There is a reason why the Bible is one of the most influential books in human history. It is not only the word of God; it addresses a wide range of issues which are important in our lives, and shows how the Lord wants us to behave. In this paper, we will explore how the Prophetic Books of the Bible address the problems of social injustice, religious ritualism, and idolatry.
The Bible condemns idolatry. God explicitly stated that people must not have gods except for Him, and that they mustn’t create idols out of anything which can be found in the world (Exodus 20:3-4 New International Version). Therefore, it is no wonder that the Prophetic Books of the Bible also strictly disapprove worshipping idols.
For instance, it is claimed that those who “carry about idols of wood”, praying to “gods that cannot save”, are ignorant (Isaiah 45:20). The book of Jeremiah reads that those who pray to gods other than the Lord provoke His anger (Jeremiah 7:18). The “evil of idolatry” is compared to arrogance and conceit (1 Samuel 15:23). In another place of the Bible, God promises to destroy the “carved images and… sacred stones”, idols that Assyrians worshiped (Micah 5:13).
Hindson and Yates (2012) stress that the book of Isaiah shows the folly of idolatry, describing a situation when a man “cuts down a tree and uses half of the wood as fuel to cook his food and half to craft the idol” (p. 307). Therefore, the very idea of using a piece of some material to represent God is laughable.
More than that, there was a reason why the Lord appeared to Moses as a burning bush (Exodus 3); no human can withstand His greatness, and thus it is obvious that no idol can truly represent Him. Thus, it is clear that God strongly deplores idolatry, for He is the only true God.
The Biblical prophets, both preexilic and postexilic, strongly opposed social injustice (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 445). According to the book of Jeremiah, God willed that people should always do what is just, rescue those who were oppressed, and commit no wrongs or violence (Jeremiah 22:3). The Lord condemns being overfed, unconcerned, and not helping the needy (Ezekiel 16:48-50).
Therefore, a question arises: if God deplored social injustice, where did it come from? Markl (2011) states that this phenomenon can be a result of political games and corruption among those who have power, e.g. rulers or judges in courts (para. 4, 6). But, ultimately, it can be inferred that social injustice is a manifestation of human sinfulness (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 411). Still, it is stated that it will not go unpunished, and that wealth coming from corruption will be judged by the God in the end (Hindson & Yates, 2012, p. 266).
The Bible disapproves of excessive ritualism. Rituals that are performed by a person who us not truly devoted to God and, in fact, only wishes to buy Him off by giving sacrifices, are exceptionally denounced. For instance, the book of Isaiah contains a passage where the Lord explains that He takes no pleasure in offerings and various ritual events, and says that instead of these, people should “stop doing wrong, learn to do right” (Isaiah 1:11-17).
It is clear that “acknowledgement of God” is much more valuable than “burnt offerings” (Hosea 6;6). Therefore, it can be reasoned that what is indeed precious is the true righteousness; and that ritualism without the true commitment is worthless. It is also clear that God can always identify if our religious practices come from our heart, or if they are just a way to make a pretense.
The discussion of the issues of social injustice, idolatry and religious ritualism provides grounds for some practical conclusions. As it has been mentioned, social injustice originates in human sinfulness; in a society, it emerges from various types of sin, such as greed and corruption. Social injustice must be opposed, and it will finally be judged by God.
God condemns idolatry and excessive ritualism. Idols are unable to represent God. Moreover, it is claimed that people often become what they worship (Beale, 2008, p. 16). Idolatry is an abomination (Estes, 2010, p. 261), and, therefore, it must not be practiced. Excessive ritualism should also not be allowed in our life; it is not a great sin, but it bears no meaning if a person that participates in it has no true commitment to the God.
As we have seen, the Bible (the Prophetic Books in particular) strongly opposes social injustice; it can be derived that it is ultimately a result of human sinfulness; specifically, it can emerge from corruption among those who have power and from human greed.
It has also been demonstrated that, while worshipping God, no idols should be used, for they are not able to represent the magnificence of God and are nothing but a mockery. And, finally, it has been shown that ritualism, especially excessive, is not favored by God; rather than utilize religious rituals, one should commit oneself to the Lord and endeavor to be a truly righteous person.
Beale, G.K. (2008). We become what we worship: A biblical theology of idolatry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Estes, D. J. (2010). Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Hindson, E., & Yates, G. (Eds.). (2012). The essence of the Old Testament: A survey. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
Markl, D. (2011). Social justice in the Bible.