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Essay about Mishpat: Social Ethics in Jeremiah

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Mishpat: Social Ethics in Jeremiah

"[The LORD] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing."
~Deuteronomy 10:18 [NIV]

"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice..."
~Deuteronomy 24: 17 [NIV]

One of Yahweh's main concerns in making his covenant with Israel, after worshipping him alone, was maintaining social justice. Throughout Deuteronomy and subsequently in Jeremiah, we see the cry for mishpat, "justice," for the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the alien. Yahweh cares about these groups that cannot care for themselves, and he expects those in a right relationship with him to care as well. In Jeremiah's day, this key aspect of the covenant had been
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Exod 23:6) and to care for them in order to be blessed (Deut. 24:19). Instead, Israel does the opposite. In 5:1, Yahweh tells Jeremiah to see if he can find one person who is actually doing mishpat, giving the implication that there is not one. As mentioned above, neither the common people nor the leaders know the just requirements of God (5:4-5). They do not plead the case of the fatherless or seek justice for the poor (5:28). Yet, according to Deuteronomy 27:19 a person who withheld justice from them was cursed. Moving into Jeremiah 7, Yahweh declares that if they would only treat each other with mishpat and stop mistreating the alien, orphan, and widow and shedding innocent blood, he would allow them to stay in the land (7:5-6). Sadly this was not to be.

The shedding of innocent blood seems to be a part of the injustice that breaks the heart of God more than any other. In Jeremiah 2, Jeremiah is indicting the people of Israel for breaking the covenant relationship with Yahweh by their "adulteries" with other gods. In the midst of this harsh accusation, Yahweh charges the people with shedding the "blood of the souls of the innocent poor" whom they did not find breaking in (2:34). In 19:4-5, we find that this innocent blood was being shed in the process of idol worship:

."..they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have
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