Uniform 06.07.2015: Fairness and Justice


Amos 2:4-8

Today marks the start of three units about God’s justice. Are you ready for the ride? As we begin, it might be helpful to define justice. What does it mean to you? My thesaurus lists several synonyms: fairness, impartiality, righteousness, reasonableness, evenhandedness, honesty, and integrity. Each of these words has its own shade of meaning. Still, most of us probably equate justice with some level of fairness.

I have two daughters, ages eight and ten. They are vastly different. Natalie, the younger, is freewheeling, adventurous, witty, and easygoing. Her big sister Samantha is intense, cautious, creative, and pondering. There are pockets of each day when the girls play together beautifully. But there are also plenty of times when one does or says something that sets the other off, and they react in ways that are as different as their personalities. Natalie hits or pinches; Samantha accuses and cries. Yet, after my reaction and the consequences that I give them, they always say the same thing: “That’s not fair!”

Why isn’t it fair? Because she’s the one who started it. She’s the one who took the toy or invaded the other’s space or said something cruel. If I were being a fair mother, the other sister would have faced consequences—not the innocent one.

It seems that we are born with a sense of fairness, but here’s the trouble with that perspective: desiring fairness is selfish. Fairness relates to what is good or right for me. It has no regard for the other person. It wants mercy for me and deserved punishment for the other. It is difficult to look at myself and recognize my selfish tendencies.

Judah and Israel were different from the nations around them. They were set apart. They were God’s holy people. God had chosen them and had interacted with them directly, giving them special laws and rewards and preference. Sure, they may have done some things wrong, but in comparison with the heathens around them, they were the golden children. In today’s text (Amos 2:4-8), however, God is calling these children out for the wrongs they have done to others. They have failed to follow God’s law (v. 4), mistreated the needy (vv. 6-7a), taken advantage of young women’s bodies (v. 7b), abused those with debt, and disrespected the holy place of worship (v. 8).

In response, God will “send a fire” and “devour [their] strongholds” (v. 5). Can you hear them now? “That’s not fair, God!” But God isn’t a God of fairness—of taking care of me and making sure my wants are satisfied. God is a God of justice—of righting wrongs and uplifting the abused. In the coming weeks of study together, may we learn what that means for you and me in our time.


1. When have you heard someone say, “That’s not fair”? What was the context, and did you agree?
2. When have you said, “That’s not fair”? What was the context, and was your statement justified?
3. What do you think is the difference between fairness and justice?
4. What is it like for you to think of God as just? How does this quality of the Lord play out in our world? Have you ever seen God’s justice fall on people or nations today? If so, how do you know it was God? What was the outcome?
5. Why do you think God’s “punishment” (vv. 4, 6) is necessary? What forms has it taken in the world? What about in your own life or the lives of those you love?

Reference Shelf

The ORACLE against Judah begins like the others, a tacit signal that even God’s chosen are not exempt from judgment. The charges are nonspecific but clearly relate to violations of the COVENANT, the law of the LORD. The emphasis is probably on IDOLATRY since led astray almost always refers to the worship of false gods. Yet, as the message of Amos unfolds, it becomes clear that faithfulness to the covenant is not simply a matter of renouncing pagan deities and offering sacrifices only to YHWH. The true worship of YHWH is unconditionally fused with justice and righteousness in personal relationships and in the social sphere (e.g., 5:21-24).

Instead of one transgression, Amos lists seven, the sum of all the others combined. Yet the crimes of Israel are of a different order. They are not the atrocities perpetrated against the enemy in the heat of a military campaign, nor are they simple idolatry. Scholars disagree about specific nuances of interpretation, but there is little disagreement about the central charge: Israel is guilty of oppressing and exploiting the poor and vulnerable among its own people.

The crimes are allusions to the Book of the Covenant (Exod 20:22-23:33). They sell the righteous for silver (v. 6) may refer to bribes paid to judges to rule against an innocent party, but more likely it refers to the poor being forced into slavery for debts they cannot pay. In either case, it is suggested that the legal system is being subverted in violation of Exod 23:6. They sell . . . the needy for a pair of sandals (v. 6) suggests that debts are called in and mortgages foreclosed even for the most paltry sums, again resulting in bonded slavery for the debtor and perhaps a claim against the debtor’s land. ,em>They who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way (v. 7) point to gross violations of basic rights.

Father and son go in to the same girl (v. 7) is often understood as referring to sacred prostitution connected with the worship of BAAL and other fertility gods. But given the other crimes that Amos mentions, it seems more likely that the phrase refers to father and son taking advantage of a slave or indentured servant (Exod 21:7-11).

So that my holy name is profaned (v. 7) may refer to the immediately preceding crime, but it is likely a reference to all the crimes mentioned thus far. It is not just sexual misconduct that profanes the name of God but the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable.

The two crimes listed in v. 8 give a picture of people worshiping in their sanctuaries with garments taken in pledge (in violation of Exod 22:25-27) and wine purchased with fines imposed. The worshipers profane YHWH’S name because they see no incongruity between their worship and their immoral treatment of their fellow human beings.


John C. Shelley, “Amos,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 746.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.


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