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Seven Passages on Social Justice Part 3 by Kevin DeYoung

March 19, 2010

Seven Passages on Social Justice (3)

Posted By Kevin DeYoung On March 11, 2010 @ 6:03 am In Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Today I return to my series on social justice. As we look at the third of the seven passages we’ll see once again the Bible says more and less about social justice than we think. More, because God definitely and clearly commands his people to do justice. But less, because what the Bible means by doing justice is not always equivalent to contemporary notions of social justice.

Jeremiah 22

The basic command for this unit is given in verse 3: “Do justice and righteousness.” So there it is: God’s people (technically the kings in this verse) are commanded to do justice. We cannot obey God and ignore the divine call to justice.

In fact, the Lord tells the kings of Judah that judging the cause of the poor and needy (rightly) is to know him (15-16). It didn’t matter their titles, their wealth, or their religious observance, if the kings oppressed the poor instead of treating them fairly and mercifully, they proved their own ignorance of God. And if they continued in such flagrant disobedience, the kings and their kingdom would be wiped away (24-30).

So doing justice is hugely important. But what does it mean? Thankfully Jeremiah 22 gives us some answers.

Luxury by Tyranny

Jeremiah 21-22 were not addressed to anyone and everyone (though the chapters apply in various ways to all). These were words directly for the kings of Judah (21:3; 22:1, 11, 18). Ancient kings had tremendous power to do good or evil. To put it anachronistically, they wielded, all by themselves, executive, legislative, and judicial authority. They tried cases, made decrees, and enforced laws, just or unjust.

Tragically, in the waning years of Judah’s sovereignty, the kings acted unjustly on all three accounts. Their one overarching vice, what Phil Ryken calls “luxury by tyranny,” took many forms.

• The kings did not defend the oppressed against their oppressors (3a).

• They wronged the weak, even to the point of murder, shedding innocent blood for dishonest gain (3b, 17).

• They built their lavish houses by unrighteousness. This was not an instance of the rich getting richer as the poor also get richer. These kings, in an effort to live like the opulent kings of the other nations, conscripted forced labor and cheated the workers of their wages (13-16). They lived in luxury on the backs of the poor. The rich got richer because they made the poor poorer.

Doing Justice

Doing justice, against this backdrop of crimes, was not terribly complicated. It meant the kings would do the following: judge the poor fairly instead of exploiting them, stop cheating the poor and lining their own pockets through oppression, and quit snuffing out the weak in order to get their land or the stuff. No king, or any Israelite for that matter, guilty of these sins could possibly know, in a covenantal sense, the God of Israel. To know God was to obey him.

So here’s my unsexy, but hopefully exegetically faithful conclusion to this passage and others like it: Christians who do not cheat, swindle, rob, murder, accept bribes, defraud, and hold back agreed upon wages are probably doing justice. Christians guilty of these things are probably not Christians at all.

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Seven Passages on Social Justice Part 2 – Kevin DeYoung

March 19, 2010

Seven Passages on Social Justice (2)

Posted By Kevin DeYoung On March 3, 2010 @ 6:06 am In Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Isaiah 58 is the more famous cousin of Isaiah 1 [1], but they both deal with the same theme: God is not impressed with fastidious religious observance when the daily lives of his people are filled with negligence and oppression. God says, in effect, “Your fasting and sackcloth are meaningless to me so long as you continue in rank disobedience to more important commands.”

How were the Israelites sinful? They oppressed their workers, which usually meant defrauding them of agreed upon wages (v. 3; James 5:4). They quarreled and “hit with a wicked fist” (4). They conducted business and sought their own pleasure on the Sabbath (13).

What should God’s people have done? They should have loosed the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free (6). They should have shared bread with the hungry, clothed the naked, and welcomed in the homeless poor (7). God promised “your light [shall] break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily” but only when the Israelites acted righteously and poured themselves out for the hungry and the afflicted (8-10).

Clearly, caring for the poor, the hungry, the afflicted is not a liberal thing to do. It is a biblical thing to do. We must allow this uncomfortable chapter to discomfort us a bit. Those of us in conservative circles can get all sorts of religious ritual right, but it counts for nothing and less than nothing if we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

Calvin summarizes:

Uprightness and righteousness are divided into two parts; first, that we should injure nobody; and secondly, that we should bestow our wealth and abundance on the poor and needy. And these two ought to be joined together; for it is not enough to abstain from acts of injustice, if thou refuse thy assistance to the needy; nor will it be of much avail to render thine aid to the needy, if at the same time thou rob some of that which thou bestowest on others….These two parts, therefore, must be held together, provided only that we have our love of our neighbour approved and accepted by God (Commentary on Isaiah).

The implications of Isaiah 58 are straightforward: God’s people should hate oppression and love to help the poor.

Without wanting to mitigate this conclusion, let me offer two other comments.

1. Even though I’ve labeled this series with familiar phrase “social justice,” I don’t think that is best way to describe helping the poor. As I’ve pointed out before, “social justice” in its historical origins suggests a certain view of the world where disparity in wealth is considered de facto injustice. Therefore helping the poor is not a matter of kindness or mercy but a matter of justice. Everyone deserves their “fair share” of the society’s resources. Anything less is oppression.

But we see in Isaiah 58 that letting the oppressed go free is not the same as sharing your bread with the hungry. Granted, it could be. Perhaps the same people oppressing their workers were now being told to help them instead of harm them. But by definition, I would argue that pouring yourself out for the hungry is a matter of compassion for your fellow human being, not necessarily a matter of remedying an injustice.

2. While general principle–help the poor don’t harm them–is abundantly and repeatedly clear in Scripture, the application of this principle is less so. For example, does a passage like Isaiah 58 support state-sponsored redistribution efforts? Christians can and do argue for this, but this text certainly doesn’t require this solution to poverty.

And what should our priorities be in helping the poor? Are Christians responsible for everyone in the world? Everyone in society? I would argue there is an obligation first to our family (1 Tim. 5:8) and then to our brothers in the church (1 John 3:17; Gal. 6:10). Also, we should respond to urgent needs right in front of us when our assistance will be helpful (Luke 10:29-37). Finally, we should do good to everyone as we have opportunity as shaped by our vocation and calling (Gal. 6:10).

Other questions of application might include: What is the best way to help the poor in modern society? What about the poor overseas? To what degree is all of this the mission of the church and to what extent is this work simply the outgrowth of godly living in the world? Isaiah 58 doesn’t answer these and other questions. But it does lay the groundwork for caring about these questions and, more importantly, caring about the real people for whom questions about poverty and justice are not blog fodder but matters of life and death.

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Seven Passages On Social Justice Part 1 – Kevin DeYoung

March 19, 2010

Seven Passages on Social Justice (1)

Posted By Kevin DeYoung On February 25, 2010 @ 6:11 am In Uncategorized | 23 Comments

It’s no secret that social justice is a hot topic in evangelicalism, a popular pursuit and also controversial. Some see the renewed emphasis on the poor as nothing less than a rediscovery of a whole gospel. Others worry that an emphasis on social justice distracts the church from the primary role of evangelism. I’m not going to propose a third way between these two poles. I think a concern for the poor is essential to Christianity. And I think saving people from eternal suffering is more important than saving people from temporal suffering. That’s where I stand (and most evangelicals, I believe; the disagreement is in the details).

But I don’t want to settle disputes, real or imaginary. Instead, I want to examine seven major “social justice” passages over the next few weeks. (I’ll try to be concise so you will actually read the posts.) My contention is that these passages say more and less than we think, more about God’s heart for justice than some realize, and less about contemporary “social justice” than many imagine.

The seven passages are: Isaiah 1; Isaiah 58; Jeremiah 22; Amos 5; Micah 6:8; Luke 4/Isaiah 61; and Matthew 25. I know this leaves a lot out, but these seem to be the most commonly referenced sections. If you want my take on Leviticus 19 [1], Leviticus 25 [2], the concept of moral proximity [3], and the term “social justice” [4] follow the links in this sentence.

Isaiah 1

The first chapter of Isaiah begins with the Lord’s stinging rebuke of Judah and Jerusalem (1). They are rebellious children (2), lacking in understanding (3). Judah is a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (4). Because of their rebellion, God’s people have been struck down, bruised, bloodied, and besieged (5-8). Of course, God offers the hope of forgiveness and cleansing (10), but the dominant theme in the chapter is one of disappointment. God’s people have been wicked.

How so?

Well, their failure was not for lack of religious observance. They were meeting together for worship and keeping the festivals of the Lord. But the Lord was not impressed. He could no longer endure their iniquity and solemn assembly (13). He had come to hate their feasts and was burdened with their perfunctory obedience (14). The Lord would not even listen to their prayers (15).

Their problem was one that recurs often in prophetic literature: they were getting the details of religion right but not the heart of it. Outside of “church” the Israelites were doing evil, not good (16-17). In particular, they were guilty of injustice toward the fatherless and the widow, the basic categories in the Bible for the helpless and vulnerable (17).

What was the injustice? “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them” (23). It seems the Lord was angry with his people because the leaders were oppressing the weak, taking bribes to side with the rich and powerful instead of treating fairly the orphan and the widow.

As we’ll see in most of these passages, Isaiah 1 is a great example of the Bible saying more and less about social justice than we think.

On the “more” side we see that Jerusalem is called a “whore” because of her injustice (21). Oppressing the poor and the helpless is not a negligible offense. In fact, it renders all their religious obedience null and void. Until they “seek justice” and “correct oppression” God promises that Judah will be “eaten by the sword” (17, 20).

But on the “less” side: notice that the oppression here is not a disparity between rich and poor or even that the poor in society are not taken care of. There are other biblical passages that require the covenant community to take care of the poor in their midst (which may not be identical to taking care of the poor in the entire “mixed” society), but this passage is about oppression, a term not to be equated with poverty.

The injustice was not that there were poor people in society. God’s people were guilty of injustice because they were defrauding the weak and helpless in order to line their own pockets. Specifically, God was angry with the kings because “in the ancient Near East, the concerns for justice, oppression, and the helpless were the special province of the king” (John Oswalt [5], 99). So God’s desire in Isaiah 1 related to social justice is for Judah’s king (and any other pertinent officials) to stop taking bribes and defend the just cause of the helpless instead of exploiting them. The prophetic rebuke of Isaiah 1 belongs on the men and women guilty of these crimes, but not on every individual, let alone every church, living in a city with poor people.

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The Bane of My Existence

March 19, 2010

I haven’t washed dishes in two days. I have zero motivation. Pray for me today that I will find the motivation.

Haiti’s Deal With the Devil

March 12, 2010

I have been back from Haiti for three or four weeks now. Honestly, I am not looking at a calendar. It’s more than likely been four weeks and I just don’t want to admit it. So all this time back and I haven’t written a blog about it yet. I have written a brief summary on Facebook but I had every intention of writing many blogs in great detail about our two weeks in Haiti. I haven’t been busy. I think I just don’t want to put it to bed.

But I do need to get one thing off my chest.

One of the things I learned on my trip was that there is a certain type of person you do not want on a mission trip with you. I’m gonna go ahead and talk pretty openly about it here because it needs to be said. There is a certain type of Christian that I am not down with. These are the Christians that feel the need to beat everyone over the head with a Bible in an attempt to scare people into Heaven. Me? I think we need to love people into Heaven. I don’t think screaming fire and brimstone at you is going to get you to confess your sins. And if it does, chances are good it’s not going to be a life changing event.

There was a man there that took it upon himself to have a little preaching time with the kids at the orphanage on about the third night we were in Haiti. We were all gathered around having a little worship service with some guitars and singing and “D” decided to start preaching. He asked the kiddos “Did you feel the ground shake while you were in bed?” “Did the earthquake scare you?” Things like that. I still don’t see his point.

Then he got to the point of his “sermon”. Apparently God has a bone to pick with Haiti. Ya see, Haiti made a pact with the devil years ago and this earthquake was God’s way of getting even with the people of Haiti. Now, this may be your belief. Or Pat Robertson’s. It’s not mine, but we aren’t here to debate right now, are we? But “D” made sure that children were made aware of this point of view. And he didn’t let them know, hey this is my personal belief. He was preaching the “gospel”. He saddened me to the point of tears.

Why would you teach this to children? They are already scared enough. I lived with them for a week. I saw how they lived. How can they not question God about the situation they are already living in prior to the earthquake? No family. Poverty. Little to no education. A bleak future. And now they have a natural catastrophe to cope with as well. And we, the all mighty Americans, come in and tell them this is punishment from a loving God? If I didn’t know any better, I would tell you to go back home and take your God with you. But thankfully, I know better.

Eccentric – Or A Public Apology to My Step Daughter

March 11, 2010

Katie is an odd child. She really is. I love her to death. But she is a weirdo. This is a public blog and I will freely tell anyone that I believe my middle change is strange. In a wonderful way. In a creative genius way. Salvador Dali wanted people to think he was a little off. He only wishes he had half of my Katie’s oddness. Or, well, would if he were alive.

For as long as I have known her, she has been this way. And we have loved her for it. And we giggle at her oddities and move on. We cringe when she quacks at us but we wouldn’t have her any other way. But did you catch what I said? Because I just caught it a couple of days ago. In between assuring myself that we love Katie’s oddities, I slipped in that we laughed at Katie.

You never laugh at a child.

See, the other day after dinner, I had a moment. You know those moments where you see with clarity that you really wish you didn’t have? The moment happened very casually: We were talking and laughing and Emily looked over at Katie and in the middle of a laugh said “Kate, nobody likes you. ” Everyone else – Katie included – kept laughing for a second as if nothing unusual had been said (and let’s be honest, nothing had) but I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. (Keith and I did stop the conversation and make sure Katie knew that people do in fact like and love her and that Emily was only playing with her. )

Emily just said what we all say to Katie all the time but with different words: there is something wrong with you. We have said it for as long as I can remember. Katie, you are just strange. Kate, you are such a weirdo. Kate! Enough is enough! Stop it! It hurts to think about those words now. I told her to stop being herself.

But I digress…

We have told Katie for years that there is something wrong with her. And for years, she has listened to that. And now, it has taken its toll. I used to see bubbly, soft weirdo Kate. That Kate got pierced by our constant words of disapproval and where the bubbly girl used to be is now a girl with a little harsher giggle and a lot more self-deprecating humor.

For that Katie, I am so sorry. I love you.

So, as of today, I make a vow to not mock Katie for her eccentricity. I value it and will only treasure it from now on and can only pray that she will be happier and more at ease with herself than Dali ever was.

My Inspiration for the Day

March 11, 2010

I see the king of glory
Coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes
The whole earth shakes


I see his love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing
The people sing

Hosanna in the highest [x2]

I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith
With selfless faith

I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We’re on our knees
We’re on our knees


Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me

Break my heart from what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdoms cause
As I go from nothing to

[Chorus x2]

Hosanna in the highest