Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Splendor and Disillusionment

At the church I attended as a teen, there was a family of three. I suppose they were reasonably affluent, though I did not pay much attention to such things in those days. After I moved on, I heard that the father succumbed in middle age to a degenerative disease and went to be with the Lord. Being a decent sort and forward-thinking, he had made financial arrangements for his wife and disabled daughter so that they would be cared for after he was gone.

That worked out well … until it didn’t. A con artist talked the gullible widow into a bad investment, and they lost everything. Years later, they’re still struggling.

One in Ten Thousand … or Not

When a man like that is one in ten thousand, we can write off such a story as the unfortunate exception. But when corruption or lax enforcement of the laws of the land permits many such individuals to profit from the system and parasitize the weak, your society is in deep trouble.

For the Old Testament prophets, widows and orphans served as canaries in the coal mine. They measured their society by the way it treated its most defenseless members. Unfortunately for both Israel and Judah, by that metric their performance was consistently rotten.

Both the major and minor prophets take up this theme. Isaiah foretold imminent destruction for those who “decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!” In Israel, this is exactly what happened. The “iniquitous” Isaiah referred to were carried away into captivity by Assyria during the very period in which the prophet inveighed against them.

Driven from Delightful Houses

Micah, who spoke for God during the same historical era as Isaiah, says:
“The women of my people you drive out from their delightful houses; from their young children you take away my splendor forever.”
Without a window into the past, we cannot easily picture the scene to which Micah was referring. Perhaps the “women” he mentions were quite poor, and the delight they took in their homes was personal rather than a product of comparative affluence. But that is not necessarily the case. In fact, it seems quite unlikely anyone would bother to force starving women and children from their hovels merely for their own amusement. The financial class has better things to do with its time. There had to be something in it for the money men, and it turns out there was.

When we look at the history of the period, we find that the reigns of Jotham and Ahaz in Judah and Pekah in Israel, during which Micah prophesied, were hardly times of peace and safety. Jotham warred with the Ammonites; Ahaz with Syria, Israel, the Edomites, the Philistines, and finally Assyria. Pekah battled his brothers in Judah, taking captive hundreds of thousands as slaves.

Two Societies

In such times, and with both Israel and Judah more often than not failing to seek God’s favor on the battlefield and reaping the expected results, men went to war and were killed left, right and center. Women and children were left to fend for themselves. Many of these widows and orphans were surely quite well off, or at least getting by … until the final blow was dealt to them by their own unscrupulous kinsmen. These men took advantage of a system that passed land and property through male heirs to disenfranchise anyone who had no one left to stand up for them. Isaiah’s prophecy suggests they used the laws of the land to serve their own agendas, forcing their victims into the streets so they could get their hands on their assets.

That’s a brutal, dog-eat-dog society, and not one with which God cared to identify himself. He judged it most severely. Our modern, Western culture is rarely so obvious in its decadence and greed. The people living on our streets are mostly men, their problems more likely related to mental illness, lack of impulse control and substance abuse than the horrors of war and the predations of the upper class. When women and children are left to fend for themselves these days, the reason is usually marital abandonment, not the death of a spouse. But the root cause of certain kinds of preventable poverty remains the same: selfish, unrestrained desire. Sometimes the shoe is even on the other foot: young and middle-aged women looking for greater “happiness” leave husbands and families for a tryst with an internet flame, taking with them their share of the family assets.

It’s doubtful either Isaiah or Micah saw that one coming, but we know God did.

The Splendor of God

In any case, male or female, and whatever the reason for it may be, being driven from a “delightful house” you can no longer afford is a life-changing, deeply destructive event. But Micah adds this: “from their young children you take away my splendor forever.” God is especially concerned about the minds and hearts of the young. Imagine the level of bitterness and disillusionment that can be produced when the people who are supposed to be caring for you reveal themselves as self-involved parasites who care only for their own pleasures.

The splendor of God is made manifest in the world through the choices and actions of men and women. It cannot be otherwise. God is spirit and cannot be seen. He makes himself known through the love of fathers and mothers, through the care of extended family members and the kindnesses of strangers who are willing to stand up for the weak and the fallen. When we reflect the love of God in our dealings with people who cannot protect themselves, we give them a glimpse into God’s character and a reason to hope for something better than they are currently experiencing.

When we do not, we take the splendor of God and conceal it from them so effectively they may never recover. We make it near-impossible for them to see God as he is, or to ever consider the value of entering into a relationship with him.

It wouldn’t hurt Christians to be just a little more deliberately conscious of that.


  1. Amen.
    But the reason that that is not happening is fairly obvious. Society has given up on teaching responsibility. Everything wrong and irresponsible is being touted as the progressive way to live and structure life. The wrong messages abound in everything promoted by our media, businesses and speculators who feature the wrong people as our role models promoting their destructive inclinations as the new way to live.

    1. Very true. What struck me in reading Micah is that this sort of faithless, selfish behavior is nothing new. It is the natural condition of mankind apart from Christ.