Seek Justice: Part #1-What is Justice?
Updated: Mar 9, 2022
WHY THE CHURCH IS LOST ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
Our world is in absolute upheaval. People around our country and around the world have added their voices to a cause, claiming to seek justice on behalf of minorities or “people of color” in America. Celebrities, politicians, and pastors have thrown their influence into the ring as well. Full disclosure, I’m a white guy. For some that means I have no right to speak up on this issue, but I’m not JUST a white guy, I’m a Bible-believing, sold-out, hard-core follower of Yeshua/Jesus, so when I look at the racial & social conflict happening around the United States, I don't want it to continue anymore than most of us do. I just happen to think the only solution is in the Bible, where many others including the church, keep looking for answers in every other place outside of the Bible. Personally, my greatest question is, "if Christians are all following the Bible, why is it we can't get together and be a part of the solution it appears people are searching for?" Maybe you have noticed too, but it appears pastors all over the United States are all talking about the same verses, but coming to very different conclusions. It's almost like everyone has a voice but no one actually has any answers, and isn't the church supposed to have those answers? Aren't we supposed to look different?
From pulpits to megaphones to the halls of Congress, one of the most common verses quoted by Christians and non-Christians on the topic of racial injustice is Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do what is right. Promote justice. Give the oppressed reason to celebrate. Take up the cause of the orphan. Defend the rights of the widow."
This is a great verse about God’s expectation for His people, after all, right here YHVH says “seek/promote justice”. That wraps it up then, God says to seek justice. Grab your baseball bats and rocks, and let’s go!
Before we “storm the castle” there are a few questions worth reflecting on:
How do you define justice? What makes your definition the correct one? Do you think the rest of the world agrees with your definition? If they don’t agree, how do you figure out who's wrong?
Most people read Isaiah 1:17 and they immediately demand action. In fact, in a discussion I was having over the past couple weeks I was told, “It’s time to step up!” So I asked, “what action do you consider stepping up?” Instead of answering my question that person told me, if I didn’t already know what to do, then they weren’t going to tell me. However, I'm willing to bet if I did the "wrong" thing, they would surely let me know. The difficulty in landing a shot on the bullseye of the modern "justice" movement is nearly impossible, because there is no standard, no guideline in which to adequately determine what justice is, what injustice is, and then how to rightly respond to injustice. The current nature of this topic then leaves us rudderless and without hope of discovering a satisfactory answer to the issue of social justice. When we take a step back and survey the battlefield one thing is clear, everyone is trying to enforce their answer, and all those answers are different and in direct conflict with each other. Out of all the questions we face regarding racial justice, there is one truth we should all agree on, our way isn't working, we must appeal to Scripture to find the answers. Unfortunately Scripture has been abandoned and our own intellect has doomed us to destruction and hatred with no hope for reconciliation.
Our country is struggling to find answers to so many questions, churches and pastors also are struggling to find answers to these same questions. Why do you think that is?
We don’t have to be confused. The Bible answers each question loud and clear. The problem is most people in our world are making up the answers as they go. However, if we believe the Bible is true, and that it is the Word of God, then we don’t get the luxury of making the answers up. This article, and the following articles in this series will seek to answer three critical questions without emotion, bias, or politics. Instead, the goal is to dig into Scripture and allow YHVH through His Holy Spirit to teach us and lead us in all truth. 1. What is justice?
2. What is injustice? 3. How do we respond to injustice?
FIRST QUESTION: How do we define or understand what justice is?
We cannot allow our modern culture to define terms like "justice" for us because they can’t seem to agree on what justice is. Instead, we must allow something secure, consistent, and tested to define these terms. The Bible is the only source we have that has been consistent throughout time, and once again, it must provide the baseline to define what true justice is. It is the solid foundation needed to discover truth.
Genesis 18:19 is the first instance where the word “justice” is used in the Bible. This account is all the way back from Abraham’s life right before God destroys Sodom and Gamorah.
“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 what is right and just. Then the Lord will give to Abraham what he promised him.” Genesis 18:19 net
According to this verse how does Abraham “do what is right and just?” the Bible makes it clear Abraham is chosen by YHVH because he keeps the "way of the Lord" by doing what is right and just. We must understand that these words "right" and "just" were not determinations made by Abraham, this is the standard YHVH made according to His way, not according to Abraham's way. This is critical to understand because the same standard for doing what is right and just still remains fixed firmly in the truth of YHVH"s "way" and not our own. In fact, it is following our own way that typically leads us away from doing what is right and just.
Let’s look at the word “just” in this verse: Hebrew: mishpat Literal Translation: Judgement Textual Translation: Judgement, justice, ordinances
Application: To rightly judge, follow, or obey based on a standard of given ordinances or rules.
How does Abraham know what is just or unjust? It seems strange that YHVH would declare that Abraham would lead his children in justice if he doesn’t know what justice is. It is clear he does know what is right and just because YHVH says Abraham will "keep the way of the Lord." This "way" is made physically manifest in its fullness in the life and example of Yeshua, however, YHVH makes these same truths known to Abraham long before Yeshua enters the world, and long before the Lord's way is recorded in written text. We are fortunate to live in a day where not only do we have the written text that describes the "way of the Lord", but we have hundreds of various translations, teachers, and the resources available to us, and we have the perfect and complete example of Yeshua to lead is along YHVH's way. However, in Abraham's day, it was taught from parents to children through oral education and practical, hands-on instruction (a tool our modern culture has largely abandon to the public schools and church programs).
YHVH's statement about Abraham is not unique, in fact, it is the basis for the oft repeated verse from Isaiah 1 that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The message given by Isaiah 1:17 and Genesis 18:19 is actually repeated all throughout the Bible.
Here are a few examples:
Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak, for the legal rights of all the dying. Open your mouth, judge in righteousness, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9 net
He says, “How long will you make unjust legal decisions and show favoritism to the wicked? (Selah) Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless Vindicate the oppressed and suffering. Rescue the poor and needy. Deliver them from the power of the wicked.
If people want to boast, they should boast about this: They should boast that they understand and know me. They should boast that they know and understand that I, the Lord, act out of faithfulness, fairness, and justice in the earth and that I desire people to do these things,” says the Lord. Jeremiah 9:24 net
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness! You should have done these things without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel! Matthew 23:23-24 net
Won’t God give justice to his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:7-8 net
The continuous message of justice throughout the Bible is we humans are bad at executing justice on our own, and true and right justice is strictly contingent on YHVH Himself, and is not something we can conjure up in ourselves. It is through learning the Word of YHVH and following His right and just instructions that we learn to do what is right and just, the same as Abraham did thousands of years ago.
Justice is mentioned 127 times in the Old Testament and only 14 times in the New Testament. This may surprise some people, because isn't the Old Testament where God was mean and didn't show any grace or mercy? Of course not! It is within the pages of the Old Testament that we discover the intricate details YHVH gave His people (which is the family we are adopted into) to learn what behavior He says is right and just for His children, and to obey and follow those instructions. We cannot continue to amputate two-thirds of our Bibles from our theological perspective and expect to properly understand the way of righteousness and justice. Unfortunately, this is the unstable position most churches find themselves in today which is why so many seem to struggle with the topic of justice. Jeremiah provides us more information to get on track when it comes to understanding justice from a Biblical perspective.
3 The Lord says, “Do what is just and right. Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them. Do not exploit or mistreat resident foreigners who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows. Do not kill innocent people in this land. 4 If you are careful to obey these commands, then the kings who follow in David’s succession and ride in chariots or on horses will continue to come through the gates of this palace, as will their officials and their subjects. 5 But, if you do not obey these commands, I solemnly swear that this palace will become a pile of rubble. I, the Lord, affirm it!”’ Jeremiah 22:3-5 net
Jeremiah 22 exhorts the people to "do what is just and right" just as YHVH declared were the hallmarks of Abraham's way of life. He further explains that robbery, oppression, exploitation and mistreatment of foreigners and the fatherless or widows, and murder are all unjust behaviors. Did Jeremiah just make up these behaviors on the spot or are these instructions based on a universal truth they already taught? Clearly, these are a direct reference to the commands given in the Torah, not something new. It is this understanding that helps inform us that YHVH truly is the God that never changes, and neither will His standard for what is right and just. He is eternally consistent, and so is His definition of justice.
The reality most of us often ignore or miss is the only method in which we can truly define, determine, or execute any real form of justice is to OBEY YHVH’s commands and instructions. Jeremiah 22 tells the people of Israel they will do justice when they “obey these commands”. What are the commands they are told to obey?
Verse 3 tells answers this question,
“3 The Lord (YHVH) says, “Do what is just and right. Deliver those who have been robbed from those who oppress them. Do not exploit or mistreat resident foreigners who live in your land, children who have no fathers, or widows. Do not kill innocent people in this land.”
YHVH clearly summarizes the basic application of justice centers around how we treat the foreigner, the orphan, the widows, and the innocent. He tells the Hebrews not to exploit, mistreat, or kill people in these vulnerable groups. These commands are given by YHVH (hence the statement "the Lord says") to the people of Israel, which includes anyone else who claims to follow the Hebrew God, YHVH. These commands are laid out in what most people call “the Law”.
The Law, however, wasn’t written down for Abraham and others in the Old Testament, yet they appear to have an understanding of what just behavior was as we read earlier in Genesis 18:19 There is a clue in the passage from Genesis 18:19
“I have chosen him so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord (YHVH) by doing what is right and just. Then the Lord will give to Abraham what he promised him.” Genesis 18:19 net
YHVH says that Abraham will “keep the WAY of YHVH.” There is only one way here. It is clear, just as Abraham will do with his children, he too had been led by his father, and his father before that, in the “way of the Lord.” The Way of the Lord is spelled out in the Torah, in YHVH’s commands, and then taught, reminded, and demonstrated all throughout Biblical history and finally with Yeshua Himself. The author of Proverbs writes it this way, "For the commandment (mitzvoth) is a lamp and the teaching (Torah) a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress." Proverbs 6:23-24 esv How do we define “justice”? We can only define it within the confines of YHVH’s instructions, the Torah. There are no exceptions, this is a hard and fast rule, all other forms of interpreting or implementing justice will lead to destruction and failure. This is exactly the fruit we see from most modern exceptions of "justice" in our society. Man-made ways are unstable and will never lead to truth. This is why we must hold firmly to the truth of Scripture.
Recently, a few evangelical pastors got together to discuss this very topic, and guess what? They also discovered the only way to truly define “justice”, even in the Biblical model, is in the Law, or the Torah, given by YHVH Himself. Take a look at the video below. https://youtu.be/41qKFURMags
Here’s your challenge before reading the next post in this series, familiarize yourself with the commands given to the God’s people in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus and test this article based on the commands you find there. Do you find clear instructions to understand what YHVH's guideline for justice is?
Parts 2-4 in the “Seek Justice” series is available to our monthly subscribers.
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