Uniform 06.14.2015: God Is Not Fooled


Amos 5:14-27

A recent convergence of events has had me thinking about justice and righteousness, which are important themes in this week’s passage.

We are all aware of the civil unrest that has occurred in places from Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore, Maryland. We have probably heard some commentators lambast the violent actions of some people and other commentators defend those same actions. I was interested in the words of a young Baltimore resident who chastised a network television correspondent: “You are not here reporting about the boarded up homes and the homeless people… You’re not reporting about the poverty levels up and down North Avenue….”

It occurred to me that we may never make much progress toward effectively addressing our social problems until we are interested in the causes as much as or more than we are in the results.

That point was driven home to me by what I saw and heard while watching some documentaries that were aired to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. One documentary was about the My Lai Massacre of March 16, 1968, during which American soldiers killed as many as 500 villagers, most of whom were women, children, or elderly. As is the case with the destruction caused by rioters, there is no excuse for the actions of those soldiers.

Still, I was struck by the comments of some of the soldiers who were at My Lai. They talked about how many members of their company had been killed and about how they had been told to treat everyone in the village as a possible Viet Cong sympathizer; they spoke of the tremendous stress that they were under because of the circumstances under which they, through no fault of their own, found themselves.

People who commit violent acts are responsible for those acts. But aren’t we responsible as a society to try to understand, to address, and to change corporate and systemic sins and failures that create circumstances and lead to situations in which such acts are more likely to happen?

Amos challenged the people of eighth century BCE Israel to confront the fact that God was not interested in their worship rituals if they were not living as God required that they live. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” the prophet urged them.

As Kathleen Norris said, such “righteousness is consistently defined by the prophets, and in the psalms and gospels, as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people in a culture, characterized in ancient Israel as orphans, widows, resident aliens, and the poor” [Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead, 1998), p. 96]. Are we paying attention to and addressing the ways in which our society’s perspectives, policies, and practices may contribute to the explosions of violence that we sometimes have?


1. How do our Monday–Saturday attitudes and actions impact our Sunday worship? How does our Sunday worship impact our Monday–Saturday attitudes and actions?
2. The prophets could address the ethics and morality of Israel without thinking about issues of church and state but American Christians have the privilege and responsibility of taking religious freedom and pluralism into account. How, then, do we advocate for biblical justice and righteousness in American society without improperly imposing our religious views on others?
3. The “day of the LORD” (v. 18) was a prophetic term for a time of God’s intervention. Amos challenged the people to see that, because of their spiritual and ethical failings, such intervention would be for them a negative rather than a positive experience. What would Amos tell us to expect were the Lord to come to us today? What areas do we need to address in our attitudes and behaviors if we are to stand with confidence before God?

Reference Shelf

The Day of the Lord

As a woe oracle, Amos 5:18-20 begins with the telltale interjection hôy (“alas,” “woe”) … The oracle corrects false assumptions concerning the day of YHWH, directing its message to those who believed God’s judgment was saved for someone else. The unit presumes that people have heard the phrase “day of YHWH” and expect God will intervene on their behalf. Amos 5:18-20 challenges this belief. Rather, when the day of YHWH comes, divine wrath will be directed toward them … Thus, Amos 5:19 presents three images designed to frighten the reader with the inevitability of God’s wrath. A man flees from a lion only to encounter a bear; in the safety of his home, he rests a hand upon a wall only to be bitten by a snake. Given the context of the day of YHWH, the point of these images is clear: if YHWH decides to intervene, then there will be no escape.

It does not take a lot of imagination to visualize those to whom 5:18-20 is addressed. It is clearly aimed at those who assume God’s election precludes them from facing the consequences of failing to abide by God’s behavioral expectations.

James D. Nogalski, The Book of the Twelve: Hosea-Jonah (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2011), p. 320.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.


For further resources, subscribe to the Uniform Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson. To purchase the volume quoted in today’s Reference Shelf, please click Here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email