Sometimes the most significant events of our lives are quiet moments of awakening to truth. One such event for me was a course I took from B. Davie Napier at Yale in the spring semester 1981. I needed one more Bible course for ordination requirements and, after taking the core curriculum, I signed up for this elective about the prophets.
It was a wonderfully low-key, informal class at his house on campus. He was master of one of the Yale colleges---the same one that Jodie Foster was attending, though I've forgotten which one---and we met in his living room. Among other insights from the course (and there were several) was the class when he pointed out Jeremiah 22:15-17 (NRSV).
Are you a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the Lord.
But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practising oppression and violence.
In the passage, Jeremiah condemns the king of Judah, Jehoiakim, by comparing him to his righteous father, Josiah. Jehoiakim has oppressed people by using them to build his fine palace, a distressing echo of Egyptian oppression of the Israelites in the days of Moses. Josiah, in contrast, had a fine life but still embraced God's will for righteousness, the cause of the poor and needy.
The sentence, Is not this to know me? says the Lord struck me in particular. It changed my way of thinking about the Bible. Amid all the ways I was at the time (and since) learning about the knowledge of God---biblical hermeneutics, traditions of mysticism, worship styles, serving people via pastoral counseling, and others---I was confronted by a very fundamental kind of epistemology. Knowing God is doing God's will for the poor and needy. If one does not take the side of the poor---and even disdains and generalizes about the poor---one does not know God at all.