"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 4





Chapter 4: The Justice of God

Chapter 4 Contents 

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Do we believe in Justice?

a) An Agreed body of Law

b) A Willingness to declare Guilt

c) Action against the Guilty

4.3 Biblical Punishments according to the Law of Moses

a) Prior to the Law

b) Nature of the first laws of Moses

c) Conclusions about the Law of Moses

d) Conclusions about Biblical Justice

4.4 How God brings about justice



4.1 Introduction


Any considerations about judgment would not be complete without an understanding of justice. Unfortunately we live in an age when morals, ethics and justice are in flux. When antagonists berate God for being harsh, they rarely give any thought to the subject of justice which is really behind so much of what goes on, especially in the Old Testament.


Whereas it is easy to be unpleasant about God with little more than shallow thought, if we will but consider the subject of justice, it may be that more of us might be silenced and even (possibly ungraciously) concede that there is wisdom in God's actions.


Standards for Assessment

Let's start with some basic declarations within the Bible about God and justice and note the criteria by which we are to assess the judgments found in the Bible. We start with a verse we considered in chapter 2 but there we focused on His perfection; now we focus on the fact that He is just:


Deut 32:4  He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.


Note the strength of the content of this one declaration:

1. God's works are perfect

  •  (the things He does) that we considered in chapter 2.

2. His ways are just

  • The ways He works are fair and reasonable.
  • This means we need to look at each of the so-called judgments in the Bible to assess the grounds for this claim.

3. He is faithful

  • which means He is true to His character,
  • which is why chapters 2 and 3 are so important. Again we will need to look at each ‘judgment' to see if it accords with His character.

4. He does no wrong.

  • If this is true then it means that every ‘judgment' is right and we need to search to see why.

5. Upright and just is he.

  • Upright means honest and fair and true.
  • Again we need to look at each judgment and determine, ‘is this fair, is this what we would do in God's position?'


These are straight forward declarations about God and our task is to take each of these things and set them alongside the judgments we find in the Bible and see if they are true and accurate declarations, for they do occur again and again in the Bible, for example -


Gen 18:19   I have chosen him (Abram), so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just


In many ways the Bible declares that God is just and that He calls those who will live according to His design to be just, but what do the words ‘just' and ‘justice' mean?


Have you ever noticed the other way we use the word ‘just'? “That is just what I need”.

‘Just' there means exactly what I need. It corresponds exactly to what I need.


Justice is normally defined something like “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” Where do we get our sense of what is “morally right and fair” from? It is a major question that we need to look at later in this chapter.


We need to remember that when the Bible reveals God, it shows Him as the Creator of all things who, when He had finished creating this world and all on it, looked and considered it “very good” (Gen 1:31). In other words everything worked in a certain, specific, designed way and it was good.

So, at the outset I am going to make some radical suggestions and then let them hang out a bit in the following chapter:

  •   ‘Right' is whatever corresponds to how God originally designed the world.
  •   Wrong is anything that runs contrary to that design.
  •   Justice is bringing anyone, anything or any situation back in line with that original design.


We'll see if that works out as we think about these things further



4.2 Do we believe in Justice?


This is a valid question in the early part of the twenty first century. I say that because for justice to exist there are several requirements:

  • A system of agree laws, what we all agree are rights and wrongs. “This is right. That is wrong.”
  • A willingness to declare guilt. “That person was wrong to do that.”
  • A willingness to take action against the guilty. “You will answer in court and be held accountable”.


Now each one of those things have been under question in Western society, and there is a clear reason for that which we'll come to. Let's consider each of those required elements:


An Agreed body of Law

To achieve such a body means that we have a foundation for working out things that are right and things that are wrong. But how does that come about in any country? Historically laws have been made by:

  •   A dictator, or
  •   a committee of the intellectual elite, or
  •   all the citizens agreeing collectively what they should be, or
  •   the citizens voting for people who will decide for them what laws there should be, or
  •   God.


The only problem with the first four is that they rely upon the world view of human beings which in the individual is notoriously changeable and fickle. God, the Creator-Designer, who knows how everything has been designed to work best, has to be the prime choice for lawmaker, especially in the light of the characteristics we have put forward in the previous two chapters.


In the absence of God, laws become flexible and ultimately anything goes because no one has the authority to claim what is right. Hence in recent years we have seen case law changing as judges, appearing to be unsure of their moral base, make decisions simply on the basis of what seems right to them with their world view. The more godless a society is (i.e. referring less and less to God) the more flexible law becomes. That is a simple established and observable fact.


A Willingness to declare Guilt

This has become a valid problem for modern society in the West that has largely adopted a ‘no God' way of thinking. Tolerance has become the watchword for many people because “who are we to say that this person's lifestyle is wrong, merely because it is different to ours?” This goes hand in hand with a relativistic outlook where morals change according to circumstance.


In his book ‘Vanishing Grace' author Philip Yancey comments, “The U.S. has taken such a turn against public morality that a recent surgeon–general hesitated to disapprove of promiscuous sex among pre-teens. ‘Everyone has different moral standards,' said the surgeon-general. ‘You can't impose your standards on someone else.'”


The only thing is that when you press people in respect of their tolerance and relativistic viewpoint they appear to hold firm until the point you ask them, “How would you feel if a gang of armed intruders broke into your house and raped your screaming wife and daughter in front of you and then tortured them both and left them bleeding out on the floor while you were tied to a chair and watched them both die slowly?” I have yet to come across someone who remains steady at that point. Any reasonable, rational person, if they are willing to face such a situation, acknowledges the horror of it and their incredible anger and desire for revenge having to witness such acts of barbarism. At that point such people climb off the fence of indifference and demand justice. “These inhuman beasts should pay for what they have done! They need bringing to justice! The police must find them! They are guilty! They deserve punishment!”


In reality, although some people espouse tolerance, it is ALWAYS limited tolerance, tolerance only so far, and tolerance that is limited to certain categories of people or behaviour. For example, modern Western culture is (rightly) intolerant of racism and sexism but not of mocking religions.


Mockery abuses and denigrates but we don't allow (tolerate) that in any other context. In the same way that racism and sexism denigrates and demeans the person, so does denigrating and demeaning their religious beliefs.


Action against the Guilty

What do we do about the guilty? Well first they have to be found guilty, guilty beyond reasonable doubt – apprehended by the police and tried according to the rules of justice in a court of law, and shown to be breaking the established laws of the country. But supposing they are found guilty. How do we then deal with them?


Historically ‘punishment' means the intentional inflicting of pain by a legal authority which might be:

  •   A fine (pain in the purse)
  •   Community service (pain in forcing work to be done and time to be taken, for the community)
  •   Birching (physical beating)
  •   Imprisonment (pain of life restriction)
  •   Death (ultimate pain penalty!)

The grounds for inflicting some form of punishment upon a guilty person have traditionally been:

i) Retribution

    Imposing a painful penalty on the guilty person to,

  •   define and reinforce community values,
  •   affirm individual responsibility and respect for freedom to choose behaviour,
  •   impose a sense of fairness for those who suffered,
  •   draw a line in the sand that says, this has been dealt with, to avert revenge.


ii) Functional

    Emphasizing bringing change by the punishment, that may be

  •   rehabilitation – to bring change to the offender (linked to education)
  •   deterrence – working to put off offenders from doing it or repeating the offence
  •   inhibiting/incapacitating – punishment that prevents the offender repeating.



4.3 Biblical Punishments according to the Law of Moses


What does the Old Testament say about laws and punishment as seen in the creation and life of the nation of Israel ? This will tell us much about God.


Prior to the Law

We should perhaps note that certain matters that would accord with ‘laws' came before the Law of Moses which was instituted in Exodus and has been since the primary law source for Israel. For example:


Gen 9:5,6    for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.



1. Many years before Moses, even before Israel, God declared this.

2. At its heart is a respect demanded for human life

3. The reason for that is that humans are made in the image of God.


The value of life thus seems a high priority and when this initial requirement for life-to-be-taken-for-life is expanded into a number of other areas, we would do well to consider why.


The Nature of the first laws of Moses

Beyond this there appears no laws between this time and the time at Sinai (except possibly the requirement for male circumcision as a reminder of the relationship with God) when the Ten Commandments were given, followed by the first batch of law notes.


The Ten Commandments can be summarized as four laws honouring and respecting God and then six laws honouring and respecting other human beings, and subsequently summarised from the Old Testament by Jesus as, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40 quoting Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18)


It is interesting when you move on to what I referred to as the first batch of law notes (because other laws are added elsewhere in the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible) that the first laws are about caring for humans in service (Ex 21:1-11) indicating further that respect for fellow humans is to be there whatever their class or status.


The next law lays down the death penalty for murder (Ex 21:12,14) but if it was manslaughter (not premeditated or intentional) then there were ‘cities of refuge' to which the person may flee to escape the vengeance of the family of the dead man (Ex 21:13) and for them to receive no other punishment.


It has been said that the establishing of the Law of Moses was to establish a society in which wholesome peace (Shalom) is the watchword. Justice always seeks to restore that wholesome peace. Justice, in these laws, seeks to bring an equality of end product – “You injure him and we will injure you. You will both end up in the same state for that is only fair.” That is what justice brings, fairness, and therefore also the removal of grounds for grievance.


Clearly linked to this is the law of restitution seen, for example, in Ex 22:5 “If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.” Justice, if you like, brings about a level playing field at the end. The injured party is brought, so far as it is possible, back to the state they were in before the offence occurred.


Conclusions about the Law of Moses

There are several things about the Law of Moses, given by God to Israel, that are pertinent in respect of the whole subject of judgment:

  •   the Law expresses concern and respect for human beings,
  •   it seeks to maintain peace within society and restore it where there are misdemeanors,
  •   it recognizes that individuals will not always get it right and therefore provides for
    •   the death penalty for society-undermining acts, for stability and as a deterrent,
    •   equality punishment for fairness and deterrent,
    •   restitution where possible to provide for those who have lost out,
    •   ceremonial acts for restoring relationships with God after failures,
    •   removal of grounds for grievance.


Conclusions about Biblical Justice


  •   is based on what is right according to God's design for humanity, and
  •   wrongs are therefore behaviour contrary to that design, and
  •   seeks where possible to create an end, level playing field whereby
    •   society is protected,
    •   individuals feel satisfied that fairness has been achieved,
    •   grounds for grievance are minimized.


The framework for Biblical justice is based on the knowledge

  •   that God is the benign designer-creator who made everything so that it was very good 
  •   that we now live in a ‘fallen-world' where the natural propensity of each of us is to be self-centred and godless and therefore we need
    •   guidance and directions as to God's design for living, that maintains peace and protection for a community and blessing for the individual and their family,
    •   ways of dealing with behaviour that is harmful to others and contrary to that design, and
    •   re-establishes a possible relationship with God.


The second of these latter items – dealing with wrong behaviour and maintaining or restoring peace and protection for the society, we will see in the coming chapters, form much of the reasoning behind the acts that we refer to as the judgments of God but before we do that, let's remind ourselves how God works in general to bring about justice.



4.4 How God brings about Justice.


We need to reiterate some of the things we said in chapter 2:

  • When we speak about ‘God's judgments' this focuses more on God's ‘decisions' and that is really what is more important, because every time in Scripture we witness an act of death or destruction, before that happens something even more significant happens: God chose to do it and it is behind that decision of His that we want, with His help, to look.


In chapter 2 we observed that

  • God's judgment is His dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His instinctive anger.


Our 'passionate displeasure' rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assesses:

  •   what is the right thing to do, 
  •   the perfect thing to do,
  •   the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future.


Only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows

  •   how things could work out and
  •   how they can work out and
  •   how they will work out,


and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.


So when we look at His acts of judgment in the Bible, realise you

  •   don't have all the facts,
  •   your emotions are stunted,
  •   you see imperfectly,

                       but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly, and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been the best, the only right thing to be done. This is justice.


Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God.  This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgment and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God's judgment is this particular thing - which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!


We next need to examine the different ways God appears to bring these judgments and the reasoning behind them, and this we'll start to see in the next chapter.


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