“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
All our hearts desire it. Long for it. Crave that things be set right in our world. Amos’s image is perfect. In the midst of a brown, dusty, dry, desert wilderness of sin and wrongdoing, justice is like a deep blue waterfall washing over you, refreshing every cell in your body, cleansing every pore. It’s like finding an ever-flowing stream that never runs out, filled with the cleanest, clearest, most thirst-quenchingly cold mountain spring water after days, even weeks of licking dew-made mud in the early morning hours for the slightest sustenance. Our hearts long for justice like our throats demand water in a dry and weary land.
The Israelites listening to Amos prophesy know that the Day of the Lord is the Day when justice will finally be brought about on the earth. They figure that, since they are God’s chosen people, they will be on the right side of Justice on that Day. They figure the Day of the Lord will be like a long dip in a Hawaiian pool on a summer afternoon. They’ve got another thing coming.
“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him” (5:18-19).
There is no refuge other than the Lord, for Israel or anyone else. They look for the good life in the here and now; they’ll enjoy none of it (5:11). They make a show of religiosity; God hates it (5:21). Their land and their people will be decimated (5:3). Nothing they hope in besides the Lord will be left them.
They want justice, but they don’t know what they’re asking for. On our own, all of us find ourselves on the wrong end of God’s judgment.
We long for justice, but we don’t know what we’re asking for. We are part of the problem. Justice can’t roll down like waters because we—along with the rest of humanity—dam up the stream. The Day of the Lord is the day he unleashes his judgment waters. But none of us could survive that flood.
Yet, even in the midst of this prophetic judgment, there is hope: “thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: ‘Seek me and live'” (5:4). “Seek the LORD and live” (5:6). If we seek the Lord, we can hide ourselves from the waters of judgment. He’s already withstood them for us.
Jesus has seen the Day of the Lord, stood on the wrong end of God’s judgment, taken the wrath that we would bear were it not for him. Jesus took justice on himself for us so that we could have mercy. He was swept away in a river of judgment so that our thirst could be quenched. In Christ, we can long for the Day of the Lord because we know that his grace is sufficient. We can long for justice and know that we have nothing to fear.
At the cross, Jesus washed away fear. He calms the waters of judgment so that we can drink from them. Bathe in them. Rejoice in them.