17 learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
The “What” of Rebuke, Part IV
(I will be traveling with my family throughout this week, so will not be able to post Wednesday or Friday’s devotional. Good time to try out other resources!)
So, a quick review of what we’ve seen in Isaiah 1 thus far – that God is our Father who has personally reared us (the Who). God the Father rebukes us because we are harming ourselves (the Why). The rebuke initially challenges Israel to end their sinful actions, their incorrect and idolatrous New Moon and Sabbath celebrations (the What, Part I). And then the rebuke transitions into calling Israel to learn to do right instead, at the same time stopping the wrongs (the What, Part II).
A lot for 17 verses…
Now the “right” that God calls Israel to take up is a life of compassion, including: seeking justice, encouraging the oppressed, defending the cause of the fatherless, and pleading the case of the widow. A few thoughts on this life God calls Israel, and us, to follow:
Very often, I am very passive about my compassion. I WILL help…if someone asks me for help. I help when it somehow affects me. If a person in need knocks on my door, I’ll lend a hand. But this kind of compassion can be done sitting on the couch – and it is not the compassion that God calls us to.
All of those elements described in verse 17 are active verbs: seeking, encouraging, defending, pleading. I think this highlights that a life of compassion is an active one, where we actively look and identify those who need help, and actively think of ways to come alongside of them, in the way that Christ came alongside of us. After all, Christ did not sit in the comfort of heaven, waiting for people to knock on his door. He sought them out, incarnated himself as a man into our midst so he could personally address our needs.
One more observation, one that requires us to wade into difficult material. You’ll notice also that verse 17 is not a plea, or a logical argument or a deduction – it is a command. DO these things, with no real “because”. We seek, and encourage, defend and plead because our God, this King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who ransomed us with his own life, tells us to. Nothing more.
Why is this important? Because we so often think we need more justification than this (this will get complicated, but I think it’s important). A lot of people use their understanding of the book of Revelation (called eschatology), to be their motivation for doing good and being compassionate. Some believe that Christians should be able to fix things before Christ comes, and THAT is why we are compassionate – because we will succeed (postmillennialists). But others believe that nothing will be fixed until AFTER Christ comes, and so our compassion can never fully succeed (premillennialists). This debate has actually shaped how the church has pursued its calling to compassion, sometimes stifling our mercy, and at other times, diluting the saltiness of the gospel.
But this verse in Isaiah reminds us of our true reason as to why we strive to live lives of active compassion – because God commands it of us. Whether we succeed before Christ comes or not is largely inconsequential, and seems to demand that God justify himself to us for our efforts – “God, I’ll only do this if it’s worth doing.” But the Lord need not do this. If he commands us to actively pursue compassion, then we actively pursue compassion.
Since when does the Lord need to further justify or convince us to obey what he commands?
1. In what ways have you been passively compassionate?
2. What are ways in which you can actively pursue compassion where you live, and where you work?
3. Have you ever found yourself demanding explanation or justification from God for what he is doing? Although this is completely natural, why might this be harmful?