(30) Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream – Amos 5:24

The history books which document Israel and Judah’s histories in the times of the kings include the accounts of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. From this time we also have the writing of a number of prophets who brought God’s word to the kings and people of the divided kingdoms.

In the Bible there are four Major Prophets and twelve Minor Prophets, the terms ‘major’ and ‘minor’ referring to their size rather than their importance. (The Minor Prophets are sometimes called the Shorter Prophets, a title I am sure they would prefer!) The Jews used to have the twelve Minor Prophets on a single scroll so they were sometimes called ‘The Book of the Twelve’. The Prophets are on the third shelf of the Bible Bookcase.

Half of the Minor Prophets start with a reference to the king at the time of writing, which makes them easy to date. In simple terms, the first six Minor Prophets – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah – spoke to Israel before it went into exile, although there are arguments for putting the dates of Joel and Obadiah later and Micah continued to prophesy in Judah after the exile of Israel. The next three – Nahum, Habakkuk and Zechariah – prophesied to Judah before they went into exile and the last three – Haggai, Zephaniah and Malachi – were from after the exile.

Like Elijah, the prophets were men and women who knew God’s law and saw that God’s people were living lives far short of how it ought to be lived out. (Although all of the prophetic books in the Bible were authored by men there are references to a number of prophetesses in the Bible such as Huldah, who was consulted by King Josiah.) They spoke out to tell people how they should live and to warn them of God’s judgement on those who ignored his laws. Some included judgements on the surrounding nations for their wickedness. Although they didn’t have God’s laws, nations that cruelly oppressed or destroyed others would still be held to account for their actions which violate the basic standards that all human societies know. For those who worry that God has a double standard by choosing one nation to be his we find that being part of God’s people results in them being judged by a far higher standard than the other nations. Yes, there are privileges in the covenant with God, but these privileges are linked to the responsibility to keep God’s law as it is revealed to them.

Being a prophet – a spokesman or woman for God – is an awesome privilege but that too has its responsibilities. God is determined to get his message out and will use whatever means he sees fit to get his message across.

Hosea knew that God’s people were not measuring up to God’s standards but God wanted him to experience what it felt like to be betrayed. So, Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and that she would be unfaithful to him. He did, and she was, and then he knew the betrayal that God felt when his people deserted him and that pain is reflected in his writing. Hosea speaks on behalf of a God who is both angered by his people deserting him and yet who cannot forget his underlying love for them.

Amos was a contemporary of Hosea, prophesying in the final years of Israel as a nation. He condemned the rich who lived in luxury in Samaria and the traders in the marketplace who had crooked weights and measures. Both groups exploited the poor for their own benefit and he made it clear that this was unacceptable to God. Amos would have been very at home in the modern campaigns against poverty and for debt relief for poor nations. The main theme of Amos is summed up in the great statement “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

God is a God of extraordinary love, but he is also a God who passionately hates injustice. So, just as we are called to reflect God’s love, we also need to be open to allowing ourselves to feel his hatred for wrongdoing wherever we see it. But we must approach this in humility, recognising that we start by looking within, as well as remembering that even God’s hatred for injustice is an expression of love for those who are impacted by it.

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