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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Idolatry, Social Injustice and Religious Ritualism

  What the Prophets Said and Application to Today

This post is adapted from an essay required for BIB105 Old Testament Survey with Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  It has been edited for emphasis as it attempts to answer the questions below within a 750 to 1000 word word-count.

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?

Through the centuries, the peoples and nations of the world including God’s chosen people have made images and idols for worship.  Though “all nations relate to God under the terms of the Noahic covenant established after the flood which stipulated that judgment would fall on those who practiced violence and bloodshed,”[1] they did as they pleased anyway.  They abused the poor, orphaned, widowed and needy.  Some nations were so cruel in their treatments of others that they were both hated and feared.  God’s people themselves had forgotten God in their hearts though they continued to ritualistically carry on their religious rites and exercises.  The prophets spoke to both God’s chosen people and the Gentiles.   

They spoke of many things but 
judgment to come on those who practice idolatry, social injustice and religious ritualism as introduced above 
is a common theme.  

In the Ten Commandments God made it clear that “You shall have no other God’s before me[2] and “You shall not make for yourself an image…. And bow down and worship it.”[3]  In spite of this, all throughout Jewish history we see the Jews walking in direct disobedience to these commandments.  Isaiah prophesied “As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria – shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?[4]  In 2 Kings chapter 17 it explains that the Assyrian exile of Samaria was God’s judgment on his people for turning from Him, worshipping other God’s and following the religious practices of the nations the Lord had driven out.[5] 
Proper care and concern for the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, and the needy were addressed in the Mosaic Law.  The wealthy were given the responsibility of care for them.  Instructions were given as to how they should be treated.  However, as God’s people turned their back on him, they turned their back also on those they were to care for.  The prophets called this social injustice. 

In Isaiah, he foretold “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.  What will you do on the day of reckoning?[6]   

Amos prophesied “They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.  Now then I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.  The swift will not escape.[7]

Throughout the history of the Jewish nation, 
apathy towards God and therefore his laws and commands, brought about blatant disobedience.   

In religious rituals explained and taught over the centuries, the Jews knew the right and proper way to conduct themselves.  However, their disobedience brought about disregard for what was accepted.  They ritualistically practiced religious rites in disobedience to how they should be done because their hearts were turned away from God.  

 For example, through Malachi God spoke and said “It is you priests who show contempt for my name… You offer defiled food on my altar.[8]  You offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong?  When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong?[9]  God went so far as to say through Malachi “Oh that one of you would shut the temple doors so that you would not light useless fires on my altar!  I will accept no offering from your hands.[10]  In essence, the prophets exposed God’s heart in reference to obedience.   

God considered half-hearted partial obedience 
the same as complete disobedience.   

It was not good enough that they continue the Jewish practices but that they do them with a heart of reverence and repentance towards God. 

The prophets spoke the word of God to the peoples and nations of their time but their words clearly apply to us today.   

We as a society do not cut down trees to carve our idols but we allow things and people to become more important than God.   

We worship athletes and movie stars instead of Him.   

We make perfect bodies, wealth and status our idols.   

We love things and use people 
instead of loving people and using things.   

Also, as a people we tend to think only of ourselves with an expectation on the government to care for the needy, the orphaned, the widowed and the poor.   Yet God directed us, the body of Christ, to take care of them.   

And lastly, 
we carry on in religious rituals that have no meaning to us.   

We go to church because we know we should 
while living a life in direct disobedience to Him.   

We praise God by singing songs 
but those words are a lie as they proceed from our lips.   

The prophets showed us that it really is not a matter of ritual or religious practice. The warnings were not necessarily about practices but about their attitudes towards God.  

copyright Voice From The End of Town
(Isaiah)  [11] 

In all of our understanding we need to hear and take to heart the words of Paul when he said 

“These things happened to them to serve as an example, 
and they were written down as a warning for us 
in whom the culmination of the ages has been attained.”[12]


[1] (Hindson and Yates 2012, pg386)
[2] Exodus 20:3(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[3] Exodus 20:4(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[4] Isaiah 10:10-11(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[5] 2 Kings 17:6-8(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[6] Isaiah 10:1-3(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[7] Amos 2:6-7, 13-14(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[8] Malachi 1:6-7(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[9] Malachi 1:8(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[10] Malachi 1:10(New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[11] Isaiah 29:13 (New International Version Study Bible 1985)
[12] 1 Corinthians 10:11-14 (New International Version Study Bible 1985)

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