“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV)
His disciples were discouraged. It was necessary to prepare them for the things that were yet to come, but often they were unwilling to accept his words. They needed to learn that some things would happen just as the prophets had foretold. Instead of fighting against the will of the Father, they needed to seek direction from him. It was vital that they learn to pray continuously, stand firm, and not give up when they encountered impossible or discouraging circumstances. In constant prayer and surrender would be found strength, wisdom, and determination. This was the example he had set for them.
As always, the Father gave him the perfect words to say to them, appropriate not only for those gathered around him now but also for his followers in the generations to come. The helpless widow never knew the grandeur that her determination displayed to her heavenly audience! She was unaware that her simple act of persistence would be used by the Son of David himself to encourage those entrusted with his sacred charge. Again and again, her story would be told, and the world would be changed because of it! Her response to her unfair circumstances provided the perfect model of determination! The self-serving judge was an appropriate example of the corruption and injustice that his disciples would face in the years to come. As he always did, Jesus would simplify the details for his audience. Before gathering them together, he took a moment to recall that splendid moment in history:
As dawn arrived, a man exited his home and made his way toward the city gates. There he would act as judge over the various cases brought before him. He had performed this job for many years, and the position had served him well. Over time, he had acquired significant wealth and stature in the city. It was a prosperous time for all Israel. Under the rule of King Jeroboam II, Israel had returned to her former glory, and things were only expected to get better. The gods had surely looked favorably upon their land.
There were only two annoyances in the judge’s life, and both were relentless. One was a prophet of Yahweh, and the other was an old widow who would not admit defeat. The judge expected to see both of them today.
The widow claimed that her crops and lands had been stolen from her after her husband and two sons died under what many considered to be suspicious circumstances. The judge knew her case was valid, but the man who now claimed ownership of the lands could prove to be a powerful ally to him in the future. The woman offered him no such incentive to take her side. Having lost her crops for the year, and without the land to provide for her future needs, she had nothing. It was simply in the judge’s best interest not to intervene in this case. He daily dismissed her claims, but she always returned. She had even begun to seek him out in public places, pleading her case at the most inopportune times. His wife’s patience had grown thin. She had even begun to demand that he “just give the old woman what she wants,” so they could have some peace. In truth, the judge had been considering whether he could somehow do just that, but work the situation to his advantage. He had no idea how to accomplish that, and he had no hopes for peace.
The prophet was a completely different problem. Daily, he placed himself strategically on the road to the city gates and repeated the same words. The king needed to stop ignoring this pest and do something to shut him up. Even now, when Israel was prospering and peaceful and had been so for many years, prophets still came to warn kings and kingdoms of impending doom. This man, Amos by name, was particularly annoying. He targeted Israel’s justice system, not only things like the worship of foreign gods or alliances with foreign nations that the tiresome prophets usually condemned. This time it was personal, not that the judge was worried.
He feared no god, and especially not the old “God of Israel” that demanded singular worship. Few in Israel kept to those old ways. At least the other gods offered various “pleasures” in exchange for allegiance. Yahweh offered only abstract promises of care for “his people” and threats of judgment for shortcomings. The old stories were great to tell children, but modern adults had little interest or need for this god.
As he neared the gates, he could hear the prophet already making his presence known.
“This is what the Lord says:
‘For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.’”
Fully aware that his target would need to walk by him to reach his destination, the wily prophet used that fact to his full advantage. The judge resolved to walk past him with full dignity, refusing to acknowledge he had even heard the rebuke. Unwilling to be ignored, the prophet stepped into the road and faced him. He continued his speech:
“Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground.
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out over the face of the land—
the Lord is his name.
With a blinding flash, he destroys the stronghold
and brings the fortified city to ruin.
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore, the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.”
The judge heard footsteps behind him and turned to find Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, a reasonable man who had the ear of the king. It appeared that Jeroboam had dispatched the priest to find Amos, and “handle” him. He was a welcome sight.
Amaziah immediately took charge of the situation.
“Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
Inwardly, the judge praised Amaziah. Outwardly, he took advantage of the moment to move past Amos and continue toward the city gate. Behind him, he could hear the prophet and the priest continue their confrontation.
Amos was not intimidated and responded with ferocity.
“I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,
“Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.“
“Therefore, this is what the Lord says:
‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
The judge hoped the king would act quickly. The audacity of a shepherd-prophet to take such a stand against a priest, a judge, and even the king himself was unbelievable. Surely Amaziah would return to Jeroboam with this latest speech, and the prophet would learn the consequence of threatening a powerful king and his kingdom. The prophet Amos would no longer be an inconvenience. It could not happen soon enough!
At the gate, he spotted the persistent old woman waiting for him. As soon as their eyes met, she began to shout:
“Grant me justice against my adversary.”
The words of his wife rang in his ear. “Give her what she wants, or we shall never be free of her.”
He looked around at the people lined up at the city gates. Perhaps now, when people were being provoked by the prophet, it might actually be advantageous to show some concern for this woman. She certainly had the sympathies of the common people. In granting her request, he would free himself from her, appease his wife, and perhaps even gain some popular support. Maybe even the prophet would stop rebuking him. He would lose a powerful ally in the process, but he was a man of influence with several friends in high places. He could weather the loss of one friend. His peace and quiet were worth the sacrifice.
He nodded to the woman, “I will see you first.” he told her.
Showing little surprise, and much dignity, she stood before the judge and presented her case.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
“In a certain town, there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought….”
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