Grant Montgomery – Grant’s Rants on Justice for the Oppressed
The Bible confronts the reader with the God of the oppressed.
When God redeems Israel from Pharaoh, the issue is justice. Later, justice is the measure the Jews failed to meet in their days of power and empire in Jerusalem. It was justice the prophets proclaimed as the way of return during the exile of the Jews in Babylon, and it was justice that Jesus Christ incarnated.
Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who lived in an occupied country, who ended up being killed by the superpower of his day. The Roman Empire, which put Jesus on an execution stake, insisted that it was bringing peace to the world through its massive military might. (And anybody who didn’t see it this way just might be hung on a cross.) However, today, to a growing number of people in our world, it seems that most Christians support many of the very things Jesus came to set people free from.
But I digress.
Back to the Old Testament for a moment: Many scholars see Exodus, the second book of the Bible, as the book in which the central story of redemption begins – liberation from Egypt. Egypt, the superpower of its day, was ruled by Pharaoh, who responded to the threat of the growing number of foreigners (Israelites) in his country by forcing them into slavery. They had to work everyday without a break, making bricks, building storehouses for Pharaoh. Egypt in this story shows us how easily human nature bends toward using power to preserve privilege at the expense of the weak.
Then a change begins in the book of Exodus with God saying: “I have indeed seen the misery of my people… I have heard them crying out… I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them… I have come down to rescue them.“ (Exodus chapter 3)
This is central to who God is: God always hears the cry of the oppressed. But God doesn’t just hear their cry. God does something about it. The exodus is how God responds to the cry.
The Israelite slaves were rescued from their oppression and the Lord gave laws and commands to the Israelites to guide them into their future. (For example, the Jewish people were told not to charge interest on loans.) And God warns them that if they begin to oppress others, then when the oppressed cry out, God says “I will hear“. The warning is sharp here: Don’t become another Pharaoh, because God acts against people like Pharaoh.
The Jews are also commanded, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan… Do not deny justice to your poor people. “ (Exodus 22:21-22; 23:6) And God continually warns, “If you do [any of this] and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. “ (Exodus 22:23)
It is as if God is saying “The freedom from oppression that you are now experiencing —help others experience that same freedom. The grace that has been extended to you when you were at your lowest —extend it to others. In the same way I heard your cry, go and hear the cry of others and act on their behalf.“
Generations later, the descendants of these wandering slaves have settled into the land they were promised. Their great king David has secured their borders, people are experiencing peace, when David’s son Solomon comes to power. And Solomon was “made king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)
So what did Solomon do with his wealth and power and influence? The Bible tells the story: “Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s Temple, his own palace, the terraces, the wall of Jerusalem. “ (1 Kings 9:15)
Another word for forced labor is, of course, slavery! Solomon had slaves! Slaves who labored to build the Lord’s temple plus his own palace and other buildings. So in just a few generations, the oppressed had become the oppressors.
Solomon’s slaves also built “Hazor, Megiddo and Gezor” which were military bases! (1 Kings 9:15) So Solomon used his massive resources and wealth to build military bases to protect his …massive resources and wealth. Not only that, but we are told that Solomon accumulated “1400 chariots and 12,000 horses,“ the tanks and fighter planes of the day. The Bible even goes on to say that Solomon imported them from Egypt!
In addition to importing horses and chariots, Solomon is also exporting them. He has become an arms dealer. He’s now making money from violence. He’s discovered that war is profitable. …Is that maintaining justice and righteousness? Is that hearing the cry of the oppressed? Is that looking out for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner?
No. Jerusalem becomes the new Egypt. And the new “Pharaoh” on the scene was King Solomon, the son of David.
At the height of their power, the Israelites misconstrued God’s blessings as favoritism and entitlement. They became indifferent to God and their calling to bring liberation to others.
This puts God in an awkward place. What happens when Your people become the embodiment of everything You are against?
It’s at this time that we meet the prophets, powerful voices who warned of the inevitable consequences. The prophet Amos said, “Hear this word, people of Israel, the word the Lord has spoken against you, ‘They do not know how to do right, who store up in their fortresses what they have plundered and looted.’” (Amos 3:1, 9-10) The prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel that when they pray, “God says, ‘I will hide my eyes from you’ because ‘your hands are full of blood’”. God sees their military bases and weapons for what they are – unacceptable outcroppings of empire.
Through Amos, God delivers the crushing blow: “Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.” (Amos 6:7) God waits, but there comes a point when nothing more can be done. Eventually “the king of the Babylonians …killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man or young woman, the elderly or the aged … He carried to Babylon all of the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s Temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God‘s Temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors.” (2 Chronicles 36:17-20)
The Israelites, the descendants of Solomon, become slaves once again, to a foreign power, Babylon.
In exile, however, they turn their pain into prayer: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Jerusalem.” (Psalm 137:1) And what happens when people cry out? God hears their cry and does something about it. Because God always hears the cry of the oppressed. Read more
[Inspired by “Jesus wants to save Christians” by Rob Bell and Don Golden]
Grant Montgomery – Grant’s Rants on Justice for the Oppressed