I’m all the way in Zechariah now, one book away from making it to the New Testament, so it’s time to collate the information I’ve gained.
- God cares for the poor, weak, and oppressed. There are repeated calls to protect the weak, execute justice for the oppressed, and provide for the poor. This is in keeping with Jesus’ attitude in the New Testament.
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked – Psalm 82: 3, 4
“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” – Jer 22:3
- God does not care for phony religion. The religious requirements in the old testament were many: Fasting, feast days, tithes, rules on what you could eat, what you could wear, who you could associate with. Rules about hygiene and what kinds of animals could plough together. But there was little point keeping those rules if you didn’t care about the things that were important to God: justice, mercy and faithfulness. This is why the list of commands has been replaced with the most important two: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. If you’re not doing these things, your fasting and prayer and church attendance is phony. Jesus too had this attitude in dealing with Pharisees, chastising them for their slavish adherence to rite while they neglected the important things.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. – Matt 23: 23, 24
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’– safe to do all these detestable things? – Jeremiah 7: 3 – 10
This is not to say that you can or should do whatever you want so long as you donate a suitable portion of your income to the poor and don’t oppress anyone. The first command, after all is to love God. And as Jesus said, loving God involves keeping his commandments (John 14: 15). The Israelites were condemned for their worship of other gods and desecration of the Sabbath as well as for their oppression and injustice. The key is not to assume that adherence to rite is a substitute for love.
- God cares for all people. The mercy shown to Nineveh, the call to treat foreigners well, the promises that all nations of the world would someday worship God all proclaimed that God’s care went beyond just the Jews before Paul ever declared “There is neither Jew nor Greek”. God’s care for all people is present in his justice as well as his mercy. The prophets record his promise to punish both treacherous Israel and her corrupt neighbors and oppressors.