The stereotype of God in the Old Testament is that He is a God of wrath. But there’s another side of God that I’ve become more familiar with the last few years. It’s the God who cares for the down and out, as Psalm 68 says:
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing (vs. 4-6a NIV)
In my last pass through the Bible a couple of years ago, I noticed just how frequently God condemned Israel and Judah for their failure to care for those in need.
I also noticed that apostasy seemed to have a direct correlation to lack of compassion; if you turn away from helping people, you’ve likely turned away from God. Here’s a surprise verse along those lines:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
Ezekiel 15: 49
Wow. That’s a twist on Sodom’s sin! Private immorality and public indifference went hand in hand – with turning from God.
It didn’t stop with the Old Testament either. Jesus’ first sermon reiterates the theme of mercy:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus in Luke 4: 18-19, quoting Isaiah
After discussing God’s care for those in need, the Psalmist adds “but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” (vs. 6b)
The rebellious (thanks, commentaries) are those who rebel against God’s covenant, His kingdom ways. Again, one evidence of rebelling against God is to withhold compassion for those in need.
But the rebellious get their comeuppance. They who refuse to offer drink to the thirsty or food to the hungry at some point find themselves in a land that offers neither food nor drink.
One personal note here: I am not a very empathetic person. I’m less likely to feel bad for someone in need than to say, “Hey, get your act together.” But I have come to realize that I don’t need the gifts of mercy or helps to take reach out to the poor, the oppressed, the orphans. I can use my teaching gift. And I am.
But there’s another secret for obeying these commands: it’s to realize that we are all poor, oppressed, orphans – apart from Christ. So, really, when we minister to those in need, we are simply becoming friends with people just like us.
And ministering to one another.
Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 21:1-22:51, Psalm 68:1-6, Proverbs 17:2-4, John 8:21-59. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts. Your daily blogger, Holiday Longing (Reproduce with permission only).