Jeremiah 5:24-29 (ESV)They do not say in their hearts,‘Let us fear the Lord our God,who gives the rain in its season,the autumn rain and the spring rain,and keeps for usthe weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away,and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people;they lurk like fowlers lying in wait.They set a trap;they catch men. Like a cage full of birds,their houses are full of deceit;therefore they have become great and rich; they have grown fat and sleek.They know no bounds in deeds of evil;they judge not with justicethe cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things?declares the Lord,and shall I not avenge myselfon a nation such as this?”
Jeremiah 5 is only one chapter of Scripture that speaks some pretty frightening things regarding the sins of the nations of Israel. And one of the most frightening things about it is how we are not frightened by it. I suppose Christians can use all kinds of reasons why the message of God through Jeremiah should not be applied to the followers of Jesus Christ in the new covenant age. One’s eschatology, understanding of the covenants, history, and so on. Regardless of how we view such texts we should always have New Testament texts such as I Corinthians 10:1-4 and Romans 15:4 in our heads reminding us that we have the Old Testament for a reason.
1 Cor. 10:1-13 – I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  and all ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.Romans 15:4 – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The Book of Jeremiah shows in unmistakeable fashion that God was not just a little perturbed with the people of Judah. And what perturbed Him was falsehood, injustice, an unteachable spirit, idolatry, abuse of the gifts of God to them for sinful purposes, sexual immorality and ignorance of the Word of God. Some of these list fairly high on the evangelical church’s list of big sins. But some don’t rate at all.
We hear much against the rights mentality that reigns in our culture these days. Preachers can get downright apoplectic as they wax against those who claim their rights are being abused. There is some justification in this. The rights mentality has produced a blurring of right and wrong, an evasion of responsibility for one’s own actions, and an appalling exaltation of self and the choices that self makes, just to mention a few. But we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.
God is concerned about human rights as the Old Testament demonstrates. He is concerned about rights. Not just compassion or charity or doing good for Gospel purposes, but rights.
Exodus 21:10 – If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights.1 Samuel 10:25 – Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home.Proverbs 29:7 – A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.Proverbs 31:4-5 – It is not for kings, O Lemuel,it is not for kings to drink wine,or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreedand pervert the rights of all the afflicted.Proverbs 31:8-9 – Open your mouth for the mute,for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously,defend the rights of the poor and needy.Jeremiah 5:28 (ESV)they have grown fat and sleek.They know no bounds in deeds of evil;they judge not with justicethe cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
A man who marries a second wife while still married to his first one shall not diminish the first one’s marital rights. The king’s rights were to be known by the people of the nation. A man who is truly righteous will be aware of the rights of the poor. It is a characteristic of the wicked to be ignorant of the rights of the poor. Rulers must not be given to over drinking lest they pervert the rights of the poor. Rulers are to speak on behalf of the rights of the destitute. The people of Judah did not defend the rights of the needy. This is striking stuff. Out of the six times that the word “rights” appears in the ESV Old Testament, five times they refer to people who were of little importance, few resources, and who most would have thought had hardly any rights at all – women, the poor, the needy, the destitute.
We live in twisted times and it is not always easy to align oneself with those whose stands you may like in some issues, because of their horrifying stands on others. Believers, who are sound and biblical regarding the doctrine of salvation are often so negligent of the rights of the poor, women, and the needy that one hopes that their faith fails to become known in the public square. Political parties, human rights groups and churches whose stand for the poor, women and the needy, are stellar, at the same time usually also stand for abortion rights, (the defence of which just boggles the mind given that this is innocent human life we are talking about). Their reducing of almost every social problem to a matter of “human rights” becomes so watered down that it is difficult to recognize the real thing. Those who care for the poor are also those who often march for the rights of gay marriage. Those who are opposed to gay marriage often also believe that all the reasons for poverty are inherent in the poor themselves.
So what is a believer who wants to stand for justice and the rights of the poor to do if he also believes that gay marriage is wrong and abortion is the killing of innocent human life? What is he to do if he believes that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to the Scriptures alone for the glory of God alone and also believes that the rights of the poor are being abused? He should take his stand on the Gospel and never flinch from it. He should ally himself with human rights groups when it is biblical to do so and oppose fellow believers when his social conscience is offended by them. He should stand for the Gospel with those believers whose social conscience may be flawed and at the same time stand for the rights of the underprivileged. Jeremiah 5 and other (many) texts in the Scriptures make it clear that the rights of the underprivileged are very much the concern of the faithful and that a lack of working on their behalf is a desertion of at least one aspect of the faith.
Defending the cause of the abused, the poor, women, children, the neglected, is not a matter of which side of the political spectrum one happens to fall into. It is a matter of reflecting the image of God to a world that stands for justice for all the wrong reasons and to a church that often cannot tell the difference between a Gospel issue and a political opinion.
What does God say today to the church of Jesus Christ regarding its defence of the powerless and forgotten people of the communities in which it serves? He says Jeremiah 5, Proverbs 29 and 31, Isaiah 58, Amos 5, Ezekiel 22 and many others that I could come up with more quickly if I knew my Bible better. We can throw in Galatians 2 and James 2 and 5 while we are at it too. We who believe the Bible have no choice but to stand for the rights of the underprivileged, the abused, the neglected, the forgotten. It is a sin against God to do otherwise.