Pacifism: Jeremiah on What Is Just and Right

pacifismJeremiah was a prophet of God who wrote from Judea shortly before God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take the Judeans into Babylonian captivity. The book contains many warnings and contains some powerful prophecies of the Messiah and the age he was to inaugerate.

(Jer 7:5-7)  If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.

Before Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, Jeremiah promises that the Israelites may live there “for ever and ever” if they would treat each other with justice (translated “righteousness” in the New Testament) and do not shed innocent blood. The verse sure seems to say that the guilty may be killed in appropriate cases “for ever and ever,” that is, until the end of time when God himself will destroy the guilty.

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

God’s command is that we rescue victims from oppressors. This means there may be no shedding of innocent blood but not that there may be no shedding of guilty blood. Indeed, “Do no … violence” to the weak certainly suggests that violence should be done to those who oppress the weak.

Now, it’s easy to argue that Jeremiah was written before the cross, but Jeremiah is telling Judah what must happen for them to live in the Land forever. He is not saying, “This will work until the Messiah comes.” These are forever-commands.

Indeed, Jeremiah is defining God’s sense of justice and righteousness. When the New Testament speaks of “acts of righteousness,” it is speaking against this prophetic backdrop. “Just” and “right” translate mishpat and tseqadah: “justice” and “righteousness,” which are the same word in the Greek: usually translated “righteousness” but sometimes “justice.”

Remember, that Jeremiah contains some remarkable prophecies of the Messiah. Indeed, in parallel to 22:3, quoted above, Jeremiah writes,

(Jer 33:15)  “‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.”

Do you see it? Jeremiah says: if you won’t do what is just and right, the Messiah will. What is “just and right”? “Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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5 Responses to Pacifism: Jeremiah on What Is Just and Right

  1. Guy says:

    Jay,

    (1) i don't see the forever-commands argument, and even if i did, i don't see it jumping applicability from Jews to Christians; forever-commands from Jeremiah to Jews would still be *to Jews* nonetheless. i'm not sure what to think about even the notion of "OT-forever-commands" since it's not clear God even intended for Jews to live in the land forever (unless you're a premiller i guess). The same "forever-commands" idea could easily justify binding Sabbath observance on Christians (Exo 31:15-17).

    (2) "Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed"–how does "rescue" necessarily imply engaging the robber *violently*? How does rescue = violence?

    (3) You wrote: "“Do no … violence” to the weak certainly suggests that violence should be done to those who oppress the weak." No it certainly does not. If i tell you "please don't kick my miniature schnauzer," that doesn't give you the green light to kick others puppies of different breeds.

    –Guy

  2. Anonymous says:

    The same “forever-commands” idea could easily justify binding Sabbath observance on Christians (Exo 31:15-17). – Guy

    Not true. Romans 14:5-6 “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.”

  3. Nick Gill says:

    I'm pretty convinced that the concept of "forever" in Scripture typically means "until the next act in the Grand Narrative" of God's story. So those "forever" commands would indeed come under "until Messiah comes."

    That being said, I believe the blood of the oppressor is on his own hands. I'm not convinced that it is right to allow the oppressor to continue their violence simply because he won't respond to negotiation tactics.

    Rescue doesn't *necessarily* = violence, but I would argue that the mandate to rescue is a higher call than the mandate to do no violence, just as the mandate to preach is a higher call than the mandate to obey the authorities.

  4. Aaron says:

    Guy,
    Above you said the following: "(1) i don’t see the forever-commands argument, and even if i did, i don’t see it jumping applicability from Jews to Christians; forever-commands from Jeremiah to Jews would still be *to Jews* nonetheless."

    FYI, Jay is on record here as saying that the references, or at least some of the references to the Jews in the OT really have in mind Gentile Christians who are really Jews (but not ethnic Jews) per his discussion of Romans 9-11.

    Of course, when someone makes that forced interpretation of scripture it might lead to confusion in understanding which statements and promises made to the Jews find their fulfillment in the Christians and which ones are promises to ethnic Jews.
    Shalom,
    Aaron

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Guy,

    I could have been more detailed in my explanation. Thanks for pushing me to it. Here goes.

    As Nick points out, there are "forever" commands in the Torah that we take to mean "until the Messiah comes." So why isn't Jeremiah in the same boat? Well, we start by tossing out of the boat the old theory of 3 dispensations. It's both simplistic and misleading. There is, rather, one story or narrative that takes us from Creation to the the New Heavens and New Earth. And there are certain critical points in time other than the giving of the Law and the coming of Jesus. One of these critical points is the first destruction of Jerusalem.

    The Jeremiah passages I quoted were written just before God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the temple and carry the Jews into Babylonian captivity. We think of this as just one part of the "Mosaic Dispensation," but it's really the end of an age — the age when God dwelled among his people in his tabernacle or temple. God left not to return until Jesus entered Jerusalem, reversing the departure of God's Glory from the temple as described in Ezekiel (a contemporary of Jeremiah).

    God had promised through Isaiah and others a return from exile which would bring the Messiah and a life free from invaders and crime. This time did not come when Ezra and Nehemiah rebuilt the temple — and God did not return to the temple either. Therefore, there was a 540 or so year in-between time while God was preparing to send his Son and begin the return from exile.

    Now, had the Jews listened to Jeremiah, done justice, and stopped shedding innocent blood, God would have kept his promise and not destroyed Jerusalem — meaning there would have been no exile and so no return from exile. The promises could not have come true because there'd be no return to bring them about — there'd have been nothing to return from!

    Jeremiah offered them two choices– either repent and enjoy God's blessings forever or else face exile. But exile will be followed by the coming of the Messiah and the age he'll bring. In that context, what does "forever" mean? How can it mean "until the end of the age"?

    So, I admit that it's not my very favorite argument, but this is why I think it's right.

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