Justice in the Old Testament - Part Two



Questions for consideration this week:

  1. Consider the role of the prophet in confronting Israel in order to restore right relationship – how does this reflect the meaning of Israel: “To struggle with God”?
  2. How is Amos’ critique of luxury and exploitation relevant to us today? 
  3. Consider the relationship between humility, holiness and justice in Isaiah – does a sense of the sacred inform our sense of justice?
  4. Consider Jeremiah’s critique of worship and religious institutions – is faith without justice profane?
  5. Do we reinforce an unjust environment or system when we rely on institutions instead of humane interpersonal relations?
  6. The justice of the Covenant is communal rather than individualistic – how is this relevant to our society today?

*In each question above, make it concrete to your life.


You are most welcome to join us next Tuesday, 2 April, 2019 to take part in our discussion. For more details click here : OLA Lenten Justice Mornings 2019

Key Points

The Prophets call for fidelity to God’s Covenant

Throughout the Old Testament the prophets call for the restoration of right relationship between God and Israel: fidelity to God and to the weak.

The prophets confront Israel when the people forget the Covenant and harden their hearts to the poor and oppressed.


The Prophet Amos

Amos lived approximately 900 years before Christ and is one of the earliest prophets of Israel.

Israel was at the height of its power when Amos rebuked them for forgetting the Covenant.

Amos attacked their wealth and luxury which came from exploitation, corruption and rent seeking – especially legal and financial corruption.

Amos especially railed against taking ill-gotten goods into the Temple of the Lord: this hypocrisy is condemned.


The Prophet Isaiah

Isaiah lived in the 8th century before Christ.

To be Holy is to be imbued with a sense of justice and righteousness: to be Holy is to be like God, and God is just. Holiness and Justice then are rooted in one another.

Isaiah’s response to being called to holiness is to first look at his own sinful life.

This self-examination is a mark of humility.

God forgives the humble man, and having reconciled Isaiah to Himself, sends him out to convert the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, to restore right relationship.

It is God’s Holiness which makes injustice punishable – it is an affront to the God’s Holiness.

God rejects Israel’s prayers and fasting when they are offered in tandem with unjust living – in this scenario ritual without justice becomes a form of idolatry.

Isaiah is disappointed with the political and religious leadership of his day and offers a vision of the Ideal King.

This Ideal King will be for the whole world, not only Israel: justice will be administered with integrity and worship will be done properly.

For Isaiah, justice and worship are indivisible.


Three themes of Amos and Isaiah

Indifference of the rich to the poor

Indifference of the People to Yahweh’s Law

Monopolisation of the land and the fruits of Creation


The Prophet Jeremiah

Lived in the 7th century before Christ, and like his predecessors he attacked apostasy, mouth worship and injustice.

Jeremiah called on us to deal with one another justly:

Do not oppress the foreigner; do not oppress the orphan or widow; do not shed innocent blood; follow no other gods.

Jeremiah attacked the institutions – religious and political – in which people were placing their trust. This was idolatry and self-deception.

They were trusting human institutions rather than God, and relied on institutions rather than in living justly with proper interpersonal relations.

Like Isaiah before him then, justice is the application and substance of faith.


Covenant: “You will be my People and I will be your God”

God dealt with is people as a community not individualistically – justice has a communal corporate nature and the obligations that this entails.

The logic of justice in the Hebrew understanding is that as God has dealt with us, so we must deal with one another.

Covenantal justice recognises all people as equal.

Covenantal justice is loving, and does not harden our hearts: ‘I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’.