The unfolding of humanity is found within the power of story. This is a primary reason why holy Scripture, an ancient collection of writings, which predates science and rationality by thousands of years, has so much resonance and value for contemporary believers.
As black women, and especially because we are considering Black History month, our story is rooted in the mother continent of Africa, where creation began. To embrace this indisputable fact is the beginning of celebrating our amazing journey of survival and victory over sustained oppression and overwhelming adversity.
Yet, victimization has never been the chosen path for black women. While scripture may not be considered as a historical account of our struggles by some, we who believe in the sacredness of Scripture’s witness understand we can look into the Bible’s pages and discover a record of resilience and determination by deeply pigmented women, who partnered with God to change their destinies.
Within the context of the Black experience is our partnership with God, which involves the continued fight for freedom and justice against the forces of oppression in an ancient, as well as modern context. As the great theologian, James Cone once observed: “Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation.” (God of the Oppressed, James H. Cone.)
WHY JUSTICE MATTERS
“Justice is always an effort. It doesn’t just happen. Justice requires commitment and struggle. Like peace, it has to be pursued with dedication, for there are powerful forces at work in every society with vested interest in maintaining structures of exploitation and oppression. The pursuit of justice must be a primary obligation of the people of God.” (The Little Book of Biblical Justice – Chris Marshall).
What is biblical justice: The words for justice occur over 1000 times in Scripture denoting that certainly God cares about justice for God’s people . The Hebrew words for justice are “mishpat,” “sedeqah,” and “shalom.” These concepts are word pairs, especially in the Old Testament, translating to the English understanding of justice and righteousness (restoring things to the condition of rightness) and the positive presence of harmony, wholeness, health, prosperity, integration, and balance (shalom). The idea of justice, righteousness, and peace are central to Jesus’ sense of mission and message.
And now, THE WORD from our Sponsor……………………………………………………………
Read Exodus 1: 15-20 – Puah & Shiprah: (The twin sisters of an ancient Civil Rights justice movement) – This sisterhood defied a powerful, narcissistic king (Pharaoh) who decided he had the right to rid Egypt of the Hebrews through an evil act of genocide. When Pharaoh attempted to co-opt the participation of the Hebrew midwives, Puah & Shiprah pushed back in a non-violent resistance movement, promoting reproductive freedom for the Hebrew mothers and saving the Hebrew nation from Pharaoh’s annihilation efforts. Puah’s name means to “cry out” and Shiprah’s name means “fair.
What Puah & Shiprah teach us: Our participation to fight injustice and oppression matters. No matter how insignificant we may seem against the powers of oppression and injustice, partnering with God carries a sense of personal morality and responsibility that ultimately can change the social fabric of a nation.
Read Joshua 2: 15-24. Rahab: (The Defiant Diva) Rahab is the midwife and mother to Israel in its beginnings in the Promised Land. Without Rahab’s intervention, there may have been no battle of Jericho. It is her plan and her participation that wins the day for Joshua and his army. As one individual who responds to the call of God, Rahab forms her own social justice project, then acts with defiance and determination to assist in moving the arc of justice towards the will of God.
What Rahab teaches us: One woman can make a difference in history! Sometimes we are the change we have been waiting for! Rahab doesn’t wait for a group of people to act when God prompts her move. In her own context, with the resources that she has garnered, Rahab becomes a tour de force for justice and emerges as one of the most important heroes of Scripture. Rahab’s name means “God has enlarged.”
Read 2 Samuel 21: 8 – 14. Rizpah (I AM The Resistance). Rizpah, the concubine of the doomed king Saul, was the mother of two of Saul’s sons. After a bitter battle with the Gibeonites, Saul loses his life on the battlefield and David becomes king. In order to appease his enemies, King David makes an uneasy peace with the Gibeonites and they insist on taking the sons and grandsons of King Saul hostage. Ultimately, they kill the descendants of Saul (including Rizpah’s two sons) and take them up to a mountain and put their dead bodies on wooden stakes for all of Israel to see. Rizpah in her grief, will not allow the unjust treatment of her loved ones to stand. She climbs the mountain (by herself), tents there for months at a time, and refuses to come down until her sons and the sons of Saul receive a proper state burial. Rizpah becomes The Resistance. She will not be moved! Ultimately, Rizpah’s compelling presence on the mountain embarrasses the administration of King David, until he is forced to come to Rizpah and arrange a proper state burial for her sons and the grandsons of Saul.
What Rizpah teaches us: The courage to act in response to evil is the beginning of liberation and change. Injustice must never be tolerated or accepted as the inevitable. Rizpah would not resign herself to the evil nature of her context, passively waiting for “something” to happen, or someone else to act. Instead, Rizpah embraces the radical courage and determination to act on behalf of those whose voices were silenced and creates a solo force of resistance that ultimately breaks the bonds of injustice for herself, her sons, and her community.
Read Numbers 27: 1-9. The Daughters of Zelophehad (The Sassy, Square-Shooting Sisters) In the bible, the number five symbolizes grace – the unmerited favor of God. Undeniably, these five sisters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, experienced the grace of God. Yet, in a bold and unprecedented move, they refused to be denied economic justice , and demand the land which was their inheritance from their father. Where did their audacity and valor come from, when the expectations of women, especially those who had no male support, were expected to stay quiet and in their place? Perhaps, it came from the strength of sisterhood which empowered five collective voices to demand justice from an all male government. We are witnesses to the five sisters who confront economic oppression and win. The future is female! God ultimately stands on the side of this sisterhood, and justice is won for the five sisters and other women in their society who will benefit from the courage of the daughters of Zelophehad.
What the Daughters of Zelophehad teach us: Injustice violates God’s divine intention for the world. It is not God’s will for some to live in splendor and wealth, and others to live in abject poverty. The litmus test of biblical justice is how the most vulnerable members of a society are faring. God evens the scales of justice by taking the side of the poor, the defenseless, and the “have nots.” God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, gives sight to the blind, sets the captives free, and upholds the orphan and the widow. It is God’s divine intent for all people to have life and to have life abundantly. Shalom (wholeness, prosperity, and wellness) is desired for all of humanity.
These brave women of Scripture provide a framework and model for us, their contemporary sisters, to follow and to work for justice, as they did, in our own context. They boldly demonstrate, through their actions of courage, integrity, determination, and resilience, that justice does not happen by accident. The pursuit of justice ALWAYS requires struggle, commitment, and dedication. When we, as the daughters of God, partner with the Holy Spirit to bring about justice in our society, there is always hope for change – liberation, deliverance, salvation, and freedom from oppression and inequities.
In the African-American community, we only have to look back at our elders and ancestors to see the model of why justice matters. Our ancestors and elders knew they were created in the image of God, despite what they were told and how they were treated. They understood God was on their side.. They realized those who bear God’s image are called to be the agents of justice in a world that belongs to God. Ultimately, they knew that working for justice would change the world, not just for themselves; but, for their progeny.
Questions for our discussion and consideration
How (or can we), as contemporary black women, use the models of justice from these women of the Old Testament, to change our current context?
Malcolm X once commented (1962) – “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” Almost six decades later, do you believe this observation is still true, or not? Explain.
The Church universal has decided to sit out the fight against injustice, not just in the United States; but around the world and across all denominations. Why do you think the church, as a whole, cares very little about social justice? Do you see this changing in any way? Explain.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” (Rev. Dr. Martin L. King)
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17)
“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” (Ida B. Wells)
OUR SENDING PRAYER
O Precious Jesus,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. Though we have so often refused to hear the cries of your people for justice, we will bring good tidings to the afflicted. Though we have often ignored their pain, we will soothe the brokenhearted. Though we have failed to see their chains of bondage, we will proclaim liberty to the captives. Though we ourselves have had plenty of bread to share, but did not, we will feed the hungry, as You have commanded.
Send us now, O God, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide, that we may be Your hands and feet in this world. We will work for the Kingdom and its righteousness in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series. They may be used by your with our permission, which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following: This material is Copyright  Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with our permission.
“Every woman has a story and every woman’s story matters to God.”