38. The Oppressed

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 38 :  The Oppressed

Eccles 4:1 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:  I saw the tears of the oppressed– and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors– and they have no comforter.

To the shallow thinker, the presence of the oppressed of the world must raise a question about the nature of God.  This question we find Habakkuk raising with God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13) i.e. God, I know you are holy and good, so how can you just stand back and do nothing in the face of all the evil in the world? It is a legitimate question.

For Solomon (who had been a hard taskmaster) it was a valid problem. He looked at what he saw happening in the world and he saw oppression and he saw the tears of the oppressed and he saw that no one was giving them comfort, and he saw that the people with the power were the oppressors. These are the basics of oppression wherever it takes place. Because people are the same throughout history, it is exactly the same today. It may be kings or rulers holding their people in a rod of iron, it may be those dealing in people trafficking, it may be gangs terrorizing neighbourhoods, or it may simply be parents abusing their children or employers exploiting their workers. Whatever it is, it is the same: powerful people oppressing weaker people.

As Solomon looked he didn’t come up with any answers beyond the philosophical: “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.” (v.2,3)  If the world it like this, he concludes, the person who has died is better off now they no longer have to endure the oppression they had been suffering, but of course, the people in the best position are those who have never yet been born because at least they haven’t been through it. That’s a very negative way of viewing it. Perhaps it would be better if we asked two questions: why does this happen and what can we do about it?

First of all, why does this happen. There are two factors that contribute to this. First there is the free will that God has granted to mankind. He has made us so that we choose how we will live, what we will do. Second is the fact of sin in every human being, that tendency to godlessness and self-centredness that leads to unrighteousness. Put these two things together and people oppress people. It is as simple as that. We don’t have to but we choose to – and it is sin and it is evil.

But then this usually raises an even bigger question, the question that Habakkuk raised: why doesn’t God step in to do something about it. The answer here is also twofold and it involves what God can’t do and what He can do.

First of all what God can’t do. It is logically very simple and yet so many people just can’t see it. Ask yourself the question, what would you like God to do? Step in and stop it. How? Er…. MAKE every person good. You’ve just taken away their free will, their ability to choose, that human ‘ingredient’ that makes us who we are. Do that and we have grey robots who are all the boring same and who are incapable of the thing we call love. So tell people to be good! He does, all the time. I am utterly convinced that God speaks to every single human being but many of us are like Pharaoh – hard hearted. We have set our hearts on oppressing those weaker than ourselves and so we refuse to listen to God.

OK then, let’s ask the other part: what can God do? So does God stand back and do nothing? No, He works in the hearts and lives of individuals. A slave can know the wonder of God’s love, even in the face of oppression. But more than that revolution comes when many people rise up against the oppressor. We have seen it a number of times in the last fifty years. Something we have to accept is that God knows that some of these things take time, but that doesn’t mean to say He is doing nothing today. It just means we may have to wait a while to see what He’s been working on!

So let’s ask the second question: what can we do about it? Wherever we see it we should ‘blow the whistle’ on it and shout it from the rooftops. That won’t always have effect, but it will sometimes. Wherever we see it, we should be praying against it and not only ask the Lord to act to stop it, but also ask what part we might play in bringing it to an end. The truth is that the Lord does want to act against oppression, but largely through other people. In a civilised society He has prompted us to create legal systems that seek to deal with criminal activity. Unsaved world government will never get it completely right, but at least we can pray and speak out to encourage governments to speak and act against other governments who oppress their people or allow oppression within their countries. The world is a constantly changing kaleidoscope of changing nations and changing activity. The fact that there is oppression doesn’t mean to say that we have to tolerate it.

14. God far off


Psa 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Small children, child-rearing experts tell us, need the presence of their mother. As they grow, we’re also told they do best when they have the presence of a father around as well. The reason is fairly obvious; you hardly need an expert to tell you this, but we get comfort and security as children when a loving adult is there for us, to protect us, care for us, and encourage us. It’s all fairly obvious really. As God’s children we naturally feel the same. Something within us expects God – especially when His word tells us that as Christians He has become our Father – to be there for us. This especially comes to the fore when we find ourselves getting ‘beaten up’ by the enemy. It may be in the form of direct Satanic attack, or it may come in the form of people oppressing us, abusing us, attacking us, or generally harming us. At that time we want to run to ‘daddy’ and cry for Him to do something and redress the situation. Sometimes when this happens it seems like God is miles away.

The experience of God seeming like He is standing far off, is not uncommon. On a bad day it seems like He is in another universe and we are left with a sense of loneliness. Where is He, why doesn’t He appear? These are the natural cries of the young children when troubles come. Where is my dad?

In this psalm, the reason for this cry is spelt out in the following verses all about the wicked who “hunts down the weak” (v.2), boasts about what he wants and speaks out against God (v.3) is proud (v.5,6), has a mouth full of abusive language (v.7), ambushes the innocent weak (v.8,9), knocks down his victims (v.10) and declares that God is helpless to do anything (v.11). This is the playground bully at his worst. But he’s also the bully at work, or over the fence, or at college. This person is bigger and stronger and more powerful than you, and they abuse you, and so, as a Christian you pray and cry out to God, but He doesn’t seem to answer. It doesn’t seem like He’s around, in fact it feels like He must be off visiting another universe! For some reason He’s doesn’t seem to care. He seems to stand at a distance. Why Lord?

Now the psalmist, frustratingly we might think, doesn’t come up with an answer, and in this he is being absolutely true to life, for at the time at least we often don’t seem to get answers. It is almost as if the Lord is waiting for us to declare truth anyway, which is what the psalmist does: “The LORD is King for ever and ever.” (v.16). Whatever the circumstances appear to be saying, he knows that ultimately God is THE ruler who is over everything. He may not understand why these things are happening or why God seems to be standing at a distance, but one thing he is sure about, one thing he is certain hasn’t changed, and that is the God is the ruler of all things. There is a sense here of needing to declare trust in who God is, even when we don’t understand His apparent reticence to turn up on our behalf. I am personally convinced that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over our lives and see perfectly what happened and why it happened, we will not be able to find anything over which to criticize Him. Nothing! If the Lord allows the sky to drop on me, I am convinced He will be allowing it for a reason. I am realistic enough to be sure that I will cry out, “Why Lord,” and feel deeply distressed by it all, but coming through the other side will know, He is “King for ever and ever.”

But the psalmist says more: “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” (v.17). He may be standing afar off (at least that’s how it seems) but He still hears and He will encourage us. Somehow in the midst of it, His quiet whisper will come through in an encouraging way. We may not have a great sense of His presence, but somehow in ways we cannot define or even anticipate, He will speak to us and it will act as an encouragement to us.

But he adds more: “defending the fatherless and the oppressed” (v.18). Somehow in the midst of it all He will actually be defending us. We may not be aware of His presence, we may not have the comfort of His strong arm around us, yet He will defend us. ‘Defending’ speaks of standing against the enemy to protect us. ‘Fatherless’ speaks about the loneliness, the absence of relationship we feel. We feel we have no one there for us. ‘Oppressed’ speaks of the action of an enemy coming against us. When we feel lonely, without loving relationship, and in the sights of the enemy, somehow in some intangible way, the Lord will come through for us and defend us against these attacks against our vulnerable state. Have you noticed how these things seem to come upon us when we are feeling particularly weak and vulnerable?

So, the Lord may seem distant, but our role is simply to speak the truth: He is the Lord – still – nothing has changed, even though it feels like it. This is a time for speaking out in faith! Moreover, even though He seems to be miles away, that doesn’t stop Him whispering simple words of encouragement into our hearts in the midst of it all, and it doesn’t stop Him standing against the enemy and defending us while we feel down, weak and vulnerable. Thus far and no further! Take comfort in the truth.

24. Rising or Falling


24. Are you Rising or Falling?

Luke 2:33-35 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Some people look at Scripture and say, “Oh, it’s difficult to understand” and so shut the book, and so reveal the weak state of their heart. Seekers turn to God and say, Lord Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law(Psa 119:18). They recognize that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 ) and so seek the giver of it for understanding.

What do you think the falling and rising of many in Israel means in our verses above? It is a description of the effect this child is going to have. In the verse before, that we have not read, Simeon had prophesied, that Jesus was a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (v.32) or as the Message version puts it, A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.” This baby, says Simeon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will reveal God to the world and bring the glory of God back to this nation of Israel.

Now you might think that was good news but you might have forgotten an aside we made in Meditation 22: “The teachers had differing views of the sort of person this One would be. Some said a conquering king, other said a suffering servant, because the prophetic scriptures seemed to indicate both, and they couldn’t see how he could be both, so they opted for one or the other.”  In other words people in Israel had differing but specific views of the Coming One and, as you’ll see if you read the Gospels, some people looked at Jesus and didn’t think he conformed to their expectations of him. He may have been a sign from God, but in the case of many he was a sign that will be spoken against. Jesus probably revealed the hearts of people, by their responses to him, more than any other person who has ever walked the earth.

There would thus be two main responses to Jesus. First there would be the oppressed and unloved who were accepted by Jesus and who found themselves being lifted up – the rising of many. But there would also be many who thought a lot of themselves and who thought Jesus didn’t match their expectations and these persons fell before God. They were revealed for what they truly were – less than the great people they thought they were.

How have you been responding to these meditations? How did you come to them? Did you come feeling in need of God, have you found the wonder of all the elements of the Christmas story warming and comforting; have you been lifted up? Or have you come feeling strong and self-confident and have you felt affronted by the talk of your needs? Have you felt you were being pulled down, and so felt defensive?

You see, it is just a Simeon said it was. The truth about Jesus reveals our hearts. The way we come to the Christmas story and the way we respond to it, reveals the state of our heart. Those who come seeking, find – and are lifted. Those who come self-confident and critical, go away despondent and still critical and are pulled down in their estimation – they fall. How has your heart been revealed? We pray that you will be lifted and blessed as you realize who you are, one who is inadequate but much loved by God. May it be so!

God a Stronghold

God in the Psalms No.14

Psa 9:9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble

We have seen previously the Lord who is a shield (Meditation 3) and the Lord who is a refuge (Meditation 11) and now we consider an extension of this, to God who is a stronghold. We saw that a shield is something you hold out between you and an enemy for protection, but a refuge is something you run into so that the strength of the refuge protects you. A stronghold is a development of the idea of a refuge.  Indeed it is something you run into for protection, but the picture is a much stronger one.

When David escaped from
Gath, he fled to the Cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1) where he was joined by his family. This place was then referred to as a stronghold (v.4,5).  A stronghold is a fortified place with strong defences. That is the difference between a refuge and a stronghold. A refuge is simply a general term for a place of retreat and safety, while a stronghold is a particular type of refuge, a strongly defended refuge. David frequently retreated to this particular place for safety and security (1 Sam 24:22, 2 Sam 5:17 , 23:14). In Psa 144:2 David piles on this imagery: He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge”. There fortress and stronghold are really one and the same thing, a strongly defended place of complete security. A refuge is somewhere you go to peace and protection, but a fortress or stronghold is somewhere you go to specifically withstand the enemy who comes to attack.

Thus it is that David speaks of going to the stronghold “in times of trouble”. The trouble he refers to is his enemy (v.3,6), other nations (v.5) who may be described as ‘the wicked’ (v.5). He has seen the Lord dealing with them (v.3-6). So many of the things about the Lord come together in this Psalm. The Lord who is enthroned (v.7,11 and Meditation 2), the Lord who judges (v.8 and Meditation 12), and the God who delivers (v.3-6 implied and Meditation 4).  In all these ways the Lord acts as a stronghold, a place of strong defence. Because He is The King who is reigning, enthroned, because He is the Judge who stands against and judges against unrighteousness and because He comes to deliver, He is a stronghold, a place of strong security. When David is in trouble, when nations rise against him, when enemies come and oppose him unrighteously, he knows that when he runs to the Lord, the Lord WILL stand against unrighteousness, He will deal with the enemy, and so David can feel entirely secure. There is no way that the enemy can come and get him when he’s with the Lord.

It’s not merely that the Lord is a refuge, as good as that is, but the Lord is a stronghold, a strong place of defence that will not be breached and so there is utter security with him. To get a sense of the strength that is conveyed with the picture of a stronghold we need to go to countries that have castles and see the incredibly high and thick walls that were utterly impossible to scale or breach. This is a stronghold, a place that is impregnable and which cannot be breached. It is a picture of total and utter security. There no stronghold like the Lord. Because He is who He is, with all His might, power and authority no enemy can get through Him to us when we are ‘in Him’. This is the sense of security the Lord wants us to have. We are secure, not because of anything we do, not because of our activities, but simply because we are ‘in Him’ and He is utterly impregnable!  Is that the sense we have when troubles come on us? We run to the Lord, we call on Him and He draws near, and then comes the sense that all these troubles mean nothing because He surrounds us, He is our stronghold.

(This will be the last of this particular series for the time being. )