“I have a dream,” declared Martin Luther King, Jr., as he addressed a crowd of several hundred thousand gathered on the Mall around the Washington Monument. On August 28, 1963, the day Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream,” speech, America was uneasy. It was a time of social unrest. In the midst of a nation torn by racial strife and social unrest, Dr. King painted an indelible picture of America as it could be. His oratory was soaring, his imagery was vivid, and his cause was right. Like many of Dr. King’s speeches and sermons, “I Have a Dream,” contains numerous references to Bible passages. Did you catch the quotes from these four Bible verses?
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”
Chapters 5 and 6 of Amos contains some of the most moving poetry in the Bible and strongly denounces religious hypocrisy and economic inequality, so it may come as no surprise that Dr. King would reference the book of Amos in his “I Have a Dream” speech. Throughout the text, Amos voices prophetic rage against the injustices of the day. The entire book is given to denouncing the excesses of eighth-century B.C.E. Israelite life and reminding people of their true conventional obligations. We are reminded in Amos that those who are at “ease in Zion” and “feel secure on Mount Samaria,” who “lie on beds of ivory” and “eat lambs from the flock” will “be the first to go in exile” (Amos 6:1-7).
Perhaps the most famous line from the book is Amos 5:24. The context of the powerful statement is a prophetic denunciation of the sacrifices and meal offerings of a people who have failed to keep a covenant which is constituted by justice and fairness. Throughout Amos 5 to 6, the prophet lashes out against those who have become rich at the expense of the poor and against public – but hollow – displays of piety. According to Amos, God says, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Amos 5:21). Religious devotion is meaningless if it is accompanied by unfair taxes to the poor, backdoor bribes, and working against those in need. Amos would likely disapprove of the concentration of wealth and the corresponding increases of poverty and he would rage against displays of self-importance in some areas of life.
“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain…”
What is happening in your dreams? Are they being realized or are they gradually fading away? Have you lost hope because they now seem impossible? We can all learn how to revive our dreams and keep them alive from Dr. King. He gave us the answer when he quoted Isaiah 40:4-5, saying, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight, and the glory of Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” Dr. King understood that his dream of social justice and racial equality was in harmony with God’s dream, and that’s God dream will surely be realized.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Dr. King makes more subtle reference in this Bible passage. This biblical allusion provides a moral basis for King’s argument. We know that we will all face problems and trials in life and some of these are completely beyond our control. These are all trials that test our faith. Anyone can have faith in God during fair weather but the true test of our faith is how we respond during stormy weather, when we can’t see our hands in front of our face. Christ should be our example during our times of pain, mental anguish and suffering. Though we will endure trials, God promised in Psalm 30:5 that weeping only comes for a night but joy comes in the morning.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is their male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is another Bible passage where Dr. King makes more subtle reference. We are created by One and all made in the image of God. We recognize from this passage that each of us is connected through our creation and our redemption. Fulfilling Dr. King’s dream pleases God. We should love one another as we are all God’s children.
His cadences, inflections and biblical allusions gave Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech memorable structure. His powerful argument gave the speech its moral weight. “I Have a Dream” reminds us that all human beings are equally created in the image of God. As Christians, it’s important that we realize this. But it is also important that we realize that we are sinners, and sin is the fundamental problem on the issue of race.