The Old Testament locates justice in God and understands that people called by his name ought also to practice justice, beginning with their own families and their own covenant community. The rationale behind such a design is organic and seems inescapable. How could an Israelite demand in the name of God that justice be carried out in Samaria or Nineveh or Egypt or Philistia if the Israelite did not first carry out justice in Israel? It was the nation of Israel which was to be a light to the Gentiles. Indeed, Deuteronomy 4:7-8 sums up the thought perfectly:
“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? What great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”
The people of God were expected to stand out because of the very fact they had access to the word of God. While the concept of covenant community is often forgotten in conversations regarding civil justice, it ought not be. The watching world is supposed to see something different about God’s covenant community as a whole. Both an individual and corporate witness was expected to be on display, as each Israelite was shaped ultimately by the just and righteous God who made them a nation in the first place.
Unfortunately, Israel too often failed to maintain God’s standard of righteousness in their own community. Thus, God sent prophets to proclaim his righteousness, calling the people back to repentance. These prophets and righteous ones often became the persecuted (Jer. 20:2), the outcast (1 Kings 18:4), and the needy (Gen. 37:36). Thus, quite often in the Old Testament the righteous and the poor are grouped together. Being righteous was, sadly, often the means by which one became poor. The pairing of these two concepts in Amos 2:6 makes the point: “Thus says the LORD:
“For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals” (ESV).
The shock value of Amos 2:6 is, of course, that it is aimed at the covenant children of Israel. God’s people, Israel—of all people in the world—ought to have enacted justice and righteousness. Instead, God’s people actually oppressed the righteous. These needy people were not righteous because they were poor; rather, they were poor because they were righteous.
Their concern for God’s righteousness likely cost them social standing and opportunity, ultimately leading to their being oppressed. God does indeed care for the poor, but he has a particular concern for the righteous poor—which certainly includes the persecuted who are poor on account of him.
 This insight comes from Old Testament Professor Jeff Mooney, who has made the case in conversations with me that the poor in the Old Testament are often poor because they suffer on account of righteousness.
*This post is adapted from chapter 12 of Christians in the Crosshairs.