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The Song of the Ruthless

‘The song of the ruthless’ is a phrase found in chapter 25 of the book of Isaiah. The full sentence reads, When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled (vv. 4b-5). The prophet has in mind a mighty city that God has brought down because of its oppressive practices. The ruthless oppressors had been making a lot of noise and doing a lot of damage, but God silenced and stopped them. In so doing, God has given shelter to the poor and needy (v. 4). The prophet doesn’t say what city he is talking about. The best guess is Babylon, which eventually becomes a symbol for oppressive empires (the name Babylon is used in place of Rome in the book of Revelation). But there are oppressive forces in every age. Not all of them are empires, but some of them are. And even those that may at first glance seem to operate independently usually do so with the approval and support of entrenched systems. The economic, political, and legal scales are tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. Many of them will do anything to maintain their riches and power and to acquire more. If they must oppress others to do so, they will. They do. Here’s the thing, though: the consistent witness of the Bible is that God isn’t on the side of the powerful oppressors. Babylon, Nineveh, Rome, and many more empires throughout history have eventually crumbled. Perhaps they collapsed of their own weight. But the biblical prophets don’t hesitate to say that the powerful oppressors collapse under God’s judgment. They also don’t hesitate to say that God will bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. In fact, that’s what Mary said when she praised God for the child she was going to bear (Lk 1:51-53). Jesus came to fulfill God’s purpose of reversing the fortunes of the powerful and the weak, of the arrogant and the humble, and of the rich and the poor. The prophet speaking in Isaiah 25 also looks forward to the great banquet that God will throw when God makes all things as God wants them to be. When that time comes, the song of the ruthless will be stilled forever. Their taunts will cease. Their revelry will end. That time is yet to come. But it is coming. What we do in the meantime, until the song of the ruthless is stilled? We sing a more beautiful song. It is the song of the redeemed. It is the song of those who join God on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. What do we do in the meantime, until God throws the great banquet in which all God’s people will be included? We hold the best and biggest banquets we can. We welcome all to our table who will come. We host the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. We live in ways that reflect the great future that is coming. We practice love, grace, and mercy.

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