15 Feb God’s Heartbeat for the Nations
‘Let justice and mercy flow like a river’ is the heartbeat of God for the nations! God raised different leaders, judges, and prophets time and again to warn people about their evil ways and to turn to God. Prophets played an important role in the history of Israel. Amos was one of the Twelve Minor Prophets lived in the 8thc. BCE, stood for social justice. He appeared on the scene in Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II who ruled Israel for long 41 years when both Israel and Judah enjoyed relative peace and prosperity (2 Ki 14, 15, 2Ch 26).
Context of Amos’ Time:
Some of the people enjoyed great wealth, but others experienced crushing poverty. The poor were oppressed, cheated, and exploited and their rights were denied. Immorality of every kind was openly and unashamedly practiced. Drunkenness, adultery, licentiousness, and self-indulgence had rotted the moral fibre of the nation. Prosperity led to Idolatry, luxury, forgetting God, disparity between the rich and the poor. The ruling elite (not more than 2% of the population) controlled up to half or more of the total goods and services and lived at the cost of the peasants. Forced labour and the burden fell on the low land farmers. Heavy taxation on the peasants to maintain the military set ups, confiscation of their inherited land by revenue charges and taxes, resulted in alienation from the land. Human dignity was equalled to silver and a pair of sandals; they trampled the needy, skimping the measure, boosting the price, and cheating with dishonest scales. They were so greedy that they were impatient to get over the Sabbath saying, “When will the Sabbath be ended”? Their morality was at stake (2:7), father & son using the same girl and Israelite men went to pagan temple and participated in temple prostitution. Their judiciary was corrupt (5:7). Instead of administering justice, they turned it into bitter poison (6: 12). The leaders manipulated the courts and turned out those who wanted to speak against injustice (5:10, 13), oppressing the poor charging high rents from the tenants and if they approach the court for justice the wealthy landowners bribe the judges. They used this ill-gotten money to build mansions for themselves and to live in luxury.
Message of Amos:
He had no prophetic tradition (Am.7.14); but he was called by the Lord and sent with a message to communicate without dilution which was risky. He addressed the pagan nations for their cruel acts like sin of slave trade, oppression, war, murder, atrocity against women (ripped open the pregnant women for extending their territory). Jews were very happy for God’s punishment on the surrounding nations. But Amos speaks of God’s impartial justice to his own people! Amos warned Judah & Israel against the harmonious order of their communal life and the judgment was based on the law. He challenged the system, the exploitation of the poor, their moral degradation, their religious hypocrisy, and their corrupt Judiciary. Their worship and singing were just a noise in God’s ears (ritual), used religion to abuse their power, corrupted leaders, promoted social injustice than challenging it, indulged in idolatry (making their own altars, choosing their own priests). Amos challenged their religious traditions to practical ethical living and warned against their religious show off.
Amos showed a heart for the oppressed and the voiceless in the world. He listened to God, he knew his context well, addressed the issues boldly with convictions and reminded the people of the law of God’s retributive justice with a call to lament and repent and to return to Him by changing their ways.
Is our society better than the then society? We see so much of poverty in our country despite the resources we have. The poor are exploited in so many ways, be it human trafficking, immorality, confiscation of land for setting up industries and malls, lack of basic facilities, not getting the due wages, commercialization of education including Christian Institutions, privatization of government sectors, poor denied justice and so on. One side the elite rich living in luxury whereas the other end many die even of hunger. India’s richest 1% of the population hold 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50%, the majority of the population, owns a mere 2.8%. (Economic Times, 20-Jan-2020). The rich becoming richer at the cost of the poor is a reality in India. There is no fair distribution of the nation’s wealth and equal rights for every human. We heard the plight of migrant labourers and the poor people in our country during the pandemic. Many other gruesome practices like modern slavery, including forced labor, forced marriage, child labor, flesh trade, rapes even by close relatives, scams, killings, lies, dishonesty, caste, class and gender-based atrocities, all in the front news!! Even the so-called Christians are involved in many such evil activities.
Amos knew his context very well and was relevant to the time. He was sure of his role in God’s big picture, and played it fearlessly with convictions. Now we are the active players in the present context. Are we well-informed, do we get disturbed seeing the decayed society? Is our religion divorced from the realities of the world? We often escape our responsibilities by the secular- sacred divide under the cover up of spirituality. Do we settle down on organized religion (structure), formal & ritualistic having the form of godliness yet denying its power? God desires justice and how you treat the fellow human is important for God.
Is our Judiciary able to stand for the truth or pervert justice? We see the poor fighting for justice by spending all their living just to see that injustice is done to them! Do we keep quiet rather than speak up against things that are wrong? Late Prashant Bhushan (supreme court lawyer) had such bold convictions that when an apology was asked, he replied, “An apology cannot be a mere incantation and any apology has to be sincerely made. This is especially so when I have made the statements bonafide and pleaded truth with full details, which have not been dealt with by the court. If I retract a statement that I otherwise believe to be true or offer an insincere apology, that in my eyes would amount to the contempt of my conscience and of an institution that I hold in highest esteem.”
We all know the recent case of late Father Stan Swamy, how he was denied justice just because he stood for the truth. The statements he made are remarkable: “What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone; it is a broader process that is taking place all over the country. We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India. We are part of the process. In a way I am happy to be part of this process. I am not a silent spectator, but part of the game, and ready to pay the price whatever be it”.
We simply cannot separate ‘faith’ from ‘praxis’. God hates it when the rich and powerful neglect and oppress the poor and weak; He desires equal rights of every human and not treating them as a commodity. Justice is the foundation of God’s rule, true religion with practical living is what He expects. Jesus was the best model of God’s heart for justice. The very purpose of His coming was spelt in Lk.4:18,19 which is known as Nazareth Manifesto. He challenged the hypocritical religion of the society, was not just preaching a universal salvation message for the world, but also addressing specific political, social, and racial issues.
The Church has a rich tradition of people who have been involved in political action for justice. Martin Luther King Jr, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”. William Wilberforce had a desire while he was in the University to get into the parliament to abolish slavery. He tried many times but failed yet did not give up till he succeeded. Not only history talks about such stalwarts, but even today many influence the nation with their deep convictions. Former supreme court Justice, Kurian urged his fellow Christians, “If you want to be a true Christian you have to be a true Indian nationalist”!
Many of our graduates are in the influential places impacting the society and nation at large. Students, now the baton is in your hands! The future leaders are in the make in Universities & Colleges who can influence the policy making, decisions, execution etc. So, take studies seriously and take up projects and research that will contribute to the needs of our country. As individuals and community, fulfilling our roles as responsible citizens, being sensitive to the needs of others and protecting the human values and rights are the need of the hour. We are called as salt and light (Mt. 5: 13, 14) to such a decaying world to protect it from further decaying. God’s concern is for a just, righteous, and holy nation/society and people who represent God here in this world. Instead of keeping silent about the political, social, and economic evils we should be willing to address these problems by applying biblical, moral and ethical principles. Truth is bitter but we need to stand for it. We need prophetic voices which confront and challenges the pseudo systems of the present context and contribute towards a just society which is the heartbeat of God, His original intention. What breaks the heart of God should break our heart! God longs for a nation whose God is the Lord where justice and mercy flow like a river.
Books & Journals referred:
- Thomas, P.P. Jeroboam II the King & Amos the Prophet: ISPCK, 2003
- Wintle, Brian & editors. South Asia Bible Commentary: Open Door Publications, 2015
- Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary, OT The Prophets: OM Books, Secunderabad, 2002
- Online resources
Jessy Jacob, UESI staff based at Chennai, along with her husband Jacob Varghese and two daughters, Prashansa and Prerna.