by Anton Chan
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Amos 5:24 (NIV)
Social injustice is the unequal treatment of humanity in society. This includes prejudice, discrimination, oppression, religious persecution, racism and sexism. It can happen everywhere and every day, in many nations.
The book of Amos has a message about social injustice. To understand it, it is important to appreciate the context of what took place. Is the historical and theological message of Amos still relevant to us today? What does God say about social injustice?
The Prophet – Amos
Amos was an ordinary native from the southern Kingdom of Judah who received a direct call from God to preach to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He was a shepherd, a cattleman and a fig farmer, not a prophet or a son of prophet (7:14-15). His hometown was Tekoa, and his messages of judgment to the surrounding nations and Israel was given before the fall of the northern Kingdom to the Assyrians in 721 BC. Amos understood divine sovereignty over history and brought the message of judgement to them because of their sin against humanity.
History of Prophecy
Amos lived in a time of great prosperity and apparent security in Israel. There was political stability, material prosperity, and geographical expansion for both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms (cf. 1:6; 6:2, 13; 2 Kings 14:23-29; 2 Chron. 26:1-15). But it was also a time of false religious piety. Amos saw that their prosperity was only for the wealthy and there was injustice, oppression of the poor and killing of the innocent. Therefore, Amos pronounced judgment against this social injustice to the surrounding nations and the people of Israel and Judah.
Purpose of Amos
The book of Amos opens with the message: “The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem... (1:2)” and it closes with a message of hope with five verses (9:11-15) about restoration coupled with political renewal and national purpose. He proclaimed prosperity, peace and permanence to the remnant people who were faithful to God. Amos’ purpose was to announce the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, but he also predicted that the Lord would preserve a remnant that was repentant. We can therefore read Amos today as an encouragement to the people of God that there is a future even in tough times.
We can therefore read Amos today as an encouragement to the people of God that there is a future even in tough times.
Theology of Amos
The theme of Amos is the universal justice of God against the surrounding nations (1:2-2:5) and the Israelites (2:6-9:10). God is patient and long suffering but He is also holy; his acts are righteous and just. The Israelites, being the elect people of God, had a greater responsibility to be a holy nation. However, they sinned against God’s law (2:4) and God’s love (2:9-12). Amos’ call for justice to the Israelites is found in 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” (RSV).
Justice and righteousness were what God expected the Israelites to practise against social injustice – to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8b, ESV). Amos’ message of divine judgment against idolatry and social injustice came from two particular areas: the Day of the Lord and God’s Word. Israel rejoiced when Amos preached judgment against their enemies but God added that Israel herself will be judged. The people had a false confidence that the Day of the Lord would bring blessing to them. Amos, however, saw that the Day of the Lord (5:18-21) would be a day of destruction, darkness and despair. God would send judgment in spite of their generous offering because of their hypocritical religious activities (5:21-23). God demands obedience to his Word rather than the practice of religious feasts and sacrifices. Unless the people repent, the Day of the Lord would come soon.
The Day of the Lord
The Day of the Lord in the Old Testament, was a time of judgment and spiritual death (5:18-20). In biblical tradition, the Day of the Lord refers to the fullness of time. God brought enemies to destroy the Israelites and cleanse the land when their time was up. But God would preserve a remnant of his people to bring them back to the land. God’s word (3:1; 4:1; 5:1;7:14-16) for Israel to listen and repent is consistent throughout Amos’ warnings. If they refused to listen then there would be a famine of God’s word (8:11-12), which is worse than famine of the land. The sovereignty of God is to all nations. This includes the treatment of all human beings created in the image of God.
If they refused to listen then there would be a famine of God’s word (8:11-12), which is worse than famine of the land.
Human Beings in the Image of God
Human beings are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26a). Human life is sacred and therefore must be treated with fairness and respect. God pronounced judgment against Cain for murdering his brother Abel, and He gave specific instruction to Noah saying: “Whoever sheds the blood of man; by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6, RSV). The Ten Commandments give specific instructions for maintaining harmonious relationship within families and society. Jesus was born poor. He lived among the outcast of society, preached to the marginalized, healed the sick and performed miracles among them. Paul asked Timothy to care for widows and orphans (1Tim 5:3-16).
Social Injustice Today
Despite the United Nations Human Right Declaration, not all human beings are born free in today’s world. In many countries, millions are born into poverty, slavery and prostitution. They are oppressed by the rich and powerful. Nations also oppress other nations by economic sanctions and wars in the name of democracy and freedom.
There are many facets of social injustice, and the Scripture sets a very high standard of equality.
There are many facets of social injustice, and the Scripture sets a very high standard of equality. There are to be no injustice to the stranger or alien and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him (Lev 19:33, NIV). There are many in different parts of the world, crying out against social injustice due to unemployment, lack of water and food, and even a place to sleep. Jesus reminded us: “The poor will always be with you” (Matt 26:11a, NIV). What can we do?
What We Can Do
In missions, the best way to help poor and needy adults is to create work for them in a livelihood project. For children, provide education funding for them to attend school. Simple projects could be printing of t-shirts, farming of vegetables and making of gift cards. These are some possible models of helping the poor, uneducated and needy to have a right to live life the way God intended. The Gospel of Jesus can be shared during such outreach work.
As a Church, we should learn to love the last, the least and the lost in our society. In the Disciple Class that I facilitated, the students raised $6,000 to provide some migrant workers with meals. There are CCMC members who are appealing for clothing to help migrant workers who need them. Our church has also set aside a budget to help migrant workers. This is discipleship in action.
Let us walk the talk and live to overcome social injustice.
We have a home helpers ministry for foreign domestic workers to gather for fellowship on Sundays. As employers we must treat our helpers as well as Jesus would. CCMC provides scholarships to the needy poor through Sembawang Family Service Centre (SFSC).
And for those who are lost, remember what Jesus said: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 ( NIV).
Let us walk the talk and live to overcome social injustice. What can you do?
The social injustice of Amos’ time exists today. We can reduce social injustice by doing what we can, with what we have, right where we are. In times of crisis and confusion, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the protests against racism, God expects his people to care for others, remain faithful and trust him. With God there is always a reason for hope for Better days. (9:11-15).
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 33:22 (NIV).