It’s too easy when reading about ancient history from the Bible to allow our eyes to roll back in our head out of boredom. 
Most of that boredom is because we think that it just isn’t relevant to our lives today, though this is not the case more often than not.

God called Israel out from among the nations to use them as a shining example of how a nation – founded on justice, righteousness and seeking the common good for all – could prosper and enjoy both the Lord’s blessing and protection. Instead, Israel used their “calling out” as a sign of a status over the nations.

The nation took for granted their blessing and protection by God, not understanding that it was conditional.

Inasmuch as they upheld justice, righteousness and sought the common good, they would enjoy God’s blessing and protection. 

If they didn’t, then they were no different than any other nation and therefore useless as a shining light to the nations.

God would not give them special blessing and special protection without their obedient witness through just practices. 

On the other hand, God would grant to any nation that upheld justice and righteousness and sought the common good, special blessing and special protection because that was his intention from the start.

Israel would show the nations the special benefits that accrue to those who uphold justice and righteousness and who seek the common good, and all that followed suit would also enjoy those special benefits. 

In the Bible, “justice” and “righteousness” were virtually synonymous. Righteousness wasn’t a status given to those whose sins were forgiven; it was the act of doing the right thing. 

Justice wasn’t about punishing offenders and rewarding law-abiders; it was about taking care of each other, particularly the weakest and the poorest.

The phrase I’ve used, “seeking the common good,” captures the essence of both words. The earth belongs to the Lord, and the fullness therein was – and is – to be shared with all so that everyone has enough.

According to the prophet Isaiah, Israel didn’t do this. “[God] expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” he proclaimed.

“Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!” Isaiah said. “The LORD of hosts has sworn in my hearing. Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant” (Isaiah 5:1-9).

Those who had much took from those who had little. Eventually, those who had little lost what they had to those who already had too much. Some even became debtor slaves to the wealthy. 

The uber-rich added house to house and field to field – the house and field of their neighbor – until they had more houses than they needed and more fields than they needed to feed themselves. Meanwhile, fellow Israelites didn’t have fields enough to feed themselves.

So God withheld his protection, and soon Assyria descended upon the northern kingdom and destroyed it. These northern tribes were dispersed, never to be seen again.

You would think that the southern kingdom of Judah would learn a lesson, but in some ways they became even worse. In 586 B.C., they suffered the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.

When people are in need, God hates hoarding. When a nation allows a few to have way too much while many have insufficient resources and many more have barely enough, God’s blessing and protection goes away and judgment follows. It’s the biblical pattern.

Today, the top 1 percent own 39 percent of the world’s wealth. In the U.S., 95 percent of the wealth created in the three-year recovery from the recession went to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Now go back and read Isaiah again and review the history of ancient Israel to see if they have anything relevant to say to us today. 

Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Md. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, While My Muse Gently Weeps, and is used with permission.

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