Justice and Righteousness

In Deuteronomy 16, corporate Israel receives a charge from Yahweh to be devoted to justice:

“You (Israel) shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Our notions of justice are perhaps incomplete compared to the biblical concept of the term. We think of justice in terms of perpetrators being caught and being “brought to justice” for their crimes. A society where crime is punished is considered a just one; where crime goes unchecked, injustice runs rampant.

While that certainly hits on one element of biblical justice, the term is used in a much broader fashion and is often synonymous with the notion of righteousness. The society God wills is not so much a culture of retributive justice but one that hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). In the kingdom of God, this hunger for justice and righteousness will be fully realized. It is the world Amos imaginatively conjured when he wrote, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” (5:24).

What is surprising to many is the revelation that justice and righteousness are not reserved for some ethereal, immaterial, “spiritual” afterlife experience. The biblical testimony is clear that God wills for justice and righteousness to break into the present, infiltrating every nook and cranny of this world NOW with activity that bears witness to the One who truly embodies righteousness and justice. The injustices of our present experience seem to leave us with the impression that we can do little to stem the tide of disorder and unrighteousness in our world; the testimony of Scripture illumines another path and imagines an alternative way of being. In the stream of the great prophetic voices in Israel’s history, this path is the way of justice and righteousness.

May He continue to empower us to be His conduits of justice in the created order.

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