Feb. 7, 2018 — Do Justice, Love Kindness and Walk in Humility (Part 1)

(Note: Drew is recovering from the seasonal flu so today's blog has not been recorded as a podcast.)

Don't the Old Testament prophets strike you as being a little grouchy? Think about the basic human emotions—joy, sadness, comfort, anger, serenity—and tell me, which emotion do you think most often characterizes the prophets within the Bible? Let me give you a few examples. Amos said, "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan … who oppress the poor and crush the needy" (Amos 4:1). Micah 3:1-3 says, "Should you not know justice, you who hate good and love evil—who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones, who eat my people's flesh, strip off their skin, break their bones in pieces, chop them up like meat for the pan?"

Doesn't that sound a little over-the-top to you? Not only did they use angry words, but prophets also resorted to shock tactics that are just bizarre. Hosea married a woman caught up in a life of prostitution to show how unfaithful the Israelites had become. Ezekiel ate food cooked over dung to show how defiled God's people had become. Jeremiah dug up filthy, buried, unwashed rags to use as an object lesson to show people how repellent their behavior was to God.
The Old Testament books of the Prophets are filled with events like this, and we don't much like it. We prefer happy books. So why should we read the Prophets? Why do we need to hear the message of the Prophets? For one thing, we do it because they're in the Bible. It would not be a good thing to have Obadiah walk up to you in a heavenly Whole Foods and say, "How'd you like my book?" and then for you to say, "Well, I didn't actually read it. I could never find it and, honestly, it was just much too whiny." More than that, there is a reason why God chose 17 books of the Bible to be the books of the Prophets.
There is a reason for the anger of the prophets. There is a reason why we, as well connected as we are to global injustice, maybe more than almost any people in any other era, need to submit ourselves to the discipline of regularly sitting under their words.
The prophets were given a heavy burden of looking at the world and seeing what God sees and knowing what God knows and feeling what God feels—and it crushed them. They saw rich people trying to get richer, looking the other way while the poor were oppressed, forgotten and perished; assuming God was pleased with their lives and the world was getting along pretty well. Abraham Heschel, one of the great students of the Prophets of the 20th century, wrote, "The shallowness of our moral comprehension, the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures, is a simple fact of fallen humanity which no explanation can justify or hide."
The events that horrified and appalled and broke and crushed the prophets are everyday occurrences in our world. Because of the Internet, there is no news cycle anymore, just 24 hours of constant heartbreaking news. A lot of it is distraction from the very real issues of poverty and injustice. We are overwhelmed. We don't want to know. We don't want to see. There is just too much of it.
It was too much for the prophets too. But it was their burden. Heschel also said: "The Prophet is a man who feels fiercely. God has thrust a burden upon his soul, and he is bowed and stunned at man's fierce greed. Prophecy is the voice God has lent to the silent agony. God is raging in the Prophet's words." God is raging in the prophets' words.
So what do we do? Many of us, paralyzed by the immensity of injustice in this world, end up sitting around doing nothing but feeling intense guilt. The prophet Micah sums up the response God is looking for:
"He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8).
What has that got to do with us? The “you” in the original language is plural. This response is something that we can only do together, in community, as the extended spiritual family of God…in the power of His Spirit. How we do that? I want to come back to that next week in Part 2.


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