“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.
Yesterday we learned the importance of identifying with those who are marginalized in our society. Today we will learn the importance of encouraging the oppressed. In the above text, Isaiah is indicting Judah for being a rebellious nation. They were going through the motions of being faithful to God by offering up many sacrifices. Yet, their hearts were far from God. In verse five, Isaiah writes, “Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.” According to the prophet, they had a head and heart problem. They were going through the motions, but their actions were not congruent with God’s Word.
One of the issues facing the nation was the mistreatment of the poor and oppressed members of their society. The rulers were taking advantage of the weak and vulnerable. Later in the chapter, Isaiah indicts the leaders for taking bribes and not defending the marginalized within their borders. This explains Isaiah’s admonition to, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.” The definition of encourage is, “to give support, confidence, or hope to someone.” So, what does it look like to “encourage the oppressed”?
First, let us look at some biblical examples of encouragement. In Psalm 10, David tells us that the Lord encourages the afflicted by listening to their cry and defending the oppressed. All people wish to be heard. When we sense we are not being heard, we will do whatever it takes to make sure that our heart is heard. God listens and understands. We must listen to those who are being oppressed and seek to understand their heart’s cry. This is the first step in encouraging the oppressed. The second step is to defend the oppressed. It is one thing to understand the marginalized in our community, but God calls us to defend or to join the fight of those being oppressed. God does not tolerate injustice, and we must not tolerate it either. The sin of silence does not pass the smell test. As children of God, we must take up the cause of the oppressed and fight to lift oppression.
In Romans 12, we read, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and grieve with those who grieve.” In our Conversations series, Bob interviewed Sonny Smith. When Sonny was asked how he was feeling, he used the word “grieving.” To grieve means, “to mourn, to lament, to hurt, to suffer.” If we want to encourage the oppressed, we must join with them in their hurt and their suffering. We must truly feel their hurt and pain. Bob said, “Until we feel their pain, we will not truly deal with the problem of racism.”
In that same interview, Sonny listed several practical things we can do to encourage the African American community. The first was to hire black employees and empower them to make decisions. The second was to trust and follow black leaders. He also encouraged us to reach out, cross the street, walk together with the black community, and create authentic fellowship. These are just a few ideas of how you can encourage others. May God grant you wisdom as you determine what this looks like for you.
Questions to Ponder:
How might you encourage someone who feels marginalized in your community? How good are you at listening to others and then empathizing with them? Do you hurt when others hurt? Do you have close friendships with people of another race?
- Ask God to forgive you for times that you might have overlooked the marginalized.
- Ask God to help you with the ability to listen to others for the purpose of learning.
- Ask God to open your eyes for ways to encourage the people around you for the glory of God.
Lord God, thank You for Your forgiveness. Your mercy is new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness oh God. I run to You for Your wisdom. I seek You and inquire upon You. I desire to be like John the disciple who leaned into Your heart at the last supper when You shared something very disturbing to them all. God, make me like John who was someone who leaned into Your heart. God, I ask that You reveal any wicked ways in me. Give me a heart that receives that conviction with a posture of humility and sorrow. Help me to truly mourn with those who mourn, feel what they feel, carry their burdens by the grace and power of Your Holy Spirit within me. Grant me a heart and mind that listens in love. Bless me with that gift oh God. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.