He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?"
declares the LORD.
Have you ever had a verse that just keeps coming back to you and coming back to you and coming back to you?
Jeremiah 22:16 has been one of those for me.
With the recent unrest between Israel and Gaza, I find myself pulled more and more to the books of Jeremiah, Haggai and Zechariah. They are books full of prophecy, strong imagery, warnings and consequences. The book of Jeremiah recounts the rise and fall of both great and terrible kings and Haggai and Zachariah record Israel's struggle to return home after exile to Babylon.
I just keep turning to the pages of these tomes.
And somehow, I continue to find myself reading again and again the above passage in Jeremiah.
They are words to the son of Josiah, a man named Shallum, also called Jehoahaz. Josiah had been a powerful king over Judah and had brought reform and faith back to his people. Shallum decided to turn his back on his father's legacy, disregarding the compassion and faithfulness by which his father ruled. Within three months, Shallum had lost the throne of Judah to an Egyptian Pharoah and was led into captivity. He was the first king of Judah to die in exile. And the words above were spoken to him by Jeremiah, a prophet of the Lord.
What strikes me is this is not a tongue lashing by Jeremiah telling Shallum his governance was faulty, his spending extreme, his military preparedness vulnerable, his behaviors too provocative. What is said is that his father Josiah knew how to defend the cause of the poor and needy and by this marker showed that he knew the Lord. Shallum does not uphold these causes and therefore proves that he does not follow the Lord.
It is by what Josiah did for the least of these that marks him as a man of God. It is the neglect toward the poor and needy by his son that marks Shallum as one who does not follow God.
And Shallum ultimately pays the price for that oversight.
As a youngster, I thought that my faith was all about the things I didn't do. I thought that my avoidance of certain 'secular' behaviors would mark my identity as a good church-going little girl.
But it falls a little flat, doesn't it, when the sum of your life's light, when the definition of all that guides you, is only known by those around you as what you won't do.
If the only way people know that I follow Jesus is because I don't ________________ (fill in the blank), then where does that leave us? If the only way the world has of understanding my walk is through what I avoid, then how does that show a life of transformation and journey and growth?
What I want people to know is that I know the Lord.
And how He defines my knowing Him is pretty simple.
It's how He identified Josiah as a child of His.
It's how He knew Shallum was not.
It's in what we do do. It's in defending the cause of the poor and needy. It's in walking in love. It's in visiting the sick, giving a cup of water, going the extra mile.
It's about what we do. Not just about what we avoid.
It's about love in action.