Posts Tagged 'arrogance'


God’s Call for Justice: Amos & Zephaniah

What is “partiality?” In the Bible, there are no less than 15 Scriptures relating “partiality” to God’s character. In Deuteronomy, the question of God’s fairness is the basis for all human relationships:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17—19)

We may say that “partiality” is the opposite of justice in terms of Biblical thought. Based on the above passage, it seems clear that God’s people should behave like God behaves. God is impartial in His dealings with man, therefore we should as well.

In ancient Israel, the idea of “justice” formed the basis of not only the Jewish faith, but also its government. The minor prophets frequently railed against the treatment of their fellows because it was a manifestation of how they treated their God.

1. God hates arrogance, Amos 6:1—8

Justice has been on the minds of human beings for all time, it seems. Probably the most significant ancient work of non-biblical literature is what we call “Plato’s Republic.” What most people don’t know is it’s original title: “A Political Discourse Concerning Justice.” But long before Plato thought about justice, the Bible had that topic completely covered. Israel never needed “Plato’s Republic.”

a. A warning against complacency, vs. 1—3

In the ancient world, almost nobody could read or write. Even in the Roman world, historians estimate that less than 10% of the population was literate. Usually these skills, which we take for granted today, were taught only to the children of the elite class or the very wealthy. What sets the Bible apart from all ancient texts is that its writings stem, not always from the intellectually elite, but from the common man. Such is the case of Amos, of whom next to nothing is known. He was mere shepherd from Tekoa. He was no priest. He had no connection to the Temple. His parentage is not mentioned because there was nothing remarkable about it. The fact that God would raise up such a seemingly insignificant person is a demonstration of God’s impartiality!

This one-time prophet of God ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel. He was living and working during a time when all nations of the ancient Near East were very much aware of the mighty Assyrians and their propensity for the conquest of entire nations. The tyrannical Tiglath-Pileser III was the ruler of Assyria at this time and he managed, in a relatively short span of time, to establish one of the most enduring empires in ancient history.

Amos, as uneducated as he was, was a powerful speaker who could easily catch the attention of his audience. And he was skilful, too. He ably connected the moral decline of Israel and Judah to the coming of the Assyrians. As we read Amos, we can see how vitally connected moral obedience is to God’s Word and the security of a nation.

In the first five chapters, Amos dealt with God’s judgment of the northern kingdom, Israel. While the people expected a day of deliverance coming, Amos knew otherwise; he knew the great and terrible Day of the Lord—a day of judgment—was just over the horizon. The monarchy and political power brokers should have seen it coming, but the power structure of Israel was riding high, falsely secure in their military power and victories of Syria. They felt unconquerable. The people, for their part, seemed quite content to be “under their thumbs.” The people couldn’t do a thing without getting the approval of some political body. No wonder these verse stung and cut so deeply.

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come! Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia. Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours? You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. (verses 1—3)

Amos aimed at and scored a direct hit at the false optimism and sense of security and carefree arrogance of the leaders. They looked so strong and unbeatable in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes, they were as puny as the leaders of any other nation. Amos lumped Israel in with a bunch of conquered and subjugated city-states of other greater nations.

Naturally, the leaders rejected Amos’ prophecy, and they continued to wallow in their complacency, and in their mistreatment of their own citizens.

b. A warning against elite luxuries, vs. 4—6

So while the political class revelled in their own lives of ease, indulgence, and affluence, they continued to care very little for the state of others. They stuffed themselves with gourmet food, went to the best golf courses, sang songs and got drunk.

You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.

c. The coming judgment and exile, vs. 7, 8

To Amos, luxury and wealth, in themselves harmless, had become symbols of the oppression by which these leaders pampered themselves. And so, those who amassed so much wealth would be the first to go into exile. The corrupt government of the House of Israel would finally come to an end. Amos said this sometime around 760 B.C., when Jeroboam II reigned over an immensely prosperous people. Less than 4 decades later, Israel was overrun and conquered by Assyria and all but the poor were exiled.

As we read about the state of ancient Israel, we are prompted to think about the awesome responsibility of leadership. A country, church, Christian movement, or even a family can rise no higher than its leadership. Those being led will either rise to great heights or sink to new lows depending on the spiritual and moral quality of their leadership.

2. God hates injustice, Amos 8:4—12

Amos was concerned, not only that the people turn to the Lord, but that society as a whole repent from its injustice.

Looking after those who are incapable of looking after themselves has always been important to the Lord, and it should be important to His people. Much of the Law is devoted to making sure the real poor and afflicted were cared for; those policies had been enshrined in the religious and civil laws of Israel. Other nations exploited the poor, or they were left to die. When Israel did as they were told, the nation prospered, from the richest to the poorest. But when Israel, as they did time and again, followed the example of worldly nations, the poor suffered and the rich were harshly judged.

In Amos 7, the priest Amaziah grew weary of Amos’ preaching, and ordered him to return to Judah.

Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (7:12, 15)

Amos was faithful to the Lord, and continued to prophesy in Israel.

a. The sin of oppression, vs. 4—7

In Amos’ time, religious hypocrisy had become outright rebellion against God. Those who pretended to be religious were the ones who were taking advantage of the poor. God made it clear that to sin against Yahweh’s people was, in fact, to sin against Him. These religious types kept their festivals meticulously, but managed to find time to rip people off right and left. To these people, God had a particularly ominous message:

I will never forget anything they have done. (verse 7)

b. The land cannot withstand oppression, vs. 8—12

Israel’s end will be like an earthquake. The land will shake and heave. Nature will share in God’s anger. The earthquake will be followed by an eclipse, which will cause great fear. The earth and the very cosmos will seem to be in opposition to the people who turned away from their God, the Lord of all creation.

3. Spiritual renewal results in justice, Zephaniah 3:9—20

There is a “prophetic gospel,” and the minor prophets are full of it. What is the “prophetic gospel?” It is the “good news in prophecy.” God will always have the “last word.” This last word is repeated spoken in Psalm 136: His mercy endures forever.

The minor prophet Zephaniah, who prophesied during the time of great king Josiah, spent 2 chapters declaring what God would do to the nations on a worldwide scale. Now he turns his attention to Judah and Jerusalem. Joshiah’s awesome religious reforms, unfortunately, did not long outlast him. Jerusalem should have been the model for the whole world. Jerusalem should have been setting the example for every nation in the world to follow after. Instead, Jerusalem, like Samaria before it, became the home of those who were wilfully living in rebellion against God. They lived polluted lives, defiling themselves with sinful deeds, and disregarding the rights of others, especially of orphans and widows.

a. Arrogance abolished, vs. 9—13

Just when the promised judgment had reached its crescendo, God would enter center stage in a big way:

Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder. (verse 9)

The Hebrew for “purify” is a strong word that means “a turning away” or “a transformation.” It’s not a slow process, but a quick and total change; a radical break with the past. This radical change will affect all nations because this work of God will be worldwide in scope.

I will sweep away both people and animals; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea—and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all people on the face of the earth…” (1:2—3)

God would use the Babylonian Exile of the Jews to accomplish this purification. The rebellion would be purged from their souls. God would use the exile to reorient the people around God.

b. The everlasting presence of God, vs. 14—17

She who was once the rebellious, polluted, and oppressing city is given three titles of honor: daughter of Zion, Israel, and daughter of Jerusalem. In Biblical poetry, which much of the prophetic word is, cities and their citizens are often referred to as women.

Zephaniah is describing life in the Messianic era. It will be a time filled with great joy, singing, and gladness. All this happiness of God’s people will be shared by God Himself:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (verse 7)

c. The restoration of the nation, vs. 18—20

In spite of the translation difficulties surrounding verse 18, Zephaniah writes of a time in the future of God’s people that even we have yet to experience. The years of exile in Babylong would be difficult for the Jews. They would be unable to worship, and would long for the day when they could gather together in praise.

To these exiles, God promised that one day, all would be restored. Once they lived in shame, but one day, they people would receive honor and fame on account of what their God will do for them.

Through God’s work of restoration, Judah will become renowned around the world.

At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes…” (verses 19, 20)

The minor prophets saw the day when God’s saving grace would flow from Israel to all the people over all the earth. By taking seriously the words of “the minors,” we can learn what God requires of us and how to “do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

Practically Speaking: James 9

Some observations on how we treat each other

James 4:11-17

As we begin reading this group of verses, two things come to mind.  First, the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

And second, something James said earlier in this letter:

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  (2:2-4)

What makes this section curious is not necessarily the subject matter, although it seems that believers judging other believers for no apparent reason was all-too common in the early church, and that is something very curious to me.  What is extremely curious is how James address his readers.  Not a handful of verses previously, he called them “double minded” and “adulterous” people.  Now he comes back to refer to them as “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.”   I don’t want to read too much into this, but to me, it is a very comforting thought to know that even when believers behave badly, even to the point of slandering one another, they are still members of God’s family.

Even though it seems like James is launching into a series of unrelated series of topics, it should be noted that verses 11 and 12 are, in fact, very closely related to the preceding passage.  In Psalm 101:5, David actually links slander to a lack of humility:

Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.

The connection is really very simple.  Slander comes from a person who thinks they are superior to others.  When a Christian begins to drift away from God, they begin to draw away from other believers and begin to be unduly critical of them.  Such was the case of James’ friends.

1.  The evil of evil speaking, verses 11, 12

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.  (Verse 11)

This prohibition might better be translated like this:

Do not speak against one another.

The Greek word, katalaleite does mean “to slander,” but it is a more encompassing word.  To slander some one generally means to lie about them or make false or misleading statements about them to others.  But katalaleite properly refers to any form of “ugly speech” against somebody else.  In fact, it refers to more than just the unkind words but also to the way they are spoken.

The grammatical construction of this sentence indicates an ongoing activity.  James is not only prohibiting a nasty habit, but he is telling to stop doing it.  And the reason James gives for stopping this despicable practice is that the one who speaks against his brother will soon find himself in trouble with God.  “The law” to which James refers is “the royal law,” mentioned earlier in the letter.  A/F. Harper’s comments on this verse are extremely helpful at this juncture:

When I violate God’s law of love, I set myself up a judge and say in effect, God’s law is not a good law.  Thus the real evil of speaking evil speaking rests in a sinful pride that refuses to accept and obey the law of God.

The one who slanders a brother literally puts asides the Word and wishes of God and places himself on the same level as God.   Debelius:

Slander is not a transgression of merely one commandment, but a transgression against the authority of the law in general, and therefore against God.

When viewed like this, we can see the seriousness of this sin.  It is not merely against a brother or sister, but against the God of the universe.  Of course, James is not condemning legitimate human judgment, for elsewhere in Scripture believers are encouraged to exercise godly judgment of one another.

But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.  (1 Corinthians 11:31)

Ultimately, as verse 12 says, God is the only Lawgiver who has the ability to administer His law righteously; God shares that position with no human being.  James goes so far as to describe God as:

one who is able to save and destroy

That’s a powerful statement of the sovereignty of God, that finds two parallels:

There is no god besides me.  I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal.  (Deuteronomy 32:39)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matthew 10:28)

As believers and members of one great Body, we are all guilty of our sins, though we stand forgiven by our heavenly Father.  Still, we are the accused, and therefore rather than standing in judgment of each other, setting ourselves up as their judge, we should encourage, comfort, and love our family in the Lord.  Simply put, you and I are in no position lord it over another in the position of their judge because we ourselves are in need of the grace and mercy of Jesus.  It would do us well focus our attention of Jesus, and direct others to do the same.

2.  Recognize the presence of God, verses 13-17

In this section, James returns to the “arrogant rich,” first to condemn their arrogance and to show their evil end.  However, it is not a new discussion; it relates to the previous verses in that it illustrates the danger of an unchristian attitude toward material gain (verse 2) and to what James has been saying  in regards to pride and humility (verse 6-7, 10).

(A)  Setting the scene

The Jews of the Diaspora, the Dispersion, eventually came to settle in various Roman cities, and once there, they began to settle in and become very successful merchants and traders.  Some of these prosperous Jews converted to Christianity, like Lydia, for example.  Perhaps it was people like her that James had in mind:  Christians who had become comfortable and successful and had either forgotten or failed to see what the true meaning of the Gospel was in relation to life and business.   James advises:  Realize the reality of God in every area of life.

(B)  Ignoring God, verses 13-15

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

“Now listen” is serious call to pay attention to what follows and the word “say,” legontes, is in the present tense, which indicated the situation James describes is an ongoing one.  Traveling for business in the first century was very common, and Jews especially were known to have traveled extensively.  Here is a prime example of people who do their planning and engage in their day-to-day work without thinking about God.  By ignoring God, they show as much arrogance as the person who slanders his brother.  It has been said that failing to come to God regularly in prayer is one of the most common offenses in the Church.

James is not condemning the practice of doing business, but he condemning the attitude of people who live as though God does not exist.  To such people–people who carry on their business without regard for God–money is more important than serving the Lord.  People like this are just like the “rich young fool” Jesus taught about in Luke 12:16-21, who failed to realize that he could not add even a minute to his life.  The lesson:  we are all dependent on God.  Calvin notes:

But James roused the stupidity of those who disregard God’s providence, and claimed for themselves a whole year, though they had not a single moment in their own power.

Verse 14 is a  not-so-subtle wake-up call, which Moffatt translates:

You who know nothing about tomorrow…

Even though the Bible is not a medical textbook, it does offer some profound medical truths!  A tiny clot of blood in the brain may cause an instant and unexpected death.  No wonder the Psalmist wrote:

My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.  (Psalm 102:11)

In the KJV, that verse is even more graphic:

My days are like a shadow that declineth…

People who make no room for God in their day-to-day lives leave themselves wide open to be knocked about by unforeseen circumstances.  James shows the foolishness of living like this:  they plan way in advance to do something as though they themselves are in control of the future.  Proving his point, James points to the transitory nature of life, comparing it to mist that vanishes in the morning warmth.  There is nothing wrong with making plans, as long as God is in the plan.  That’s the main point of the next verse:

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Today, the notion of “the Lord’s will” has become almost hackneyed.  Christians use that phrase as a kind of formula in their prayers in hopes of having them answered.  In it’s overuse. “in the Lord’s will” seems to have lost its significance.  Yet it is the most important thing a believer can defer to.

Interestingly enough, this phrase does not appear at all in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament era, Paul used it constantly as if to teach people about its proper use.

  • When he left Ephesus, Paul said to the Jews, “I will come back if it is the Lord’s will” (Acts 18:21)
  • He told the Corinthians, “I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing” (1 Corinthians 4:19)
  • He promised the believers in Corinth to spend some time with them “if the Lord permist” (1 Corinthians 16:7)

But in many other instances, neither Paul nor the other apostles used it.  But they lived according to it.  In other words, believers do not need to use the words “God willing” as a Christians talisman, in a mechanical fashion.  Instead, our entire lives should be lived in the knowledge that we are God’s children and that we are safe and secure in Him and that He holds sway over them, to our benefit.  Mayor’s comments are valuable:

The boaster forgets that life depends on the will of God.  The right feeling is, both my life and my actions are determined by Him.

(C)  From neglect to opposition, verse 16

So, how far can one go in neglecting God before they cross the  line into outright opposition?   The merchants to whom James is addressing, apparently had taken business risks and made a profit.  Success breeds success, and sometimes along with prosperity comes pride and an unhealthy sense of self-sufficiency.  J.B. Phillips’ translation provides a helpful insight:

As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence.  That sort of pride is all wrong.

The Greek is powerful and literally means:

You are boasting in your arrogant pretensions.

One word in that long Greek phrase is alazoneiais, and refers to one taking pride in their knowledge or cleverness, but implies that those qualities are not really possessed by the person.  Sinful boasting, then, is rooted in unreality.

There is a good boasting.  Paul teaches that one can boast only in the weakness, for Paul had come to realize that in his weakness the power of Christ becomes evident (see 2 Corinthians 11:30; 12:5, 9).   Hahn rightly observed:

A Christian may boast of himself only in so far as his life is lived in dependence on God and in responsibility to Him.

(D)  Sins of omission, verse 17

James ends this part of his letter with a proverbial saying that may have been popular in James’ day. It’s a very stern warning the sin of neglect.

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

Once again, James’ words seem to echo the words of his brother:

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.  (Luke 12:47)

Verse 17 is a verse that may be applied to many situations, especially to most of his letter!  Ropes suggests that James is saying something along the lines of:  “You have all been warned!”  Burdick writes:

It is like saying, “Now that I have pointed the matter out to you, you have no excuse.”  Knowing what should be done obligates a person to do it.

Verse 17 really is what Erdman calls a principle of wide scope and great importance.  It is not only wrong to commit an action that we know to be contrary to the will of God, or about which we are uncertain, it is equally wrong to fail to do what we know to be God’s will.

James does not write this to make life hard for his readers or for us.  Doing God’s will fills the believer with joy and satisfaction.  Who else besides a Christian who is living according to the statutes of the Word may say regards of the circumstances:

“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

(c) 2008 WitzEnd

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