Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
John 19:1-7; Revelation 13:11-18; Job 38:22-41; Amos 5-6
The first half of Amos 5 is a lament, or dirge. These songs were written to mourn someone’s death or, as here, to mourn the impending fall of a nation. The song follows a typical poetic structure where themes are repeated in reverse order. Thus, it begins and ends with the general lament (vv. 1-3 and 16-17), calls to seek God and live (vv. 4-6 and 14-15), accusations of injustice (vv. 7 and 10-13) and a hymn to God (vv. 8-9). The lamentation is for Virgin Israel, capturing the tragedy of the situation. A young woman has her whole life before her, yet here she falls and has no one to help her up. This song was written when Israel was a strong military nation. The people were confident in themselves. But they had deserted God and his ethical values. Their courts were not just, they rejected truth, oppressed the poor and accepted bribes. God sees all this, and will bring their power and wealth to an end.
We may at times look at our world and see something similar. The news is filled with reports of injustices around the world. Such immorality is not just an issue with tyrannical governments, corrupt politicians, or profit-at-any-cost corporations. The problem lies closer to home, within the human heart. The latest scandal in Ireland is that highly paid executives with voluntary organisations have been receiving additional payments. The money for these ‘top-ups’ has been diverted from donations given specifically for the care of children and patients. Those most in need have been deprived of basic care to allow the wealthy to maintain their comforts. Little has changed since Amos prophesied. As a result, people have become sceptical about giving to any organisation, further reducing what is available to help those in need.
How then would Amos have us respond? We could live our lives quietly, looking out for ourselves and our own families. Such complacency leads to false security (6:1). The pinnacle of Amos’s lament is when he focuses on God (5:8-9). Pleiades and Orion are constellations in the night sky that pagan astrologers worshipped. Job 38:31 likewise reflects on how God made these constellations and all of Nature. It is futile to depend on them or any other created thing, including ourselves, when we can depend on their Creator.
Our response to human injustice should be to seek the Lord of Justice. We will not find him in external rituals, songs, and offerings (5:21-23). Instead, we find him relationally. Just as we would build a friendship with someone else, we get to know God personally by spending time with him and talking to him. We get involved in pursuing common interests. We learn from God’s Word what he values: doing good and promoting justice. As we do likewise while seeking him, we will find him (v. 14) and we will find true living (vv. 4, 6, 14). We may or may not find mercy and relief (v. 15). But what more could we ask for if we get to know the one who made the stars in the heavens and the seas around us? In this way, living ethically flows from knowing God and pursuing life with him.