In the first post of this thread, closing my conclusions on my ETS paper, I offered a rewrite on the conclusion of my paper (Show me what kind of association you have with those living with the affects of poverty, and I will tell you what kind of god you worship). As most of my regular readers know I am working and finishing up a paper that I will present at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society that meets in New Orleans this month. The paper, “Idolatry and Poverty: Where the Public vs. the Private Isn’t Enough,” draft of which I have post on this site. I went into this project thinking I knew the outcome; already knowing what I expected to find out. After a year of research, having read and reviewed countless articles and books, I didn’t find exactly what I thought I’d find; I ended up discovering something slightly different.
In Rhode Island last year, I explained to my Evangelical Theological Society study group, “Other Voices,” that I feel, often, alone in any room. No matter where I go, I find I am almost always alone in the room, among colleagues, at church, among friends, at political activities. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends and family, and people are generally nice to me and often agree with parts of my thinking. So this isn’t about people as much as it is about what I believe to be important and true. I can be in a room of my professional peers and I’d, almost always, be alone; or in a room of friends or workmates, and again, be pretty much alone as a conservative, who believes in the original intent of the constitution, who works in the social service world on behalf of the poor. I am a conservative, “right wing” evangelical, a hawk regarding the military, a strong advocate of reasonable military preemptive action, low-taxes with minimal government, strong on business and the free market, who also believes that the issues of poverty are of national interest and deserve action at all levels of society, including government. Dealing with the issues of poverty is more than individual charity, for there is personal as well as structural sin, quality of life doesn’t mean just suburban life, but is a matter of well-being and economic self-sufficiency (or at least as much self-sufficiency as possible for individuals and families).
And particularly for the non-poor, conservative Christian there needs to be a different framework for thinking about poverty; one which is neither right nor left (although I am not that naïve to think one can totally be non-political or without a tinge from blue-red); one that doesn’t simply finds its basis in a political allegiance or socio-economic social location.
While writing my paper on “Wasted Evangelism” and Mark 4 for the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting in 2008, I discovered that virtually every single reference in the Old Testament regarding the poor, the economically vulnerable, or the issue of poverty was juxtaposed with texts about idolatry. Vertically every Pentateuchal or Prophetic text dealing with the poor also, in the immediate context or flow of thought, had a reference to idolatry in some form or another—there is an idolatry-poverty juxtaposition that is consistent throughout the Old Testament. This intrigued me to do some further investigation. Here are a few things I learned and discovered along the way and in doing this paper:
- Because of the references to the poor and poverty in the Old Testament have as their basis the prohibition against idolatry, particularly the idea of God vs. the gods, the issue of poverty for the Christian is raised to the level of apologetics, placing it directly into the very nature discipleship and evangelism.
- The non-poor Christian living in the suburbs didn’t do it on their own as they claim—they had help over the years, particularly in Government aid, policy, and regulations.
- As long as there are zoning codes and laws supported by political conservatives, I will not believe those same conservatives actually believe in the free market—they believe in a controlled free market with rules and regulations that support their social location and place and property as they see fit (not as the market sees fit).
- The original Ten-Words, often referred to as the Ten-Commandments, have more to do with the issues of poverty than simply the piety of those who claim adherence to their so-called original intent.
- Political alignment is a faulty framework for thinking and dealing with the issues of poverty, and for the non-poor Christian in particular, it is a faulting and idolatrous construction of reality.
- Social action isn’t an option for the evangelistic efforts and life of the church community; it is by definition of the Gospel as presented by Mark, part of it—so much so that not to provide social action as a believing community is to be disobedient to the Gospel.
- Those living in and enjoying the benefits of exurban life have stolen and are “stealing” (as the original 8th commandment is to be read) from those who live in urban centers and are guilty of the original intent of the 10th commandment to not covet.
- This private vs. public dichotomy where the choice is between individual charity and government or public is a faulty framework for Christians to think about poverty, which supports both the idolatry of individualism and idolatry of the state rather than truly addressing the issues of poverty.
- And one wild and crazy thought—imagine thousands and millions of suburban, non-poor evangelical Christians moving out of their exurban comfort-zone and into urban–centers all across this nation. Imagine. Do you know what kind of impact that would have on urban centers, on urban school districts, on municipal, State, and Federal politics—and zoning laws? Imagine.
These are is just some of the things I was taught in doing this paper on poverty and idolatry. We’ll see if I have learned anything as time goes on.
After re-reading my last paragraph, I needed to reverse something...here is the ending re-written with a better twist reflecting on the Emil Brunner quote in light of my paper’s assertions regarding the idolatry-poverty juxtaposition:
Emil Brunner famously remarked, “For every civilization, for every period of history, it is true to say, ‘show me what kind of gods you have, and I will tell you what kind of humanity you possess.’” For the Christian and Christian community it is, Show me what kind of association you have with those living with the affects of poverty, and I will tell you what kind of god you worship. The reality of everyday life, the acceptance that Suburban life and its enablers, the free market and human acts of power, are often at odds with the Gospel, especially a Gospel that has been formed by the idolatry-poverty juxtaposition. For the non-poor Christian this is an idolatrous mode of living and does not offer a biblically defensible apologetic for the God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ
It is down to the wire and I am finishing up my paper on the Idolatry-Poverty Juxtaposition and the Gospel. Nov 19th is fast approaching, so I have left some fine tuning and then deciding what parts not to read--I only have 40 minutes and I am supposed to leave some room for Q&A. Here is the conclusion I have decided upon. Some of its a repeat from earlier posts, but better I think. In the next post, I just want to make some personal, concluding remarks.
Conclusion: Social Action as Christian Apologetics
Simply—more affluent suburbanites, despite a claim to a higher work ethic or a more developed sense of responsibility, didn’t do it on their own; they had help along the way. On the one hand, the non-poor’s social construction of reality which they now experience as everyday life allows them to benefit from past actions of government, not just the market, that laid much of the groundwork for continued prosperity. On the other hand, the concentration of poverty in central-cities is not simply about laziness, slothfulness, or even personal sin. (I assume the non-poor who benefit from the current structure and mediating institutions are just as much “sinners” as those living in geographic areas of concentrated poverty.) Indeed, much of what is in place and experienced now as normal arose from various forms of racism and redlining practices, as well as “the concentration of subsidized housing projects [that] destabilized and isolated the poor, while federal home-loan programs, targeting new construction exclusively, encouraged the deterioration and abandonment of urban housing.” The fact of poverty and the reality of those affected by it in the central-cities couldn’t have happened any more affectively if it were actually planned and implemented with malice. Without the aid of government policies and subsidies, as well as municipally empowered zoning laws and discriminatory business policies (such as bank red-lining), the foundation for exurban wealth in America might not have happened. Rather than lamenting this inequitable state of affairs, participants, including many non-poor believers, have been encouraged to rejoice in the “prudence” of such strategies and the institutions—not the government (they say) but capitalism and the mythical market—that sustain them. The modern, non-poor suburban dweller is the heir of such socially constructed forces.
The present model for socio-economic progress and prosperity objectifies the non-poor Christian’s reality (i.e., “home world”) through habits and experiences of everyday life that are incorporated into his or her belief system—validating the plausibility of personal faith. The problem for the non-poor Christian living in such a history and current social-location, then, experiences only a partial reality, which is a defective social construction. The Bible warns of God’s judgment upon those who create or maintain economic structures that benefit some and exclude others (e.g., Ex 22-23; Lev 19, 24; Dt 15, 24; Jer 4-8, 16-17; 22; Ez 17-18, 22; Am 4:1ff; Mic 2:1-2; Zech 7; Isa 5:7ff), that pave the way to prosperity for some and prolonged, generational poverty for others. The non-poor accept a world that is duplicitous, limiting the historic and current benefits of a socio-economic system to those the “market blessed.”
In Man in Revolt, Emil Brunner famously remarked, “For every civiliation, for every period of history, it is true to say, ‘show me what kind of gods you have, and I will tell you what kind of humanity you possess.’” For the Christian and Christian community it is “show me what kind of gods do you worship and I will tell you what kind of relationship you have with those in poverty.” The reality of everyday life, the acceptance that Suburban life and its enablers, the free market and human acts of power, are often at odds with the Gospel, especially a Gospel that has been formed by the idolatry-poverty juxtaposition. For the non-poor Christian this is an idolatrous mode of living and does not offer a biblically defensible apologetic for the God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I bring this rather long thread to a close, making a brief closing remark on thihs wildly fasinating use of OT texts by Mark throughout his Gospel narrative—the use of OT texts that juxtapose idolatry and the poor.
Although a more detailed, exegetical investigation of the Old Testament referenced texts is needed, the obvious use of Old Testament material regarding idolatry and the poor are certainly embedded into the very nature of the Gospel, making these texts paradigmatic for discipleship and evangelism. Mark’s strong and pervasive use of the original covenant documents, with a high concentration on texts related to idolatry and the economically vulnerable, indicates that the Old Testament ethical texts are paradigmatic for discipleship. The consistent use of Old Testament texts related to expectations regarding the poor and the juxtaposition of references to the issues of idolatry, as well, point to the apologetic and evangelistic potential of social action.
A concluding remark from the overall paper as it stands now in draft form. I do have another section to write to better conclude the paper, but the following is a added conclusion to the “application” section (A Defective Social Construction for Christians
). So, I include this as part of the thread now.
The present model for socio-economic progress and prosperity, objectifies the non-poor Christian’s reality (i.e., “home world”) through habits and experiences of everyday life, and thus assumed a part of his or her belief system—validating the experience of everyday as biblical. The problem for the non-poor believer living in such a history and current social location, then, experiences only a partial reality. For the Christian, this is a defective social construction. The prophets warned of God’s judgment upon those who create or maintain economic structures that benefit some and exclude others (e.g., Amos 4:1ff; Mic 2:1-2; Isa 5:7ff; Jer 22), that pave the way to prosperity for some and prolonged, generational poverty for others. The non-poor accept a world that is duplicitous, limiting the historic and current benefits of a socio-economic system to those the “market blessed.” Furthermore, the reality of everyday life, the acceptance that Suburban life and its enablers, the free market and human acts of power, sustaining an everyday life, are often at odds with the Gospel, especially a Gospel that has been formed by the relationship between idolatry and the issues of poverty. For the non-poor Christian this is an idolatrous mode of living and does not offer a biblically defensive apologetic for the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Preparing on ‘the way’ for the “sudden appearance” at the Temple…cont’n
Note on “fig tree”: Later in verse 18, The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me (Jer 7:18); and it should be noted that “Fig tree” reference in Mark 11 is derived partially from Jer 8:13 and has close association with foreign idolatrous influences:
“I will surely snatch them away,” declares the LORD;
“There will be no grapes on the vine
And no figs on the fig tree,
And the leaf will wither;
And what I have given them will pass away” (Jer 8:13).
Note on widow and offerings: The widow connection is further reinforced by Mark’s reference to “selling doves” as part of the description of the “buying and selling in the temple” (11:15). Mark ties in the maltreatment of the poor through an obvious reference to the Levitical provision given to the impoverished:
But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the LORD his guilt offering for that in which he has sinned, two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. (Lev 5:7).
Certainly Mark infers that Jesus has something against the “profit making” activities taking place in the temple, for there is a clear link between the poor and Jesus’ living parable of judgment.
In the last post, I will make some summary comments on the Marken thread of OT quotations and references that juxtapose the concept of idolatry and poverty…
Preparing on ‘the way’ for the “sudden appearance” at the Temple…cont’n
Mark 12 begins with a parable that, once again, draws on the Isa 1-6 context and the Isa 5 parable-imagery of God’s unproductive vineyard (Then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones, Isa 5:2c). Jesus’ words reflect implications drawn from the original Isaiah parable and its contextual implications regarding the poor (Isa 1-5), idolatry (the taunt, Isa 6:9ff), and judgment (exile):
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house
And the men of Judah His delightful plant
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.
Woe to those who add house to house and
join field to field,
Until there is no more room,
So that you have to live alone in
the midst of the land! (Isa 5:7-8; cf. Mic 2:1-2).
Mark ends his thread with the ultimate abandoning of covenant land-management expectations: oppression of a widow right there in the temple courts. The widow story, which carries inferences and allusions to Ex 22, Lev 19, 23, Deut 14, and Mal 3—all texts with implicit references that juxtapose idolatry and the poor—offers the final straw regarding their disregard for the covenant expectations concerning the economically vulnerable. Mark focuses on the abuse of a poor widow, who’s only financial resources are stripped from her just so she can enter into the doomed temple. The poor widow story, despite its common use as an illustration of sacrificial giving to modern-day temples, is likely a capstone to the thread Mark has weaved throughout his narrative, namely that the Gospel and the presence of the Kingdom are associated with social relationships, particularly toward the economically vulnerable. This is made even more clear as the listener encounters Jesus’ sudden
appearance in the temple, where the final judgment is foretold, drawing on the Malachi 3 threat, which includes the accusation of neglect and oppression of the economically vulnerable.
Preparing on ‘the way’ for the “sudden appearance” at the Temple
As Mark prepares his reader/hearers for ultimate judgment on the temple (Mark 13), there is a thread of Old Testament referents and imagery that draws our attention back to covenant expectations. Mark 10-12 contains a series of teachings and confrontations scenes that elicited questions or comments related to Messianic expectations. Embedded in this thread are texts from the Old Testament regarding the issues of idolatry and poverty. Mark begins this section with a reference to divorce (10:2ff) and ends with the story of the poor widow (12:38ff). The divorce referent reaches back to Deuteronomy 24, which most likely has more to do with protecting women, widows, and orphans than a so-called contemporary divorce exemption for modern American Christians. This makes sense given that Deuteronomy 24 also contains the gleaning codes designed to sustain the economically vulnerable trio—the widow, orphan, and alien (Dt 24:19ff)—where farmers make available from their own property and produce food for the economically vulnerable.
Then Jeremiah’s temple speech forms the background, as well as Isaianic redemptive promises, to the confrontation in the Court of the Gentiles (Mk 11:15ff), where Jesus topples tables and utters harsh judgment texts, when Jesus disrupts the commerce in the Court, He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a robbers’ den” (Mark 11:17). The reference is drawn from Jeremiah 7:11:
Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known (Jer 7:9).
The juxtaposition of covenant references to the economically vulnerable and to idolatry are obvious. Similarly in Isaiah’s judgment against Israel (1-5), outward appearances and rituals were all in place, thus there was a trust that God would protect their religiosity despite neglecting covenant expectations toward the economically vulnerable and their disregard for justice. Mark, as well, references Isaiah 56:7 (MY HOUSE WILL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE PEOPLES) where the context is a call to “Preserve justice and do righteousness” because Yahweh’s “salvation is about to come” and “His righteousness to be revealed” (v 1).
The Inference in the Beelzubul parable and Mark’s Isaiah 6 Idolatry-taunt...continued
Zechariah 7 also draws upon this theme and links the exodus land-management stipulations, the role of the Spirit, and idolatry. Zechariah declares the word of the LORD (7:4) to the exiles concerning their disingenuous repentance in their mourning and fasting (7:5). Even in exile, there is no attempt to show contrition because they have not linked their idolatrous hearts to their misplaced social relationships (i.e., they made their hearts like flint, a reference to idolatry):
Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts, “but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate” (Zech 7:8-14).
All the earmarks of the Beelzubul controversy are contained in the Zech 7 passage, stressing the judgment of exile as analogous to idolatry and exile is related to breaking covenant, and specifically the stipulations regarding the economically vulnerable and the poor. The Beelzubul parable infers the charges raised in the original idolatry taunt (Isa 6) and is applied in Mark’s Gospel (4:11ff). The Beelzubul episode leads to Mark’s use of the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt—WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY NOT HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN (4:11b-12). As commentators have observed, “Jesus adopts a meaning for Isaiah 6:9-10 virtually identical to the original meaning in Isaiah,” making the judgment of the parables in Mark 3 and 4 a declaration of the reality of God’s present activity. Just as the Beelzubul conflict prepares for the idolatry-taunt judgment in Mark 4, Isaiah 1-5 prepares for the original idolatry-taunt judgment in Isa 6. Aside from the obvious immoral behaviors, there are specifics related to land-management and the economically vulnerable that are seen as appropriate for the idolatry-taunt:
Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow (1:16-17).
Your rulers are rebels
And companions of thieves;
Everyone loves a bribe
And chases after rewards.
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them (1:23).
The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and
princes of His people,
“It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
The plunder of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing My people
And grinding the face of the poor?”
Declares the Lord GOD of hosts (3:14-15).
The mention of the vulnerable trio—the orphan, the widow, and the alien/stranger—is an obvious reflection of the covenant stipulations of Exodus 21-23. The people’s idolatry created attitudes, as well as, religious and socio-economic structures (2:6-8; 2:20) and habits that discouraged or hindered them from their responsibilities toward the poor. This is significant for how discipleship is formed. Like the Beelzubul parable, many apply Mark’s parable of the Sower and the consequential Isaiah referent drawn into narrative solely to the private sphere. However, the original Isaiah context places the implications of its use in the realm of discipleship, the Christian’s social relationships, particularly with the poor—and evangelism.
The Inference in the Beelzubul parable and Mark’s Isaiah 6 Idolatry-taunt
The programmatic themes established in Mark 1 (the Exodus, covenant expectations, idolatry, and the poor) prepare the reader for Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes from Jerusalem (Mk 3:22). Typically, the Beelzebul story is applied within the private sphere, to those who refuse to accept Jesus as Savior (e.g., “Those who refuse Jesus, whom the Holy Spirit reveals, will not find forgiveness”). This is rather simplistic, misses the text’s significance, and overlooks Mark’s use of antecedent theology. This story is strategically placed at the end of a series of confrontation stories (1:22; 2:6; 2:16; 3:22) and functions as Jesus’ judgment response directed to His political and religious antagonists. The judgment rendered in Mark 3:29 (whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin) is not to be applied generally as the ultimate rejection of Jesus as Savior, but the rejection of the implications the Kingdoms’ presence. The Beelzubul story (3:22ff) offers a narrative transition for the parable of the Sower and a reason for Mark’s use of the Isaiah 6 idolatry-taunt, which is the natural consequence of the Beelzubul judgment-parable.
But why blasphemy of the “Holy Spirit” and not blasphemy of God or His Messiah? First, the Beelzebul controversy is set in terms of the kingdom (If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand, 3:24) with Jesus as the “stronger one” (a reference to Isa 40) who comes to plunder Satan’s kingdom-house (3:24, 27). Earlier John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the “mighty one” (ὁ ἰσχυρότερός; cf. 1:8; Isa 40:10, 26) who is associated with God’s Holy Spirit (He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, 1:8; the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him, 1:10). Second, there is an association to the first Exodus. The use of ἐκβαλῶ (cast out) in the Beelzubul narrative (ἐν τῷ ἄρχοντι τῶν δαιμονίων ἐκβάλλει τὰ δαιμόνια, by the ruler of demons He casts out demons, Mark 3:22, 23) connects what God will do to the inhabitants of the Promised Land and to the exorcism activities of Jesus. In the original Exodus story we hear:
I [Yahweh] will drive them out [ἐκβαλῶ, will cast them out] before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out [ἐκβαλῶ] before you (Exodus 23:30-31).
This terminology is also reflected in the bookend-texts describing the calling and commission of the twelve (and to have authority to cast out [ἐκβαλῶ] the demons, Mk 3:15; 6:13).
Finally, there is a link between the first Exodus, the Spirit, and the judgment of “unforgiveness.” In Exodus 23, the Angel of the Lord goes before them to guard them “along the way” (ἐν τὴν ὁδόν). Israel is warned to obey his voice and do not be rebellious toward him, for he will not pardon your transgression, since My name is in him (Exodus 23:20-21). This is followed by warnings against idolatry (vv 32-33; cf. Isa 6 and Mark’s reference to Isa 6, Mk 4:12ff). Additionally, elsewhere the Old Testament makes the connection made between the Angel of Exodus and God’s Spirit:
As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear! (Haggai 2:5).
You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, and You gave them water for their thirst (Nehemiah 9:20).
Then in Isaiah, we have a clear exodus motif in Isaiah 63, connecting the Exodus-Angel, the Spirit, and the rebellion against “his voice”:
In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the angel of His presence saved them;
In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled
And grieved His Holy Spirit;
Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy,
He fought against them.
Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses
Where is He who brought them up out of the sea
with the shepherds of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the
midst of them (vv 9-11).
The call to become fishers of men...continued
In the midst of the references to idolatry (above) are reminders—direct and indirect—of the covenant stipulations concerning the poor. In Jeremiah 16-18 there are reminders that those who refuse to provide and advocate for the economically vulnerable will become subject to sword, famine, and childlessness, that is widows and orphans (Ex 22:24; cf. Ps 109).
“They will die of deadly diseases, they will not be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth” (Jer 16:4)
Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.
May an outcry be heard from their houses,
When You suddenly bring raiders upon them;
For they have dug a pit to capture me
And hidden snares for my feet. (Jer 18:21-22)
These consequences are reminiscent of covenant promises and expectations:
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless (Ex 22:21-24).
Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. The LORD will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed. The LORD will smite you with madness and with blindness and with bewilderment of heart (Dt 28:26-28).
Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’ (Dt 27:19).
The identification of fishers as a means of judgment is also found in Amos 4:1-2, narrowing the focus of judgment specifically to the oppressing the economically vulnerable:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, “Bring now, that we may drink!”
The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness,
Behold, the days are coming upon you
When they will take you away with meat hooks,
And the last of you with fish hooks (Amos 4:1-2).
The reference here draws upon the cause of God’s judgment, namely affluent ladies of the Northern Kingdom are oppressing the poor. The mention of cows of Bashan
could be a pun related to idolatrous behavior (cow
drawing us back to the original idol-calves) and pin-points the idolatry to wanton wealth accumulation without concern for its affects (as implied in the reference casual, exuberant, sarcastic comment “to bring on the drinks!”), specifically implying covenant breaking in oppressing/defrauding the poor. Amos 4:1-2 is part of a thread that links covenantal unfaithfulness, misshapen values of wealth accumulation, and the oppression of the poor:
Thus says the LORD,
“For three transgressions of Israel and for four
I will not revoke its punishment,
Because they sell the righteous for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals.
“These who pant after the very dust of the
earth on the head of the helpless
Also turn aside the way of the humble;
And a man and his father resort to the same girl
In order to profane My holy name (Amos 2:6-7).
Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor
And exact a tribute of grain from them,
Though you have built houses of well-hewn stone,
Yet you will not live in them;
You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not
drink their wine.
For I know your transgressions are many and
your sins are great,
You who distress the righteous and accept bribes
And turn aside the poor in the gate. (Amos 5:11-12).
Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, saying,
“When will the new moon be over,
So that we may sell grain,
And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market,
To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger,
And to cheat with dishonest scales,
So as to buy the helpless for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals,
And that we may sell the refuse
of the wheat?” (Amos 8:4-6).
The context of this thread seems to point to the “haves” who are preventing the “have nots” from escape out of poverty. The call to follow Jesus implies a discipleship that is associated with reaffirmation of covenant expectations toward the poor and the consequences of idolatrous patterns of social life.
The call to become fishers of men
Mark moves from his programmatic Gospel summary (1:1-3) and the inaugurated presence of the Kingdom (i.e., John the Baptist’s preaching, vv 4-8 and the coming of the Spirit, vv 9-13) to a call for followers: “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Simon and Andrew immediately leave their nets and followed Him (v 18). Although Christians differ over the application of fishers of men, commentators recognize a reasonable correlation to an Old Testament theme: The use of fish, fishers, fishermen, and fishing yield evidence of an antecedent background that fits the Marken context. The concept of fishing carries an Old Testament denotation of God’s judgment—fishers of men are God’s agents of judgment. Mark blends this Old Testament thread, which draws on the twin themes relevant to this paper, namely idolatry and the poor (Jer 16:16; Amos 4:1-2; cf. Hab 1:14-15; Ez 29:4-5; 38:4; Isa 37:29).
The concentration of judgment throughout these texts draws the reader/hearer back to covenantal obedience and to the economically vulnerable. Jeremiah announces:
“Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks” (Jer 16:16).
The obvious reason for God’s fishermen agents of judgment, the people had become idolatrous:
“Then you are to say to them, ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and have followed other gods and served them and bowed down to them; but Me they have forsaken and have not kept My law. You too have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me. So I will hurl you out of this land into the land which you have not known’” (Jer 16:11-13).
The flow of thought in Jeremiah, where the prophet is the initial agent of judgment (Jer 15-19), contain numerous references to idolatry (including God vs. the gods tauntalogies) as a cause/effect for God’s forth-telling judgment:
“I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations.”
O LORD, my strength and my stronghold,
And my refuge in the day of distress,
To You the nations will come
From the ends of the earth and say,
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood,
Futility and things of no profit.”
Can man make gods for himself?
Yet they are not gods!
“Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—
This time I will make them know
My power and My might;
And they shall know that My name is the LORD”
“Yet they did not listen or incline their ears, but stiffened their necks in order not to listen or take correction” (Jer 17:23).
“For My people have forgotten Me,
They burn incense to worthless gods
And they have stumbled from their ways,
From the ancient paths,
To walk in bypaths,
Not on a highway” (Jer 18:15).
Similar language is used in Amos 4, Habakkuk 1, Ezekiel 29, where the imagery of fishing is a tool of judgment. This, too, has an apologetic nature: Ultimately this judgment activity of God will reveal that He alone is the LORD (cf. Jer 16:21) and, through it, God will make Himself known in the sight of many nations (cf. Ez 29: 23). In Habakkuk it is through the fishing activity that the ungodly, the unrighteous, and those who oppose God are gathered together for judgment (cf. Hab 1:14-15). The judgment passages, utilizing fishing imagery, also promise the raising up of a remnant (through God’s agents of judgment, fishing or the fishers), offering a reasonable application by Mark in calling for followers as fishers of men, i.e., disciples and evangelizers.
The Programmatic Summary (Mark 1:1-3) continued…
Moving to the Malachi 3 referent, the easy correlation is the sending of God’s messenger—ιδου εγω εξαποστελλω τον αγγελον μου (Mal 3:1); και ιδου εγω αποστελλω τον αγγελον μου (Ex 23:20)—and John the Baptist as the messenger preparing the way (οδον) for the Lord (Mk 1:4-8). Overlooked, however, are the contextual concerns regarding the poor that also link the Exodus and Malachi referents. Following Mal 3:1, we encounter the vulnerable trio in verse 5: Then I will draw near to you for judgment…against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien… Earlier the issue of idolatry is raised: The profane sacrifices and polluted offerings (1:7-12) indicate idolatrous attitudes and practices, and Judah is rebuked for profaning the sanctuary of the Lord and has married the daughter of a foreign god (Mal 2:11). Then in Mal 3:5 memories are drawn back to the covenant where the vulnerable trio are introduced with prohibitions against sorcerers (Mal 3:5; Ex 22:18) and those who swear falsely, bookend texts that recall stipulations regarding social relations, including one’s enemy and the needy (Mal 3:5; cf. Ex 20:16; 23:1, 7; cf. Dt 5:20).
The juxtaposition of idolatry and poverty in the Exodus and the memory-judgment context in Malachi bears out the apologetic framework discussed above. Additionally, the constant use of Isaiah in Mark also reinforces this framework, which is particularly vivid in the Isaiah 40 component of Mark’s programmatic summary. Mark’s Isaiah referent itself—A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa 40:3; cf. Mk 1:3)—carries imagery common to Isaiah’s world, reflecting the procession of ANE monarchs. Here, it is Yahweh who comes as Victor-king, announcing the Good News, “Here is your God!” (v 9). The indent of the procession is for the glory of the LORD to be revealed and all flesh will see His glory (v 5). Isaiah 40 then develops comparisons of Yahweh to surrounding idolatrous nations, for the nations are like a drop from a bucket and they are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales (v 15). The contrast flaunts, All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless (v 17). And, in the end, it is the Word of God that will stand forever (v 8).
Mark’s introduction links the Gospel to the concept of the imperial cult of Caesar with the apologetic of Isaiah, namely the incomparability of Yahweh. Yahweh’s sovereign power over creation is boasted (v 12) and God is free and independent, needing no-one’s counsel regarding justice (vv 13-14). In fact, Yahweh is distinct from the image-bearers made of gold and silver who need to be fashioned by human-hands (vv 19-20), for He sits above the circle of the earth and stretches out the heavens like a curtain (v 22). God reduces rulers to nothing and makes the judges of the earth meaningless (v 23). The Holy One takes on the all-comers: To whom then will you liken Me that I would be his equal? (v 25). Isaiah references the starry hosts, each representing idolatrous pagan powers (v 26), yet it is Yahweh who created them and calls by name, indicating His might and strength over the idols/gods of the nations.
I have yet to draft a beginning or a summarizing conclusion at this point, but the three major sections are drafted. In fact I posted the 3rd section first (Our Defective Social Construction) and the first section 2nd (A New Framework for Thinking About Poverty). Now I turn to my middle component, which plows through the Gospel of Mark to demonstrate that the issue of poverty and idolatry are embedded into the narrative. This one is rather lengthy—don’t know how I am going to present all the material in New Orleans! I suspect it will be a thread of at least ten posts…but that might change…
Mark tends to use the Old Testament at critical points in his narrative (e.g., the Gospel programmatic summary, the call to be disciples, confrontations with Jerusalem leadership, explaining the presence of the Kingdom, and the fore-telling of the temple’s destruction) and “prefers certain categories of texts for particular concerns.” In Mark, Jesus judges his critics by the standard of Old Testament and “re-evaluates it in the light of his own person and mission.” Furthermore Mark also crafts his narrative using Old Testament texts that bring to mind Exodus land-management stipulations related to the economically vulnerable and words of judgment for abandoning them. Mark’s use of these texts and their contexts contain references to idolatry and the poor. Mark is fairly consistent—and intentional—in this use—and at critical places
(cf. Mark 1, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13)—thus making them most likely programmatic for understanding the Gospel and, as well, the nature of discipleship and evangelism.
The Programmatic Summary (Mark 1:1-3)
As Mark begins he frames his narrative with a composite Old Testament quotation (Ex 23:20, Mal 3:1, Isa 40:3) that contains contextual references to poverty and idolatry, making the twin concepts programmatic for the Gospel. Mark draws from the concluding summary (Ex 23:20-23) of the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 20:1-23:33), which is immediately followed by warnings against idolatry (You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces, 23:24; You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you, 23:32-33). Essentially the entire “Book of the Covenant” is structured around this theme. At the head, in what constitutes the foundational covenant Ten-Words (Ex 20:1-17)—the Decalogue—Israel is commanded to have no other gods before Yahweh (20:3) and idolatry in any form is prohibited (20:4-5). Interestingly, even the Ten-Words are bracketed with prohibitions against forms of idolatry, for the tenth commandment, You shall not covet (v 17), is associated throughout the Old Testament with idolatry (cf. Ex 20:23; Dt 7:25; Isa 1:29; 44:9; Ps 115:4). Then after Israel affirms hearing from Yahweh (Ex 20:18-22), Moses begins unpacking the Ten-Words, idolatry leading the record:
“You shall not make other gods besides Me; gods of silver or gods of gold, you shall not make for yourselves. You shall make an altar of earth for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be remembered, I will come to you and bless you” (Ex 20:23-24).
The first time the economically vulnerable are mentioned in the Exodus, idolatry frames the pericope (Ex 22:18-20; 23:13) where Moses presents a trio of commands prohibiting the idolatrous behavior, each with a consequence of death:
“You shall not allow a sorceress to live” (Ex 22:18).
“Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death” (v 19).
“He who sacrifices to any god, other than to the LORD alone, shall be utterly destroyed” (v 20).
This is immediately followed by land-management stipulations concerning the economically vulnerable trio (the widow, orphan, and foreigner):
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (vv 21-22).
As the consequence of idolatry is death, there is a similar penalty for not fulfilling the codes related to the economically vulnerable. They are mirror-retributive in nature: Oppressing the poor, which provokes their outcry to God, brings about the sword, making the families of those who violate these land-management stipulations just like the poor, becoming widows and fatherless and, thus, economically vulnerable as well (vv 23-24). Then there is a series of codes that promote action or prohibitions of the non-poor to protect the vulnerable trio from continual and generational poverty (vv 25-27). Although partiality in disputes is prohibited no matter one’s economic status (Ex 23:6), strangers were not to be oppressed (v 9; i.e., defrauded) and during the seventh year rest of the fields, the natural growth was to be left to sustain the poor (v 12). The segment, then, closes with a repeated warning against idolatry (Now concerning everything which I have said to you, be on your guard; and do not mention the name of other gods, nor let them be heard from your mouth, Ex 23:13). Exodus 23:20 introduces a series of reminders and warnings that the land-stipulations are to be obeyed and concludes with a repeat of the prophibitions against idolatry (Ex 23:32-33), making idolatry the antithesis to obeying the “voice” of the angel—the point of reference for Mark’s programmatic summary of the Gospel.
The Land and the Earth Belong to God
The paradigmatic use of such Old Testament ethical contexts is also affirmed by that fact that the Land of Gift and the whole earth belong to God. This is significant for the non-poor Christian, despite current American notions of private property. First, God’s laws were intended to enlighten the nations (cf. Dt 4:5-8), so the principles, acts, symbols, and mediating structures in such Old Testament ethical contests were to find application in all cultures. C. Wright assumes that “if God gave Israel certain specific institutions and laws, they were based on principles which have universal validity. That does not mean that Christians should attempt to impose by law provisions lifted directly from the law of Moses. It does, however, mean that they ought to work to bring their social-economic location nearer to conformity with the principles underlying the concrete laws of Old Testament paradigm,” because the same God who is the Redeemer and law-giver of Israel is also the Creator and Ruler of contemporary mankind.” Everything rests on the concept that the true owner of the land is Yahweh. As Israel was to be a light to the nations, “Israel’s socio-economic life and institutions, therefore, have a paradigmatic or exemplary function in principle.”
The Old Testament affirms God’s ownership “as extending over the whole earth and including every living and inanimate thing upon it.” Even property, under Mosaic Law, was not truly individual or private as in we are conditioned to view through American mediating structures (e.g., history, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, local zoning laws, etc.) today; it was related to family and economic sustainability—a key to understanding the role of land and the proper view of ownership. Ancient laws as those revealed through Moses in the exodus “were paradigmatic, giving models of behaviors and models of prohibitions/punishments relative to those behaviors.” We ought to keep in mind that the land was gift and thus, land holders were formed by the relationship to Yahweh to the land: Yahweh was the actual King over Israel, who owned all the land and made distinctive demands reflecting His righteousness and glory on those to whom he gave it to use. Under Yahweh each family had their own land, not necessarily individual plots of land, but land associated with tribe, the family. Israel’s ideal was a form of decentralized family ‘ownership’ as stewardship under Yahweh’s absolute ownership.” This is important for understanding the relationship of those in power (i.e., those at the gate could not impose decisions that centralized power and neglected the reason for the distribution of land, particularly for family economic stability) and how people’s relationship to the land was to reflect the virtues God had presented as comparable to surrounding dieties and tehir image-bearers. There was even an apologetic nature (i.e., read evangelistic) to be demonstrated through the people’s relationshipt o the land.
Those who affirm the Bible as God’s Word hold differing views on how the Scriptures should be used to provide ethical guidance to the social arena today. It is important therefore to be clear on the hermeneutical framework used in the paper. God provided in the Pentateuch institutions to govern this-earthly society of early Israel and the ‘ethical emphases’ of these institutions are intended to inform all peoples and nations (Gn. 18:18, Is. 51:4). The ethical emphases of the pentateuchal provisions find affirmation throughout the Bible (e.g., Lk. 16:19-31), along with the reference to God’s covenantal love (Lev 19:18) as fulfillment of the ‘Law and Prophets’ (Mk. 12:28-31, Rms. 13:9, Gal. 5:14) makes this clear.
Fulfilling the land-management stipulations regarding the economically vulnerable and the poor is a God vs. the gods conflict, actually raising justice for the poor to the level of apologetics and evangelism. Apologetics is embedded in how God-people, that is disciples of Jesus, treat, protect, provide, and advocate for the economically vulnerable. As the One true God, if He does not demonstrate care, provide for, and protect the poor and economically vulnerable, then He is no God at all—at just one god among other gods. Furthermore, when the people who are to reflect His image (collectvely and as individuals) do not provide a profile and outcomes indicating such concern and advocacy, not only does this diminish His glory, but negates the witness and proclamation of His name among outsiders. It should be no surprise then that the Gospel, that is the present act of God in Christ, is defined by Old Testament contexts where poverty and idolatry are at issue. As Jesus is the presence of God in the world and His Church and believers are His image-bearer, there remains the same apologetic concerning God’s righteous acts on behalf of the poor, and thus demanding relavent evangelistic outcomes related to protection, care, and advocacy for the economically vulnerable.
Throughout the Old Testament there is an emphasis that it is the God of the Exodus, Yahweh who ultimately cares about the poor and is the One God who protects them.
Deuteronomy 10 contains one of the clearest passages that portrays the God of the Old Testament as the Chief Advocate and Defender of the economically vulnerable. This text also very clearly connects God’s righteous virtue in providing for the poor and its link to idolatry.
”Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:12-19).
Like similar texts indicating that God Himself will defend the poor, some take this passage as “proof” that the State is not to be the institution or mediator on behalf of the poor. This passage indicates no such thing. Rather, the command for people to reflect God’s righteousness is indicated in the admonition to “fear the LORD,” walk in his ways, to love Him, and to serve Him with all one’s heart and soul (v 12). As Israel was encamped on the border of the Promised Land, this was an appeal to renew commitment and fidelity to the land-management stipulations that originated in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20-23). As an exodus redemption reminder is placed before them (vv 15-19), the comparison to other God’s seeking similar virtues is referenced: “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it” (v 14). Despite claims by other ANE deities and their earthy image-bearing-monarchs, the God of the Exodus is the One true God, who owns all of creation; He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, who cannot be bribed and shows no partiality (v 17). And, in order to bring about such impartiality, it is He that brings about justice for the economically vulnerable and loves them by granting them the basic necessities of food and clothing.