pharaoh

Blogging Old Testament Style – Justice

This blog post will focus on the topic of justice. Justice is a large topic. However, it is sprinkled throughout the Old Testament. I look at the injustice set against the Hebrews by Egypt. Pharoah commits genocide against the Hebrews by ordering the killing of their male babies. However, there’s a story in Exodus 1:15-21 about midwives who covertly disobey the pharaoh’s orders. Shiphrah and Puah lie to the pharaoh and are later rewarded by God for their courage. These midwives disobey the orders of the most powerful person in their corner of the world. I love how these women take matters into their own hands and use their agency to save the lives of so many babies.

Contrast this with Moses, who responds to injustice in a different way. Moses sees the injustice of one of a fellow Hebrew slave being whipped mercilessly by an Egypt overseer. His first response is to use violence and kill the overseer. Even though we can all understand how Moses feels, his form of vigilante violence only begot more violence and fear. Moses ended up running away and actually made things worse for the Hebrew slaves. In an earlier blog post, I discussed the revenge killing of Simeon and Levi. They took justice into their own hands. God nor their father affirmed their actions. Justice belongs to God and not to humans. Violence is never the proper response to injustice. This is complicated because some would say God uses violence to respond to injustice. I think in theory this all makes sense. How does this work in the real world? I can’t speak for deeply oppressed people around the world who have no hope for any transformative recourse. I have privileges that they don’t have. God is the true purveyor of justice and I must discern the ways I can be the hands and feet of God in the work for justice in this world.

Earlier I also mentioned the laws of Israel that mandated justice for the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners. God through his laws has thoroughly made it clear that he has a strong sense of looking after the oppressed and marginalized. However, Israel starts to be disobedient to God’s call for justice. They oppress the poor and the downtrodden. As they do this, prophets come and rebuke them for their life of injustice which is contrary to God’s will. Jeremiah calls for Israel to come back to God and that destruction is coming their way. Amos emphatically calls out the people of Israel for the ways they have oppressed the marginalized and have become perpetrators of injustice. This theme of living out justice is important for God. He is calling his chosen people to live out in such a way that is an example to other nations. However, this did not materialize. Eventually, these oracles and prophecies against Israel came true and they would lose their land to their enemies.

We read an article in class by Jewish scholar Jon Levenson. He critiques George Pixley and other liberation theologists who see the story of the exodus as a story of human freedom. Levenson critiques our modern notions of freedom and asserts that when the Israelites are freed from Egypt, they are not free in the sense that we think about it. The Israelites are free to be slaves of God. Their freedom is living in the will and plans of Yahweh. That is a very different concept of liberation. We may look at some of these Old Testament stories as stories of justice. However, we may need to examine our modern eyes to see if we are missing the true cultural context of the people of Israel. God’s justice in the Old Testament may look different from our Englightenment influenced definitions of justice and freedom.

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