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Isaiah and the Days of Awe, Day Seven: Relieve the Oppressed

So, we’re nearly done with the Days of Awe and with Isaiah 1:16-17:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

OK, so translation is an issue here, because what the KJV translates as relieve the oppressed is rendered correct oppression by the RSV and as Reprove the ruthless in the NASV. The word is a hapax wossname, that is, it’s a form of the verb that more or less means oppress, and it’s not absolutely clear from the way the word is formed whether it refers to the person doing or the person being done to. And the verb is more or less to set right, so one could apply it either way, really. So you make your choice.

Isaiah is, either way, addressing what we call social justice. He considered his society oppressive, what with the hands full of blood and all. You can make the judgment yourself (if you have sought judgment, I suppose) whether our hands are full of blood. I would observe, though, that in a big society like ours, there will be people oppressed. You don’t need to condemn the whole society as an oppressive one in an absolute sense or in comparison with another society to acknowledge that the machinery of society will come down harder on some people than others, and on some it will come down and crush them. Of course, in a society that isn’t terribly oppressive, those crushed people will be fewer and farther between, harder to see and harder to relieve. This makes Isaiah’s challenge particularly cutting for those who consider their society to be, on the whole, just.

It’s interesting to me to think about the other version, as Isaiah asking us to set straight the oppressor. One wonders if the 99% protests, the ones occupying Wall Street (I should make some mention of the rhetoric there at some point) are working to set straight those they view as oppressors, if they see themselves as living the Isaiah verse. Or would, if it were put to them. I do think that there is something Isaiah-ish going on there.

Or perhaps it’s just that I think there should be something Isaiah-ish going on there, and that I should be part of it, instead of writing blog notes.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I think there is something Isaiah-ish going on. I find this description fascinating. The summary I can see of that post is that they are trying to create the society they want to live in: with equality of voice, and where people offer up the things they know how to do and the group ponders and possibly accepts them (in the three cases mentioned in the blog post: the work of creating a newspaper (The Occupied Wall Street Journal), a nurse's union offering basic first aid training and medical care, a group of drag queens offering to do a drag show for entertainment.

They talk to each other and try to achieve consensus. And this quote really interests me:

"In other words, many of these people simply do not seem to be traditional liberals; they seem to see themselves as a transnational leftist class who believe gender, race, and economics are bound up into one struggle against oppression. The general assembly, their main organizational and power distribution mechanism, is organized around ensuring equality of voice."

And the thing I've seen time and again in interviews with people who've been to OWS is: "people help each other".

So, yeah.

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