Amos 5:23-24

Amos 5:24 has been a beloved Scripture for many of us throughout our lives. In college, I played the guitar to accompany song lyrics based on this verse: “Let justice roll down like mighty waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” I cannot write that verse without singing it in my head. If you know the tune, you’re probably singing it in your head—or aloud—right now.

More importantly, this verse is well known in the American psyche primarily because of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” sermon. Before he gets to his thunderous cadence of “I have a dream” that inspires us to build a better society, King addresses Jim Crow oppression in the Deep South and systemic racism across America. Quoting Amos, he says, “We cannot be satisfied so long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Dr. King used that verse exactly like Amos meant it. Amos is prophesying that God will not listen to the songs of the people or the melodies of their music until they let justice roll down like waters (v. 24). When we grow so familiar with these words that we only hear them as a pretty poetic metaphor, we miss Amos’ warning and call to action. What helps us hear this passage as a call to action rather than a platitude of praise?


How are you participating in Christian service that will let justice roll down like waters?


Let the words that I say reflect the life that I lead, O God. Amen.

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