The responsibility for justice for the poor belongs to an entire community. By the evidence of the oppression of the poor among them are the powers and authorities of that community condemned.
Isaiah 10:1-2 (ESV)
Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
and the writers who keep writing oppression,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be their spoil,
and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
Oppression of the poor has become a matter of policy in Judah, the final step into the abyss of national godlessness.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
- Martin Luther King Jr.
The law of God that Israel followed laid a foundation for a just and equitable society, one that would care for the most vulnerable and be marked by freedom and compassion for those who would otherwise be at risk of being marginalized. At the centre of their law was the first and most foundational commandment, that they have only one God, and that they are called to love their God with their whole being (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This law is the Hebrew Shema, the law upon which all other laws rest. The first four of the Ten Commandments repeat the law that the nation may never follow idols of their own design like the nations around them, but the Creator in whose image they were made. The last six of the commandments reveal how they will express their love for God, by living together in loving and just community. Leviticus 19:18 says most explicitly, "you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD." Christians will recognize this passage as the golden rule as taught by Jesus, when he paired it with the Hebrew Shema.
Mark 12:28-34a (ESVUK)
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Jesus was agreeing with his contemporaries when he interpreted the Law this way. Rabbi Hillel taught at the same time as Jesus, and answered a similar question by referring to this same passage.
The law was clear. The manifestation of the community's love for God will be manifest in their love for each other. When we cease to honour God as God (Romans 1:21-23), we will stop loving our neighbour as ourselves as well. This is exactly what had happened to the nation under the kings. Idolatry was introduced, and not long after this the nation was oppressing the poor and ignoring the needs of the vulnerable among them.
|Who Is Your Neighbour?|
by Steve Malakowsky of Hope Thru Art
Rest In Peace
It is the same for us. When we acknowledge God as our king and provider, than we are enabled to be generous. We worship a generous God. But if we, like Israel under its corrupt kings, or the empires that they wished to be like, believe that by our own efforts or merit we have earned our privileges, we become gods in our own world, and the only judge and authority that may secure whatever wealth or power we have.
It's an ironic twist that binds those who most desire freedom. In the arms of a loving Heavenly Father, we are free to give and love from the endless supply of the God who has everything we'll ever need. When we refuse to acknowledge anyone but ourselves and our own effort as the source of our wealth or comfort, we will be forever bound by the fear of losing it, ever protective of all we have, always suspicious that others may try to take it away. This is not liberty. This is a prison.
We are but instruments in the hands of the sovereign God who is through us writing the grand symphony of salvation. Isaiah says as much to the nation of Assyria. Though they do not even acknowledge Israel's God, it is only by God's hand that the empire may have victory against them.
Isaiah 10:15 (ESVUK)
Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
Even Assyria's wealth is only theirs because of God's providence. None may boast. Everything and anything we have has come from God, including the very breath we breathe so that we may be privileged to go and work for a wage.
Before Israel was a nation, God had warned them of the temptation to arrogance that their wealth would cause them once they were established in the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (ESVUK)
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Now, Isaiah's condemns Israel for the ultimate evidence of their transgression against God. Their kings and administrators, arrogant and corrupt, are writing laws that prefer the wealthy over the vulnerable. These new laws are the exact opposite of the Torah they received with Moses in the desert when they were still a generation that remembered their own slavery. Now they write their own law, and by it they enslave others.
This is the same great sin that marks all of us. Like Adam and Eve, we eat the fruit of the tree, demanding that we be the ones who decide good and evil in our own lives. We write our own policies. We make our own decrees. Kings in our own world, we may now make the world in our own image, damn the consequences to others.
As children of God, our responsibility to the poor and vulnerable is not a matter of personal charity. One cannot love a neighbour as themselves by writing a cheque. Such love can only be true in relationships of equality and reciprocity. The law of God leads not to individual acts of charity, but lives of radical solidarity. True justice rises above the individual's willingness to give, and is to be manifest in a community of mutual aid, whose very law reflects the radical generosity of the individuals within it.
"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and Nazi Resister
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and Nazi Resister
Our call to act justly according to Isaiah will include our demands that the governance of our community reflects the same conviction for compassion and justice that we seek to manifest in our own lives. True love for our poor neighbours will include our efforts to change a system that keeps them in poverty.
Isaiah ends this chapter by once again encouraging the nation that though they will be judged for their corruption, they will not be abandoned. God freed them from the empire of Egypt, and taught them from their time in the desert to trust God to feed them. Now, by their exile in Assyria, they will be freed from the empire that they have become. They will return to their land. In their return they will once again be as equal in wealth and power as they were when they first arrived in the Promised Land. Their merciful God will give them another chance to live like the just and compassionate God they will once again come to know.
Tomorrow, June 25, 2014: Isaiah 11 - The Shoot From The Stump Of Jesse
Thursday, June 26, 2014: 1 Peter 2:11-12 - Aliens
|Click image to read the entire series from Isaiah.|