Old Testament Justice

Through my experiences in church I have noticed that many people seem to stray away from the Old Testament. A common message I hear from fellow believers is the view point that the Old Testament God is terrifying, fear provoking, and violent, and the New Testament God is full of love and compassion. Yes the Old Testament has stories of entire cities being destroyed, wars between nations, and punishment of evildoers, but between these passages are laws, stories, messages, and prayers of love.

Many comments I hear are centered on the word justice. The idea of justice in the Old Testament doesn’t need to be associated the concept of divine retribution and punishment. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word mishpat means “justice” and “its various forms occurs more than two hundred times . . . Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably . . .[it] means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means to give people their rights” (Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, p. 3).

Scattered throughout the entire Old Testament are passages filled with God caring for the vulnerable, seeking love for all people, and calling us, His people, to follow after Him. And they are centered upon the word justice.

“Do not deny justice to your people in their lawsuits.” ~Exodus 23:6

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” ~Leviticus 19:15

“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow. Then all people shall say, ‘Amen!’” ~Deuteronomy 27:19

“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” ~Psalms 140:12

“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.” ~Ezekiel 22:29

“And what does the Lord require of you, but do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” ~Micah 6:8

These are simply snippets of many more passages within just the Old Testament. You cannot read these passages and not feel a calling to justice. In the book Generous Justice by Timothy Keller (which I am currently working through), he provides the explanation that, “Nevertheless, if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creation of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God” (18).

God is calling each one of us to life of justice, a life filled with out pouring love to all people and where all people are treated with equality and rightly. Nowhere in the Old or New Testament does God call us to life of justice that means judging others and seeking retribution in His name. God was love then, He is love now, and He will continue to be eternally. We are simply called to follow after him, fulfilling his justice onto the world.

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