“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The prophet Amos lived some 2700 years ago, yet his words still wax prophetic. Most of us might well remember Dr. King adopting this timeless phrase as a theme in his fight for civil rights in the 60s. While Dr. King is no longer with us the hope, the prayer, the intention of these words prevail.
“But” is a large three letter word that should not be ignored. It signifies a contrast. In contrast to the status quo of that time in the northern ten tribes of Israel; wherein social injustice, corruption in the marketplace, and a formal, yet dead, religious practice marked the day. Sound familiar?
Amos, a herdsman from Judea, employs a surprising literary device, given his station in life, a simile. He warns Israel that there still is a God in Israel. He still sees, He has taken note. He sent droughts, floods, plagues in an effort to get their attention, to no avail. Now He is coming. He is coming as the God whose notions of justice and righteousness are “like” waters. They are not simply concepts, not just ideas or ideals. Rather, they flow. They are dynamic, they have life, bring life, preserve life. They are the embodiment, the fabric of life rightly lived.
Are we not ancient Israel? Is modern America not plagued by injustice, corruption, excess, graft, and now a plague of sorts? As has been stated by those wiser than I, if God does not judge America He will owe some folks an apology.
I submit God’s justice is coming, it is about to “roll down like waters.” How does water “roll down”? The only place I can think of where water actually “rolls” is at the ocean. Waves roll. They roll until they reach the breaking point, the tipping point, and when they break they unleash tremendous power. This justice is not going to stroll into town. It is not going to be ushered in slowly, neatly, incrementally. No, it is going to break like a tidal wave across this land.
And what of God’s righteousness? First, the modern English definition of righteousness is “acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin.” It has become, almost exclusively, a religious term. That is not what the Hebrew word meant. In Hebrew, righteousness describes a wider concept that includes notions of being accurate, fair, rightness in the sense of just weights and measures in the marketplace and in the courts. It would be accurately portrayed by Lady Justice. She is blindfolded, such that she is no respecter of persons. She holds a perfectly balanced scale in her left hand, because she owns no bias or prejudice. She wields a sword in her right hand, the sword of truth. She represents a wonderful ideal, one rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Our land has never fully lived up to that ideal. Some would say, not even close. Be that as it may, we have now all but jettisoned that tradition. The marketplace is corrupt; insiders lie, cheat and steal. Government is often dispensed by those who have forgotten what it is to be a “public servant”. Too often they use their position to feather their own nest such that when they leave public service they are far wealthier than a government salary would suggest possible. The courts too often render inconsistent judgments based upon regional bias and prejudice. The higher courts of the land are employed to not only interpret the laws through the lens of our Constitution, but now generate law by virtue of their decisions, and as such are used to circumvent the legislative process. Too often, the rich receive one form of justice, the poor another.
Amos rightly conjoins God’s justice and righteousness. They cannot be separated. Justice will roll down like a mighty waters. Righteousness like an “ever-flowing stream”, which is actually a poor translation. The Hebrew word translated “ever-flowing” does hold a sense of being perpetual, but it also contains a sense of power, that of rushing water, even a torrent. Taken together, I am suggesting that God is about to send a tidal wave that will change the lay of the land. He is going to upset the status quo. There will be ruin and destruction. It will be messy. It will be a deep cleaning. It will be a massive correction that will impact both the secular and the religious. It’s coming. May we suffer a lesser fate than that of the ten tribes, Lord have mercy…