This week we continue looking at the work of the Old Testament prophets. Last week we looked at how the Kingdom of Israel divided, and the northern tribes of Isreal/Samaria quickly fell into the practice of idol worship. Having been cut off from the temple in Jerusalem, the people forgot the true God of Israel who rescued their ancestors from Egypt. Instead they turned to local fertility deities such as Ba’al (a god of rain and thunder), Ashterah (a goddess of fertility/sensuality), and Molech (a god of war and fertility).
Idol worship offended God. The rituals of worshipping the pagan gods often involved prostitution and sometimes even child sacrifice. And without being taught the law of God, the northern tribes descended into all kinds of cruelty, violence, and corruption. When the Assyrians conquered the northern tribes of Israel in 722BC, they were utterly obliterated.
The southern tribes of Judah survived the Assyrian onslaught. Because Solomon’s temple still stood in Jerusalem, the people continued to worship God, but they still allowed idol worship in their land and failed to follow God’s law as it related to loving their neighbor. The prophets challenged them to obey the law, but the people that because they would observe rituals of worship, God would not remove his protection from them. The prophets challenged this thinking:
“I hate, I despise your festivals and take no delight in your assemblies, even though you offer me sacrifices, I will not look upon them. Take away the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” –Amos 5:21-24
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
The people had become comfortable and confident that their worship made them God’s favored people, but what they did not realize is that the ways they neglected the poor and helpless was a serious sin. While the nation grew wealthy, the poor were ignored.
“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches… who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils.” –Amos 6:4-7
The powerful exploited the poor with “false scales” (Hosea 12:7, Micah 6:11) that would cheat people out of their due payment for how much grain they sold. Property was taken from widows by secretly changing the boundaries of their land (Hosea 5:10). In short: people took advantage of other people for their personal gain. This was against God’s law, and broke God’s heart.
Idolatry almost always leads to injustice. Without a love for God and neighbor, we begin to love ourselves more, and we will forget that God has called us to be a blessing to the world. We take more for ourselves, and share less with the people around us. The land of Judah became a place where the rich enjoyed all kinds of luxuries while the poor struggled to survive. Its not all that different from the world we live in today.
If the whole planet were a village of just 100 people, the richest two people would own 50% of all the money, and the poorest 50 people would have only 1%. There are almost 2 Billion people in the world who live on less than $2/day. Most of them live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even in a place as wealthy as the United States, 1 in 10 families in Minnesota are at risk for going hungry.
The prophets charge to the people of Judah is something we still need to hear. Jesus told his disciples and he tells us, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat… whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” (Matthew 25:35).
Journaling Assignment this Week
Read Lamentations 1:1-5 and 3:1-33. The book of Lamentations is a series of poems/songs written by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is sometimes called, “the weeping prophet”
- Why is Jeremiah so bummed?
- What about the world breaks your heart? What makes you sad?
- What makes you feel better when you are sad?
- Have you ever been mad at God? Why? Have you ever prayed an “angry” prayer to God?