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the prophets and nonviolence

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  • prolifedem1963
    THE PROPHETS AND NON-VIOLENCE J.R. Hyland In the eighth century BC, the oracles of Amos, Micah, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah inaugurated an era in the spiritual
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 17, 2013
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                                     J.R. Hyland 
      In the eighth century BC, the oracles of Amos, Micah, Hosea,
      Isaiah and Jeremiah inaugurated an era in the spiritual and
      ethical history of nations that continues in our own time.  
      These prophets were not reformers of the political-religious
      system into which they had been born. They were iconoclasts who
      understood that a corrupt system had to be dismantled in order
      for a just and ethical society to be established. 
      They spoke out against the violence of war and the violence of
      sacrificial religion. They condemned the exploitation of the poor
      and powerless at the hands of a corrupt justice system and told
      of a God whose parental love combined the tenderness of a mother
      and the protectiveness of a father. And unlike the earlier
      prophets who blamed the surrounding nations for the corruption of
      the Israelites, men like Amos and Isaiah told the people it was
      their own iniquities that brought suffering and calamity upon
      These prophets said God spoke through them. But how were they
      able to receive a message that generations of religious spokesmen
      had refused to hear. There were some brief allusions to similar
      concepts that were embedded in the Book of Psalms, but those
      ideas had never gone beyond an embryonic stage of development.
      Most of the Psalms were written circa 1000---950 BC during a time
      of unprecedented territorial expansion and prosperity. And during
      that time the wars fought by the sons of Israel, under the
      leadership of King David, confirmed them in the worship of a
      violent and partisan deity, a god-of-war, who was celebrated in
      many of the Psalms. 
      "[For David] Yahweh will force all your enemies under the sway of
      your scepter in Zion....The Lord is at your right hand. When he
      grows angry he shatters kings,he gives the nations their deserts,
      smashing their skulls, he heaps the wide world with corpses."
      Psalm 110 JB
      The psalmists were convinced of their own righteousness and the
      sinfulness of their enemies and believed that God concurred with
      that judgment. "[A Prayer by David] "Come Lord, Oppose my enemies
      and defeat them! ..Punish them with the sufferings you have
      stored up for them; may there be enough for their children and
      some left over for their children's children! But I will see you
      because I have done no wrong." Psalm 17:13-15 TEV) 
      But two hundred years after self-righteousness, war, and revenge
      were celebrated in the Psalms, the Latter Prophets of Israel came
      with a radially different message. Isaiah spoke God's assessment
      of human behavior: "My thoughts are not like yours, and my ways
      are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the
      earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours." And
      nowhere were the ways of men further from the ways of God than in
      the human glorification of the sword and of slaughter. It had to
      "This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and
      Jerusalem...They will beat their swords into plowshares and their
      spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against
      nation, nor will they train for war anymore." After the prophet
      told the people what they must do, he implored them to do it:
      "Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
      In the Northern Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Micah gave the same
      kind of message that Isaiah gave in Jerusalem. The people must
      never prepare for war again: they were to exchange their
      destructive weapons of war for the farming equipment that would
      nurture people rather than destroy them. Only then would "every
      one  live in peace among his own vineyards and fig trees, and no
      one will make him afraid." 
      The prophet Hosea also spoke to the people of the Northern
      Kingdom. He spoke out against the ruthlessness of their leaders
      but he also indicted the average person for his worship of power
      and violence: "Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel,
      for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land,
      because there is no faithfulness or kindness...they employ
      violence so that bloodshed follows bloodshed."
      The oracles of Isaiah gave the same message about the people of
      Judah. "Their deeds are evil deeds and acts of violence are in
      their hands. Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed
      innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and
      destruction mark their ways. The ways of peace they do not
      The worship of destructive force was a besetting sin of those who
      were followers as well as of those who were their leaders. Men
      who did not themselves command the power that wealth and
      privilege brings, allied themselves with the collective power of
      war. The rewards of such an alliance are immediately apparent.
      The exercise of destructive force brings instant gratification.
      The long periods of time and the constant effort it takes to
      build anything of value--whether a city or a life--can be
      destroyed in a  moment of destructive power.               
      The great, ethical prophets of Israel called their people back
      from their worship of war and destruction. They saw their
      nation's reliance on force as evil: idolatrous; a perversion of
      God's will."Why have you ploughed  iniquity, reaped injustice,and
      eaten the produce, lies? Because you have trusted in your
      chariots and in your hosts of warriors." And the Prophets said
      that this  idolatry had been going on ever since the Hebrews
      entered the Promised Land and annihilated the people of Jericho.
      "I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its fruits and the
      goodness of it, but when you entered upon it you defiled it and
      made the home I gave you loathsome."
      The Latter Prophets were the first men of historical record to
      denounce wars that had ended in victory for their own people.
      Until then, the violence of battles won had always been
      celebrated by the victors and whatever god they worshipped was
      duly thanked for helping them to massacre their enemies. Unlike
      individual acts of homicide which called for retribution, the
      mass murder of battle was rewarded and those who took part in the
      slaughter were much-honored. But the prophets intruded on this
      sanctification of violence. Just as they called for an end to
      domestic injustice and brutality, so also they called for an end
      to the injustices and brutalities of war. The sword and the
      shield, symbols of triumph and glory among men, were to be
      rejected by God's people. The celebration of destructive force
      was to be replaced by activities that nurtured everyone: the plow
      and the pruning shears were the symbols of God's earthly kingdom. 
      Isaiah told the people of Judah what the Lord demanded of them
      "The Lord's teaching comes from Jerusalem, from Zion he speaks to
      his people...they will hammer their swords into plows and their
      spears into pruning knives. Nations will not go to war, nor
      prepare for battle again. After the prophet told the people what
      they must do, he implored them to do it: "Come now, descendants
      of Jacob Now, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the
      (knowledge)light which the Lord gives us." Isaiah 2:4
      But for the Latter Prophets, the brutality of war, its injustices
      and its disregard of the suffering of others did not spring,
      full-grown, in the heat of battle. They were spawned in the
      cruelty and injustices of daily life. War was the ultimate
      expression of the outrages that were tolerated in everyday
      society by most of the people. When unjust laws and the greed of
      men inflicted suffering on others, depriving them of their
      possessions or their lives, the average citizen did not try to
      help his neighbor: "The Lord has an accusation to bring against
      the people who live in this land....'There is no faithfulness or
      Isaiah also told his people that the Lord took no pleasure in
      religious rituals and penitential fasts. These were man-made
      substitutes for what the Lord required. "When you fast, you make
      yourselves suffer;...Is that what you call fasting? Do you think
      I will be pleased with that? The kind of fasting I want is this:
      Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice and let
      the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open
      your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have
      nothing to wear."
      The prophet Isaiah was calling into question a way of life that
      created the poor among them in the first place. Injustice in
      Judah, as everywhere else, was systemic. Those who were well-off
      and powerful accumulated what they had by promulgating unjust
      laws. Others used corrupt courts to cheat and defraud people.
      Injustice permeated the entire society even while the scrupulous
      observance of religious ritual was used as a yardstick to measure
      righteousness. Piety and ruthlessness were joined together in an
      unholy alliance.   
      "Woe unto you! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. That
      is how you keep the poor from having their rights and from
      getting justice. That is how you take the property that belongs
      to widows and orphans....You go to court but you do not have
      justice on your side. You depend on lies to win your case. You
      carry out your plans to hurt others. You are guilty of lying,
      violence and murder." 
      Isaiah made it clear that it was not only the lawmakers and
      community leaders who were responsible for the rampant injustice.
      Without the support of the average, law-abiding citizen who forms
      the bulwark of any community, a corrupt society could not be
      maintained: "The Lord was displeased that there was no justice.
      He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no
      one to intervene..."
      For the ethical prophets justice was not an abstract concept: it
      was a concrete activity: a divine imperative; the essence of
      righteousness. And injustice was not only a manipulation of
      religious laws, it was ungodly. The Prophet Amos denounced that
      ungodliness: "You are doomed you that twist justice and cheat
      people out of their rights...You people hate anyone who
      challenges injustice and speaks the truth in court. You have
      oppressed the poor and robbed them of their grain. I know how
      terrible your sins are. You persecute good men, take bribes and
      prevent the poor from getting justice in the courts." 
      The laws devised by men had been used to make a mockery of
      justice, but it was not only in the court system that ungodliness
      reigned. The Prophet Jeremiah juxtaposed the abuse of poor and
      powerless human beings with the slaughter of helpless animals on
      altars dedicated to God. He stood in the Temple courtyard and in
      the name of the Lord denounced the slaughter that took place on
      the altars there. 
      "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your
      ways...Do not trust in deceptive words saying, This is the temple
      of the Lord, the temple of the lord!...[but] if you do not
      oppress the alien, the orphan or the widow and do not shed
      innocent blood in this place..then I will let you dwell in the
      land that I gave to your fathers..."  
      Among the Hebrew people, the violence of animal sacrifice had
      become the center of religious worship. But it was a travesty of
      justice, a substitute for godliness. And the Prophet Isaiah said
      it was an abomination in the sight of God. 
      "[W]hoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and
      whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog's neck...They
      have chosen their own ways and their souls delight in their
      The cult of animal sacrifices had made a giant slaughterhouse of
      the Temple of the Lord: "The multitude of your sacrifices--what
      are they to me? I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and
      lambs and goats...Your hands are full of blood; wash and make
      yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight." 
      The Prophet Amos also denounced the cult of animal sacrifice as a
      bloody substitute for justice and righteousness. "I despise your
      feasts...When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations
      and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle...but
      let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing
      And in Jerusalem, Jeremiah reminded the people that it was they,
      not God, who had instituted the bloodbath of animal sacrifices.
      "I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that
      I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt
      offerings and sacrifices  
      The great prophets of Israel told the people that their way of
      life was not only an affront to the God with whom they had
      covenanted, it would lead to the destruction of their nation.
      "The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have
      transgressed the laws, violated the statues, broken the
      everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, its
      inhabitants suffer for their guilt."  
      But the prophets were speaking to a self-satisfied and prosperous
      people who believed that success at home, and in the larger
      world, belonged to the aggressive. Both Israel in the north and
      Judah in the south were expanding their borders and their economy
      and they saw militarism as essential to that expansion. And while
      the prophets called by God warned that these policies would
      ultimately lead to their own destruction, there were hundreds of
      establishment priests and prophets who were giving a different
      message. Those false prophets were the spokesmen for an unholy
      alliance of religion and nationalism and assured the people that
      the Lord was well-pleased with them and would lead them to
      victory. And the people believed them.  
      So despite the warnings of the prophets, they did not reform
      themselves or cease from their worship of force. They believed
      they were invincible: they were God's chosen people; heirs of the
      covenant. They held to this claim right up to the time they were
      defeated and driven from their own land. By 587 BC, both Israel
      and Judah had been overthrown by their enemies. The Hebrew people
      had either been killed, or sent into exile--just as Amos, Micah,
      Hosea and Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied. 
      It was fifty years before some of the Hebrew people returned from
      their exile in Babylonia and when they did, they slowly began to
      rebuild to rebuild Jerusalem. But once they had firmly re-
      established themselves in the Promised Land there was, again,
      widespread support for the claim that aggression and violence,
      aided and abetted by God, would bring about the re-establishment
      of a mighty Jewish nation. And within a few centuries of their
      return from Exile, the Jewish people were once again involved in
      war and power politics. 
      Various wars and alliances continued to mark the history of
      Palestine until 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and its Temple were
      destroyed by the Romans. As in the past, the people listened to
      those who urged them to put their trust in warfare and weaponry. 
      They believed the religious and secular leaders who told them
      that if they provoked a war with the Romans, God would give them
      victory over this latest enemy and restore Palestine to their
      But even as the militant zealots were gaining widespread support
      for the overthrow of those who occupied Palestine, God again
      inspired a prophetic message which warned the Jewish people that
      initiating war would bring about their own defeat, not that of
      their enemies. Around AD 30, Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry 
      with a claim that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah's promise of a
      God-appointed messenger. Like the prophets who had come before
      him, he denounced the religious rituals and rules that were used
      as a cover for injustice and violence. And he warned his
      countrymen that unless they renounced their idolatrous worship of
      war and violence, they would again bring destruction upon
      themselves. Once again Jerusalem would be razed and the Temple
      would be destroyed. 
      It happened as Jesus had warned. But this time it was almost 
      2,000 years before the Jewish people had a homeland to which they
      could return.  
                             End Chapter 
      Excerpted from: BIBLE HEROES: Saints and Sinners
      Copyright 2002, J.R. Hyland

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