Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When Jesus did Justice (pt. 2)

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

We now reach the final installment in this series on Biblical justice. So far, we have built a clearer picture of what doing justice looks like: restoring the fallen, crushing oppressors, and ending the terrorization brought upon people. In the previous post, we observed convicting instances of Jesus practicing justice in which He rebuked exploitative leadership, helped the vulnerable in ways they couldn’t help themselves. He was simultaneously the suffering servant that didn’t open his mouth and the righteous judge that called out the lack of integrity in leadership.

In this last piece we want to look once more at how God does justice by looking to how Jesus did justice in His death and resurrection.


Crushing the Oppressor

Throughout the Biblical story, starting in Genesis 3, there are ruthless entities that are brought up that transcend humanity’s ability to overcome. There are surely multiple entities in mind, and there are multiple different names, titles, and descriptions for them: the serpent, sin, death, beasts, powers, forces of darkness, spiritual forces of wickedness, demons, Satan, the devil, and more. What exactly these entities are is mysterious; some, at times, seem to be referencing evil kingdoms, others, at other times, seem to be referencing some spiritual being(s) of immense power and devastation (see Genesis 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8 for examples). What is not mysterious is that humans are perpetually crushed by these forces and are incapable of escaping their power. They give into sin and are therefore handed over to death (Romans 5:12-14, the entire Bible, etc.).

Considering what we know now about Biblical justice, what does justice look like concerning the plight of humans and the power of these oppressors?  Does not Biblical justice demand the defeat of the oppressors and the restoring of the oppressed? Does it not insist that the oppression cease by breaking the jaws of the beast and rescuing the prey from its teeth? Does Biblical justice not require that those who desire rescuing from their oppressor receive help in the ways they cannot help themselves? Indeed, and so God does precisely that, and He does so through Jesus.

Look to Colossians 2:15, 1Corinthians 15:23-26, 54-57, Romans 8:3, Hebrews 2:14-15, and the prophecy of Jesus in Daniel 7 (referenced by Jesus in Matthew 16:28, 19:28, 24:30, and more). What do we see? Justice done by Jesus through the cross and resurrection. We have the disarming of the powers, the defeat of the devil, the promised defeat of all powers (including, but not limited to, death), the condemnation of sin, and the defeat of the beasts. God’s justice demanded that the oppressors be dealt with, and so He dealt with them—all through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.


Restoring the Fallen

Not only does God’s justice demand the defeat of the oppressors and the end of their mistreatment of others, but God’s justice also seeks to restore and save the fallen. This is precisely what Jesus did. Looking to the passages mentioned above, Acts 10:38, Romans 6, 2Corinthians 5:17-19, and Colossians 1:19-20, we find that through death and resurrection, Jesus healed those oppressed by the devil, removed the fear of death that enslaved people, made reconciliation to the Father possible, secured victory over death, saved people from the sin and death they could not save themselves from, and gave a new life to people they could not obtain for themselves.

This isn’t some kind of universalism in which Jesus defeated the oppressor and saved the oppressed and therefore everyone who has ever sinned is saved. No, just as in the Old Testament, the help can only come to those who accept the help. The salvation can only come to those who are willing to be saved by the savior. God through Jesus does for humans what they cannot do for themselves: He crushes the oppressors that humans cannot outdo and restores what the oppressors broke. However, this restoration cannot be had by a human unless they do what they can do for themselves: accept the help. This is Biblical justice at work.

Moreover, this restoration cannot possibly be had for the recipient or their fellow beneficiaries if the recipient is unwilling to exchange their loyalty to the oppressor for loyalty to the savior (Romans 6). Indeed, what logical sense does it make to say that one is ever truly saved from the oppressor if they keep returning to the oppressor? Or how can one be saved from the oppressor if one of the other saved in their presence stay loyal to the oppressor and therefore inflict terror upon others? If one is loyal to the oppressor, all others in their presence are not saved from the oppressor.

Therefore, the justice Jesus accomplishes through the defeat of the oppressor and the restoring of the oppressed has a scope that can reach all people. However, justice would contradict its very purpose if it was applied to those unwilling to accept the help and unwilling to exchange their loyalties.

Biblical Justice

It was integral to the mission of Jesus to bring justice to victory (Matthew 12:18-20), and that is precisely what He accomplished in His earthly ministry, His death, and His resurrection. We now wait for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s justice and the complete defeat of death and powers (1Corinthians 15:23-26). While we wait, we have a task: to practice Biblical justice. If you have given your loyalty over to the Christ, you have been called by Him to practice justice (Matthew 23:23), judge righteously (John 7:24), care for the physically vulnerable (Acts 3:1-10; Acts 6:1-7; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27), care for the spiritually vulnerable (Romans 1:16-17; 2Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 6:1; Jude 22-23) and await the righteous judgment of God (2Thessalonians 1:5-8). Today, choose whom you will serve: the oppressor or the liberator.

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When Jesus did Justice (pt. 1)

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

In the recent parts of this series, we have established what Biblical justice looks like, as well as its goals. We have done this by observing the characteristics of when God does justice, when leaders do it, and when anybody does it. Further, we established what Biblical justice looks like and its goals by grounding our picture of Biblical justice in what God’s justice looks like, observing similarities between when God does justice and when leaders or people do justice.


Jesus

We now want to consider Jesus and His lifestyle. If Jesus was who He claimed to be, then we should see Him doing things that match the mosaic of justice and righteousness we’ve developed from the scriptures thus far. That is, if Jesus was God incarnate; if Jesus is the ideal King; if Jesus really fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17); and if we have come up with the true picture of what Biblical justice looks like, then His lifestyle should align with the justice we have observed elsewhere in Scripture.

Turning to the prophets, we get many descriptions of the coming Messiah as One that practices justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-6; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 59:14-21; Jeremiah 33:15-16). Further, we can see that these passages speak of justice in ways that cohere with the picture we’ve established thus far: a care for the vulnerable, interceding on behalf of others, and ending the terrorization brought upon people. Thus, it is hopefully to no surprise that when we look to Jesus, we see him doing the very acts of justice and righteousness we’ve previously described in the series.

We will be covering Jesus’ justice in two parts. In this first part, we will be covering justice practiced by Jesus in his earthly ministry, and in the second part we will be covering justice done by Jesus in his death and resurrection.


The Earthly Ministry of Jesus

Where do we see justice and righteousness practiced by Jesus?

In Luke 4:17-19, we find Jesus describing his work as preaching the gospel to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, giving recovery of sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed, and proclaiming the favorable year of the Lord. Indeed, we can turn to various stories (many of which are found in Matthew 8-9) in which we see Jesus doing this exact type of thing: cleansing a leper, healing a paralyzed person, healing many ill and demon possessed people, restoring life to a girl, healing the sight of blind people, and making the mute able to speak. When John’s disciples come to ask Jesus if He is the “coming one” (Luke 7:18-23), Jesus points to these very acts of helping the needy in miraculous ways to show that He is in fact the Christ.

How do Jesus’ actions compare with the way justice is described in the Old Testament? What does He do that aligns with the picture of Biblical justice we’ve seen so far? Jesus speaks up for the widows in Mark 12:38-40/Luke 20:45-47, rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees who oppress/exploit them. In fact, Jesus spends quite a bit of time rebuking these Jewish leaders (see Matthew 23), calling out their disastrous leadership and their neglect of doing justice (among many other things). Further, he calls out the Jewish leaders’ exploitative practices in the temple in the famous scene of him flipping over tables, rebuking their practice of turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13).

Lastly, not only does Jesus do justice by helping the helpless and rebuking the corrupt Jewish leaders, but He also calls out injustice that is being done to Himself. In John 19:11 Jesus implies that Pilate, the Roman government official, was sinning by treating Him unjustly. Interestingly, though Jesus rebuked Pilate and the Jewish leaders here, He is described as enduring injustice as a “lamb that is led to the slaughter” that doesn’t “open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7-8). In Jesus’ mock of a trial, we see two pictures harmonizing perfectly, though they do not harmonize neatly on face value. One is the picture of the suffering servant who doesn’t talk back during unjust persecution; the other is the sinless Son of Man who does justice and righteousness by naming His persecutors’ sin, even as they show Him injustice. What is the factor that harmonizes these two things? Jesus is acknowledging God’s sovereignty over the situation, placing ultimate and final judgement/vindication in His hands. That is, Jesus is not merely making a personal, vindictive, vengeful statement out of self-interest or self-preservation, He is speaking truth by naming sin and placing God’s authority and will at the center of His rebuke.


Jesus Does Justice Right:

The Old Testament depiction of justice was a high calling for any man or woman to accomplish, but when we turn to the life of Jesus, we find the picture of a man doing what is required in matters of justice. He helped the needy in ways they couldn’t help themselves, he pled the cause of the vulnerable, he rebuked oppressive leadership, and He called out the lack of integrity and truth in the court/leadership. And we haven’t even considered Jesus’ penultimate, victorious act of justice.

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When People do Justice (pt. 2)

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

We are in the middle of answering the question, “What does it look like, and what is the goal when a person does justice?” In part one of When People do Justice, we established that Biblical justice looks like holding the gate (i.e., justice system) accountable, ensuring that oppressors are rebuked (to save those being oppressed), and going out of the way to help those who are oppressed or disadvantaged. Moreover, what we noticed was that a lack of justice is so reprehensible to God that He does not even want pious deeds of fasting, prayer, and sacrifices from His people failing to practice justice.

My goal in this post is to answer the above question by observing three passages from those listed in part one: Job 29:11-17; Proverbs 29:7; Jeremiah 22:1-3.


The Rights of the Poor

In Proverbs 29:7, we read that the righteous (tsadiq) are concerned about the rights/cause (din) of the poor. This is something we saw in the previous article as well as in our description of what it looks like for a leader to do justice. Moreover, we saw that this is something God does Himself (Psalm 9:4; Psalm 140:12-13; Proverbs 23:10-11). Because leaders and God do this, and because the Biblical concern for the vulnerable is tethered to our understanding that all people are made in the image of God (Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 22:2), it should be no surprise that every person should be concerned with the plight of vulnerable.

Turning our attention to Jeremiah 22:1-3, we get another picture of what it looks like to do justice and righteousness that coheres with the one developed thus far . This passage indicates that people doing justice will deliver the robbed from their oppressors; they will not mistreat the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow; and they will not murder. Again, we see, as we always see in God’s requirements, it’s not enough to not do the bad thing, His people have to actively seek to do the good thing. That is, it’s not enough to just not mistreat the vulnerable, they have to go out of their way to alleviate and deliver as well. This picture of what justice looks like is even more convicting when we turn to Job 29:11-17.

Here, Job describes himself as being clothed with justice and righteousness, giving us a picture of what that looks like. We should remind ourselves that Job was not a king or prince. He was wealthy and well respected before he lost everything, but he was ultimately just a guy. So, we ask, what did it look like when a “regular guy” did justice and righteousness?

He heard the cries of the poor and sought to help the one who had no help.

               He didn’t assume it was their fault. He didn’t assume it wasn’t a real problem. He listened. He cared. He acted.

He brought joy to the lives of the people that were perishing as well as the widows.

               When a “regular guy” did justice, it looked like supporting those who were forsaken, forgotten, alone, without loved ones, or on their death bed.

He was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.

               When Job did justice and righteousness, he helped people with disabilities in ways they couldn’t help themselves. He didn’t remove their dignity by doing everything for them. He didn’t decide it wasn’t his problem. He helped. It is worth observing that his help was likely burdensome for him—I’m certain being feet to the lame meant carrying them from time to time.

He was a father to the needy, investigating the case he didn’t know.

               What does a father do? A father cares. A father listens. A father investigates. A father seeks to understand what the problem is and what can be done about it. A good father doesn’t just say “sorry about ’cha,” and move on without helping his child. A good father does what he can to restore and motivate. And this is what it looks like when a regular guy does justice for those who are needy.

He broke the jaws of the wicked and snatched the prey from their teeth.

               Here, we have an obvious metaphor (I don’t think wicked people were biting others). What are the jaws? The jaws are the mechanism that bring power to the bite. So, what did Job do? He sought to remove the power that the wicked had over their prey. He sought to save those who were being preyed upon by evildoers. Notice here the similarity with Jeremiah 22:3.


What Biblical Justice Looks Like

There are far more passages worth considering, but let’s compile what we’ve observed so far. What does Biblical justice look like when practiced by someone, and what is the goal?

Goals:

               Peace

               Restoration

               Deliverance

               Help

               End of the terrorization brought upon people

What it looks like:

               Holding the justice system accountable

               Reproving the oppressors

               Helping the helpless

               Pleading the cause of the vulnerable

               Removing the weapons of destruction from the wicked

               Relieving and delivering the oppressed

               Listening and caring about the cries of the afflicted

               Bringing joy to the lives of the forsaken, perishing, and vulnerable

               Investigating the case of the needy

               Getting involved like a father with the needy

This is what justice looks like. It might seem unrealistic. It might seem impossible. But justice is required of all of us, and if we refuse, our worship to God becomes worthless to Him. Indeed, with the world and its standards, pursuing justice is impossible. God makes it possible if we just allow Him to use us.

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When People do Justice (pt. 1)

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

Throughout the past few parts of this series, we have been examining how the Bible describes the practice of justice. Now, let’s turn our attention to the last entity that does justice in the Bible: people. In two separate parts we will be asking and answering the question, “What does it look like, and what is the goal when a person does justice?” Answering this question is of utmost importance since we are all supposed to practice justice, so we ought to know what it looks like.

Stay tuned for part two, which will provide a more complete answer than you’ll find here.

See previous posts here: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]


What does it look like?

Consider the following passages: Job 29:11-17; Proverbs 21:3; Proverbs 29:7; Jeremiah 22:1-3; Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5.

In this first part, we turn our attention to Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 1:10-17, and Amos 5. These passages are all connected: they speak to how much God desires His people to practice justice. In these passages, we find that when justice is not done by His people, their pious deeds (assemblies, sacrifices, fasts, prayers, etc.) are worthless and undesirable to God. Consider, for example, Amos 5. The people of Israel are described here as those who turn justice in to wormwood (bitterness/poison) and cast righteousness down (as if it is worthless). They hate reproof in the gate (i.e., where decisions are made—like a court room, though certainly not limited to that scene for modern Americans) and abhor those who speak there with integrity. They impose unfair burdens on the poor, take advantage of them, accept bribes, and ignore the poor in the courtroom. These are the people who do not do justice, and what does God say? He hates their festivals, assemblies, burnt offerings, and grain offerings. He accepts none of their songs or offerings, but instead desires justice and righteousness from them. Justice and righteousness here can mean a variety of things, but one thing is clearly in view: the treatment of the poor and the integrity of the gate.

Observe: a rebuke of people concerning justice and righteousness here includes not simply a rebuke of the leaders (though there certainly is), but also a rebuke of the entire people due to their apathy toward the gate’s integrity. Thus, the absence of justice and righteousness looks like not holding the gates accountable; not ensuring that the poor get a fair hearing; creating unfair financial burdens; and accepting bribes concerning the poor.

The picture of justice not done by the people in Amos 5 clearly parallels Isaiah 1:10-17, which provides a contrasting picture of what it looks like for people to do justice. There, we find what Biblical justice looks like: reproving the oppressors; defending the orphans; and pleading for the widows.

When anybody—that’s right—anybody does justice, they seek reproof of the wicked and the oppressors and defend and plead for the vulnerable. Those who have a voice speak up for those who don’t. That’s what Biblical justice looks like in these passages, which is really no wonder when we recall the description of God doing justice in Isaiah 1:26-27 (mentioned in this previous post). Recall, there was a purging of the evil ones (verse 25) with the goal of restoration and redemption. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that when anyone does justice (verse 17), they seek to end terrorization done to people and restore/deliver the vulnerable.


The Picture Begins to Form

What does it look like then when any person does justice in the Bible? It looks like seeking reproof for the wicked and oppressors and seeking to defend and restore the disadvantaged, who are likely to be exploited by the ruthless. What’s the goal? The intention of justice should be restoration for the oppressed and peace of mind for those who need a defense against exploitation.


Bonus Track:

You’ve probably heard that Christianity is about a relationship, and not religion. This is an inherently flawed statement for two reasons: 1. the Bible talks positively about religion (see James 1:27); 2. people probably don’t even have a good definition of religion when they say it since one definition requires a relationship (see the dictionary for religion). What I think most people typically mean by the phrase is that Christianity is about a relationship with God, not the bureaucracy of organized Christianity or the pious deeds of things like a ritualized worship service or communion. And it’s true that the institutionalization of Christianity and the pious deeds ultimately mean nothing without a relationship, but relationship with God ultimately isn’t true relationship without these pious/ritualized type deeds (Matthew 6:1-18; John 14:15) and church organization either (Acts 2:42; Titus 1:5; Hebrews 10:23-25).

A better meme-quote type thing about Christianity would be: religion without relationship (with God) is not religion at all, and relationship (with God) without religion is not relationship at all.

What does this have to do with justice? In this blog, I believe we can all see how an equally vague meme-picture-with-quotes could be created: Christianity is about justice, not religion. The ironic part of this is that the Biblical picture of pure religion is precisely a picture of Biblical justice (see the James passage above). However, the analogous point that I think people attempt to make can be seen as true in this blog. The institutionalization of Christianity and the pious deeds that are done are ultimately worthless to God without the practice of justice. And to create my own meme-picture-with-quotes that portrays what we’ve seen in this blog:

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When Leaders do Justice

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

At this point, we have established that the Bible teaches that God, leaders, and, indeed, everyone should do justice. We are asking the questions, “What does justice look like?” and, “What is the goal of justice in the Bible (specifically the Old Testament)?”

Earlier, we discussed passages about kings in order to establish that leaders should do justice, and I began to justify this claim. Now, I want to give an additional piece of justification. Multiple times in the prophets (e.g. Jeremiah 2, 6, and Isaiah 3), God lumps all types of leaders together in His rebuke on matters of peace and justice. Further, in Israel, kings were the people of God’s Kingdom that did a portion of the leading. Thus, if we look to the Old Testament’s wisdom for Christian leaders, observing kings’ leadership is a good place to begin. Further, if we just want to know what wisdom is for a leader in general, looking to God’s wisdom for His leaders is a sound place to start.

Looking now to the Scriptures about kings, we wish to ask the question, “What does justice look like, and what is the goal when leaders do justice in the Bible?”


What does justice look like?

(Check out: 1 Kings 3; Psalm 72:1-4, 12-14; Proverbs 31:8-9; Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 22:13-17; Ezekiel 45:9-10; Daniel 4:27; Zechariah 8:16)

Psalm 72:1-4 provides a picture of Judah’s ideal king. If you pay attention to the Hebrew, one thing that jumps out is that the verses are saturated with Hebrew words discussing justice. By my count, in just four short verses, there are seven Hebrew words concerning justice. This should indicate just how important it is to God for kings to be doing justice. According to this passage, what then does it look like to do justice?

               Judging the people with righteousness and the afflicted with justice.

               Vindication (shaphat) of the afflicted

               Saving the children of the needy

               Crushing the oppressor

When we compare this description of justice done by a king with the description of justice done by God, we see a lot of overlap (see below and this post), and it’s really no wonder. A good and wise king will seek to practice justice much like God does, and therefore will seek to restore those who are fallen or vulnerable and will seek to end the terrorization of people.

God Doing JusticeLeaders Doing Justice
Righteous judgeJudging all righteously, especially the afflicted
Raising up the fallenVindication of the afflicted
SalvationSaving the needy
Punishing those that terrorizeCrushing the oppressor

One aspect of justice, mentioned in passages about both God’s justice and leaders’ works of justice, is special attention for groups of people: the poor, the orphan, the widow, the afflicted, and the immigrant (I’ll call these “the vulnerable”). The Bible describes justice’s goal as ensuring that the vulnerable have what they need and no one is taking advantage of them. To be clear, these passages indicate that this task is far greater than simply making sure bad people don’t hurt them. The language indicates that kings who truly practice justice go out of their way to make sure their vulnerability does not interfere with their rights. From a Biblically holistic take on the issue of justice, its goal, and leaders, I’d go as far as saying that kings who truly practice justice will seek to ensure their vulnerable population does not experience interference of their peace (shalom) as a result of their vulnerability. This requires great wisdom and understanding, which is why Solomon is praised for the request of understanding (1 Kings 3).

1 Kings 3:11-12  God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you.


A Wide Scope of Application

A particularly informative passage concerning leaders is one directed at a non-Israelite King. Daniel 4:27 records that Daniel instructed Nebuchadnezzar to do “righteousness by showing mercy to the poor”. This is a fascinating example because it gives precedent to the idea that God expects this kind of justice (a concern for the vulnerable) from all kings, not just the leaders that are in covenant with Him. There’s much more to discuss about this concept, but this example is worth meditating on and discussing with your church family as we consider our own political situations today.

The Picture of Justice

To answer the question we posed at the beginning, we make the following observations coming from the multiple passages mentioned above. In the Bible, justice practiced by leaders looks like:

               Ensuring that the vulnerable subset of the community is provided for and not exploited

               Executing punishment on those who seek to harm others

               Paying people their wages

               Enacting decrees (policies) that are fair to people’s rights and not exploitative or abusive

Consider the areas in which you have oversight. Consider those who watch over you and others. Do you see Biblical justice being practiced, or do you see something else?

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When Justice is Present

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

Recall from the previous parts (part 4 has links) of this series that we are trying to answer the second and third questions below about Biblical justice:

               1. Who does it?

               2. What does it look like?

               3. What is the goal of it?

One important note we discussed in part 2 was to keep our eyes open for the word “righteousness” as we seek to understand Biblical justice. This will be true in this post, just as it was the previous and successive posts.

In this post we will be observing two passages that describe what it looks like when justice is present. These two discuss justice and righteousness as if they are entities that can permeate a place or a region, and they describe the effects of them being either present or absent. I think you’ll find these descriptions extremely helpful in our discussion about the goal of Biblical justice and perhaps even what it looks like.


When Biblical Justice is Not Present

Isaiah 5:7 says:

               For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel

               And the men of Judah His delightful plant.

               Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;

               For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

In this passage, we get a picture of what it looks like when justice and righteousness are not present: bloodshed and cries of distress. God is described here as looking in His vineyard (the people of Israel) for justice and righteousness, but instead, he finds bloodshed, oppression, and people crying out for help. From this, we get a clear indicator of how to determine if justice and righteousness – Biblical justice – are lacking in our communities, homes, nation, or even church families. If bloodshed or cries of distress can be found, Biblical justice is lacking in these areas.


When Biblical Justice is Present

Isaiah 32:7

               Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high,

               And the wilderness becomes a fertile field,

               And the fertile field is considered as a forest.

               Then justice will dwell in the wilderness

               And righteousness will abide in the fertile field.

               And the work of righteousness will be peace,

               And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.

Contrasting with the last passage, this one gives us an indication of what it looks like when justice and righteousness are present and righteousness has completed its work: peace (shalom, indicating healthiness or wholeness), quietness, and confidence.

These two passages together give us a rather high standard for Biblical justice to be fully present: no cries for help, no bloodshed, healthiness, quietness, and confidence. What this indicates is that Biblical justice is not something like an on/off switch. It’s not just there or not there. It’s something that can be completely present, totally lacking, or present in lesser or greater degrees. The more pervasive the chaos, the cries for help, and the lack of security, the less justice and righteousness are present. But the more one hears of confidence in their God given ability to exist and thrive in a sustainable way, and the more the people of the land/community/family experience peace/healthiness, the more Biblical justice is present.

Notice that this fits perfectly with what we learned about the goal of God’s justice (e.g., restoration, salvation, etc.) in the last post. Indeed, the goal of justice and righteousness filling up a land is portrayed here to be the restoration of the land to a place of wholeness and quietness after a time of bloodshed and despair.


Do You See Justice?

So, look around you. Look to your homes and your congregations and your communities and your nation and the church. What do you see? Do you see places of peace? (And I mean real peace; don’t make the mistake of the Israelites in Jeremiah 6:13-14 and choose denial or the ignorance is bliss route.) Do you see confidence? Or do you see cries for help, lack of security, and oppression? Likely you see both and are tempted to make the excuse that perfection isn’t possible—I know I am. However, just like how being sinless is never possible but is always the goal, we cannot be complacent on matters of justice. If justice is lacking, it needs to be established.

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – When God Does Justice

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

Recall from the previous parts of this series ([1], [2], [3]) that we’re looking at three questions about Biblical justice:

               1. Who does it?

               2. What does it look like?

               3. What is its goal?

We established in the previous post that God does justice. Now, let’s turn our attention to God’s pursuit of justice and ask, “What does it look like, and what is its goal?” Remember, it is of utmost importance for us to understand what it looks like for God to do justice because it is fundamental to who He is (and so if we get this wrong, we misunderstand God). It is also necessary to ground our understanding of Biblical justice in the God that made us, so that we can begin to see what it means for us to do justice.


What it Looks Like When God Does Justice:

For time’s sake, we will consider only a portion of the following passages regarding God’s justice (a list that is itself not exhaustive): Gen. 30:6; Deut. 10:17-19; Psa. 7:8-9; Psa. 9:4; Psa. 9:15-16; Psa. 10:17-18; Psa. 37:27-28; Psa. 75:7; Psa. 76:8-9; Isa. 1:26-27; Isa. 3:13-15; Isa. 30:18; Jer. 10:24; Jer. 33:15-16; Jer. 46:28.

Passages such as Isaiah 3:13-15 and Psalm 9:15-16 provide a picture of God delivering justice through a guilty verdict and a promised punishment. This is a picture of God’s justice that, for many of us, feels both familiar and uncomfortable. Regardless of our discomfort, that picture is there, and the pursuit of justice seen here is actually a good thing. For instance, when we look at Isaiah 3:13-15, we see that the guilty verdict is given to people who have crushed the poor. So, much like the picture we get in Psalm 76:8-9 and Psalm 10:17-18, the purpose of the coming judgment and acts of justice are to achieve desirable goals: salvation and the end of terrorization. This picture is succinctly portrayed in Psalm 75:7:

               But God is the Judge;

               He puts down one and exalts another.

Isaiah 1:26-27 is especially enlightening in its context. There, we can see that the goal of God’s justice and righteousness is redemption and restoration. There is some punishment in the context (a purging, or purification, is described in the verses before this passage), but the goal is clear. God’s goal in exercising justice is to redeem the repentant ones.

A more puzzling picture of justice is found in Isaiah 30:18. The puzzling piece here is the relationship between God’s justice and His desire to be gracious and compassionate. This passage states that it is because God is a God of justice that He wants these things. This should inform us that if we have a conception of justice that does not fit well with grace and compassion, we do not have a Biblical conception of justice. We have something else.

By condensing all the passages listed earlier in the post, we get the following picture of God’s goals when He does justice:

  • Correction
  • Salvation
  • Redemption/Restoration
  • End of terrorization
  • Grace and Compassion

Moreover, we get the following picture of what justice looks like when God does it:

  • Punishing those who terrorize others
  • Chastisement (that doesn’t annihilate)
  • Raising up the fallen/lowly
  • Alleviating

Scriptural descriptions of God’s mercy and His righteous punishment may initially seem conflicting or even irreconcilable. However, the scriptures that we have examined show that God’s justice is aligned with mercy and grace, even when punishment is involved.


The Picture of a Parent

The picture of justice we’ve seen here looks much like the picture of a parent dealing with two children when the one hits the other and leaves a scratch. The parent will likely remove the weapon if one was used, punish the one who struck the other, and put ointment and a band-aid on the one who was hurt. The punishment is for correction (a picture of justice seen in Jeremiah 10:24) but also to end the threat for the one who was hurt. The ointment and band-aid are for restoration and fit the picture because, for God, justice does not simply look like saying, “Sorry about ’cha.” Justice looks like God going out of His way to help the one who was wronged, although He had not personally wronged them.

Psalms 140:12-13 

               I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted

               And justice for the poor.

               Surely the righteous will give thanks to Your name;

               The upright will dwell in Your presence.

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – Who Does Justice?

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Recall:

In the previous two parts of this series, I have mentioned that we will be looking at the Old Testament to describe Biblical justice, and I have established these two things:

               i. We might have a different understanding of justice than the Bible’s.

               ii. We have to keep our eyes open for the word “righteousness” in the Old Testament to determine what Biblical justice is. This is because of the usage of Hebrew words to discuss justice and their various English translations.

In the previous post, I set forth the trajectory of this series. I would like to ask the following questions about Biblical justice:

               1. Who does it?

               2. What does it look like?

               3. What is the goal?

In this piece, we will be answering the first question.

Who Does Biblical Justice?

God

The first answer to this question should be no surprise to any of us. There are three passages regarding God and justice (among many) that caught my attention: Psalm 89:14; Psalm 99:4; Jeremiah 9:24.

Psalm 89:14 says:

               Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;

               Lovingkindness and truth go before You.

Here, we have “righteousness” and “justice” appearing together (as they often will when discussing matters of justice), and we can see that it is the foundation of God’s throne. What these passages inform us is that justice should be fundamental to our understanding of who God is and what He does. Therefore, if we misunderstand justice, we ultimately will misunderstand who God is. This makes understanding Biblical justice even more pertinent for us, and therefore more desirable.

Leaders

The second answer is not very surprising, since many of us associate justice with courtrooms, judges, legislature, police, and other government entities. Consider these three passages: Psalm 72:1-4; Proverbs 31:8-9; 2Samuel 8:15.

Looking to the Proverbs passage, we can see from the context that we are looking at wisdom for a king, and it says:

               Open your mouth for the mute,

               For the rights of all the unfortunate.  

               Open your mouth, judge righteously,

               And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Scripture indicates that a wise king will be one that is concerned for rights and righteous judgment. Combining this passage with the other two, and it becomes evident that Biblical justice is something expected of kings and is fundamental to what makes a king ideal or wise. For this reason, we can see that leaders are supposed to practice justice. (I say “leaders” to leave it open intentionally. I plan to address this more later but suffice it to say that I believe we can look to Old Testament kings and other leaders for wisdom about what principles ideal leaders will employ in general.)

Everyone

Not only does the Bible call for leaders to practice justice, but everyone is called to justice. This can be seen from many passages, but we mention here the following: Genesis 18:19; Proverbs 21:3; Micah 6:8.

Proverbs 21:3 says:

               To do righteousness and justice

               Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.

This principle is echoed throughout the prophets in places like Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, and Amos 5. In all of these places we find God fed up with the pious deeds of His people and instead wants justice to be done. Jesus echoed this same teaching, also found in Micah 6:8, in His rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees; He contrasted tithing with justice, mercy, and faith, which He called “weightier matters” (Matthew 23:23). It’s not that the pious deeds shouldn’t be done (indeed, they should); it’s that they are absolutely worthless before God when justice is not practiced. This ought to get our attention and compel us to pursue justice. However, to do justice, we have to ask the very questions we will be addressing in the next several parts of this series on Biblical justice:

               What does it look like?

               What is the goal?

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – Where to Begin?

A small disclaimer that I will be giving before each post: I make no claim of comprehensiveness. I seek to be faithful to God’s Word and to establish some aspects of Biblical justice, but I do not seek in this series to cover every nuance or aspect.

For links to all the other posts in this series:

[1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

To begin asking what Biblical justice is, we will be looking to the Old Testament. There are several reasons why, but here are two: we know that the Old Testament was written for Christians to learn from (Romans 15:4; 2Timothy 3:16-17), and the Old Testament establishes the principles of justice drawn upon in the New Testament.

If we are going to define Biblical justice by looking to the Old Testament, it is important to look at the Hebrew words are that are used to talk about justice. There are three different (what I’m calling) families of words that are used to talk about justice. (Strong’s numbers are attached for those who are interested).

Mishpat; Shaphat; Shephet (H4941; H8199; H8201)

Din (H1777; H1779)

Tsadeeq; Tsadaq; Tsedeq; Tsidaq; Tsedeqah (H6662-H6666)

All together, these words combined are used over 1000 times in the Old Testament, so we will by no means look at every occurrence or even every different way they get used. However, we will be looking at several passages that use these words in ways that help us understand Biblical justice.

One thing that is important for us to understand is that these Hebrew words are translated into different English words depending on context and Bible translation (for instance, mishpat gets used as ordinance; custom; right; justice; and judgment, and shaphat gets used as judge; vindicate; and defend). This point is especially important for us to observe concerning the tsdq words. For example, depending on the Bible version you pick up, you might see tsedeqah translated as “righteousness” or as “justice” for the same exact verse! Here’s an example:

2Samuel 8:15 (NASB) David administered justice and righteousness (mishpat and tsedeqah)

2Samuel 8:15 (NKJV) David administered judgment and justice (mishpat and tsedeqah)

What this tells us is that we have to keep our eyes open for the English word “righteousness” as we begin to ask what Biblical justice is. Although it might seem strange to us, the Biblical usage of “justice” and “righteousness” are overlapping and sometimes hard to distinguish, sort of like synonyms. This is clear from the example above, the numerous others like it, the definitions given for the associated Hebrew words, the Hebrew poetry parallelisms that get translated to place “justice” and “righteousness” in parallel, and more. As strange as this may seem, we do have room for this idea our modern English.

I could say, “The Pentatonix cover of Bohemian Rhapsody does not do the song justice.” Not only would this be a true statement, it would also be a valid way to use the word “justice.” Similarly, I could say “Pentatonix does not do right by the song Bohemian Rhapsody in their cover of it,” and I would be saying the exact same thing while using something from the range of phrases related to “righteousness.” Therefore, just to reiterate, when we turn to the Old Testament to understand Biblical justice, we have to keep our eyes open for the word “righteousness,” especially when it is used in combination with “justice” and other related words like “judge” and “judgment”.

Going forward, it is my goal to examine the usage of the Hebrew words mentioned above to ask the following three questions about Biblical justice:

               1. Who does it?

               2. What does it look like?

               3. What is the goal?

I would like to slightly undermine my authority to conclude this post. I’m not a Hebrew scholar. I haven’t studied the Hebrew language in depth, and I don’t have tons of lexicons. However, I don’t think my approach makes that necessary, and I have resources* from prominent/scholarly figures backing anything I mention about the Hebrew language itself. Thus, going forward, I think we can all simply choose to be Bereans here and search the Scriptures we have in order to see how things truly are.

*[1], [2], [3], [4]

Biblical Justice: A Scratch in the Surface – An Introduction

The following is the beginning of a series that is an adapted and modified version of a sermon called Biblical Justice. To find the audio, scroll down to the appropriate title and press play. This sermon can also be accessed in podcast form; just look for “South Canadian Valley Church of Christ’s Podcast” in your preferred podcast player and scroll until you find the name of the sermon (uploaded on 4/25/21).

For links to all the other posts in this series (more will be added as more posts are made):

[2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10]

Justice. Justice is a topic of considerable magnitude and depth in the Scriptures, so pervasive and so broad that one can only hope to scratch its surface in a short series of writings. However, it has become clear over the past couple of years that Christians desperately need to know what Biblical justice is, and that the world needs to experience Biblical justice. It is then of necessity that we take a close look at what God says about justice, and it is for this reason that I am embarking upon a series of writings exploring Biblical justice. Moreover, it is necessary that we first set aside our own preconceptions and the secular world’s view of justice and allow the Biblical authors to shape our worldview.

In this series, it is my desire to convey a portion (certainly not the entirety) of what Biblical justice is. I will be emphatic throughout : the aspects of justice that I am putting forward are by no means comprehensive. Therefore, more study must be done on our part  if we are to come to as great an understanding of Biblical justice as possible.

Before we begin to examine what Biblical justice is, we must first get ourselves situated to start asking the right questions. Therefore, the first thing that I want to bring up is the word hope. A lot of people have begun to realize the Biblical usage of “hope” is different than the modern English usage of it. As 21st Century Americans, when we use the word “hope,” we usually mean something like “a wish” or “a dream ,” such as “I hope to go to Italy one day.” However, the Bible uses it in a fundamentally different way. It uses “hope” in ways like “the hope of salvation” in 1Thessalonians 5:8. “Hope,” as used here, is not some mere wish; it is a confident expectation. We don’t hope to have salvation the same way we “hope” to go to Italy one day; we are confident that we have and will have salvation. Now, most of us are on board with this concept, and so we all have the room in our minds to make sense of the idea that, as English-speaking Americans, we use some words in ways different from the way the Bible uses those same English words. We must be mindful of this as we approach the topic of justice.

It is well within the realm of possibility that our concept of justice is distinctly different, smaller than, or contradictory to the idea of justice that the Scriptures present. Moreover, it is definitely going to be true that the world’s conception of justice will not line up perfectly with the conception of justice that the Scriptures present. There may be overlap in what we think and the Scriptures say about justice, and the same may be true for secular society. However, our chief concern is with the Bible. Those of us who seek to follow Christ  must be concerned with what the Bible says about justice for (at least) two reasons: one, justice is something Jesus referred to as a “weightier matter” (Matthew 23:23); two, the Bible is where we look for truth to ground our worldview. Therefore, it is not my chief concern to contrast your and the world’s conception of justice with Biblical justice (although that will undoubtedly happen here and there); it is my primary desire to simply ask, “What is Biblical justice?”

So, now we must acknowledge two things. First, we may have a conception of justice that doesn’t line up with Biblical justice. Second, it is of utmost importance for us to have Biblical justice. Because of these two things, it is my prayer that you will enjoy this series as you seek to understand more about God, His Word, and His will, so that we can be more faithful in our lives within a fallen world .