Over the last few years I’ve done a good bit of writing and study on the subject of justice in Scripture. Almost every time I do though, I later realize that my thoughts on the matter had missed some important element.
In short, I hadn’t done justice justice.
It occurs to me though that there are five major ways in which justice (Heb. mishpat) is used in Scripture (there are other ways too, but these occur over and over). Here’s a basic overview.
- First, justice is often described as an essential element of God’s own nature.
Gen 18:19“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
Job 8:3 “Does God pervert justice, Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?
Ps 101:1 I will sing of lovingkindness and justice, To You, O LORD, I will sing praises
Ps 111:7 The works of His hands are truth and justice; All His precepts are sure.
- Second, a concern for justice should be a fundamental quality of God’s people.
Deut 16:19“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Deut 27:19 ‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
Ps 106:3 How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!
Prov 21:3 To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.
Isa 1:17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
- Third, justice is a characteristic of God’s saving acts.
Isa 1:27 Zion will be redeemed with justice And her repentant ones with righteousness.
Isa 9:7 There will be no end to the increase of Hisgovernment or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justiceand righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
- Fourth, God expects rulers to rule with justice.
2 Sam 8:15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.
1 Kgs 3:11 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,
Eccl 5:8 If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.
- Fifth, God and his people should pay close attention to extending justice to the most vulnerable, because their lives are the most fragile.
Deut 10:18 “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
Job 36:6 “He does not keep the wicked alive, But gives justice to the afflicted.
I think there are a few important conclusions to be drawn from this. First, God himself provides the standard for justice and ensures that it doesn’t fade into subjective speculation or personal preference. Second, biblical justice is very social–it always has to do with relationships (with God and others) and therefore its inaccurate to say the Bible doesn’t speak about “social justice.” It does, frequently. Second, we must carefully note the covenantal character of justice for true justice is grounded in God and includes reconciliation with God, who is the just judge. Third, justice should be a major concern for God’s people in every area of life.