God’s Heart for the Victim – Group Study Questions

Read Jeremiah 22:1-16

Share a few examples of injustices you see in your local community or in your world. Are these affecting people known to you, or are they more situations that you are aware of but you don’t now the people concerned? If we are not particularly close to victims of injustice, how might this alter our perception of this issue?

To what extent do we regard injustice as a core factor in the decline of the Old Testament kingdoms of Israel and Judah?

The injustice of Jehioakim, Jehoiachin, Shallum and other rulers would one dat lead to exile and to Jerusalem’s destruction (see Jer 22:5, 8-9). It seems unthinkable that God would visit such terrible punishment on his own people. What does this tell us about God’s heart for victims of injustice?

“When God’s people allow injustice to thrive, they break the Covenant with the Lord” – Explain

Read Luke 4:18-19 and Mark 11:15-17. What do these passages tell us about Jesus’ views on injustice, and the place they occupy in his Kingdom mission? How do these words of Jesus reflect what we read in Jeremiah 22?

How does the death and resurrection of Jesus impact on what we think and do about injustice?

If it’s true that the things that matter to God should also matter to God’s people, what does this mean for

* how we do church

* what we do as church?

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These questions relate to “Time for Justice – God’s Heart for the Victim”. You can read the full text here.

Time for Justice – God’s Heart for the Victim

Magic Bus 008

Readings: Jeremiah 22:1-16; Psalm 35:10

The Old Testament chronicles the sad and sorry decline of God’s ancient people: The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. We typically hear about the spiritual adultery of worshipping idols and other false gods as being the primary reasons for this decline. What we may not realise is that the idolatry of these once great nations was not simply the worshipping of foreign or false gods. It was also their greed and abuse of power to such a degree that they trampled and oppressed their own people. This injustice, a core element of their unfaithfulness and idolatry, ultimately led to their downfall and exile.

King and Country

The emphasis Jeremiah gives here, and the voice of God through him, is unmistakable:

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)

“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:5, NIV)

Further, doing justice, living in righteousness, in right-ness, was an integral part of being God’s treasured possession and his holy nation, so much so that

““People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?’ And the answer will be: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and have worshipped and served other gods.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:8–9, NIV)

When God’s people allow injustice to thrive, they break the covenant. As the Lord speaks through Jeremiah, he remembered a once faithful ruler

““…He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:15–16, NIV)

So, what was happening? What was going on? It turns out the reign of Judah’s King Jehoiakim and Israel’s Shallum were marked by gross injustice and crimes against humanity. What were these injustices? We see them outlined in Jeremiah 22

“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)

People were being robbed blind. Foreigners, refugees, widows, the fatherless, those least able to defend themselves were being violated:

““Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jeremiah 22:13, NIV)

The King was building a glorious palace, and doing so with the lives of his own people, refusing to pay them.

““But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.”” (Jeremiah 22:17, NIV)

What King enslaves his own people? Had he forgotten that Israel themselves had been slaves in Egypt?

These rulers have forsaken the holy covenant he has made with his people. And as such they were the polar opposite to the Lord’s desire for a just ruler:

“Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72:1–4, NIV)

How did the Lord feel about the Kings of Israel and Judah perpetrating these things? To answer this, observe the emotion, the heart of the Lord in the following:

“But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’ ”” (Jeremiah 22:5, NIV)

Tell me what you see: What emotion do you see there? Anger, retribution.

“For this is what the LORD says about the palace of the king of Judah: “Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, I will surely make you like a wasteland, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire.” (Jeremiah 22:6–7, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Grief! Anger!

““People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?’” (Jeremiah 22:8, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Ridicule, shame, embarrassment

““Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jeremiah 22:13, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Warning, rising anger

“He will have the burial of a donkey— dragged away and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem.”” (Jeremiah 22:19, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Shame, offence, disgust, contempt

““As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off.” (Jeremiah 22:24, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Disgust, bitterness, anger

“I will hurl you and the mother who gave you birth into another country, where neither of you was born, and there you both will die.” (Jeremiah 22:26, NIV)

What emotion do you see? Anger, wrath, utter rejection

God’s heart for the victim

We see in these reactions, not merely the Lord’s heart for justice, but his compassionate heart for the victim. It’s not just that laws are being broken. People are being violated. The innocent are being killed. God’s image is being oppressed. This becomes particularly clear when we see how the Lord describes his own character:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:17–18, NIV)

Hundreds of years before, as his people prepared to enter the land of promise, The Lord gave very specific instructions for how they should care for the vulnerable. Why? Because he wanted his people to be like him. To be holy as he is holy (Lev 11:44)

Turn to the Psalms, and we get a similar picture:

“Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.”” (Psalm 35:9–10, NIV)

God rescues the poor and needy from the strong – why? Why would he do that? Because he has a heart for the victim.

“Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the LORD.
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…” (Psalm 68:4–6, NIV)

See how that speaks of God’s heart? His deep concern for the fatherless? How His compassion drives him to defend the widows? How he cares for the lonely, those without families? Even those imprisoned?

Here’s the question: Is this how you typically think of God? Have you ever considered how much he loves those who are victims of injustice? You should, if you know Jesus. Remember the words Jesus used to open his ministry?

““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 favour.”” (Luke 4:18–19, NIV)

Jesus’ whole ministry is marked with a compassion for the poor and those trapped – not only by sin – that certainly – but also for those trapped in the oppressive consequences of sin. For example, the oppressive regime of spiritual abuse of the Pharisees.

““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV)

All God’s law is important, but some aspects are more weighty than others. And living with justice, mercy and faithfulness cannot be glossed over.

Another outstanding example of Jesus’ heart for justice and his love for those victimised by it is found in Mark 11.

“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:15–17, NIV)

In one sense, the traders seem to have been disrupting the worship in the temple courts, creating a rabble where it should never have been. But the real issue, the real cause of Jesus’ anger, is found in v.17. The real issue was that those responsible for the Temple not only allowed trading with all its associated commotion and corruption – that’s another sermon – the big issue was that they had made the temple ‘a den or robbers’. Not just a noisy market place. It was a den. A den or robbers. And what do robbers do in a den?

They hide there! They find protection there!

The religious leaders had turned the temple into a place that protected corruption, abuse and robbery. Jesus’ anger shows just what God thought about people who offer protection to the unjust!

Thinking back to Jeremiah 22, there’s no doubt is a terrible chapter. But the very next chapter tells us that the Lord will rise up a ‘righteous branch”. In accordance with the covenant promises of the Lord, one would come and he would reign wisely, do what is right, do righteousness, do what is just, and his name would be Yahweh Zidkenu “The Lord our Righteousness”.

The New Testament shows us who that righteous branch is – his name is Jesus. And thinking about that, isn’t the greatest proof for God’s compassionate heart for those oppressed with injustice the Cross of Christ?

Isn’t the greatest injustice of all the sin of the human heart, which turns people into rebels against our gracious God?

Outside of Christ we are powerless to deal with our own sin. Ravaged by rebellion. Oppressed with our guilt and failing. And yet the Easter Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to save, to rescue, to redeem. Not merely from an economic, or social, or political injustice, but from the evil that oppresses the human heart.

The Cross is the greatest statement ever of the compassionate heart of the Living Lord for a people enslaved. The resurrection is the greatest statement of victory over those dark powers. It tells us that our core issue can be dealt with. The people can be redeemed. That lives can be transformed. The Cross has conquered the greatest injustice, and in his power he calls us to liberate people not simply from unjust life situations, but from the greater power of the evil one.

So, the picture in Scripture is consistent: the things that mattered to God in the OT also mattered to Jesus in his ministry and in the Cross. And perhaps the biggest question we need to answer, then, is this:

Do the things that matter to God matter to us?

In Christ we are being recreated in the image of our creator God. Is his heart for the victim seen in our attitudes and actions?

Does the church today reflect the character of the Lord, and His Son, who care deeply for those victimised by injustice? It should:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2, NIV)

If we are to imitate God, and walk in his way of love, shouldn’t this be visible in a changed heart for injustice’s victims?

Imitating God – how?

Isn’t it true that every time we see a person enslaved, oppressed with sin and its consequent injustices, we see a situation that grieves the heart of God? Aren’t we witnessing something God wants to stop?

How then can we embody this character of the Lord? There will come a time for us to talk about action, but for now, pray that you will see injustice through the eyes of God, and in the light of the cross and the open tomb.

This next week pray one prayer:

Lord, open my heart to your own heart. Let me be more in tune with how you see the sin ravaged brokenness of the world around me.

Holy Spirit, let me feel the grief, the holy anger, the deep disturbance of soul you feel ever time someone is abused and oppressed.

Lord, open my eyes. Let me see the injustices around me. Let me see things for what they really are. Give a discerning eye, and a compassionate vision for those you long to bring to life through Jesus.

Lord, keep me from prejudice, from rushing to judgement, from assuming I know the reasons why people are in the situation they are in.

They are your image, too, Lord. Help me, with the good news of Jesus, restore that broken image.

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If you’re after some suggestions on how you can seek justice you should check out International Justice Mission (Australia) and (USA).