Prophetic Witness to God’s Distributive Justice – Moral Economy Series Part 3

The prophet Isaiah reveals God’s preferential option for the poor and demands distributive justice to release them from their impoverishment (e.g. Isa 61:1-2); and that God will judge the poor with righteousness (e.g. Isa. 11:4). Jeremiah proclaims that God will defend the rights of the needy (Jer. 5:26-29), and Isaiah further states that God will rescue the poor who are exiled and oppressed (Isa. 51:21-23).

The prophetic tradition also brings warnings about treatment of the poor. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos all warn of judgment that will come against those who: amass wealth oppressing the poor, live in grand homes, and consume vast resources while people suffer in poverty (Isaiah 2:6-8; 5:8; Jeremiah 22:13-19; Amos 4:1). On several occasions, Amos warns against those who oppress and trample on the poor and push aside the needy (Amos 2:6-7, 4:1, 5:11-12, 8:4).

And lest we think that God only finds displeasure with sins of commission (things done) against the poor; there are plenty of warnings against sins of omission (things left undone) in not helping the poor. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and the Psalms all contain teachings that God finds no pleasure in those who ignore the needy and neglect the poor (Ezekiel 16:40-50, Isa. 1:10-13; Psalm 72:1-4; Amos 2:6). We are also reminded that the rich are wise in their own eyes (Proverbs 28:11) and that God hears the cries of the vulnerable and exploited (Psalm 109:21; Proverbs 22:22-23).

In Amos, God has a particular warning for religious people: church-going folk like you and I; that he hates our feasts and festivals and the worship of our assemblies when we are not seeking justice for the needy and oppressed:

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will no accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24 NRSV)

Jesus will repeat the same theme about those who make long prayers and frequent visits to worship and do not execute justice for the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed (Mark 12:40).

In the Psalms we see the familiar themes of concern that are voiced throughout the Old Testament: the Lord cares for the poor (Psalm 146:1, 509), hears their cries (Psalm 109:21), and will be their helper (Psalm 113). The Psalmist proclaims that the Lord is a lover of justice who establishes equity (Psalm 99:4), who will execute justice for the needy (Psalm 140:13) in raising the poor and lifting the needy out of impoverishment (Psalm 113:7). God promises the poor that they shall inherit land and prosperity that they have been denied (Psalm 37:11).

The prophets and the Psalms define God as a “God of justice” (Isaiah 30:18), who “loves justice” (Isaiah 61:8; Ps. 11:17, 33:5, 37:28, 99:4), delights in justice (Jeremiah 9:23), and will execute justice for the needy (Jeremiah 5:5; Ps. 140:13). We play a role in bringing about God’s distributive justice as Deuteronomy proclaims that God demands justice from all people (Deuteronomy 16:20); and Micah reminds us that we are “to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8) We should be so persistent in this purpose that we exemplify the call of Amos to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24-25). God’s desire for justice and the justice God demands we bring to a broken world all can be found within the context of redressing poverty and oppression.

About the Moral Economy Series

The Moral Economy Series looks at the faith tradition of proclaiming economic justice, economics’s roots in moral philosophy, and how we might restore a sense of ethical economics toward building a moral economy that works for all. The Rev. Jay Lawlor draws on over twenty years of exploring the intersection of faith and economics in this new blog series on the Moral Economy. You can follow the Rev. Jay Lawlor’s blog – including the Moral Economy Series, by subscribing to updates via email, and/or following post updates on Facebook, and Twitter.