Being the enemy of injustice
by Jack Wald | October 26th, 2003

I Kings 21

Imagine a man sitting by the side of his house, under his favorite tree, looking over his orchard. It is one of those beautiful days with a blue sky and a scattering of clouds passing lazily by, stimulating the imagination. He sits there content and full of memories. He remembers as a child playing games in the trees of the orchard, hiding under the rise of a hill and jumping out on a friend who was passing by. He remembers the first time he saw the young woman who became his wife, walking up the lane behind her parents. She was so shy and so beautiful. He remembers the day of his wedding in the very field where he now sits and the feasting and dancing and singing that came with that celebration. He remembers the death of his father when he was working in the fields, just over to the left. He remembers where he stood waiting when his first child was born.

He stands up and walks over to the trunk of the large tree that dominates the yard. He traces his finger over the initials that he carved the day each of his children were born. He moves and finds where his father carved his initials on the tree the day he was born. He sees next to his, the initials of his brothers and sisters. He sees the initials carved into the tree the day his father was born and below them the initials of his aunts and uncles. They are now faded with the passing of time and you have to know the initials to see them, but they are there. Memories speak from this tree that was planted by his great-grandfather so many years ago.

He is not alone with his memories. From the house come the sounds of activity in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. He hears the laughter of children as they come running out of the house and into the field to play. He sees his sons and son-in-laws coming in from the field for supper.

He returns to his seat and takes out his Bible and it opens to Psalm 128
Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
5 May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
6 and may you live to see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel.

He is such a blessed man.

Several weeks after this, his neighbors are buzzing with the news of tragedy. Some men came to visit him with an offer to buy his land. His wealthy neighbor wanted this land to add to his estate. He refused outright. How could he part with this land that his family has owned for over two hundred years? No amount of money could convince him to sell this land. They left but returned a few days later. The neighbor who wanted to buy the land was insistent. He was a wealthy and powerful man and would not take no for an answer. But no was still the answer until finally some soldiers came and ordered him off the land. He resisted and so they killed him. In front of his wife and children and grandchildren he was killed, his blood watering the land of his fathers. His family was ordered to leave the house within 24 hours and the land was taken from him and his children and his children’s children. His wife was left a widow without a home. His children were forced to move with their families to the city and live in temporary shelters, without jobs, without income. The next week men came to tear down the wall that had separated their land from their neighbor’s land and what had been their home was now just a small part of their neighbor’s estate.

Injustice! A man murdered for his possessions. A wife left without her husband. Children left fatherless. This is a story of the centuries. For as far back as history is recorded, men and women have taken by force what belonged to another. In the hearts of men and women throughout the centuries, there has been a desire for justice that has been offended by the great injustices committed. Men who have too much taking from those who have too little.

This is the story of the Palestinians whose land was seized by the Israeli army in 1947 and this is the story of Naboth whose land was seized by King Ahab almost 3,000 years earlier.

Naboth owned land near to the palace of King Ahab. His ties to the land were more than the deep ties of family memories. Naboth owned land that had been his ancestor’s inheritance in the Promised Land and under Levitical law, he was prohibited from selling this land to Ahab.
Numbers 36:7
No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers.

When Naboth refused to sell this land to Ahab, he was refusing in obedience to the Law God gave to Moses.

It is in this chapter that we see most fully the character of Ahab. Ahab sat in his palace, surrounded by his wealth and chose to break the tenth commandment:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Ahab saw Naboth’s nearby land and began to think how wonderfully it would add to his estate. Naboth had made this piece of land a fruitful and beautiful piece of land. So Ahab sent men to make an offer to Naboth who refused the offer. And then we see what kind of man Ahab was. He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat. King Ahab sat in his palace acting like a small child who is told he can’t have a piece of candy to eat.

As he sat there sulking, Jezebel came by and revealed what she was made of. Can you imagine the look of disdain on her face when she learned what was bothering him?
“Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

If Ahab was too weak to be king, Jezebel would show him how to be king. And she sent men to falsely accuse Naboth who was then taken out and killed.

Jezebel then came to bring Ahab good news of great joy.
“Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.”

When Ahab heard this bit of good news, he went, took possession of Naboth’s land and was satisfied.

But God was not satisfied. God is not pleased with injustice. Isaiah wrote of the Messiah who was to come and when Jesus began his public ministry, he began it by reading these words of Isaiah. (Isaiah 61)
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
Think about these words. This is essentially a message of justice that Jesus proclaimed.

Isaiah goes on to describe what this coming Messiah will do and then in verse 8 tells why the Messiah will do these things. Why will the Messiah preach good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, release prisoners from darkness? Why will he do this?
8 “For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity.

God loves justice and hates injustice and so he was not satisfied with what happened to Naboth and sent a word to Elijah.
Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite:  18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.  19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”

Elijah was not a stranger to Ahab. He had confronted him with the message that it would not rain again until Elijah gave his word. He had confronted him along with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Ahab knew Elijah and probably had bad dreams in which Elijah appeared as his accuser. So when Elijah set out to go to Ahab, Ahab recognized him.
20 Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”

Of all the things Ahab could have called Elijah, he called him, “my enemy.” “So you have found me, my enemy!” That’s the line that first caught my eye when I read this passage to prepare for this sermon and so the title of this message is Being the enemy of injustice.

Let me pull out four lessons from this passage among the many that appear when you study this story.

1. If God is concerned with justice, you need to be concerned with justice.

Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the last 100 years have taken a sad turn away from God’s pursuit of justice. The more liberal arm of the church took on this part of God’s concern while in a strange twist of church history, the more theologically conservative part of the church began to view salvation of souls as being of more significance and value than caring for the needs of those souls.

But while much of the church may have abandoned this part of the work of God, God never walked away from it. His heart never left those who are vulnerable and in need. If you want to be God-like, if you want to be Christ-like, then you need to take on your heart what is on his heart. Examine again the ministry of Jesus. Look at what it is he did. Notice how often his ministry was extended to widows, to outcasts. Read through the Law of Moses and see how it reflects God’s concern for those who are vulnerable and unable to care for themselves. Read again the passage from Isaiah 61 Jesus quoted when he began his public ministry. If Jesus was concerned with justice, then so should you be concerned with justice.

Evangelism and social action are like the two wings of an airplane. To be a witness for Christ, both need to be present. We need to be concerned both for the eternal state of souls and the earthly care of those souls.

Take on the heart of Jesus and work for justice. But if that is not enough to motivate you, think about the criteria that will be used on the Judgement Day when your life is evaluated.

The prophet Amos spoke God’s words of judgement to a people obsessed with false idols and superficial religion. In Amos 5, God said this to people who longed for the day of the Lord, the Judgement Day.
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Potluck meals, tithes and offerings, music and worship, all were unacceptable. Why? Because of the injustice they were practicing. Fellowship, our giving to the church and worship are all wonderful and necessary parts of our Christian life, but if they exist in the midst of injustice, God is not interested in the other things we do.

In Matthew 25 is recorded the parable of the sheep and the goats. It is a parable of the judgement day and through it all you see God’s concern for justice. Justice for those who are poor, abandoned and rejected by the world.

Take on God’s concern for justice.

2. You cannot sit on the fence. If you do not resist injustice, you are complicit with it. You don’t have to be the one who commits an act of injustice. If you are silent while it is happening, you are responsible for it just as if you had been the one to do it.

Take a look at the story of Ahab, Jezebel and Naboth. Who thought up the idea of killing Naboth? Jezebel. Who wrote the letter that resulted in his being killed? Jezebel. Who put Ahab’s seal on the letter that was sent? Jezebel. To whom did the message come that Naboth had been murdered? Jezebel. Did Jezebel consult Ahab about what she was going to do? No. Did Ahab do anything other than sulk because Naboth would not sell his property? No. Was Ahab held responsible by Elijah for the murder of Naboth? Yes.

And here is the lesson. If you are aware of some act of injustice that is going to be committed or is being committed and you do nothing to prevent it, you are responsible for that act of injustice. If someone is being robbed and you stand by the side of the road and watch or if you observe from the safety of your window and do nothing, you will be held responsible for that injustice as if you had committed it. If someone is being or has been abused and you do nothing to help the person affected, you are guilty of the abuse.

If you are aware of some illegal scheme to defraud someone and you say nothing to the authorities about it, you are responsible even if you do not take part in the scheme yourself.

Be the enemy of injustice, not the silent partner of injustice.

3. When you suffer injustice, forgive, don’t hold on to the anger it produces. But don’t be passive in the face of injustice. Let it provoke anger in you that leads you to confront injustice.

Look at what Elijah said to Ahab when they met.
Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD.  21 ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.  22 I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat and that of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin.’

Elijah spoke to Ahab the message God had given him to say and notice why it is that God says he is making this judgement on Ahab. I will do these things because you have provoked me to anger.

Christians are often afraid of being angry because of the way anger is too often inappropriately used. But remember that in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes to them, In your anger, do not sin. I have talked about this before and do not have time to go into all the nuances of this, but being angry can be a godly emotion. And in fact, if in the presence of injustice anger is not one of your emotional responses, then I would suggest you need to pray to grow in your ability to be like Christ.

God saw what Ahab and Jezebel did to Naboth, he saw the injustice and the injustice provoked him to anger and led to his judgement against Ahab. When you see injustice, let the anger that wells up in you provoke you to work for justice.

4. The goal of confrontation is to lead to repentance. When the anger that is provoked in you in response to injustice leads you to confront injustice, remember that in seeking justice the goal is still to lead the one who committed the injustice to repentance.

How did Ahab respond to the judgement spoken against him?
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite:  29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

There is no one, not even Ahab and not even Jezebel who is without hope, outside the love and concern of God.

When I read this passage about Elijah coming to confront Ahab because of what was done to Naboth, my mind went immediately to a story in the Bible just a bit earlier in history than this one. And that is the story of Nathan coming to confront King David because of what he did to Uriah. As you remember, David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah who was one of David’s fighting men. Bathsheba became pregnant and to cover up what he had done, David wrote a letter to his commander and had Uriah put in the thick of a battle and then left to himself so he was killed.

Note that the parallel in this story to David is not Ahab but Jezebel. Both David and Jezebel conceived the plan to kill the one who stood in their way. Both David and Jezebel wrote letters to have their plan carried out. David was not the silent partner to injustice, he was the direct perpetrator of injustice.

And when Nathan came to confront David with his sin, David’s response was to repent and he wrote Psalm 51, the great psalm of confession in our Bible.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

Confrontation of injustice led in both cases to repentance and so do you see where we have ended? At the beginning of the sermon I mentioned that the two wings of an airplane are evangelism and social action. To be a witness for Christ is to care both for the eternal soul of a person and for the care of that soul in this life.

But when we confront injustice, we do so with the hope of restoring the one who offends to a proper relationship with God. In the end, both arms of the church lead us to the same end – drawing people closer to God.

We live in a world full of injustice. There has never been a time when the world has not been full of injustice and I do not imagine that there will ever be a time when the world will not be full of injustice. But we are agents of God. We are the arms and legs and voice of Christ, working in this world of injustice to bring justice.

Pray to have the heart of God for this world. Take God’s concern for justice and make it your concern.

Don’t make the excuse that you are not the one committing injustice. Do not be a silent partner to injustice, too afraid or too indifferent to do anything about it.

Let God’s concern for justice he has put in your heart provoke anger when you see injustice committed. Let that anger energize you to work for justice.

And finally, when you work for justice and confront those who have committed the injustice, never forget that God’s desire for these people is like his desire for you, to come into a relationship of peace with him.

Isaiah 42:1-4, speaking of the Messiah who was to come
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!