which kind of justice will we receive? 

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