Monday, March 26, 2007

The Prophet Isaiah: Social Justice

This passage (Isa. 1:11–17), attributed to Isaiah of Jerusalem in the mid-eighth century B.C., demonstrates the in­creasing emphasis on social justice in Hebrew religious thought.
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offer­ings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not de­light in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomi­nation to me. New moon and sabbath and the call­ing of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your ap­pointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread forth your hands I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppres­sion; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
From the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Divsion of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permis­sion. All rights reserved.
priests, prophets, and teachers, it remains to this day the foundation of Jewish life.
Certain features of Mosaic Law—such as the princi­ple of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—recall Babylonian precedents, but it went much further by seeking to govern private as well as public behavior. Di­etary regulations were set forth in great detail along with rules for sexual conduct and the proper form of re­ligious observances. Though legalistic in form, the Mo­saic Law offered a comprehensive guide to ethical behavior whose force transcended social or political sanctions (see document 1.5). It was intended not only as legislation but also as a prescription for the godly life. God could mete out terrible punishment; but the com­mandments were to be kept, not in brute fear or from a sense of grudging duty, but in awe of God’s majesty and holiness, and in gratitude for God’s blessings. This concept of righteousness as an essential duty, together with many of the specific ethical principles enshrined in the Torah, or first five books of the Jewish Bible, would later be adopted by both Christianity and Islam. The in­fluence of Mosaic Law on Western thought and society has therefore been incalculable.

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