Catalysts for God’s Blessing

Channels and Catalysts for God’s Blessing:
The Biblical Basis for Advocacy

By Dr. Sarah J. Melcher Department of Theology Xavier University

A compelling story about advocacy of one human being for another is the tale of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi finds herself in a precarious position after the death of her husband and her two sons. She herself expresses the hopelessness of her situation. In the days of biblical Israel, a widow without the support of a male kinsman was in a very vulnerable situation indeed. In a society in which men were the common property owners and in an economic system which depended almost exclusively on agriculture on family land, how would a widow provide for herself? Orpah and Ruth were also in a precarious situation, but they had the option of remaining in Moab, with their own blood kin, and making another marriage. Both apparently were still young enough to bear sons and provide for their future security. Clearly Naomi thought that staying in Moab was the best choice for her daughters-in-law. Ruth, however, decides to take an unexpected path. She commits herself to Naomi and throws in her lot with her mother-in-law. Though Ruth’s choice may entail a more risky situation for her, she commits herself to the relationship with Naomi.

The text is not explicit about Ruth’s motivation in returning to Judah with Naomi. The first chapter of the book of Ruth tells us only that she wept at the idea of leaving her and that unlike Orpah she clung to Naomi and refused to leave her.

Certainly Ruth is motivated by her love for Naomi. She vows to travel with her, to lodge where she lodges, to make Naomi’s family her family, and to make Naomi’s God her God. Yet, perhaps she is also motivated out of compassion for a woman who was at great risk. As Jesus wept out of compassion for Lazarus, so Ruth wept over Naomi’s dangerous situation. Perhaps Ruth wanted to ensure that Naomi would survive and committed herself to pursuing Naomi’s welfare out a sense of love and compassion.

Ruth, as Naomi’s advocate, serves as an inspiring example of what advocacy can do. So deep is Ruth’s commitment to Naomi’s welfare that she declares, “May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

Once Naomi has the support of Ruth’s radical commitment, she is able to consider creatively what options she may pursue to secure hers and Ruth’s future welfare. Her response to Ruth’s support is to advocate in turn for her daughter-in-law. Naomi begins to see a possible solution in her kinsman, Boaz. She tells Ruth to go to Boaz’s field, in order to gather grain that had been left for the needy in society. Boaz, when he meets Ruth, shows a concern to protect Ruth and a desire to see that she is not bothered by the young men who are working in the field.  Surprised by Boaz’ generosity, Ruth asks, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”

Boaz answers her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Boaz is interested in Ruth because she is a woman of substance who has been an advocate for Naomi. Her radical commitment to Naomi has become well-known.

In the story of Ruth, her advocacy for Naomi acts as a catalyst for all kinds of wondrous events. Naomi takes courage in Boaz’s response to Ruth, when she hears of their encounter. She begins to see more clearly a creative path that might make a solution possible. Since Naomi knows well how the kinship system works in the kingdom of Judah, she instructs Ruth what she must do to provide a hopeful future for the two women. In the beginning of the story, Naomi’s age appears to be a disadvantage, but because Ruth’s commitment has helped to tip the balance in Naomi’s favor, Naomi’s age and the wisdom that goes with it prove to be strong assets.

In the next stage of our story, Naomi acts as an advocate for Ruth. Naomi’s speech to Ruth makes this intention clear: “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”

Boaz, contented from food and drink, lies asleep on the threshing floor. Ruth goes in to him and uncovers his feet. When he awakens, Ruth makes her claim on Boaz’s kinship obligations. She states, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.” Boaz interprets Ruth’s actions as further evidence of her depth of character, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.”

Eventually, Boaz buys back the ancestral lands that Naomi’s husband had once owned through inheritance. Ruth’s and Naomi’s acts of advocacy made it possible for the clan to retain its ancestral property. What possibilities their acts of loyalty and commitment opened up! Through their love for one another, God’s blessings found an open avenue. Things began to blossom. Ruth and Boaz produced a son, prompting the women of the community to say to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Ruth, a former widow in Israel in her own right, has proven to be of great personal value to Naomi, a fact recognized by the women of the community. But, the most extraordinary thing that has come about through Ruth’s act of advocacy is yet to come! Ruth’s child was Obed, father of Jesse, father of David, king of Israel.

Like Ruth, we have no idea what avenues we open up through which God’s blessing may work. However, the story of Ruth suggests that when we extend ourselves in a loving commitment to another human being, we provide a channel for God’s blessing.

Though the story of Ruth and Naomi speaks of advocacy between individuals, the Bible also recounts stories of individuals who advocate for entire communities. Perhaps the most poignant example of an individual advocating for a community is Moses who acts on behalf of the fledgling nation of Israelites.

We know the story of Moses well, but perhaps we have considered Moses as law-giver, as the man who talked with God and received the tablets inscribed by the deity. But, Moses had another role, as the advocate of the people of Israel. Let us consider this important man from the perspective of his advocacy.

As we remember well, God called Moses to be Israel’s advocate from a burning bush. Says God, “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Perhaps it is to Moses’ credit that he feels inadequate to serve as an advocate for the Israelites. His response to God reflects his reservations; “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God and Moses go back and forth, with God promising to be present with Moses and Moses raising one objection after another. God sends Aaron, Moses’ brother, to help him in his task and God promises to act as Moses’ advocate. God even produces some dramatic props that Moses can use to impress his opponents.

You know the outcome of Moses’ first act of advocacy. The Israelites were rescued from Egypt. God parts the waters for the Israelites and causes them to rush in on the Egyptians. Then the Israelites begin a long journey to live in a land of their own. Moses continues to be the one who leads them in their journey through the wilderness.

Moses’ real work of advocacy for the Israelites began after the Israelites made the golden calf. God became aware of the people’s unfaithfulness while Moses was still upon the mountain, receiving God’s commandments. The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

Though Moses himself must have felt betrayed by his own people, he pleads on their behalf before God. Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ “

Moses’ intercession on behalf of the people was successful. God decided not to destroy the people, but to continue to be faithful to them. However, Moses had to act as an advocate on behalf of the people later as well.

Of course, Moses also acted as an advocate in the case of an individual. In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam incur God’s anger because they take issue with Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman. They also express jealousy over Moses’ special relationship with God. They argue that God speaks through them as well as Moses. Why should Moses have a special status before God? God becomes very angry at these complaints about Moses. In fact, God afflicts Miriam with a terrible skin disease. Aaron pleads with Moses to intercede for Miriam, saying, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” Moses, in true humility, does not hesitate to approach God on Miriam’s behalf. He pleads to God, “O God, please heal her.”

Shortly after the incident when Miriam is punished, Moses must act as an advocate for the Israelites as a community. In this story, the spies came back from spying out the Promised Land. After a report that exaggerates the power of the Canaanite people, the Israelites did not trust that God could help them displace the Canaanites and claim the land as their own. The Israelites are so frightened by the prospect of facing the people of the land that they cry out their intention to return to Egypt.

God was understandably angry at the Israelites’ lack of faith. God declares to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” Moses, in characteristic fashion, pleads with God for the sake of the Israelite people. He argues, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for in your might you brought up this people from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people; for you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go in front of them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, ‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.”

Moses tries another tack, in order to dissuade God from destroying the Israelite people. Moses reminds God of statements that were made about God’s patient nature. Moses says, “The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.” Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” Once again, Moses is effective in dissuading God from punishing the people too severely. God respects Moses’ wishes, forgives the people, but prevents the current generation of Israelites from entering the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses remembers his advocacy role on behalf of the Israelites: “Then I lay prostrate before the LORD as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the LORD by doing what was evil in his sight.  For I was afraid that the anger that the LORD bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the LORD listened to me that time also.”

As in the situation with Ruth, Moses’ advocacy for the Israelites made it possible for many wonderful blessings to be bestowed upon them. Because of Moses, the Israelites eventually entered the Promised Land, and according to Joshua and Judges, were able to settle there. In part, Moses’ advocacy enabled the promise of the land to be fulfilled.

Occasionally other prophets are depicted as advocates for the community. In Isaiah 50, verse 4, the prophet acknowledges his role as comforter, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”

Advocacy in the Bible is not limited to human advocates. As God appointed Moses to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and to be their leader in the Promised Land, God appointed an angel to lead their way in Exodus 23:20.  God, of course, is the advocate for the people who appears most frequently in the biblical pages.

Second Isaiah is particularly rich in language that expresses God’s advocacy for the people. Frequently the prophetic verses of Second Isaiah refer to God as “Redeemer.” Here the prophetic book borrows terminology that originally applied to kinspeople who protected a clan’s hold on their ancestral land. A redeemer would buy back property sold to discharge a debt in arrears. The term also applied to those kinspersons who would buy back an individual who had sold himself into slavery to cover a debt. The name of Redeemer is particularly poignant in Second Isaiah because it reflects a historical context of Exile in Babylon. The prophet spoke to Judahites who had been forced out of their land and taken to Babylon to work for their captors. God was Redeemer in this situation because God could restore the exiled person to their ancestral property. God, the Redeemer, keeps the Judahite connected to the land that was given to the Israelites after their wilderness wanderings.

The resonance of the language of God as Redeemer is inescapable. Spoken to people who lived in captivity far from the land they loved, the prophet of Second Isaiah offers a word of assurance about the God of Israel and the depth of commitment God feels for the people. The God who created the mountains and the rivers has the power to restore the people to Mt. Zion. The God who delivered the Israelites from Egypt can work a similar act of wonder and return the exiles to Judah where they will be restored to their ancestral property. God remembers ancient relationships forged in the wilderness and commitments made to ancestors long dead.

Listen to the language of Redeemer in Isaiah 44, verses 23-26, as an example of what kind of advocacy God the Redeemer demonstrates on behalf of the exiles. “Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth; . . . who confirms the word of his servant, and fulfills the prediction of his messengers; who says of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,” and of the cities of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt, and I will raise up their ruins.” God, who created the people of Israel, is also the God of covenant commitment. God has steadfast love and compassion for those for whom God advocates, a point made in Isaiah 49, vv 13-16. “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones. But Zion said, The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

In Isaiah 54, God speaks of a steadfast love and compassion that exists at the heart of the divine advocacy for Israel, an advocacy that restores the people to their historical land. “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.” Judah’s advocate will remain faithful and will make possible the community’s peace in familiar surroundings. In Isaiah 44, God refers to an unshakable relationship with Israel and to God’s restorative power on their behalf, “Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. . . .Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” God is an advocate so dedicated to our ongoing welfare that we are promised nothing less than unending faithfulness. God’s steadfast love for Israel is represented in Isaiah 40:28-29: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”

Perhaps our use of the concept of advocacy in the court system originates with biblical passages which also speak of God’s advocacy in legal metaphors. Psalm 119:154 connects the motifs of God’s role as legal advocate with language of redemption. “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise.” Proverbs 23:10-11 reminds us of God’s advocacy for the orphan, while using legal metaphors; “Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.”

God’s advocacy is reflected in God’s promise of continual presence with the people of the covenant. Isaiah 43:2; “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

From these passages that extol God’s steadfast advocacy on behalf of the covenant people, we can glean a model for our imitation. In Leviticus 19, God exhorts the people to strive for holiness because God is holy. Such passages lead us to imitate God in order to be a holy people. How else to grow as an advocate than to emulate God, if we can? It is also permissible to imitate holy people as well. The apostle Paul encourages us to use his behavior as a model for ours.

If we follow Ruth’s example, we will offer our advocacy to those whom we love. We, like her, can also advocate for those we deem to be at risk. If we are concerned that someone will not survive without support and concrete help, we can commit ourselves to another to seek solutions on his or her behalf that are innately life-giving. The biblical example of Ruth reflects an advocacy so deeply committed and selflessly motivated that the other’s needs take precedence over our own. But, like Ruth, if we undertake such deeply committed advocacy we may serve as a catalyst for God’s extraordinary and abundant blessings.

If we follow Moses’ example of advocacy, we will seek to help a community or group of people. To advocate for an oppressed group is in keeping with Moses’ example. Like Moses, we may feel inadequate to answer God’s charge to advocate for the group, but Moses is an example of a call taken seriously in spite of our fears that we will fall short of expectations. We, like Moses, may have to travel long miles and endure the ingratitude of our charges, but Moses served as an advocate even when his charges uttered demeaning things about him. Moses advocated before God on behalf of his sister Miriam, even when she criticized his choice of a Cushite wife. An advocate serves the needs of her charges, even when they are jealous of the advocate’s authority or status.

If we seek to follow God’s advocacy example, we will manifest the steadfast faithfulness of a divine parent for the child, Israel. According to the expressions of God’s love in Hosea, God nurtures like a perfectly loving parent, who loves in spite of the child’s disobedience, “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

Yet, there are more direct exhortations in the biblical text that call the reader to advocate on behalf of others. Jesus calls his disciples to advocacy of the marginalized and those at risk. His advocacy also seems motivated by compassion. In Mark 1:40-41 “A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!'” In Mark 6, verse 34, Jesus sees a large crowd “and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Again in Mark 8, Jesus speaks of having compassion for the crowd because they have followed him for three days in spite of running out of food. Jesus responds out of feelings of compassion when the widow appears with her dead son.

The biblical text represents Jesus as an advocate on our behalf. Luke incorporates this concept early on in his gospel within the prophecy of Zechariah, “[God] has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant. . . . By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Matthew 20:28 states that “. . . the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

But now to deal with Jesus’ direct calls to advocacy. In Jesus’ sermon on the plain, he addresses the requirement that we advocate on behalf of others: Take portions of Luke 6:27-38, as an example, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Other direct calls to advocacy given by Jesus arise in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Paul, too, addresses advocacy (1 Cor 9:2); “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14 states, “And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.” Ephesians 6:8 addresses the commandment to do good; “. . . knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.” Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:15 states; “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” 1 Peter also recognizes the need for advocacy: 1 Peter 4:10; “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” 1 Timothy 6:18 expresses it similarly, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” So, too, Hebrews 13:16 commands, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

Jesus offers a general exhortation to follow the biblical law: But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” To follow the Torah is to become a member of the family of God.

The New Testament has an angel advocate, similarly to the Hebrew Bible. Paul states; Hebrews 1:14, “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” The biblical record indicates that unexpected people are sometimes advocates. Second Isaiah tells us that Israel had an unexpected deliverer. God decided that King Cyrus of Persia could be a channel for God=s blessing on Israel. God’s prophet relays God’s words on the subject, saying of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out my purpose.” God says of Jerusalem, “It shall be rebuilt. . .” and of the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”

It is surprising enough that God makes Cyrus Israel’s advocate. It is even more surprising that the prophet uses the language that he does to describe Cyrus. Second Isaiah refers to the Lord’s anointed, that is, “his messiah.” God grasps Cyrus by the hand and enables him to subdue nations, in particular, the nation of Babylon, which oppresses the Israelites.

Says God in Isaiah 45:4, “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.” Later, in 45:13, God states, “I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness, and I will make all his paths straight; he shall rebuild my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward, says the Lord of hosts.”

According to the Bible, you may be surprised by who proves to be your partners in your advocacy to others. I belong to a group in Cincinnati called MARCC (Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati). The group consists of representatives from faith communities throughout Cincinnati: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics (and others) collectively decide to focus on one or two social justice issues each year. We gather to learn more about the specific issues and we strategize about what we might do to help. We decided last year to focus on police/community relations. We began our focus before the Timothy Thomas shooting and the subsequent riots.

In MARCC, we discover common ground and similar faith commitments as we learn to be more effective advocates for African Americans in Cincinnati. We have had influence on police training methods and recruiting practices. So, as the Israelites discovered with God’s help, we may find partners in advocacy outside of our own faith community or we may find unexpected partners within our own denomination.

We are on the right track, I believe, when we explore Scriptural and theological foundations for our work. We in this room know that the biblical and theological motivations for advocacy and social justice are prodigious. One characteristic that has been consistent among the religious right in the Presbyterian Church is their ability to draw on Scripture and theology to justify their political stances. I think that our commitment to advocacy and social justice is very resonant with Scripture and the Reformed tradition. But, we need to be as knowledgeable about our biblical grounding as those who would take our funding away.

It is my hope that as we educate the church about the centrality of advocacy and social justice in Scripture, we will win more partners in advocacy. God has shown remarkable creativity in enlisting channels and catalysts in the cause of advocacy. I cannot foresee who our future allies would be, but I’m eager to find out. We may be surprised!

Another important perspective on advocacy in the Bible is found in the Johannine literature. In John, chapter 14, Jesus promises that after he leaves the disciples, he will ask God to send another advocate, to be with them forever. This tells us two things: first, that Jesus saw himself as an advocate for the disciples; second, that the Holy Spirit was sent as an eternal advocate. Verse 26 tells us that the Holy Spirit will teach the disciples everything and will remind them of all that Jesus said. The Holy Spirit comes up again in John 15:26, where Jesus calls the “Advocate” the “Spirit of truth who testifies on his behalf.” Finally, Jesus says that it is to the disciples’ advantage that he go away, so that he can send the Advocate to them (ch. 16, v. 7).

The Holy Spirit can be a model of advocacy in these passages in John. The Holy Spirit is certainly a faithful advocate. Jesus states that the Advocate will be with the disciples forever. This advocate will bring us to a deeper understanding, through teaching. Perhaps even more important, the Holy Spirit reminds us of the things Jesus said.

If, as advocates ourselves, we are able to lead people to a deeper spiritual understanding and are able to keep them mindful of what Jesus said, we would perform quite a service ourselves.

The Greek term, parákletos, which is translated as “advocate” in these passages from John 14, 15, and 16 (the passages I just mentioned) is also used in reference to Jesus Christ in 1 John 2:1. The passage reminds us that when we sin, Jesus Christ will act as an advocate for us with God.

Worth mentioning among these passages about advocacy is the story of King Solomon and the two prostitutes in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Both women lived in the same house and had given birth to sons at about the same time. One of the infants dies and both women claimed that the living child belonged to her. Solomon advocated for the child, by determining which of the women would be the best mother. He threatened to cut the baby in two with his sword, but the real mother, out of compassion for the child, was willing to give him up to the other woman. The concern of the real mother was to preserve his life. All the people of Israel heard of the king’s discerning judgment in the matter, and according to verse 28, “they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.”

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law from Midian, acted as an advocate both for the Israelite people and for Moses. In Exodus 18:13-27, Jethro noted that Moses was hearing every legal dispute of the Israelites personally. Jethro saw how this custom drained Moses of time and energy. He recommended that Moses appoint several judges from among the tribes to hear the legal cases. Jethro saw that it was not in the community’s best interests for Moses to burn out.

In closing, I would like to draw from Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. He reminds the reader that God’s advocacy for Israel comes out of God’s inexplicable love for the people of Israel. As Brueggemann points out, Israel could never offer an explanation for their chosenness. Israel could never explain it; they just accepted God’s love for them. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 may describe God’s advocacy for Israel, but it doesn’t explain it:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors.”

Such is the nature of advocacy. We choose to be channels for God’s blessing out of love. We may not know why we love certain persons or groups. We simply love them and so we advocate for them.

Dr. Sarah J. Melcher
Department of Theology
Xavier University

Posted on PHEWA