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A COVETOUS KING REFUSES ECONOMIC JUSTICE PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 02 June 2005

By Jim Jordal

"Woe to him [king Jehoahaz] who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar, and decorates it in red. "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father [king Josiah] have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord. "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."

Jeremiah 22:13-17 (NIV)

Jeremiah, known as the "weeping prophet" because of his mourning concerning the sins and consequent punishment of his people, uttered this lament against the wicked excesses of king Jehoahaz of Judah during the last days of the Judean nation. The sins of idolatry and injustice identified by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others had finally claimed God's full attention, and retribution in the form of deportation to Babylon was imminent.

Ostentation, covetousness, idolatry, debauchery, oppression, and extortion characterized the mercifully short reign of Jehoahaz. His grievous sins stood in great contrast to the righteous reign of his father, Josiah. What especially provoked Jeremiah at this time was the greed and self-centeredness of Jehoahaz in building a spacious, cedar-paneled palace using the unpaid, forced labor of his citizens.

As always, Jeremiah makes the distinction between righteous behavior resulting in national blessing, and unlawful disobedience leading to punishment and disaster. He thus stands in righteous solidarity with Moses, Ezra, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and others proclaiming the same message.

The salient point of this account is God’s declaration to civil leaders that executing economic justice by defending the poor and needy is what it means to know Him. The converse of the claim is that if political and economic leaders do not practice economic justice by defending the poor and needy there is serious doubt as to whether they know God at all.

The powerful and timely message is that obedience to God's commands for economic justice is perhaps the main attribute of leaders and other influential persons who truly know God. So what does this Divine mandate say to those current leaders who claim God as their champion, yet whose policies further despoil poor, vulnerable members of society? What does God say to those who create and affirm legislation having the outcome, if not the stated purpose, of transferring tax burdens from the rich to the poor? What does He say about governmental policies having the effect of creating a small, obscenely wealthy, privileged elite; with great masses of economically disenfranchised people able only to view the American dream from afar? And what would the biblical patriarchs proclaim if they could suddenly awaken in our land today?

Perhaps the prophet Isaiah said it best: "Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans." (Isa. 10:1).

These people "grinding the faces" of the poor may claim to know God, but does He know them? Consider what Jesus said to those hypocrites who mouth His words, but fail to act accordingly: "Not every one who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness' " (Matt. 7:21-23, NASB).

And what is God's message to church leaders preaching a personalized, exclusive, save-your-soul-from-hell doctrine that ignores or marginalizes clear biblical mandates to preach, teach, and perform justice and righteousness in all aspects of human life--individual and corporate?

What do we of the modern church declare to economic and political manipulators like king Jehoahaz whose eyes and hearts "are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion"? Generally, nothing! It never seems to enter our thoughts to publicly advocate for the same people that Jesus openly supported and befriended. We're too often content that they stay in their own part of town and that they participate only in their own society, except that we need them to work for us.

Why are Christians today so unaware of our God-ordained mandate to bring economic justice to the people? I think it's mostly ignorance--we don't know what God says because we've never been told. We seem content to spout religious platitudes and glittering generalities aimed at making us feel good, but having little impact upon our actual behavior. We're happy with things as they are.

For shame! It wouldn't be so serious had not Jesus directly condemned such attitudes. Remember what He said to the self-righteous, arrogant, oppressive Pharisees of His day? He called them "hypocrites," "blind guides," "fools," and a "brood of vipers." Strong words. I wonder what He would say today to those leaders acting under the banner of Christ while they sacrifice millions on pagan altars of greed, excessive profits, political power, and hedonism?

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 November 2005 )