Sometimes little snippets of scripture make their way into popular culture. Thus, a character in a film may observe that someone’s actions are an example of “an eye for an eye”. Or, we may hear someone glibly speak of “doing unto others. . . “. Very often these particles of scripture are snatched from their biblical context and applied in ways never intended by scripture. An example of this is the phrase, “let justice roll down”.
Civil rights advocates often use this phrase in reference to obtaining social justice for ethnic minorities. The idea is that justice is not being served when these individuals are discriminated against, or are denied their rights as citizens of this country. Naturally every honest-hearted American wants all citizens to enjoy the rights that our Constitution guarantees. We want justice to be served, but is this what these words of scripture actually mean?
The phrase “let justice roll down” appears in Amos 5:24, and it is spoken by God Himself. However, in the context of Amos this phrase has more to do with faithfulness to God than with social injustice per se. The message of Amos was a call for God’s people to return to faithfulness. Social injustice was one of the problems that plagued Israel at that time, of course, but this was just a symptom of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. This is especially the case in the immediate context of Amos 5:24.
In vs. 21-24 God said, “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” God’s call for justice to roll down like waters was actually a call for Israel to be obedient to His law. If they would do this, their worship would then be acceptable to Him, and social injustice would end.
This is the lesson that we must take from Amos. The only certain cure for social injustice is to return to faithful obedience to God’s word. Any attempt to rectify social problems devoid of God’s word is fruitless. This ought to be abundantly evident. Our country has been beset by calls for social justice for generations, and has engaged in multitudes of focused efforts to bring this about. Nevertheless, we still struggle with these issues. The truth is, we still struggle because our efforts have focused on the symptoms and not on the actual cause of social injustice.
Until individuals acknowledge their sins and seek God’s forgiveness in accordance with His word, we will never have the social justice we all desire. Until our nation acknowledges the rightful place of God’s word to direct our path, we will never overcome the issues that plague us. Until we truly become “one nation under God” we will continue to experience oppression and injustice, and no amount of self-righteous pontificating by our leaders will change this.
In 1 Tim. 4:8b Paul said, “But godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This is a fundamental truth that we all need to acknowledge. If we pursue godliness, as God’s word directs us, then we will be the kind of people we ought to be, and our society will be better as well. Only then will justice roll down like waters in the fullest sense of what God intended.