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The Old Testament Prophets and Social Justice Worship is not just about what we do - on Sunday mornings - or in any

gathered Christian forum Worship, as we know, is a way of life Worship should impact upon every aspect of our living - and that is a view most clearly expressed - in the writings of the Old Testament prophets And one of the themes that runs most clearly through their writings - is that worship is inextricably linked - to faith and social justice A. Theology of the Prophets

Im assuming that you remember the basic history of the Prophets - so we dont want to go over all that again! - This is not the session to think about where they came from - And when they lived So just to note today, thenthat Prophets were not theologians - they were instruments of God - to convey a Divine command or express the mind of God - into a particular situation They were concerned that people should experience God - rather than just think about him But, even though they werent theologians - there is still a theology underpinning the work of the prophets - and its important to grasp what that theology is - if we want to understand them in relation to issues of justice - and then relate that to worship There are 7 aspects of their theology which I want to outline today - that need to be reflected in our approach to worship


Heritage and Fulfilment

Of course, the common religious heritage of Israel - that Yahweh was God of the nation His attributes had always been justice and mercy and truth No difference between prophets and the theologians in that sense But the prophets key theme: - not enough to know the facts about God and his relationship - with Israel The nation had to live out that truth Israel knew of the activities of God in the past - but wasnt really experiencing him in the present Yahweh had become a figure of tradition rather than a factor of life - a theological idea rather than a divine reality And when God becomes a proposition rather than an experience - thats when justice ceases to exist - because the ethical argument becomes abstract - in the same way that God is understood in the abstract In the light of that - the prophets give new and fuller teaching about the nature of God - a new and powerful witness to the tremendous unrecognised reality - of His presence - and his active participation in the affairs of the nation The prophets didnt teach anything new about God - but what they did was to restate the old truths about him - in a new and dynamic way - that spoke into the present world order

And surely that is what we are called to do - to have a prophetic voice within youth culture: - not teaching anything new - but bringing about the old teachings in a dynamic way And that is to be reflected in our worship - indeed, that should be foundational to our worship - that the God we worship is not a figure of tradition - but is a living Presence, a real Experience for us now 2. God as Lord

The Lordship of God is a central theme in the OT prophets The Greatness and awesome majesty of God - burnt like a fire in their souls God was completely life-enveloping - life-directing - demanding a decision for him in every aspect of Israelite culture He was a light in the darkness - and a flame that threatened to burn them up in judgement It was almost as if the word God finds a whole new meaning - in the lives and the writings of the prophets There was the traditional God: the God of the Temple the God of ritualistic worship the humdrum God to whom everyone prayed monotonously on the Sabbath

And then there was the prophetic God: - intimately involved in his world: - laughing and enjoying what was good - crying and condemning all that was bad An emotional God An obsessively involved God 3

A dynamic God So, in 1 Kings 18:21, the prophet Elijah says, - How much longer will it take you to make up your minds? If the Lord is God, worship him; but if Baal is God, worship him! Make a decision, you know? And its interesting that Elijah defines God here - by Lordship If the Lord is God The faith of the prophets did not recognise the existence of a God - who was not Lord - and neither should we, in any cultural setting whatsoever - be prepared to settle for a God who is not Lord of all Because Lordship is the very definition of God - if the God we worship and preach is not the Lord - then he is Baal And it was this absolute awareness of the Lordship of God - that gave the prophets such a sense of urgency in their mission and worship - and such a sense of urgency in challenging injustice Justice and truth and mercy are not abstract concepts - they are constituents of Gods character - they are the sum total of the divine purpose And so, for the prophets as for us, when we engage in issues of social justice we are not just trying to do good works or right the wrongs of society: we are engaging with the very nature of God and bringing his Lordship into that situation

And of course, that sense of Lordship - redefines the meaning of the word Love too:

Because in the Lordship of God - and in his desire for justice and mercy and truth - we recognise that love is not just about emotions - and not even about kindness or providing for others Love can take us to the heights of joy in its security Love can be terrible in its depth of pain If love is about justice and mercy and truth - then love can be exhilarating when it rejoices in that truth - and love can be agonising - when it feels that its been wronged - or when truth and justice and mercy has been flouted There is no joy like a heart that experiences the beauty of love There is no pain like a heart that experiences the sorrow of love either And in God, in the Lordship of God - we see that joy and pain, that beauty and sorrow hand in hand - and that is reflected in the message and ministry - of the prophets And so, if we are to engage in issues of justice and truth - and bring the prophetic into that - then we must be just as prepared to experience agony as joy To love to bring prophetic love to bear in society - is to be a participant in life Those who seek justice and mercy and truth - are known by and through their acts And that is true of our God - who is not revealed through abstract writings

God is revealed by the Word becoming Flesh - the Being becoming the Doer The creator of the world becoming a participant in the world The Lord God is known in personal experience and through history - the arena of moral decisions is where God is found: - in the search for justice and mercy and truth And the task of the prophet - is to participate and introduce the God who is a Doer - into society and into social orders The task of the prophet - your task and mine as we engage in youth ministry - is to write history - with every decision we make 3. Mankind and the World

Now heres a major difference between the prophetic ministry - as we see it in the Old Testament - and so much so-called prophetic ministry today Nowadays, the prophetic ministry that seeks to address issues - of social justice - more often than not starts with the problems of humanity It is unjust that the asylum seekers are treated as they are - we must do something about it It is unjust that black people suffer racism - we must do something about it And so on: See the need of the people and address the situation

That is not the model of the Old Testament prophets - to start with the needs of the people Like good followers of Karl Barth! - they always started with God Their chief concern is God - the nature of God - the Lordship of God - the awesome majesty and holiness of God And so their concern for injustice - is in the fact that it stands in marked contrast - to the reality of God Thats what makes Isaiah 6 so powerful: It starts off with this great vision of God in his temple - the majesty holiness, the awesome power of God - the cherubim standing around him - singing Holy, holy, holy - the sound of their voices filling the temple And Isaiahs immediate response to that? Verse 5: - There is no hope for me! I am doomed because every word that passes my lips is sinful, and I live among a people whose every word is sinful. Do you see? - sin and injustice and lack of truth - stands in contrast to God And only God has the ability to bridge that gap But what is so powerful in terms of social justice - is that Isaiah knew he was unclean not just himself - but also in terms of the community too 7

The community was lost in sin So there was an individual dimension to what he was saying - but a corporate one too What was true of the individual was true of the nation too The foundations of society had been undermined - by the corruption of justice - and the neglect of mercy and truth But it is not enough just to tackle the institutions: - Isaiah starts with a vision of God - not with an attack on the unjust structures of society - and that vision of God must be where we start too Without a vision, the people perish 4. Revelation and Command

Following on from that point - we see that the prophets denounced the concept - of a man-centred society That if social injustice was ever to be tackled - there had to be a transfer of confidence - away from human institutions - to a new confidence in the revelation and command of God If Yahweh had become only a religious name - or just an empty tradition - then there was no power in that to effect change To effect social change - we need an experience of the revelation of God - and we need to submit to his command

Interestingly, none of the prophets argue for the possibility - that God can reveal himself to them The fact that God continuously reveals himself - is taken for granted God had revealed himself throughout history - and continued to do so through the prophets Revelation was both a present experience - and an objective element in the historical tradition And the prophets continually criticise those members of society - who have lost a sense of Gods revelation - in the present: - that is the message of Hosea and Isaiah and Jeremiah too And what is most noticeable, when you read the prophets - is that the revelation of God - is almost always, if not absolutely always - linked to a summons and a command Micah says, What does the Lord require of us? To seek justice and walk in the ways of righteousness. Look in any prophetic book: - when God reveals himself, it is always with a summons - and a command I wonder if, in our ministries, we are listening out - for a summons and a command? It is not enough for us just to challenge injustice - in our own strength - or, even worse, out of our own sense of indignation - or morality 9

We need to listen out for Gods summons - and obey his will 5. Election and Covenant

At the very heart of the Israelite experience of God - is this idea of election: That they were the elect people, the Chosen Race - and that they are in a relationship with God - through a series of covenants And because election and covenant were at the heart of Jewish theology - it gives a real sense of direction and cohesion - to their history History has a beginning and an end - there is a direction to be followed There is a sense of a historical community - living out their destiny as the elect people of God And this theology is absolutely vital to the prophets ministry Because social injustices not just morally wrong - they are a denial of the course of history - a standing against the destiny of the nation If widows and orphans are mistreated - its a tragedy for them, yes - and something needs to be done about it But more importantly, the mistreatment of the marginalised - is a sin against the community - because it is a denial of the elect purposes of that community 10

So syncretistic worship - multi-faith, multi-god worship - was seen as a grotesque perversion of the relationship - between Israel and Yahweh Notions of self-sufficiency and power struggles at the expense of the poor - was seen as disobedience to Jehovah Jireh, the God Provider Social injustices, corruption, the seeking after power and wealth - were the ways of the world, not the ways of the covenant It was only the forbearance of God, his love and his mercy - that had prevented the wholesale destruction of Israel And, of course, we know that ultimately Israel was doomed: - destroyed by the Assyrians - and then Judah was carted off into exile by the Babylonians But the interesting thing is - that even though the nation was doomed - the Covenant itself was not doomed God remained faithful to his Covenant promises - even when the nation went so far astray - as to be destroyed And Gods absolute faithfulness comes through in the prophets writings - in two ways: First, Isaiah teaches about the Remnant: - 1:27; 6:13; 7:3; 8:15 - the Remnant of Israel will be the inheritors of Gods Covenant


Second, Jeremiah 31 talks about a New Covenant - where the Covenant will be renewed and fulfilled - in a supernatural way - and, of course, that is fulfilled in the Blood of Christ: - the Blood of the New Covenant 6. Sin and Judgment

One of the major contributions of the prophets - especially with regard to issues of social justice - is the way in which they redefined the nature of sin For the prophets, the nature of sin is defined - by the nature of the God who is sinned against The seriousness of sin is measured by the degree to which - his children recognise his real importance - in their lives and worship So, if the people of Israel thought that God could be satisfied - with religious rituals and sacrifices and offerings - then failure to perform these rituals well - is sin And that is what the Israelites of the 8th century did believe But the prophets redefined that: - they said that true religion was about a relationship - between God and man That God speaks and acts - and the community has a responsibility to hear and obey So the prophets redefined sin - by redefining the nature of God and true religion 12

By locating it in relationship and community responsibility - they were then able to attack those practises in society - which disrupted social relationships So rather than saying that sin is - bringing a dove with a blemish for sacrifice - or cheating on the tithe - or not offering the finest wheat and barley to the Levites For the prophets, sin becomes - disloyalty, unfaithfulness, mistrust, self-sufficiency - pride, disobedience Its interesting that in the pre-exilic prophets - Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and so on - there is hardly any mention of sins against holy places - or holy persons or holy things as being sins against God Instead, these writers judge the right or wrongness of - religious observances - by the moral standards applied in every other area of life So religious observance on the Sabbath - should be a reflection of what you do the other 6 days of the week And if you are sinning during the week, - then your religious observances are sinful and abhorrent to God Sin is a way of life - not just laxity in religious observations Sin is treachery, exploitation, oppression, cruelty, anger - bribery, corruption, dishonesty, violence, murder 13

So, in the prophets, there is a clear distinction - between cultic faults and sin


Salvation and Eschatology

Amos 5:18: The Day of the Lord shall be darkness, and not light The Day of the Lord is an eschatological concept: It was interesting that the people of Israel believed - the Day of the Lord would come - when God would vanquish their enemies - and they would be victorious Amos says, No! - the Day of the Lord will be judgement against Israel themselves! God is coming back - not to vindicate a nation that is lost in sin and pride - but to judge its immorality and ungodliness Maybe theres a few Western nations that would do well - to be reminded of that fact at the moment!!! The prophets were trying to warn the nation - that they were about to face the awesome righteousness of God And her sins would be placed in the scale - and she would be judged and found wanting


Some of the prophets - Amos and Zephaniah for example - show little or no hint of mercy Others, like Isaiah and Hosea - suggest that, if the nation repents - then ultimate disaster and judgement can be averted Isaiah, as weve seen, talks about the Remnant Hosea 5 talks about God only withdrawing until the nation repents Jeremiah says that those who escape from the sword shall find grace in the wilderness Then, of course, after the exile - the eschatological hopes intensify in the prophets - and the need for social justice is wrapped up with the idea - that the nation should prepare itself - for the coming of the Messiah 3. The Prophecies of Christ what I want to do now - is focus in most especially on those prophecies in the Old Testament - that foreshadow the coming of Christ We know that the people of Israel were waiting for their Messiah - what does Messiah mean? Anointed In Greek, the word Messiah is translated as Christ - so the word Christ means anointed Jesus Christ was the anointed one of God - who was sent to set the people free and to bring them salvation And of course, the people of the Old Testament - were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah 15

And there are many prophecies given - that seem to point to Jesus Christ as the Messiah And so, what I want to do now - is just look at a few of those prophecies - and see how they were used by the New Testament writers And there are 4 main groups of prophecies in the Old Testament - that were taken by New Testament writers - and applied to Christ A. Jesus as the King who is to come

We cant go through all of these - but lets just pull out the most relevant verses: Isaiah 11:1 A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jessethe Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him Jeremiah 23:5 The days are surely comingwhen I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Ezekiel 34:24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. These are verses that refer to the salvation of Israel - as being in the hands of a descendent of the house of David And so Matthew begins his Gospel - by producing a genealogy that proves this to be Jesus, the Christ B. Jesus as the Son of God

Psalm 2:6-8 I have set my king on Zion, my holy hillyou are my son; today I have begotten you. 16

Mark 1:1 Mark pronounces Jesus to be the Son of God C. Jesus as the Suffering Servant

Isaiah passages D. Jesus as the Son of Man

Daniel 7:13 a massively important verse in the 1 st century As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. This is a verse that is picked up and used by John - in Revelation 1 And it is also a title that Jesus used for himself - so he is taking the prophecy and applying it to himself Now, I dont want to say much more about these prophecies - from the Old Testament - but which are taken to refer to Christ Because I want you to work through some of them - in your group work in a few minutes time But let me just refer you to a classic text on this subject - called Christ in Isaiah by F.B. Meyer If you want to follow up on the issue - of how some Old Testament prophecies are applied to Christ - and it would be worth your while doing that - then this is a good book to read Its a bit old-fashioned in the way it reads - but it is still a motivating read 4. The Worldview at the Time of Jesus I just want to wrap up the teaching on this session - by looking at a final worldview matrix 17

Which is the Worldview at the time of Jesus Worldview at the time of Jesus Story We are Gods chosen people in the Promised Land but still not free. Our story is awaiting a conclusion.

Questions Who are we? Where are we? What went wrong? What is the solution? Symbols Lifestyle Israel, the chosen people of God In the Promised Land but, ironically, still in exile Wrong rulers: pagans, compromised Jews, Herod and his family God must act again to set up His true rule Temple, Land, Torah, Synagogue Worship and Festivals Study and Learning (Priests and Scribes) Torah keeping (sabbath, circumcision etc) A STORY SEEKING AN ENDING