Catching the quotes from the Bible in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches
Did you catch the quotes from these Bible verses?
- Amos 5:24 (NIV): “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
- Isaiah 40:4-5 (KJV): “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….”
King makes more subtle references to at least two other Bible passages as well. Did you notice these?
Dr. King dreamed of a day when America lives up to its creed, when all people sit together at one table, and when freedom and justice reign. His famous “I have a dream” speech reaches its highest point with echoes of the prophet Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low … and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
In words of the prophet Micah, he hoped that one day all persons elected to public office will “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with [their] God.” His hope for an end to war was rooted in Isaiah’s vision that people will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” Biblical promises of “peace on earth and goodwill toward all” were Dr. King’s antidote to despair.
Ratzman ends his lecture with a short video clip of King giving his final speech in Memphis, on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated. He shows it not only because King planned to go to a Passover seder at Heschel’s home the following week, but also for its eerie prophecy and infusion of Hebrew Bible imagery.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life,” King says, pausing amid sporadic shouts from the crowd. “Longevity has its place,” he continues. “But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you,” he pauses, amid more shouts. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
All over the world, like a fever, the freedom movement is spreading in the widest liberation in history. The great masses of people are determined to end the exploitation of their races and land. They are awake and moving toward their goal like a tidal wave. You can hear them rumbling in every village street, on the docks, in the houses, among the students, in the churches, and at political meetings. Historic movement was for several centuries that of the nations and societies of Western Europe out into the rest of the world in “conquest” of various sorts. That period, the era of colonialism, is at an end. East is meeting West. The earth is being redistributed. Yes, we are “shifting our basic outlooks”. These developments should not surprise any student of history. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, “Let my people go.” This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story….
We have inherited a big house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterners and Westerners, Gentiles and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Moslem and Hindu, a family unduly separated in ideas, culture, and interests who, because we can never again live without each other, must learn, somehow, in this one big world, to live with each other.
This means that more and more our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. We must now give an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies.
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response which is little more than emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the First Epistle of Saint John19:
Let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone
that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His
love is perfected in us.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
— Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech:
and in his book: