Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.
– Zechariah 7:9-10
What I’ve been saying about justice and righteousness over the past few weeks is not meant to discount an emphasis on the marginalized.
To do so would show disregard for a clear biblical mandate. It would also cheapen the bold, world-changing efforts of men and women like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Dorothea Dix, along with the many unsung heroes I know who give their lives to serving the vulnerable.
On the contrary, I greatly respect and admire these men and women who have brought about substantial, necessary change in the world.
Rather than discounting their efforts, I am urging us to see their achievements in a new light – to see them as part of restoring the world to its originally intended state; to see them as working hand-in-hand with the common man’s daily actions of justice and righteousness.
In solidarity with the actions of such leaders, the Bible expresses particular concern for widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. The Lord cares deeply about those living on the margins of society.
Throughout the Old Testament, God calls His people to “defend the poor and fatherless,”1 “plead for the widow,”2 and “plead the cause of the poor and needy.”3
As Zechariah 7:9-10 declares, true justice is showing mercy and compassion to the widow, the fatherless, the alien, and the poor.
Jesus makes a bold statement when He says those who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the prisoner will inherit the kingdom of God. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Son of Man declares, “you did for me.”4
Conversely, the Lord promises ruin for those who wrong the vulnerable. He makes it clear in Jeremiah 22 that to “do what is just and right” is to “do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless, or the widow.” And if the king of Judah does not obey these commands, then “this palace will become a ruin.”5
Likewise in Deuteronomy 27: 19, God’s priests say, “Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.”
God’s Strong Stance
God takes a strong stance on behalf of the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the stranger not because He is partial. In fact, Leviticus 19:15 says, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.”
He takes a strong stance because He is always on the side of right. Therefore He is also on the side of those who have been wronged.
As Old Testament scholar Christopher J.H. Wright says, “The poor as a particular group in society receive God’s special attention because they are the ones who are on the ‘wronged’ side of a situation of chronic injustice – a situation that God abhors and wishes to have redressed.”6
Nicholas Wolterstorff further illuminates this situation of chronic injustice:
Because of the vulnerability of these groups, the rest of society can easily take advantage of them. In many ways, affluent societies are built on the backs of impoverished laborers.
Amos 5:11-12 speaks against such practices in Hebrew society, stating, “Therefore, because you tread down the poor and take grain taxes from him, though you have built houses of hewn stone, yet you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink wine from them. For I know your manifold transgressions.”
Once again, in his hatred of injustice, God promises there will be consequences for people’s actions. Even as He continues to invite His people into righteous relationship, He ensures justice on behalf of those they have wronged.
Desperate Theologian – Someone else who likes Christopher J.H. Wright, though he’s read far more of him than my 30 pages. I actually bought the book I’m referencing though, which is saying a heck of a lot for me in this season.
1. Psalm 82:2 (NKJV).
2. Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV).
3. Proverbs 31:9 (NKJV).
4. Matthew 25:40 (NIV).
5. Jeremiah 22:2-5 (NKJV).
6. Christopher J.H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 268.