Exploring Deuteronomy Week 11: Let Justice Roll On
Pastor Dan’s sermon, “Justice” in the Not By Bread Alone series is available here.
So many good things in this sermon! This week Pastor Dan shared with us God’s instructions about justice in Deuteronomy. The Israelites were not to pervert justice or show partiality (Deut. 16:19). If the Israelites followed the way of justice, they would be able to enjoy the land God was giving to them. Deuteronomy goes on to say the Israelites shouldn’t take advantage of their workers (Deut. 24:14-15). Instead, they are to be generous to the foreigner, the poor, the orphan and the widow. They should leave the extras of their crops for them and include them in their holiday celebrations. Israel is to do this because they were once slaves in Egypt. They know what it’s like to be the foreigner, to be the stranger. And, most importantly, they have a God who has saved them, and it is His merciful character they are to imitate.
Israel, however, fails to do this. They do not obey God’s law, they do not love one another, and they do not worship God alone. So by the time we get to the prophets in the Bible, we see God calling for repentance — He wants the people to turn around and go the other direction.
One of the prophets — Amos — talks extensively to Israel about the concept of justice. Amos tells Israel that God will take away the blessing of the land from them because they have gone so far astray — justice is going out crookedly in their land. Amos says that Israel sells the needy for a pair of sandals and they trample on the heads of the poor. They worship false gods and blaspheme the name of the Lord. The courts are corrupt and justice is not given to the oppressed.
So because Israel has refused to bring justice, God will allow them to be invaded. It is precisely because Israel corrupts justice that they lose the blessing of their land. In Amos 5:24, we get to a famous verse that, in context, shows us that if we refuse to promote justice, God will bring it swiftly and with overwhelming power: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Yes, God gets upset when the ways of justice are ignored. This is because He is true and right and good. His nature is merciful, compassionate and just. So when Amos comes to Israel and repeats their sins, it is because what they are doing is so contrary to God’s goodness and compassion for those who are in need. In fact, throughout the Bible, God’s justice is seen as compassionate. Christopher Wright puts it this way:
“God’s justice is paired with his grace and compassion; indeed, in Isaiah 30:18 God’s justice is the reason for his compassion, which sounds odd in ears accustomed to thinking of justice only in terms of punishment and judgment:
‘Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!’
Thus it is clear that for Israel the whole idea of justice was wrapped up with the qualities and characteristics of the Lord, their God, and especially connected to the covenant relationship between Israel and the Lord. Justice is essentially relational and covenantal.” (Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, p. 258)
Justice is relational and covenantal. This is why I loved how Pastor Dan talked about justice with us on Sunday — bringing it back to the ultimate picture of justice we see in the Bible. Christ’s death on the cross in our place is the supreme act of justice. The problem of sin was solved by Christ being willing to take our place, to die for our sins. In one moment, God’s justice was satisfied as His mercy was magnificently displayed. It reminds me of the Jeremy Riddle song, “Sweetly Broken,” in which he says,
To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing
For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just
God is love. God is just. Amen.