“This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
As The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains, “one of the central ideas” in the Book of Jeremiah is covenant. “God makes promises and calls on [His] people to observe certain requirements.” God sends prophets like Jeremiah to His people “when they disobey the law. Their job is to warn the people to change their lives and live in conformity with God’s will or else the curses of the covenant will come into effect.”
God’s command to do “no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless, or the widow” comes in a chapter of Jeremiah’s book that lays out God’s judgement against wicked kings. In the chapter before, God’s wrath towards those who disobey this command is evident: “rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done-burn with no one to quench it” (21:12). I’m really drawn to this phrase “rescue from the hand of the oppressor,” repeated in both Chapters 21 and 22. The sentence structure makes it sound like we are to save victims in the very act of injustice, in the moment it’s happening. The imperative commands “Do” and “Rescue” call us to take immediate action.
These observations led me to ponder about what is at the heart of God’s concern and to reflect a little bit about my own experiences as an immigrant.
My family and I emigrated from Iran six months before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and growing up, I often felt confused about my identity. At school, I did my best to fit in-to not draw attention to my difference (which is really hard to do when you have a name like mine!). At home I was reminded to never forget my roots. The constant tug from one culture to the other convinced me I wasn’t “normal” and didn’t belong. I’m not proud to have these feelings but if I can be totally honest, I feel an inexplicable discomfort when I see newly arrived Armenian immigrants-despite the fact that I’m an immigrantmyself. I wonder why they have to be so different. I tried so hard to blend in, why can’t they? Their presence reminds me of who I was-of who I am.
I think this is the most subversive part of oppression, when it becomes internalized and turns into self-hatred. In God’s eyes, the foreigner, fatherless, and widow all share a similar loss. I think the similarity may be in this feeling of not belonging. The fatherless and widow have lost the head of their family. The foreigner has lost the home of his forefathers. They are displaced and feel abandoned. God’s promise to us is that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). As His people, we must take on the hands and feet of Christ-we must reach out to those on the fringes of society who are most vulnerable to believing God has abandoned them. We must share the love, mercy, and peace we’ve received from Jesus; otherwise, we put into jeopardy God’s covenant.