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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 11: All People and Nations Standing Before a Just God

Isaiah 10:5-7, 11-15, 33-34

Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger—
     the club in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
     and against the people of my wrath I command him,
to take spoil and seize plunder,
     and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
But this is not what he intends,
     nor does he have this in mind;
but it is in his heart to destroy,
     and to cut off nations not a few.

"Shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
     what I have done to Samaria and her images?”

     When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride. For he says:

“By the strength of my hand I have done it,
     and by my wisdom, for I have understanding;
I have removed the boundaries of peoples,
     and have plundered their treasures;
     like a bull I have brought down those who sat on thrones.
My hand has found, like a nest,
     the wealth of the peoples;
and as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken,
     so I have gathered all the earth;
and there was none that moved a wing,
     or opened its mouth, or chirped.”

Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it,
     or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it?
As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up,
     or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood!

Look, the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts,
     will lop the boughs with terrifying power;
the tallest trees will be cut down,
     and the lofty will be brought low.
He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax,
     and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall.

The Assyrian imperialism and its widespread destruction of cities, villages, farms, and people, raises theological questions for the Isaiah and the people.  First, the Assyrians are not examples of obedience to Yahweh.  They see the gods of other peoples, including Judah, as idols, as weak deities who will fall before their divine mission.  They pursue greed through conquest.  Assyria and its leaders are also guilty of economic injustice.  Why would God allow Assyria to succeed while judging the sins of Judah and Israel?

Isaiah declares that Assyria's time will come.  They also stand under the judgment of God.  In the meantime, God allows the cycle of violence and greed to work itself out, sowing and reaping destruction.  Assyria does not march across the continent with an understanding of its conquest as the judgment of Yahweh.  For Assyria, it is the demonstration of the greatness of their generals and armies.  Thanks to their own greatness, Assyrian leaders believe they will grasp and carry away the wealth of the nations.  They will plunder all the treasures of the continent and claim it for themselves.  This is the very same sinfulness of the leaders and elite of Judah, expanded to an even more violent dominance and an even more vast landscape.  But God is not "blessing" Assyria.  Assyria will quickly sow the seeds of its own destruction.

Second, in the process of Assyrian conquest, the widows and orphans, the weak and the vulnerable, will also suffer, as stated in chapter nine.  Here in chapter ten, Isaiah offers more insight into this theological problem about the suffering of innocents.  Assyria, while serving as an instrument of judgment, does not act in accord with the will of God.  Imperialistic war, violence, plunder, killing and maiming--these are not the ways of God.  They are the ways of sin.  God is not endorsing violence, but allowing sin to work out its terrible consequences.  Violence comes into the world, not by the will of God, but by the freedom to be greedy, self-aggrandizing, possessive, and hateful that God has allowed to humanity.  This same violence led to the organized use of power to execute the sinless one, Jesus.  God is not pleased to see this violence, but God is willing to endure the violence to which humanity finds itself in bondage.  The struggle of righteousness and justice is to push back the powers formed in violence in the name of those formed in peace and justice.

So Assyria will have its day of judgment as well.  As Dr. King said, “Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate.”  That is what seeking economic justice is about.  Someone has to have the sense to say enough is enough in exploiting workers and the poor.  Someone has to stop the destruction, stand in the gap, speak truth to power, lift as we climb.  That is why the prophecies of the Old Testament are always conditional.  There is another way that leads to peace.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem's failure to find that way.  But if the unjust structures stand, the road will lead to a downward spiral of violence.  Pray that the Lord will send workers into the harvest, workers who know the good news of the way of Jesus.

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