What does the Bible say about it? Let’s start here; if you have to define oppression, you are primarily the oppressor. If you experience it, the definition does not need to be determined. The lines of the oppressor are bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Oppression is not new to the world. The old and new testaments are themed with oppression. The first part of that is murder.
Cain killed Abel because of jealousy. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) Beforehand, God gave power to humanity to rule over the care of the world. People use violence and coercion in their ways. Violence is a part of the world so much; it’s a way that controls the world. (Genesis 4:23, 6:5) There was so much violence that God gave humanity a second chance to only a select few people. God sent a flood to wash away the violence, and God gave Noah, his family, and a few animals a second chance. God blessed humanity with power and authority over the world. God told society not to kill; otherwise, someone else will come for you if you kill. In other words, somebody else will kill you. That is how the cycle continued. (Genesis 9:1-6) Within a few generations, violent warrior-king Nimrad begin building an empire. (Genesis 10:8-12, 11:1-9) Because of this continues the cycle of building evil, oppressive empires. How does oppression work?
- Violence: The physically strong on an individual level or military strong on a larger scale allows people to take what they want. An example of this biblically is Cain and Pharoah. In today’s world is protesting, our greatest democracy.
- Coercion: The threat of negative consequences for not appeasing the power is enough to keep the weak in line. Pharaoh does this when maintaining the children of Israel enslaved by upping their work quota. Today’s example would be Donald Trump and the government shutdown.
- Corruption: Powerful people can influence judges to rule in their favor. Influential people can create systems to keep in power.
- Veneration: Powerful people want to be like a god. When you place yourself as a source for someone else’s power, security, and status, you get to define right and wrong under the control you have. That means your followers will do the work of oppressing those who oppose you, especially oppressing the people that love you.
Rudy Giuliani, Michael Cohen. Consequences can be death, homelessness, rape, slavery, abuse, and fraud if they stay on the right side of the law. When an oppressed person is on the wrong side of the law, they are helpless against the system. A poor person has to choose between survival and breaking the law or their moral conscience. The oppressor doesn’t face this.
Quoting Jeffrey Kranz: For example, in the book of Proverbs, a sage says he doesn’t want to become wealthy—as this would lead to him denying the Lord. But he also doesn’t want to become poor and choose between starvation and stealing (Proverbs 30:8–9). To some readers, this might seem like an obvious “do the right thing” scenario. If you’re poor, you can still choose to do what’s right and not steal—and if you steal, you face the consequences.
But this is key to understanding how the Bible authors viewed this problem: in an oppressive system, the influential people are already stealing from the weak; they’re just not prosecuted. The prophet Ezekiel says this about the wealthy families, the government authorities, and the religious leaders in Jerusalem during his day:
The land practices extortion and commits robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. (Ezekiel 22:29)
You can see how this is a problem. Oppressive systems create a double standard, allowing the powerful to get away with things the weak would never be able to do. This isn’t just an issue with primitive civilizations. People are still protesting systemic injustice today. For example, in the USA, a black man accused of paying with a counterfeit $20 bill can lose his life, while a white man accused of ethnic cleansing and war crimes can get his face on the $20 bill.
Oppression is a wheel that keeps spinning. The powerful grows in power, that is easier to take advantage of the weak. Men are taking advantage of women, stronger vs. weaker. Wealthy vs. the poor of oppression. With oppression, it is hard to reverse. The author of Ecclesiastes talks about the power of oppression in Ecc. 5:8,10. The fact is that most oppressors don’t think of themselves as oppressors. The things that make them justify prejudice and corruption are the following:
- “It was either them or me.”
- “I’m doing what I have to do to protect my family.”
- “If I look weak, I’m inviting people to take advantage of me.”
- “Life’s not fair.”
- “If they want a different outcome, they should have made better decisions.”
- “I can’t become complacent and settle for less.”
The exchange of power can happen, but another oppressive force replaces it. The writers of the Bible share the problems of the oppressive systems. Babylon.