By some grand miracle, I received 100% on my final Liberty University Online BIBL105 essay. When I say, "by some miracle," I mean that this was a tough one for me to write about. The Old Testament prophet books are tough ones to work my way through, and I felt like I was having a hard time answering the question.
Here was the question I needed to answer in my essay:
"In what manner do the prophets speak to the following 3 issues: idolatry, social injustice, and religious ritualism? Cite examples of the prophets speaking to each of these issues. Knowing what the prophets had to say about these issues, what practical applications can be drawn from those teachings for today?"I felt like the "key" to those three issues was summed up in Micah 6:8, "the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." I decided to expound upon it from there. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me while I was trying to make this one happen. I had quite a few people express interest in the final product, so here it is.
Loving God and Loving Others
At first glance, it's easy to pass over the prophet books. They aren't “fun” books of the Bible to read, like Esther or Ruth or even Jonah. They're angst filled books. They're about judgement. Frankly, they can be downright depressing. But when one looks deeper within these books, some major themes that are applicable to today become noticeable. The themes of idolatry – who and what we worship, social injustices, and religious ritualism emerge. While we may like to think that these are issues of the past, they are still present and relative in 2013. Another theme emerges too: God's great and deep love for his people and the desire to see them restored.
Israel wrestled over worshiping a God they couldn't see. No matter how many times God made himself known to them, they still assimilated into the culture and chose to worship man-made gods over the living God. God used the prophets to call Israel out and to give them fair warning to turn back to himself and to uphold their end of their covenantal responsibility. From the outset of his message on behalf of the Lord, the prophet Zephaniah condemned the people of Judah and their worship of false idols saying, "I will crush Judah and Jerusalem with my fist and destroy every last trace of their Baal worship. I will put an end to all the idolatrous priests, so that even the memory of them will disappear. For they go up to their roofs and bow down to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the LORD, but then they worship Molech, too. And I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the LORD's guidance or seek my blessings."1 God also gave a prophetic vision to Ezekiel so that he could warn the people that the glory of the Lord would depart from the temple because the people were bringing in idols into the temple area.2 And the Lord even had Hosea marry an unfaithful wife so the Lord could use it as a “metaphor of Israel's covenant unfaithfulness toward the Lord.”3
Because Israel began worshiping other gods, that led to a problem of social injustices. Other gods don't follow God's rule that we are to use God's wealth for his purposes, and that includes taking care of the poor and needy.4 Israel was enjoying economic prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II. However, during that time, “Israel's accumulation of wealth led to a wide disparity between the upper and lower classes, and a climate of injustice prevailed as the rich used their power and influence to take advantage of the poor. Selfishness, greed, and the pursuit of pleasure characterized Israelite society rather than love for the Lord and one's neighbor.”5 It also brought about “spiritual apathy and moral decline.”6 God sent Amos to tell Israel their days of luxury were over, and God followed through on his promise two years later by sending a great earthquake.7 Micah also reminded Israel that showing love for others shows their love for God. “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”8
Equally offensive to God is the offering of sacrifices just for the sake of ritualism, not out of love and honor for God. The priests were to set the tone for the people and lead them in the right way to worship God and offer sacrifices, but they had become corrupt. They allowed animals not appropriate for sacrifice and even accepted bribes.9 Because their leaders didn't uphold the standard, the people didn't either, and they made their worship out of duty and not out of love for the Lord.
As we read through the books of the Old Testament prophets, we can see that not much has changed. We are still a selfish people, and we don't worship as we should because we put other things ahead of our love for the Lord. As we dig through the books of the prophets, it's easy to see that if we as a people, individually and collectively, would simply “humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” God craves obedience from the ones who promise to love him. When we respond out of obedient love for God by worshiping him and him alone with a full and glad heart, that will spill over into us taking care of others so that we can show the love of God to them. He's given us all the tools and resources – namely, himself – to accomplish this. It's up to us to follow through so that we can be a blessed people.
1. Zephaniah 1:4-6
2. Ezekiel 8-11
3. Hindson, Ed: The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Pg. 371). B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee: 2012.
4. Isaiah 1:7; Jeremiah 22:3; Proverbs 31:9
5. Hindson, Ed: The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Pg. 370). B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee: 2012.
7. Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5
8. Micah 6:8
9. Micah 3:9-12