26 Sep 2022

Powerful Man, Powerless Man, and God’s Man

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Love, Mission, Politics
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25.38-40)

This morning we were thinking about “justice.” American Evangelicals consider it biblical to write, preach and even protest over such matters as “evolution” being taught in schools. They also will preach, write, picket, and even on occasion shoot someone over the matter of “abortion.” These are matters of the Bible to them. But the moment we talk about justice in the courts, justice for the poor, justice for the working poor (which is most!), justice for women, justice for “minorities,” we are told that those are political issues rather than biblical issues. This is, frankly, a bizarre misreading of Scripture.

I am thinking of the story in 1 Kings 21 this morning.

The Bible does not merely speak of the needs of the unborn. Nor does the Bible ever talk about evolution per se.

But it does talk about justice for the born, for the poor, for the aliens, for women, for impoverished children (orphans). First Kings 21 presents us with a story of a peasant, a powerless man named Naboth. Naboth owned a piece of “ancestral land” (laws such as those in Leviticus 25 and other places, are assumed in 1 Kings 21). The land is is not merely his but the whole family. Further the land is the means of the the family for keeping future generations alive.

This king, Ahab, was indeed powerful as we know from sources outside the biblical narrative. He was able to contribute two thousands chariots and ten thousand infantry to one of the greatest battles of the ancient world against the mighty Assyrian Empire, the Battle of Qarqar. And win! Ahab was a man of considerable power in his world. Ahab is a powerful man, but petty. The king thought of the land as a mere commodity.

Yet, Ahab could not obtain the land however according to Israelite law. The law of the land, that recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy, always sides with the powerless, not the powerful. The powerful Ahab was humbled before the powerless Naboth. Ahab did what many powerful people do when the powerless do not swoon before them, he sulked. “He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.” Almost a classic description of a tantrum.

So a genuine conspiracy was hatched. Sounding as if it came straight from any number of conspiracy podcasts or news channels, the powerless peasant was accused of disrespect and lack of patriotism. Read the story carefully. What is Naboth accused of? He disrespected God and Country (Yahweh and King). He is not patriotic towards the powerful Ahab who has stood up to the mighty Assyrians!

A few sufficiently influenced (bought off) people, witnesses were produced that lied about Naboth. Naboth was executed for treason against “God” and King. His ancestral property seized by the ones who wanted it in the first place.

The story of Naboth happens in our world on a daily basis. It is not about the unborn nor evolution yet the Bible addresses it forthrightly. In fact, the most famous preacher in Israel at the time (and probably since) was called out by Yahweh personally to get out of his office and go and publicly challenge the powerful king. His name was Elijah, the Man of God.

The message God gave Elijah to tell Ahab was,

have you killed and also taken possession? …
in the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth,
dogs will lick up your blood

Of all the evil that Ahab did in the sight of the Lord, it was his treatment of the powerless peasant that drew the personal promise of death from God. He set up all sort of abominations (v.25f) but it was his injustice for the poor and the powerless that moved the God of Israel to become the Divine Warrior in Naboth’s stead.

And Ahab’s greatest triumph, perhaps the greatest of all Israelite history, did not even get mentioned by the Bible. What God wanted preserved was that the powerful man, used his power against the powerless man.

Justice for the “least of these” is what God called Elijah to preach. This is in fact a central message in all the prophets including Jesus himself. I am not opposed to protests against abortion but Elijah confronted injustice against the already born. I am pro-life. Being pro-life is not merely pro-birth.

Naboth was stoned on the charge of disloyalty to God and Country. Imagine what charge would have been hurled at Elijah for personally telling the king that the God of Israel had issued a death sentence for him? Treason!!?? Can you imagine what the conspirators were saying about Elijah, the Man of God? If Naboth was unpatriotic, Elijah was worse than Judas to them.

Elijah did not preach “politics” beloved. What he preached was justice. Just like Amos, Micah, Isaiah, James and the Prophet John.

Who is Naboth, the powerless, in our world today?
Who are the Ahab’s, the powerful, today?
Where are the Elijah’s, the Men/Women of God, who stand in the gap for the Naboth’s?

I am one of several thousand preachers. Do we preachers have the courage to be Elijah? Do we have the courage to preach justice, mercy and faithfulness (Micah 6.8; Mt 23.23).

You know who Naboth is today? Breonna Taylor is Naboth. Migrants shipped off to Martha’s Vineyard for the sake of political talking points are Naboth.

Being Elijah will not be popular with the Ahab’s and Jezebel’s that are the faces of the principalities and powers. Confronting the powerful – and POPULAR – man, who runs over the powerless peasant, takes the courage of the Man of God.

Who are the Elijah’s who will stand up for Naboth? Why are we not out before Ahab?

Some will say “Bobby you are getting all political.” Like hades I am! No more “political” than Elijah. Rather it is called being faithful.

But they said the same thing to David Walker, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Martin Luther King Jr. Not because it was actually “political” but because they did not want to hear it.

I personally could care less what political party is in control. What we do care about is about justice, righteousness and faithfulness for the Naboth’s in our world. If Republicans pursue Elijah kind of justice, I will support Republicans. If Democrats support Elijah kind of justice then I will support them. If neither will support Elijah kind of justice then we should be Elijah to the powerful.

Thousands of preachers, white preachers, need to stand up and read 1 Kings 21. We need to say that God is as concerned about justice for the powerless Naboth as he is about evolution and “gay people.” In fact God sent a preacher to deliver a death certificate to a king over his murder of the poor innocent one, the powerless man. Of course God had already promised this long before Ahab used his power to steal from and murder the powerless (read Exodus 22.21-27 for starters).

No animosity is intended here brothers and sisters. I simply think it is time that we have eyes to see and even more ears to hear.

Where is our voice?

4 Responses to “Powerful Man, Powerless Man, and God’s Man”

  1. JT Says:

    “Who are the Elijah’s that will stand up…?” You are certainly not the first preacher/citizen within the walls of the USA to ask that one! But I’m glad you’re asking, nonetheless.
    It’s tempting for many of us, I might imagine, to provide a long opinionated answer and wax eloquently. Alas, this little blog isn’t suited for that. And I don’t have a web page to link such a post even if I was inclined to write at length – which I’m not.
    The short answer to your question (was it merely rhetorical?) is NO ONE will stand up. I don’t care which denomination one points to, no preacher will stand up – fully, forcefully, consistently and biblically.
    “Where is our voice?” Silenced in fear. Fear of losing any form of material property – real property or income streams; Fear of ridicule and loss of stature, credibility – in other words, challenges to one’s reputation; Fear of lawsuit and the need to defend against such; Fear of incarceration. More reasons, but these illustrate well enough.
    “Politics” some might accuse you; and you rightly deny. A challenge that we face today is that “everything” has become political. And in that process the people of our country, the peoples even within individual congregations, have largely bifurcated. Which makes “everything” off limits for public discourse, in the “public square”, within the assemblies, and especially from the pulpits.
    So, it does no one any good to get side-tracked about politics, or what issues constitute “politics” from one person’s opinion to the next. What matters, IMHO, is the theme that you’ve broached here: the clearly moral, biblical issues about regular people IN FRONT OF EACH OF US, that have Ahabs to contend with.
    People (preachers) need to stop waiting to see if the preacher across town will stick his neck out first. Stick YOUR neck out should be the plan. Each one, simply read God’s word and each one, as we understand it, act and speak on principle within the realm of our personal ability. Scary sounding? Yes. Speak truthfully for the downtrodden. Speak in love – always, especially when condemning the actions of the powerful.
    There’s “our voice”. It is His voice, through us, as always, if we don’t shirk in fear.

    Shalom Bobby, and thanks.

  2. JT Says:

    To preachers:
    This may feel like having toes stepped on (maybe stomped on), however, my purpose for saying this is NOT for belittling our preachers.

    Preachers represent our greatest failure in this modern age. We have failed. Don’t get all dogmatic and over-defensive on me, please.
    We have talked incessantly about “Jesus Loves You”, and that is not wrong or bad. He is infinite love. We have talked about “getting saved”. And that obviously is not wrong or bad either! We occasionally speak to what we should do to express our love for God, obey. Yet, “obey” comes in amazingly different flavors from pulpits!
    Truthfully, men – dad’s/husbands should teach the elementary truths in the home, which should then be expounded upon (fully explained) from the pulpits. Problem is, not too many dad’s husbands still in homes! And the few remaining are often into sports and other distractions.
    So, it comes back full circle to us preachers. We better start doing a better job in our assemblies of teaching the full counsel of God so that dads/husbands can again flourish in homes with their own sons.
    There’s nothing more influential, more powerful, than a biblically astute, Godly man speaking and living the Word of God.

  3. Robert Limb Says:

    This deserves to be heard, Bobby, so these two comments are intended to be helpful.
    1. It is not too difficult to find out (from Wikipedia, for instance) what the extra-biblical sources are for the battle of Qarqar, but a footnote mentioning the Kurkh monolith would lend weight to your argument.
    2. Concerning abortion, you say “The Bible does not merely speak of the needs of the unborn”. “Merely” suggests to me that you believe that in Scripture actions to protect the unborn, or maybe punish those who would harm foetuses are recounted. I found myself wondering what you meant to say, which is a distraction from the very important point you are making.

  4. A. Ruth Miller Says:

    We often insist on posting the 10 Commandments and never insist on posting the Sermon on the Mount.

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