I can remember the first time I heard “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I mean really heard it.
Bob Dylan was not new to me, but I was digging in deep now. So I bought Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, his first compilation album. The first song was “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” which is a rollicking good-time song. But then it came on, and for the first time I really heard it.
I did not have that category in hand to dignify the song and my feelings along with it. All I knew was how I felt while listening. It was a protest song. It sounded like the most beautiful indictment of injustice I’d ever heard…
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man
As far as I was concerned, it sounded like one of the Old Testament prophets decrying the injustice of God’s people who had been given so much.
When God, through the prophet Amos, rails against Israel in chapter 5, it is a lament—a lament over their sins of injustice and their lack of seeking after Him in a life of repentance and holiness.
More than once in that chapter is the command to seek the Lord, and then there is that famous verse 24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream.” But here is what’s most interesting to me: while the people appear to be doing what is commanded of them by God, He still does not seem very impressed by them.
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen” (Amos 5:21-23).
What is going on here?
Well, that famous verse 24 gives us a clue. God wants justice and righteousness. Israel may be doing all of the outward requirements of the law, but what they really need is an internal change of the heart.
Imagine a church full of people who sing wonderfully, listen to the sermon, give their tithes, and practice the sacraments rightly. But they cannot get along and be kind to others, much less to the vulnerable. And morally speaking, they are a mess. That’s a good picture of Israel. They needed to be changed from the inside out.
We can easily fall into the same trap. We think doing all the right things—church attendance, quiet times, tithing, etc.—will buy us favor with God. But Amos chapter 5 points to the futility of such thinking. We need to hear this lament, and then “seek Him and live.”
When we seek Jesus, as revealed in the gospel, we see not only the futility of our efforts to earn God’s favor, but also His provision of a changed life. This kind of freedom allows us to pursue justice and righteousness, not to gain His favor, but because we already have it.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond