Old Testament Prophets On Idolatry, Social Injustice, and Ritualism

by charlestinsley

The Old Testament ends with the prophets. These teachers provided insight on many issues facing Jews who were desperate to know God. Idolatry, social injustice and religious ritualism are three areas that are emphasized in their teachings and instilled in the minds and hearts of believers today. The prophets were great teachers who had much to say about God and the way man lived, social issues they faced, religious rituals they took part in, and their teachings are just as important today as they were in the past.

Idolatry was a prominent issue among the Jews. God confronted this problem early in the Bible in Exodus 20:4-6. It is clear that following God requires complete and total attention on Him. The prophets considered this issue very important. Consider Hosea who was commanded to marry an unfaithful wife to represent Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness towards God[1]. During this time, Israel was unwilling to worship God and sought to find their own idols to worship and bestow glory upon. Hosea taught through his marriage the extent of unfaithfulness the Jews had in their relationship with God.  Hosea compared Israel to spoiled grapes, a wild vine, a trained heifer, and a rebellious son and led into God to lay ruin to a large portion of His people causing the remnants to seek repentance before Him[2].  Hosea, through using a marriage metaphor, showed the Jews how deep God’s love for them truly was and still is[3]. Hosea’s example has modern implications. Because man can see how deeply God cares for them, there should be no reason to place importance of other things before their worship of Him. Yet, they do. If society could focus more on God today, the issues the world faces would cease to exist. Because this is not the case, man continues to destroy themselves as their eyes and minds stray from God and onto their own idols. The prophet Jonah put the truth about idolatry bluntly in his prayer to God: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.”[4]

Amos was a prophet with a lot to say about social injustice.  He preached of a coming judgment against Israel for (among other things) oppressing their people. The Old Testament had charged the Israelites to take care of the disadvantaged and the poor, but there was a great disparity between the rich and the poor as Israel continued to reject God’s commands[5]. Amos compared the wealthy women of Samaria to well fed cattle because they oppressed the poor while being consumed by selfish pleasures[6]. Amos 5:14-15 states: “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good;  maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” The goal of Amos was to show that Israel was not keeping their charge to care for one another despite God’s command. This was due, in large part, to the people focusing on self interests. This sentiment is echoed in Micah where the wealthy conspired to steal the land of the needy[7]. The world today mirrors Israel during the time of Amos. History has shown time and time again that wealth and personal selfishness blinds man to the plight of the needy. In the United States, there is a huge disparity between the rich and the poor that requires personal conviction to change. Man must stay focused on God and care for one another to bring blessing upon them. Man’s negligence of the needy has led to homelessness and even suicides.

Micah was a prophet who fought social injustice and idolatry like the other prophets. However, he offered a very unique insight on what God looks for in man’s glorification of Him. As Micah reveals, God was not primarily interested in Israel’s sacrifices and offerings, no matter how extravagant they may have been[8], He was interested (and still is) in man’s humble obedience to Him reflected through a lifestyle of mercy and justice[9]. The other prophets spoke to religious ritualism, but Micah put the concept simply and this concept is definitely true today. Man can go to church, sing the hymns, tithe their money, and hear a sermon, but God is most concerned with what man does in their obedience to Him and their receiving of His revelation. Church rituals are practically meaningless without obedience and positive action. James 2:20 is very relevant in this respect: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

The prophets of the Old Testament deliver instruction, wisdom, and warning. Man learned from them that idolatry takes the focus from God and puts the focus on self. Their teachings on social injustice show that God requires us to love and care for one another. Their teachings on ritualism show that God is more concerned with our obedience and reflection of Him than He is with offerings. Though the teachings of the prophets occurred many years ago, they are certainly relevant today. Man can learn a great deal from the teachings and warnings presented by these men. Praise God for His patience in man’s stubborn ignorance.

[1] Hindson, Edward E. and Gary Yates. The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey. Nashville:

B&H, 2012. p. 371.

[2] Ibid., p. 375.

[3] Ibid., p. 376.

[4] Jonah 2:8.

[5] Hindson and Yates, p. 389.

[6] Ibid., p. 388.

[7] Ibid., p. 406.

[8] Micah 6:6-7

[9] Micah 6:8, Hindson and Yates, pp. 409-410.

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