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BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE POOR
THE POOR ARE NOT JUST PAUPERS BUT PEOPLE
The Word from Isaiah to Proverbs,
Hosea to Amos,
Jeremiah to Ezekiel,
Acts to Galatians
IN PROVERBS, ACTS AND GALATIANS
Poverty is not just a financial affair. Its domain moves from those afflicted by the rich/famous/powerful, in the selfish interests of self-fulfilment, attainment of desire, be it ideological or physical, to those deprived of means of life, from those who are denuded by their own defects of the things of vitality and vigour, wisdom and discretion, to those who are dynamised by the holy ways of God, and are poor in spirit.
In this treatment, we will cover mainly the cases where the deficiency or deprivation is a negative thing, and notice in the interim that the Bible often places oppression with poverty, since after all, not seldom the two go together, in part or whole, as cause and effect. Although obviously this is not always so, when it IS so, the Lord has much to say in a splendour of perspective and an impassioned insistence which makes it clear that there is not only goodness in loving your neighbour as yourself, but significant delinquency in ignoring the plight of the poor. The poverty to be remedied or addressed is not only in the material, but the spiritual, the moral and the life itself, eroded as by a fast-moving stream, of which the 'poor' may be witless. Not surprisingly, it is entirely different when not only is the cause known of concern, but prized with artful desire and sustained by despotic lust of mind, body or spirit!
Nevertheless, what one can do must be carefully sought from the Lord, the blessing of whom makes rich, and riches relative to their kind, whether of wisdom or that denudation of folly which may be highly esteemed as ultimate riches by man. The Lord does not so present, but the riches which He sets above all are those of wisdom, righteousness and merciful lovingkindness, in Him (cf. Proverbs 24:11-12, 13:8 with 8:10-12, 3:13ff.), that wisdom who is Christ (cf. I Corinthians 1:30-31).
The 'riches' eminently to be desired, and which deliver from death are defined as "durable riches" (8:11, 8:18), those of righteousness, and these are to be found in the Lord through His mercy and truth.
Indeed, in Proverbs 3:3-6 you see the paramount emphasis, into which the poverty and riches come in perspective.
"Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart,
And so find favor and high esteem
In the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths."
Proverbs 30:8-9, keeps counsel for kings, but the principles are pure.
"Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy."
It can of course be met in many ways, and the physical answer is not always the best treatment of the physical condition. Often a change of heart and ways, access to wisdom if far the more important, as you see repeatedly in nations which no sooner arrive in famine, than they reach for war, or no sooner are deficient in infrastructure, than they demolish much of what they have. The same may often apply to individuals, who seeking money for necessities, then apply their own funds to substance abuse.
While governments may consider such cases on need, the church of Jesus Christ has a natural, and indeed supernatural mission to treat the main cause as a primary aim, for the person concerned is far more important than the condition, and although it is not enough to say, 'Be fed!' in lordly style, as James points out, nor is it anywhere like enough to give the bread of stomach and to forsake the priority of the bread of life. That is the crucial 'famine'. Amos 8:11-12 foretells it, and how fully is this self-inflicted 'famine' found today in the places of apparent plenty!
"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord God,
"That I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine of bread,
Nor a thirst for water,
But of hearing the words of the Lord.
"They shall wander from sea to sea,
And from north to east;
They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
But shall not find it."
Direction is needed, opportunity. What is it like ? It is like making the main program to put lotion on skin, without removing the cancerous conditions which make this necessary. Indeed, nowadays, this and that guru, or insane-seeming and insalubrious fanaticism, founded on nothing or contrary to whatever evidence is provided, moves people to commit wealth, or suicide, or vitality to what vitiates, all the time wondering and wandering as they flit like unhappy swallows, misled and misplaced, from this to that as if there were no Rock.
This having been said, let us consider the extreme vigour which the Lord shows in this topic of the poor and oppressed, and the misled.
First, let us notice from Galatians 2:9-10, how the topic comes into play as Paul meets with the apostles in Jerusalem, and they perceive their special, functional tasks.
"But on the contrary,
when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),
and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me,
they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship,
that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
They desired only that we should remember the poor,
the very thing which I also was eager to do."
This same care and concern had been evident from the first when there were appointed in the new-born New Testament Church, deacons for the work of meeting the daily distribution (Acts 6), including that to needy widows. Indeed, at the outset there was a sharing on a large scale which, however, appears to have subsided into a more regulated provision for the needy, without losing the individual capacity to show mercy and use discretion.
OLD TESTAMENT CHALLENGES
ISAIAH AND JEREMIAH
I ISAIAH 3:13-15
"The Lord stands up to plead,
And stands to judge the people.
The Lord will enter into judgment
With the elders of His people
And His princes:
'For you have eaten up the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the faces of the poor?'
Says the Lord God of hosts" (red bold added).
WHAT DO YOU MEAN! That was once quite a frequent query in our idiom. What do you mean by doing this or that! It means, How dare you! and more intimately: If this is what you do, and it appears absolutely outrageous, could you tell us in direct words just what you mean, you intend, what is your purpose!
In some ways it is a rhetorical question, but it has a cutting edge of absolute and direct interrogation.
The words following this challenge, 'crushing My people' and 'grinding the faces of the poor' are sufficiently expressive. You can imagine (before this passed into our English idiom), the thought of taking the face of someone, and slowly, continuingly, grinding away at it until it should lose its features! This appalled horror of the Lord did not have no outcome, but giving Israel in general and Judah in particular, many opportunities to change their PERSPECTIVE so that they had the glory of God, the good of His kingdom and the rule of justice and mercy in their hearts, trusting in Him and not in wealth or military power, He at last acted. This was one of the bases of that judgment which rent Israel like a piece of paper.
Ultimately it came because they had forsaken Him, whose spirit, law, love and mercy were not only inscribed in law, but wrought in the hearts of those who both knew and followed Him. Thus we read in Isaiah 1:113-18:
"Bring no more futile sacrifices;
Incense is an abomination to Me.
The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.
"Your New Moons and your appointed feasts
My soul hates;
They are a trouble to Me,
I am weary of bearing them.
"When you spread out your hands,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Even though you make many prayers,
I will not hear.
Your hands are full of blood.
"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
"Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the Lord,
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool."
Though the sacrifices were ordained, so was sincerity (cf. Deuteronomy 29:18-20). The charge to love the Lord with all the heart (Deuteronomy 4:4-7) were perpetually applicable. Thus the delusive option of going through mere forms - as faithless ritual becomes when uninhabited by the faith which understands, and so finds God and thus relies on Him in all His lovingkindness - is here revealed. The restoration to Himself of those who empty hearts had never found the point of the procedures and the substance of the symbols, the Lord as the God of their lives, is then address in the last verse cited above. There is no limit to the mercy of God, and though sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.
Forgive as you are forgiven, Christ made clear, at the end of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:14-15). God as author of life is also its tenor and its truth. You walk with Him, then follow His ways.
In our theme at present, we meet the point:
"Cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rebuke the oppressor;
defend the fatherless, plead for the widow."
In Australia there tends to be a rather healthy contempt for hypocrisy, and although it comes in vogue quite often as ritual condemnation of Christians or goodness, as those who hate both ideal and exemplars of it, seek to undermine it and excuse the high villainy of their own lives, yet it looks for reality. If it tends to see it in material terms without understanding the points made above, that the invisible and meaningful, the perspective and atmosphere, the aims and knowledge and wisdom, are more important first, and are crucial to any idea of lovingkindness: yet it does look for some kind of rugged sincerity.
If then it often goes too far, there is a kernel of truth in some of this attitude.
The word of God through Isaiah cited above is as clear as any could wish; and the concern of the Creator about oppression and its correlates in poverty and need is more than clear. It obtrudes. It cries. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS! He is affronted by heartlessness and CONFRONTS!
II ISAIAH 10:1-4
" 'Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees,
Who write misfortune,
Which they have prescribed
To rob the needy of justice,
And to take what is right from the poor of My people,
That widows may be their prey,
And that they may rob the fatherless.
'What will you do in the day of punishment,
And in the desolation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your glory?
Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners,
they shall fall among the slain.'
"For all this His anger is not turned away,
But His hand is stretched out still."
To 'write misfortune' - what a term is this, and it is something they have 'prescribed' with a purpose in view, and this ? It is to 'rob the needy of justice'. What a program, and how many, not on computers, but in seedy substitutes for law and righteousness, perform to this tune! What does not have protection, they exploit, and what is without power, they overpower as they are able; and indeed, they dare even to use laws to facilitate their wickedness.
Again, as in Ch. 3, God confronts.
you do in the day of punishment ...
to whom will you flee for help!"
confrontation is not however a matter of inciting but quieting. If they will
not, then God will act in His own way and time, and when that time comes, then
will ashes cover the face of pride (cf, Philemon.
It is however not recommended that mere revolt and rebellion supervene, but godliness do a work of patience, while all in power are exhorted to act. Thus we have three strands at once evident. Firstly, Colossians 3:22-25 gives a generic advice:
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that of the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ.
"But he who does wrong will receive for the wrong which he has done: and there is no respect of persons."
It is not a revolution with arms but with spirit which is sought, on all sides and in great depth, and this is possible when the depths of the heart are remade and the spirit is renewed (cf. John 3, Titus 3:3-5). Omitting the basis is the reason why so much 'social reform' omits durable results.
Secondly, people should be all means avail themselves of deliverance when it comes peaceably.
"Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called."
Thirdly, whatever the form, believers should regard each other as brothers, and act accordingly; and hence when Philemon left his master, and found Paul who brought him to Christ, Paul asked the former master, known to him and brought also to the Lord by him, so to regard, to forgive, to receive the slave as if it were Paul himself whom he so received.
Similarly, it is clear, one should act to Christian brothers in kindness and concern, and obviously this will have long term ramifications, to be brought to fruition with a genuine love of one's neighbour. In all cases, moreover, although there is not the same liberty wherever there is less in common and less binding on the heart in common, there is the need in the love of Christ to seek the good of all, not as a social tyrant, to crush or to revolt, but as one seeking change with rigour, where due law is concerned for justice and equity, and with example and presentation, where the case is not in that field, but more personal. Is this not in the second commandment, "You will love your neighbour as yourself." From Leviticus 19:18 to Matthew 22:34-40, this is the same. On this, said Christ, with with the FIRST commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, hang all the law and the prophets.
To do this, of course, you need to KNOW the Lord you so love, and to know Him, you need to FIND Him (Luke 19), and to do that, you need to follow the Gospel which is His ground of reconciliation that He MIGHT be known (II Corinthians 5:17ff.). Yet at the level of our concern, these are criteria of divine concern and wisdom. It is not ruthless, as if to break by cutting too sharply; nor is it toothless, but strong in confrontation. It does not expect evil men to do well, but appeals to God-lovers both to show it and to be prudent in seeking good, so that it works well and not havoc.
III JEREMIAH 5:34-31
" 'They do not say in their heart,
'Let us now fear the Lord our God,
Who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season.
He reserves for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.'
'Your iniquities have turned these things away,
And your sins have withheld good from you.
For among My people are found wicked men;
They lie in wait as one who sets snares;
They set a trap;
They catch men.
As a cage is full of birds,
So their houses are full of deceit.
Therefore they have become great and grown rich.
'They have grown fat, they are sleek;
Yes, they surpass the deeds of the wicked;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the fatherless;
Yet they prosper,
And the right of the needy they do not defend.
'Shall I not punish them for these things?' says the Lord.
‘Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?
'An astonishing and horrible thing
Has been committed in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule by their own power;
And My people love to have it so.
But what will you do in the end?' "
The sick, slick, psycho-despotic, power-hungry, riches-loving manipulation by institutional means of those vulnerable to abuse, exploitation or cruelty is not to be desired. God did not make man for such studious and invidious misuses of relative power. It is merely part of the power-complex, the naturalistic pseudo-morality which makes power the criterion of ethics. It is an insult to God and an abuse of man.
Fat with self-interested folly, inequitable exploitation, they 'surpass the deeds of the wicked', while yet daring to be called in some sense 'religious'! What a devastating testimony to the name of the Lord is that.
"Shall I not punish for these things!"
Mixed with this fraud, the prophets come for their task of revelation, exhortation and sensitisation of the people, and they speak rather their own thoughts in the divine name, priests merely amplifying the false power, and the mass of the people content with such a travesty of truth, and a misuse of the name of God. There is however an end, a finish to such a fiasco, and a judgment for such witlessness.
Traps instead of truth, self-advantage instead of justice, priestcraft instead of faithful proclamation, they come to ruin as surely as a grape harvest exposed to mildew. God knows how to expose those who impound ethics, revel in unrighteousness and abuse truth. Deceiving their own hearts they deceive God not at all.
"Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this!"
The inviolable morality of the majestic God does not in the end suffer the imposition of self-serving ethics but judges all things, and at times in vast devastations, the interest on the capital invested in evil comes at astonishing rates; but yet, they are just. Sin has deserts, and deserting God is the chief contributor to its violation rates.
While the manipulations of philosophies of power, ethics of advantage and words of self-assertion by those with temporary or temporal advantage may seem inviolable, their violation is sure. Morals no more grow out of convenience than do minerals. They are grounded in their basis, and that is the mind and heart of the Creator, whose mockery in the misuse of mankind by some of the race, by spiritual or terrestrial powers, neither aborts the divine mission to test man and to provide in spirit for his needs, nor removes the obvious grounds of judgment which the latitude of platitude and the presence of power repeatedly incites. The fact that God is not hot-tempered, but is author of all patience and grace ought not to be, and will not wisely be confused with ineptitude or inaction.
Whole empires lie in silent ruins, such as those of Babylon and Assyria, Rome and Persia, and whole dispositions of power seem but a breeze that blows, when viewed in historical perspective. Their pomp, self-importance and power seem mere lies and fabrics of evasion of truth, while their end is sure. It is, after all, righteousness which exalts a nation, covering the just aspirations, the due regards of compassion and the needs of development, without yielding to the passion for exploitation of man or material, easy gain gutless extravaganzas of easy ways which merely exploit, and have neither love of justice nor of man.
Man is not made to self-destruct, whether by ready or subtle means, and what is without vision is perishable, like cream-sponges in Summer heat. His constructions, moreover, are not mere exuberances of creativity, but to be fashioned in wisdom and erecting with understanding. Abuse of man, nature, life, it is mere childishness of temper, achieving nothing but judgment, which abounds, though for all that, is very slow in terms of the inciting follies of our race.
When whole religions are constructed in contempt of the Creator, whether deceitful Marxism or arid capitalistic formalism, the results are like the causes, evil. As to the former, its immoral posture is at odds with its moral requirements, and its neglect of God removes all ground for morals, leaving only power lust on the part of the people-manoeuvrers, who neglecting their own Maker, make messes of masses, by trying to remove their souls, and dissolving in them the divine image by cruelties unspeakable (though Solzhenitsyn has had a few words to say), abortions intolerable and the poetry of nothingness, strangely able to produce the validity of logic and the constructions of eminence, as if nothing needed anything, and everything did not bother to be caused, but stuck around and grew into something else for sheer lack of anything to do, in a droll sort of way inventing law and order of the utmost precision, without even having so much as a mind of its own, or anything to mind it.
The results are such cruelties as irrationality normally secures, since violation of fact in fancy, and of logic in irrationality can only abuse the human race, disturb its balances and induce hypocrisies unspeakable, as the necessities of creation, information and mind, of spirit and truth for anything to be understood or propounded, are assumed. It is rather like assuming E=MC2 by juggling letters and finding them fall out that way.
The implications need to be understood and the logic behind it realised; for what begins with wisdom, needs ground; and what exhibits it, cause. Atoms from nowhere and laws without cause, pulsing away in a continuum are mere magics that laugh at logic, just as minds that understand rationality in an irrational universe, and use wisdom soundly in a mindless morass are another flat contradiction. Something for nothing is the very essence of Marxism.
There are no marks for Marx and the priests of his vacuous religion are as corrupt as any others made by imagination or distorted by desire: inflamed with irrationality and ablaze with abuse. Nor yet on the other hand, are there any marks for the best of all possible worlds concept, where power is the same as right, and the use of means to hand without morals is mere cleverness, where by sleight of self-driven hand, God is ignored though His name may be used.
One abuses fact; the other truth. One is illogical, the other unethical, and both violate man multiply.
When a theocratic society like Israel of old, acts in violation of truth and justice, equity and due compassion, then its hypocrisy has an inveterate basis, and its results have been fearful.
"Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this!" the Lord declares. Communism merely makes an art-form of injustice, while wallowing in words, of power-abuse while condemning exploitation, of irrationality while appealing to reason, inventing all that is without ground, and grounding its government on the same airy basis while pounding the people with impious impertinence, abusing power and seeking self-perpetuation by decree. Its laws do not work, its people are exploited by lawlessness, misused by manipulation, destroyed by hypocrisy and subdued by force. This is a modern parallel to ancient Israel, filled with words, fouled in deeds.
God demands justice, not verbal quips, irrational extravaganzas exploiting those who they allege they wish to help. Whether ancient Rome or the former USSR (now mercifully no more), whether godless forms of capitalism without righteousness or godless communism without truth, corrupted religion without God except in name ,or irreligion without God even in name, whether this or that abuse of freedom, justice and truth in the milieu of reality: the result is in this the same: fouled, they fall. If the truth and love of the Lord is lost, what seems now to stand, merely falls for the same reason as did Israel. It is without foundation, and fiction not fact is its airy ground. Air is inadequate support for reality.
The poor, the disestablished, the abused, the manipulated whether by this or by that, by posers or empty postulations, whether in the realms and the regimes of irrationality, surrealism or acrid self-will are mere emblems of destruction, ready to become proverbs of devastation, airy castles of dreams, pricked by truth and ruined by unrighteousness. The word of the Lord to Israel involves principles of deity, truth, justice, and wisdom: these violated, for one or all, the result is but one, nor is it one to be desired or admired, in nature or cause! It is one in fall, whether in ancient or modern dress.
Secular or religious priests of hypocrisy, founded on irrationality or intruding it without regard for truth, oblivious of reality, managed by intemperance, these have one end. Their false prophecies (cf. SMR pp. 925ff.) and words alike are mere missives for their own destruction, devastated by truth, when the Lord acts, and a shame even to remember. The poor who are deprived of liberty, engineered in distaste, directed dictatorially, abused for profit whether political or economic, deprived of sound worship or induced into the captivity of wild philosophy, whether deprived of food or hope, the just desires of body or soul, these are a butt for evil and as misused, a ground of divine condemnation.
IV AMOS 8:4-7. 2:7-9
The former is evocative:
"Hear this, you who swallow up the needy,
And make the poor of the land fail,
'When will the New Moon be past,
That we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath,
That we may trade wheat?
Making the ephah small and the shekel large,
Falsifying the scales by deceit,
That we may buy the poor for silver,
And the needy for a pair of sandals -
Even sell the bad wheat?'
"The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
'Surely I will never forget any of their works.' "
The latter, in Amos 2, is devastating.
"They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor,
And pervert the way of the humble.
A man and his father go in to the same girl,
To defile My holy name.
"They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge,
And drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.
"Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them,
Whose height was like the height of the cedars,
And he was as strong as the oaks;
Yet I destroyed his fruit above
And his roots beneath."
Swallow up the needy, the day of rest and making
of the poor such a mockery that they can be 'sold' for a mere trifle, their
lives a means to an end: do this by all means, but the Lord declares:
"Surely I will never forget any of their works."
Despising morality, integrity, seemliness and reality alike, they "pervert the way of the humble", using power to deprive, despoil or degrade, make religion a means to selfish ends, mix religions like drinks that intoxicate the more, and imagine that when in all this, as they "pant after the dust on the head of the poor," inveterate, immovable in evil schemes, heartless in thought, mindless in oblivion to right, they seek profit without probity, gain with passion, power without meaning or right. They become role models for comparison with the Amorite whom God destroyed before them. It is only by a divine mercy which brings good out of evil, and compassion into unholiness, the redeemer in heart as in fact, that they are not destroyed altogether for these things; for God keeps His promises and knows His own, though they be few, in the midst of intemperance (Amos 9:9-11).
V EZEKIEL 22:12-16
" 'In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take usury and increase; you have made profit from your neighbors by extortion, and have forgotten Me,' says the Lord God.
'Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst.
'Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong,
in the days when I shall deal with you? I, the Lord, have spoken, and will do it.
I will scatter you among the nations, disperse you throughout the countries,
and remove your filthiness completely from you.
You shall defile yourself in the sight of the nations;
then you shall know that I am the Lord.' "
The love of one's neighbour which proceeds from the love of the Maker of the same, despite the abortions, contortions and proportions of evil to be found through the fall and man's continued connivance with its original cause: this is indispensable to godliness, since God is love.
The daring imagery - but God does not dare, merely the prophet to listen! - "I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed ... in your midst" is in line with the denuncations which as we have now seen, abound for the mistreatment of the poor, seen in various settings and dimensions. The Creator is the opposite of Darwin, the Equator to the poles of Marx, being concerned to remedy with power, not masquerade in impotence and irrationality, and His energy when directed at moral squalor is not merely vocal.
"Can your heart endure ... when I shall deal with you ? ... I will scatter you among the nations, disperse you throughout the countries... " ... but NOT destroy! There is always the remnant (Isaiah 11:10). God is most wise and has deep counsel.
"Can you heart endure...!" -
thus comes this next divine exclamation and denunciation with
rigour, vigour and point. Unlike the human philosophers, God does what He says;
and He HAS done just this!
It is worthy of note that all the texts printed in red bold above, in a cumulative manner, show the awesome determination of the deity to deal with depravity and insensitivity, inequity and abuse in the nation. This nation was to "show forth" His praise (Isaiah 41). He has shown His judgments on distortion and abortion of truth, inter-relationships and grace. They resound like passing aircraft, and beat upon the air like a 21 gun salute, heard at close range!
In this is the consistency of the divine insistence on truth, love and justice, for while He GIVES to those who ask, to those who abuse, distort, deceive, display the wrong flag and abuse the weak and the poor, especially in His own name, He has the full force of penalty, after patience has had its vast occasions, and His hatred of all such things. With the other nations, as seen in the cases of Babylon, Nineveh and Egypt (Ezekiel 26 - the penalty likewise fulfilled to the uttermost part), He also springs as in sky-writing the sentences, announced, executed and declared.
This is the consonance, harmony, integrity of divine writ, that here as always, the principles and the practice, the word and the work act together like a team, intimate in mutual awareness, awe-ful in action, irresistible in result, but neither hasty nor undue. Rather is it worked out when other option is lost and folly smiles invincible in her idiocies.
As to His reluctance, until the time, comes, see Jeremiah 51:9 (even on Babylon, with poignancy), 48:29-31 (on Moab, with lament), Hosea 7:1-2 (on Israel, with initiative lost) There as markedly in Luke 19:42ff., Matthew 23:37 you see that not only does the Lord specially emphasise the necessities of true love which regards both the weak and the poor, the abused and the manipulated, but even in the discipline of the persecutors, the activists in harassment and the agents of evil, He is far from keen to act; but will act with a resolution fearful to behold when the time at last comes (cf. Matthew 23:33-35).
Such are the biblically revealed and historically confirmed ways of the Lord, loving to give man abundant life and liberty, seeking justice and mercy, truth and equity, desiring to deliver both the sinning and the sinned against, patient in probing, watchful in review, bringing all things to a point at last (Ephesians 1:10, Mark 9), when judgment according to truth is instituted in the finale of all these tests and tableaux, direct and explicit (cf. Matthew 25:1-10). As history moves, it does so in the realm of the forecasts of the Lord, thus making verification the prelude to vindication.
Signalling specific events as markers in the Bible, for all to see, while He fulfils in detail all that He has said, the Lord continually confirms the weight of His wisdom, and the brilliance of having man at liberty (except for sin, and the limits of creatureliness - there is only one God!), as triumph and tragedy, nobility and rascality, wisdom and folly, sacrifice and selfishness, and all the orbit of spiritual events and character declare themselves.
Such then is the sovereignty, the sympathy, the justice and the judgment of God, His own word and deed in harmony, the cover-note of predestination the security for any and for all (The Glow of Presdestination... Ch. 8), while the waves of events pulse, His principles are pronounced and the stars of oversight shine.
Brighter than any star, He has Himself taken the role of one poor (Isaiah 53:1-2), and increased the scope of that poverty by poverty of spirit (Luke 22:41-46, Hebrews 2, 5:7), while pouring out His soul to death as by His knowledge He justified many. HOW could He so justify ? Surely nothing can justify the sinner in his sin ? Nothing cannot do so, but something God did can do so, and in the acme of poverty and the uttermost empathy, the Lord has paid the price which meets the face of justice with gravity and grace, and shows the heart of mercy with vitality and an involvement to the uttermost.
Man was warned as in Ezekiel above,
and asked "Can you heart endure ... when I deal with you
It was however, for God incarnate (I Timothy 48:16, Hosea 13:14, Zechariah 12:10, John 1:1-4, 8:58) Himself whom He took to task, in bearing vicariously the sins of many, even as many as received Him in this role of regality (John 1:14), this focus of nobility, this arrest of doom and this donation of life which Calvary closed on, and the resurrection opened up. Small wonder that it is here that Paul insists, we are to glory (Galatians 6:14).
What then ? Man without God is like a shoe without one to wear it, an anomaly, an idiocy like any old boot cast away; but this ? it is because he ignores the Wearer, not because He is not found. It is, alas, man who in droves and battalions, is not found. As to God, He is there to be found by those who seek Him, in truth, and follow His attestations of the Bible and the Lord on earth, with fidelity and faith (Psalm 145:18), so resolving every problem of philosophy, removing every facet of folly, achieving every resource of inner peace, every illumination that enlightens the heart, rests the spirit and fires the mind, while providing every assurance of irresistible truth*1.
Now let us pass to the relentless determination of the Lord when abuse, hypocrisy, equivocation and unrepentance mixed in Israel, from the prophet Jeremiah. It is, as we have just seen, something for which He is willing to pay, in providing the kingdom of heaven, the last of the kingdoms and the one to stay (Daniel 7:14,26-27); and those who trifle with truth in avoiding its lustre, must face the realities they so abuse, even though the time may be long, and some may wonder that the Lord does not act sooner. He is not however lax or slack; it is just that the results are ... for a long time, even eternity.
AN EXCHANGE OF LIBERTIES
and Divine Words of Advice
"This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them:
that every man should set free his male and female slave - a Hebrew man or woman - that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage.
"Now when all the princes and all the people, who had entered into the covenant,
heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves,
that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go.
But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection as male and female slaves.
"Therefore the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,
"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:
‘I made a covenant with your fathers
in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage, saying,
"At the end of seven years let every man set free his Hebrew brother,
who has been sold to him; and when he has served you six years,
you shall let him go free from you."
'But your fathers did not obey Me nor incline their ear.
'Then you recently turned and did what was right in My sight -
every man proclaiming liberty to his neighbor;
and you made a covenant before Me in the house which is called by My name. 1
'Then you turned around and profaned My name, and every one of you brought back his male and female slaves, whom he had set at liberty, at their pleasure, and brought them back into subjection, to be your male and female slaves.’
"Therefore thus says the Lord:
'You have not obeyed Me in proclaiming liberty,
every one to his brother and every one to his neighbor.
'Behold, I proclaim liberty to you,’ says the Lord -
‘to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine!
And I will deliver you to trouble among all the kingdoms of the earth.
'And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant,
who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it -
the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests,
and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf -
I will give them into the hand of their enemies
and into the hand of those
who seek their life.
Their dead bodies shall be for meat
for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.' "
Slavery readily brings poverty for the spirit in that the dominance of the domineering may crusade against peace and drain life from the labours of man; and its provisions. It was forbidden amongst the people of Israel, except on limited terms, with an end in sight, except where a voluntary desire to continue was formally attested. Yet Israel in its flourishing of evil and languishing of power, despoiled in heart before in property, in the midst of fear released the slaves, even making a religious ceremony of it, and then reneged, the desire for dominance, ease or control being too strong even then. What had deformed their society for so long, now was not given liberty except for a flash, while greed for money, governance or power re-asserted itself in the nation, now after so long a career in evil in so much, destined for devastating judgment.
Liberty ? They would so trifle with the liberty of human beings, in defiance and dereliction alike towards the very word of their Maker, on whom their words were still set ? Very well: the Lord Himself would give them liberty, just as they had granted it for the slaves. He would give in battle liberty for the sword to swallow them, as to pestilence and famine. Thus the liberty they drew back to themselves, the Lord would apply to these in their surrounds, a destructive liberty, one in name only, just as their own liberty to the slaves, in its outcome, had been.
God is not mocked. Play with justice, toy with truth, make a convenience of desire, list to evil and why not capsize ? It comes in the end, and often in the interval before the end, as history unfolds like a sea in the storm, its calm becoming torturous and its plights a peril. Toying with His covenant is like toying with atomic bombs, or playing tiggy with anacondas. Ignoring it, is like immersing yourself in a vat without considering the contents or their heat. Deploring it is like hating cleanliness or despising vitality, painting truth with toxins and imbibing arsenic with solemn face.
Paul was very keen to remember the poor, and the Lord has never forgotten them. Indeed at the end of Proverbs, 31:4-9, we have this pithy saying:
"It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
It is not for kings to drink wine,
Nor for princes intoxicating drink;
Lest they drink and forget the law,
And pervert the justice of all the afflicted.
"Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to those who are bitter of heart.
Let him drink and forget his poverty,
And remember his misery no more.
Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy."
Just as the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so the kindness to the afflicted is one of its chief ends; but with it, not affliction of the truth the deprivation of which is one of man's chief corruptions, but its manifest splendour. Doing 'good' in one's own power is mere imposition; doing it with the power which makes it so, this is truth, and when the left hand does not know what the right hand does, this is discretion. Yet if the very nature of the action demand publicity, let God be honoured, His word the criterion, lest abusing privilege, man fall into self-righteousness of spirit, with whatever deprecatory words, the thing be doused.
See Chapter 3 above, *10.