Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
What would it look like if justice were to roll down like waters accompanied by an ever-flowing stream of righteousness? The eighth century prophets, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah and our author, Amos were concerned primarily with inviting the ten northern tribes of Israelback into communion with the two southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, and with their God, Yahweh. While the history of this epic separation of brothers become tribes is rich and nuanced, it can be told quite simply. The northern tribes of Israel left the brotherhood after the death of Solomon and worshiped in the wrong place with rituals regarded as unseemly by the two southern tribes, together called Judah. The treatment of the poor and disenfranchised was a key issue; the southerners accused the northerners of abandoning their shared core value of equality before one another based in their equality before Yahweh.
Poverty and landlessness were conditions that never should have come to exist in ancient Israel and Judah. The laws and customs described in Leviticus and Deuteronomy prohibited the accumulation of land in such a way as to impoverish a fellow son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah. Regular land reform was a part of the religious landscape. Ideally the forgiveness or debts (or do you say sins?) was an integral part of life in community. A man could sell of his birthright, but not that of his grandchildren. Another man could accumulate the land of his neighbors, but his grandchildren would have to return it to the descendents of those who had sold it. The land, a visible sign of Gods presence and promise, was a trust from God for the sake of all Israel and Judah. It could not be held in such a way as to permanently deprive any family of its plot.
It seems that the ideal proposed by the writers of the Hebrew Bible was one in which everyone was guaranteed the right to share in Gods amazing grace in both its spiritual and physical manifestations. There was to be room for all in the assembly of Gods elect, not only for those who managed their affairs wisely and certainly not only to the descendents of those who managed their affairs wisely. If Gods justice were to roll down like waters and Gods righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, there would be space and place enough for everyone. Sometimes we act as if we believe that Gods imputed righteousness and Gods justification of creation through Christ has limits. I think Amos suggests otherwise. Gods justice flows inextricably from Gods love, endless, limitless and flowing uncontrollably like waters raging toward us to restore us to wholeness. We are invited back into oneness with God and with one another. Lets seize the opportunity to be one in Gods imputed justice and righteousness.
Peter T. Nash teaches at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
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