The Prophets – Powerful Voices - Lesson Two
I. Re-cap and Introduction
II. Today’s focus – what’s fundamentally wrong in an ethically sick society. For the prophets, it was – broadly stated – unrighteousness.
A. Amos: “O you who turn justice (judgment) to wormwood and lay righteousness upon the ground.” 5:7 (In 6:12, we see justice (judgment) turned into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.)
What’s meant here by the metaphors in the language - judgment turned to wormwood or poison, putting righteousness upon the ground, or turning the fruit of justice into wormwood?
B. Isaiah 30: With respect to trusting in the wages of robbery and waywardness, and depending upon it, “this sin will be for you like the breach of a fallen wall, like a bulge in a lofty wall, whose collapse comes with quick suddenness.” 13.
I like the metaphor for punishment here because it reminds me of the price a community sometimes pays for being flagrantly negligent in maintaining essential infrastructure (whether physical or otherwise) by cutting corners and “robbing” the needed resources and using them for other (politically favored) things.
Often, when needed resources are “diverted” elsewhere, the “bridge will collapse,” with severe consequences. Their “security” is bogus.
What do you make of this metaphorical language?
C. Isaiah 59: In recalling the wicked times, Isaiah speaks fist of palms “stained with blood,” fingers, “with iniquity.” Lips “speak falsehood;” and tongues “utter falsehood.” “No one calls out in righteousness and no one is judged truthfully: trusting in emptiness and speaking vanity, conceiving wrongdoing and giving birth to wickedness.” 3-4.
I want to focus on the image that is painted next: “They hatch adder’s eggs and weave spider-webs: Whoever eats of the eggs will die, and when they are squeezed a viper is hatched. Their webs will not become a garment, and people will not clothe themselves with their work…” 5-6.
What do we learn from these graphic, literary images?
D. In Isaiah 59, the prophet makes these observations: “Their feet run to evil…their thoughts are thoughts of wickedness, plunder and calamity are in their roads. They know not the way of peace and there is no justice in their circuits; they have made their paths cooked; all who walk them do not know peace.” 6-8.
I’m interested in the pace and place of action. What do you see?
E. In Isaiah 59, we see, according to the prophet, that these ways have made it so “justice has become distant” and “righteousness has not reached us.” “We walk in deep darkness.” “We grope the wall like the blind; and like the eyeless, we grope; we stumble at noon as in the dark of night; as if in graves, like the dead…” 9-10.
I’m curious about the image of blindness. Thoughts?
F. Isaiah 59: “Justice has been withdrawn and righteousness stands at a distance; because truth has stumbled in the street, and integrity cannot enter. Truth became lacking, and refraining from evil became foolish.” 14-15.
1.What does it mean when “truth has stumbled in the street?” This is significant because it has caused justice and righteousness to depart and impairs integrity from entering.
2. Refraining from evil seemed foolish? How?
G. Amos: “Thus said God: For three transgressions of Israel I have looked away, but for four I will not pardon them - for their selling a righteous man for money, and a poor man for shoes. They aspire as they walk on the dust of the earth for the head of the poor and they twist the judgment of the humble; a man and his father go to the maiden in order to desecrate My Holy Name.” 2:6-7
1. What are the three sins that are disregarded? They are the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and adultery. Others? Some say it means something else. What else might that be?
2. What is it here?
3. What is the meaning of “a poor man for shoes?”
4. What does verse 7 mean?
5. We won’t look at the language in verse 8, but there are additional elements of corruption here that are worthy of further study. It seems to suggest that the wicked are using the proceeds of the victimization that’s just been discussed to dress up for and conduct the rituals of worship.
If this is before God, it makes the misbehavior even more noxious. It must be observed that the priests of the temple are part of the corruption, too. They are benefitting of these tarnished proceeds. (If it’s before other gods, it is despicable for other obvious reasons.)
The people were given the land to live in the ways of God, not those of the heathens whom they replaced. Further, they were to be “a light unto the nations” in these ways. Instead fundamental principles that were central to their society, its mission, and its endurance have been violated, thus endangering the ongoing life and success of the society.
H. Jeremiah: “Administer justice diligently (every morning) and save the robbed (or the oppressor) from the hand of an oppressor.” 21:12
Even as the Chaldeans were about the conquer Judah, Jeremiah tells the king that there is a way still to make change and repent. It’s in these lines. What was so wrong that, if fixed, society could be redeemed? What does this single verse teach us justice must look like, and how must it function in a righteous society (or an unrighteous one in order to be repaired)?
Jeremiah: “Administer justice and righteousness, and save the robbed from the hand of the oppressor; do not taunt and do not cheat the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; and do not spill innocent blood in this place.” 22:3
This is a statement from God, which is intended to say that if these practices that have been lost were to be restored, Judah could be saved from the tragedy that was about to befall it. Thus, one can see by picturing the opposite of the statement’s call something that would resemble the true condition of the society in jeopardy.
What does it mean to save “the robbed from the hand of the oppressor?”
Do you believe that if a society got this right it could be redeemed from a whole host of other wrongdoings? Why?