So far this week, we’ve considered what a significant topic justice is in the eyes of God. And, we’ve considered that we Americans have a hard time realizing that God’s commands and promises (as well as sin and salvation) are most often applied to the community rather than individuals in Scripture.
Today let’s look at Proverbs 13:23—An unplowed field produces food for the poor, but injustice sweeps it away. This image makes little sense in our society. How does an unplowed field produce food for the poor? How does injustice sweep it away?
In the Bible, God created the world with love and intention. He freed His people from slavery and oppression, then gave them laws and commandments which clearly communicated that God intended His society to be free of injustice and the suffering that comes from injustice. For example, landowners were not to harvest their entire field, but leave plenty in the margins for those in need (those without their own land, immigrants, etc.) to harvest. In fact, every seven years the fields were to go unused entirely, both to rest the land as well as to provide what grew for any who had need. On this Sabbatical year, all debts were to be erased and slaves (indentured out of debt and poverty) were released. Furthermore, on the seventh-seventh year, the year of Jubilee, all land was to revert back to original family lines. In other words, God’s society was not a place where injustice could benefit you for long. God made it clear that poverty and even theft was the fault of society and not of the individuals suffering from it. His expectation was that His people would follow the laws, and the spirit of the laws, ensuring that all were cared for.
Back to our Proverb for today, we begin to understand why an unplowed field is an act of justice that feeds the poor, and how this is lost when people live and act unjustly. But what about us, today? We don’t live in ancient Israel; our nation is (and has always been) organized around American/Western values, not Biblical or Christian values. The laws of our land do not demand that we leave a portion of our fields or other earning to feed the poor.
But American laws may lead us to sweep God’s provision away through injustice. How can we live as citizens of God’s kingdom, while residing in this foreign nation? How can we restructure our lives around justice for those on the margins of our society?
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31)
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern. (Proverbs 29:7)
Questions for reflection and discussion: What do we learn about God’s concerns in reading the Bible? Imagine what our society would look like if it as set up as God commanded. What are some of our dearly loved systems that would fail, under God’s laws?