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Posts Tagged ‘justice’

According to the Scriptures there are two kinds of trials that we go through in our lives. 1) What we usually think of as a trial has to do with suffering some kind of lack – a lack of food, a lack of health, money, a job, or protection from say, persecution. And this lack puts us in a really difficult situation that tests whether we will remain faithful to God, or not.

2) But to have an abundance of something can also be a trial. Deuteronomy 8 talks about how we can be tested with an abundance of material blessings from God. This too can be a really difficult situation in that it can be a stumbling block to our faithfulness to God. It might make us forget the Lord, or act in ways that are wrong toward others.

Today, we are talking about a test in this second category; one that has to do with abundance – in this case of power or strength. This includes physical strength, economic power, and also what I am calling social power: the influence or sway we have over others. This might come from having a certain position or office in a group that gives you authority and power or it can be more informal – you might be well-liked or popular in a group. This is social power.

I believe that all of us have power in one way or another in our lives. In other words, it’s not that some are strong and some are weak, each of us are strong and weak in different areas and at different times in our lives. And so all of us face this test at some point in our lives.

The question in such a test is ‘How do you use the power you have?’ ‘How do you treat those weaker than you, people who are vulnerable to being dishonored and taken advantage of?’ My point today is that the answer to this question reveals what is in your heart; whether you are righteousness or unrighteous. It reveals the kind of moral character you have, or don’t have.

Scripture teaches us in many places and in different ways that 1. Those who use their strength for the weak, are righteous. In fact, this is a chief character trait of a godly person.

Ezekiel 18:7, says that a righteous person (v. 5) “does not oppress anyone (that is, doesn’t take advantage of the weak) but . . . gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment (that is, helps the weak in their need).”

The righteous use their power and strength, not just for themselves, but also for others. As we will see in a moment, they use it to help, to stand up for, and to honor the weak

On the other hand Scripture teaches us that 2. Those who use their strength against the weak, are unrighteous. This is a chief character trait of an ungodly person.

In parallel to what we saw before, Ezekiel 18:12 says that an unrighteous person “oppresses the poor and needy (that is, doesn’t’ help them, but exploits them).” The unrighteous use their power and strength for themselves, for their own self-interests, not others. As we will see, they use it to take advantage of, dominate and ridicule the weak.

Let’s look at some examples, some of which are cast in a positive light – do this, and other are cast in a negative light – don’t ever do this.

1. If you are a boss or business owner, how do you treat your employees? Do you verbally degrade them? Are you unfair? Do you pressure them to work too hard or in unsafe conditions?

James 5:4-5 speaks to bosses who take advantage of their employees financially. It says, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” This is pretty intense! Are you a righteous employer?

2. If you are a husband, how do you treat your wife? Through most of history wives have been socially weaker than their husbands, although not really in our culture today. But wives are almost always physically weaker. So we’re talking about domestic violence here – verbal and/or physical abuse.

Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Jesus had power, but used it not for himself but for us, so husbands, use whatever power you do have to bless and build up your wife. Are you a righteous husband?

3. If you are a parent, how do you treat your children? They are both socially and physically weaker than you, at least when they are young. We are certainly not to mistreat them through verbal or physical abuse. And even if they are older we can hurt and wound them given our status.

Ephesians 6:4 speaking of younger children says, “do not provoke your children to anger,” that is, by mistreating them. We are to love and care for them and raise and nurture them to be godly people; being above all an example to them of this kind of life. Are you righteous in how you treat your children?

4. If you are of able-bodied, how do you treat the disabled? Whether it be a physical or mental/emotional disability, the disabled are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of and dishonored.

But listen to Deuteronomy 27:18. It says, “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” This teaches us in general not to take advantage of or dishonor such a person. Are you righteous in how you treat the disabled?

5. If you are young and strong, how do you treat the elderly? They can be physically and sometimes socially weaker than you.

Not only does Jesus warn against taking advantage of the elderly in Mark 7:10-13 here talking about one’s elderly parents,  we are to honor those older than us. Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man.” Culturally this is an expression of honor. Are you righteous in how you treat the elderly?

6. If you have what you need (and perhaps a whole lot more than you need), how do you treat the poor? We are talking about economic power here.

We have already seen in Ezekiel 18:7 that a righteous person “gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment.” And there are many other passages that speak of lending at no interest, and giving food, clothing and shelter to help the poor get back on their feet again.

We are also to stand up for the poor – Proverbs 31:9 says, “open your mouth . . . defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And we are not to put down the poor. Proverbs 17:5 says, “Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker.” We insult God when we make fun of the poor.

Are you righteous in how you treat the poor?

7. If you are socially secure, how do you treat those on the margins of society?

For instance, widows and orphans who often fell through the social support networks in the ancient world. And so Exodus 22:22 says, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” But, nNot only are we not to mistreat them, we are to stand up for them. Isaiah 1:17 says, “bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”

Another example is immigrants who are vulnerable being in a different place without support systems. Leviticus 19:34 applies the second greatest commandment to them – “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

In a similar way, minority groups can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of by the majority because they have less power. In Acts 6:1 the Greek speaking widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food in the church, in favor of the Hebrew speaking widows. There were different cultural and national differences between these groups. And this had to be dealt with.

Are you righteous in how you treat the marginalized?

There are many other examples that could be given.

  • Even if you’re not a boss, how do you use the power you have at work?
  • For those in middle or high school – are you a bully who uses physical strength and intimidation to put others down and take advantage of them? Or are you “popular,” a part of an in-group who uses social power to put down and exclude others?
  • How do we treat the not yet born, who are the weakest of all?

Scripturally this issue even extends beyond the human realm to how we treat animals, who are lower and weaker than us in many ways. If you have animals under your care professionally or as pets, how do you treat them? Proverbs 12:10 says,  “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Are we merciful or cruel?

The principle in all this is straightforward: How you use power reveals your character. Those who use it to take advantage of, dominate and dishonor the weak are among the unrighteous. Those who use it to help, stand up for and honor the weak are among the righteous.

Examine yourself. How do you use the power you have? How do you treat those weaker than you? Where is God speaking to you this morning?

William Higgins

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“To the Government of Sudan – Hear the words of the one, true God: “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4.

Hear the cry of those who suffer in Darfur – innocents including women and children. So many have been terrorized. So many have died. So many are refugees. God calls you to change your heart and bring this to an end!

But know this, if you do not hear their cries, God does. And God will incline his ear “to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalm 10:18.

And God hears the blood of the innocent as it cries out against you even now. And God will not forget what has happened. “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Psalm 9:12.

Will you hear what God says? Then weep for your evil deeds. Humble yourself before the Lord. Lift up those who are bowed down, and bring healing to those you have broken.”

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We are looking at Jeremiah 22:13-19. This is an oracle, or prophecy against Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of Judah – before Jerusalem was destroyed and they were taken into exile in Babylon.

This oracle is a part of a larger set of prophecies against the kings of Judah which lay out what these kings were supposed to have been doing, but didn’t – and so were judged. Let’s look for a moment at . . .

What God Wanted

This comes from chapter 22:3. The kings were to “do justice and righteousness.” This verse goes on to expound what this means:

  • To do justice and righteousness means don’t take advantage of the weak, outcasts, the marginal, the needy in society, which is oppression. The verse itself says, “Do no wrong or violence to the resident alien (immigrant), the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” In other words, don’t be an oppressor.
  • And also, to do justice and righteousness means that you stand up for them; that you make sure the weak are not taken advantage of by others, that they are not oppressed. Again, v. 3 says, “deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.” In other words, don’t let the rich and powerful take away what the poor and weak have.

This is what God wanted, and this brings us to our text in vs. 13-19 and . . .

Jehoiakim’s failure

Despite this charge from God, Jehoiakim decided to focus on living in great luxury; to focus on himself.

v. 14 speaks of him as saying – “I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms.” It goes on to describe him as one “who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion.” These last two were luxury items in that day: cedar paneling and red paint; and, of course, it was a luxury to have spacious upper rooms and a “great” house.

In v. 15 the Lord rebukes him. “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar?” Do you think you are great because you have more cedar paneling than the kings around you? The Lord is saying, you aren’t defined by your luxury; by your level of self-indulgence.

We also learn from our Scripture that Jehoiakim pursued this self-indulgent luxury by oppression. v. 13 speaks of him as one “who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages.” We see here the exact opposite of God’s charge to do justice and righteousness.

v. 17 gives God’s assessment of him: “you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.”

  • He was not concerned about the weak, but only himself, his luxury
  • And not only did he not take care of them, he used the weak to make himself richer

Jeremiah points out that Jehoiakim didn’t learn from his father – Josiah. Josiah was a model king. Even though he died on the battlefield, he was held up as one of the most righteous of all the kings and descendents of David.

v. 15-16 says, “Did not your father (Josiah) eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.” He’s saying: Your father did just fine. He had all his material needs met, but he also did justice and righteousness; he took care of the weak; he took up the cause of the needy and poor. He kept the charge of God.

Finally, we hear of Jehoiakim’s judgment which speaks to the seriousness of God’s charge to do justice and righteousness.

In v. 13 the word “woe”, which begins our passage, comes from a funeral context. It is a pronouncement of death against Jehoiakim.

The prophet goes on to say, “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” – v. 19. And he will not be mourned – v. 18. A grim judgment for sure.

But this passage also helps us to see . . .

The root problem in Jehoiakim’s life

vs. 15-16 talk about doing justice and righteousness, and taking care of the poor and needy, and then God asks a question: “’Is not this to know me?’ declares the Lord.” Isn’t doing justice and caring for the weak what it means to know me, God asks. The answer, of course, is yes!

The root problem was that Jehoiakim didn’t know the Lord. He was in charge of representing God as king of Israel, but he didn’t know who God is; God’s character; God’s heart.

If he had known the Lord, then he would have known what Moses taught in Deuteronomy 10:18, that “the Lord executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

He would have known the sentiment expressed in Psalm 35:10, “O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

He would have known the truth of Psalm 146:7-9 which speaks of God as one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. . ..” It says, “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down . . .. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless . . ..”

His actions showed that he obviously did not know the Lord.

This brings us to the question of the morning –

Do you know the Lord?

We each have to examine our lives and ask this question of ourselves, given that God calls all of us to “do justice and righteousness” not just the kings of old. As Amos 5:24 says to all God’s people – “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever- flowing stream.”

  • And so in as much as we have power and resources we are not to take advantage of the weak. As Isaiah 10:1-2 says to all God’s people, “Woe to those who . . . turn aside the needy from justice and . . . rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!”
  • And, in as much as we have the ability and resources we also are to help those who are weak and in need.  As Isaiah 1:17 says to all God’s people, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

We are not to be like Jehoiakim who sought greater luxury and self-indulgence, without concern for the weak and needy around him. He built up his luxurious house and lived well – while the weak suffered all around him.

Rather, we are to do what is right and care for the needy. Those who are vulnerable and cannot care for themselves.

The message today is show that you know the Lord – that you know God’s heart, his compassion, his mercy, who God truly is; that God’s heart is your heart. Show that you know the Lord by acting to care for the weak; standing up for them and helping them.

There are so many situations of injustice in the world; where people are oppressed; where the innocent are victimized, taken advantage of; enslaved and killed.

Crushing poverty in Haiti and Bangladesh; a genocidal war in Darfur, the latest of several such over the past few decades; a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe – one current example – and we will hear of many more before this new year is over.

The poor, the weak and the needy are all around us. And we learned last night about how the global food crisis affects those in the Gambia where Gary and Denise serve. The poor, the weak and the needy are also here in our own country, and in our own neighborhood.

And so we have many opportunities to act; to show that we know the Lord.

As you know, today many of our youth will begin fasting for 30 hours to raise money to feed hungry children. Perhaps you have seen the statistics that have been in your bulletin inserts:

  • Every day 26,000 children under the age of 5 will die because of hunger, disease and poverty
  • 14,000 will die from malnutrition alone
  • One child every 7 seconds

Many of you have already given – but if you haven’t it isn’t too late. I encourage you to do this. You will not only help children who are hungry, you will help our young people to gain more experience in doing what is right and caring for the weak. And we will all be doing what God wants; what is God’s very heart – standing up for and helping the needy.

Lets end with Jeremiah 9:24. This is the Lord speaking: “Let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Let us go forth and delight in these as well.

William Higgins

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