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Social reform or restoration of covenant living?

Amos has long been the favorite of social reformers; his voice speaks with power and clarity against injustices in life.

“Thus saith Jehovah: For three transgressions of Judah, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have rejected the law of Jehovah, and have not kept his statutes, and their lies have caused them to err, after which their fathers did walk” (Amos 2:4 – ASV) .

Amos is often pulled out in discussions of social justice and quite often re-distribution of wealth is at the heart of the discussion. It goes something like this…

“Rich people are rich because they hog up all the resources for themselves and/or stole the land, minerals and etc., from the peoples who were here before they arrived. Therefore, due to social injustice we have an unequal distribution of wealth and social justice calls for us to punish the wealthy for being wealthy by taking their wealth from them and giving it to the poor whom they have oppressed.”

Frequently colonialism, pre-civil war slavery and such are also in the discussion.

Essentially, social justice to these folk means getting revenge by taking money from the rich (via taxes and such) and giving it to the poor. For many, social justice means the under-class gets even.

Here’s what God said in Leviticus 19:15: “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor.”

Social justice, as many preach it, is an act of injustice. Each case is to be judged righteously, and the wealth, or lack of wealth, of the folk involved has nothing to do with it. Each matter should to be weighed on its own merits; neither race, nor ethnicity, nor socio-economic status matter.

There is an African Proverb that says, “Corn can’t expect justice from a court composed of chickens.” Doesn’t matter if the corn is wealthy or not, when the court profits by its judgment, justice is not likely to prevail.

When Amos came along, he was not preaching something new in regard to social responsibility. He was reminding the people of their already existing relationship and obligations toward one another as outlined in the Covenant handed down by God to Moses centuries earlier.

“If there be with thee a poor man, one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand from thy poor brother; but thou shalt surely open thy hand unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a base thought in thy heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou give him nought; and he cry unto Jehovah against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing Jehovah thy God will bless thee in all thy work, and in all that thou puttest thy hand unto” (Deuteronomy 15:7-10).

This was grounded on what God had done for Israel bringing them out of Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 15:14-15). The Law of Moses called for generosity grounded in God’s generosity toward Israel. It was not reformation that Amos called for, but for restoration.

Life under the New Covenant also calls us to generous living, as God has been generous to us.

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Scott Wiley

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