TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

I.  Justice in Action

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Chapter 32  Part I

Justice in Action

Topics encompassed by the theme of justice together form a very large proportion of what the Bible says about how to relate to other people. It is essential that we incorporate the Bible’s teaching on these topics into our own lives. In doing so, we must be mindful that acting justly involves not only doing what is right ourselves; it also involves ensuring that others are treated fairly – notably the needy.

Do What Is Just and Right

Practice justice and so act justly

Deut 16:20  [Moses, to the Israelites:] You must pursue justice alone so that you may live and inherit the land the Lord your God is giving you.  NET

Mic 6:8  No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.  GNT

Do what is right . . .

Isa 1:17  [God:] 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!  NET

Prov 21:3  To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.  ISV

. . . Do no wrong to others

Ps 15:2b-3  [David, speaking of righteous people:] Such people speak the truth from their hearts 3and do not tell lies about others. They do no wrong to their neighbors and do not gossip.  NCV™

Strive to do what is right in the eyes of both God and people

2Cor 8:21  [Paul:] We intend to do what is right, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of people.  ISV

Acting justly brings blessing

Ps 106:3  Blessed are those who defend justice and do what is right at all times.  GW

Ps 112:5  It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.  ESV

Injustice brings God’s judgment

Ezek 9:9b-10  [God:] “The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is extremely great; the land is full of murder, and the city is full of corruption, for they say, ‘The Lord has abandoned the land, and the Lord does not see!’ 10But as for me, my eye will not pity them nor will I spare them; I hereby repay them for what they have done.”  NET

 Questions for Section A

Administering Justice

Administer and maintain justice

Jer 21:12  Each new day, make sure that justice is done, and rescue those who are being robbed. Or else my anger will flame up like a fire that never goes out.  CEV

Isa 56:1  This is what the Lord says: Preserve justice, and do what is right. My salvation is about to come. My righteousness is about to be revealed.  GW

Judge justly

Zec 8:16b  [God, to the people of Judah:] Practice true and righteous judgment in your courts.  NET

Do not show favoritism in judging . . .

Lev 19:15  [God, to the Israelites:] You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly.  NET

. . . Nor show favoritism in other matters

1Tim 5:21  [Paul, to Timothy:] Before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, I solemnly charge you to carry out these commands without prejudice or favoritism of any kind.  NET

Further instructions about legal judgments

Ezek 44:24a  [God:] In all disputes the priests must act as judges and make decisions based on my laws.  GW

Deut 19:15  [Moses, to the Israelites:] One witness is not enough to convict a man of a crime; at least two witnesses are necessary to prove that a man is guilty.  GNT

John 7:51  [Nicodemus:] “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?”  NET

A person must not be condemned without first being given a hearing.

Have the same laws for foreigners as for the native-born

Lev 24:22  [God, to the Israelites:] “‘The law will be the same for the foreigner as for those from your own country. I am the Lord your God.’”  NCV™

Note: Avoid going to court

Matt 5:25  If someone brings a lawsuit against you and takes you to court, settle the dispute with him while there is time, before you get to court. Once you are there, he will hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, and you will be put in jail.  GNT

 Questions for Section B

Justice and the Needy (I): Instructions

Aiding the needy and fighting poverty are very much matters of justice. Bear in mind: “…overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” – Nelson Mandela

Do not mistreat the needy

Zec 7:10  You must not oppress the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, or the poor, nor should anyone secretly plot evil against his fellow human being.  NET

Defend the cause of the needy

Ps 82:3-4  Defend the weak and the orphans; defend the rights of the poor and suffering. 4Save the weak and helpless; free them from the power of the wicked.  NCV™

Prov 31:8-9  “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of all those who have nothing. 9Speak up and judge fairly, and defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  NCV™

Give to the needy . . .

Acts 10:2  Cornelius was a religious man. He and all the other people who lived in his house worshiped the true God. He gave much of his money to the poor and prayed to God often.  NCV™

. . . Provide the needy with food and clothing

Luke 3:11  John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.”  NET

Acts 9:36, 39  Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which in translation means Dorcas). She was continually doing good deeds and acts of charity.39So Peter got up and went with them, and when he arrived they brought him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing Dorcas used to make while she was with them.  NET

Even sell your possessions so as to give to the poor

Luke 12:33  [Jesus:] Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out – a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  NET

Acts 2:45  They [the believers] made it their practice to sell their possessions and goods and to distribute the proceeds to anyone who was in need.  ISV

Note: Treat foreigners the same as your native-born

Lev 19:34  The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.  NET

Note that in Israel foreigners (or aliens) were generally seen as being vulnerable and needy (cf. Zec 7:10 ⇑).

 Questions for Section C

Justice and the Needy (II): Insights

Defending and providing for the needy are a vital part of true religion

Jer 22:15b-16a  [God, referring to King Josiah:] He always did right— he gave justice to the poor and was honest. 16That’s what it means to truly know me.  CEV

James 1:27  Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  NET

Providing for the needy is associated with righteousness

Matt 25:37-40  Then the righteous will answer him [the king, Jesus Christ], ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’  NET

Meeting the needs of “these brothers or sisters of mine” (v. 40) is correlated here with being identified as “righteous” (v. 37; cf. v. 46). Note that “these brothers of mine” probably refers primarily to Christians, here obviously ones who had been in need.

Providing for the needy brings oneself blessing . . .

Prov 19:17  The one who is gracious to the poor lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed.  NET

Luke 6:38  [Jesus:] Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive.  NET

Quite possibly Jesus has giving to the poor primarily in view. This teaching is at least inclusive of it.

. . . but giving to the needy must be done in an appropriate manner

Matt 6:1-4  [Jesus:] Be careful! When you do good things, don’t do them in front of people to be seen by them. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“When you give to the poor, don’t be like the hypocrites. They blow trumpets in the synagogues and on the streets so that people will see them and honor them. I tell you the truth, those hypocrites already have their full reward. 3So when you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know what you are doing. 4Your giving should be done in secret. Your Father can see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.  NCV™

Blessings include one’s own needs being met . . .

Ps 41:1  How blessed is the one who treats the poor properly! When trouble comes, the Lord delivers him.  NET

2Cor 9:7-8  [Paul, to the Corinthian believers:] Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.  NET

Those who give to the needy will be blessed by God with all that they need. This includes what they need for themselves, as well as for “every good work”, such as further giving to others.

. . . There will also be reward in the afterlife

1Tim 6:18-19  [Paul, instructing Timothy what to teach believers:] Tell them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous givers, sharing with others. 19In this way they will save up a treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the future and so lay hold of what is truly life.  NET

The phrase “the future” (v. 19) appears to have the afterlife in view (cf. NIV).

God will punish those who mistreat the needy

Prov 22:22-23  Do not exploit a poor person because he is poor and do not crush the needy in court, 23for the Lord will plead their case and will rob those who are robbing them.  NET

Ezek 22:29, 31  [God:] The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the foreigner who lives among them and denied them justice.31So I have poured my anger on them, and destroyed them with the fire of my fury. I hereby repay them for what they have done, declares the sovereign Lord.  NET

God will punish those who ignore the needy

Matt 25:41-46  “Then he [Jesus Christ] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  NET

 Questions for Section D

OT Structured Provisions for the Needy

Although some of the OT structured provisions for the needy may not be readily applicable in modern societies, they nevertheless provide principles and concepts that are relevant to all societies.

The providing of produce for the needy

Lev 19:9-10  When you harvest your grain, always leave some of it standing along the edges of your fields and don’t pick up what falls on the ground. 10Don’t strip your grapevines clean or gather the grapes that fall off the vines. Leave them for the poor and for those foreigners who live among you. I am the Lord your God.  CEV

Deut 26:12  Every year you are to give ten percent of your harvest to the Lord. But every third year, this ten percent must be given to the poor who live in your town, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. That way, they will have enough to eat.  CEV

The prohibiting of taking interest or profit from the poor

Lev 25:35-37  If your brother becomes impoverished and is indebted to you, you must support him; he must live with you like a foreign resident. 36Do not take interest or profit from him, but you must fear your God and your brother must live with you. 37You must not lend him your money at interest and you must not sell him food for profit.  NET

The canceling of fellow Israelites’ debts every seven years

Deut 15:1-2  At the end of every seven years you must declare a cancellation of debts. 2This is the nature of the cancellation: Every creditor must remit what he has loaned to another person; he must not force payment from his fellow Israelite, for it is to be recognized as “the Lord’s cancellation of debts.”  NET

The release of Israelite servants every seven years

Deut 15:12  If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you.  ESV

The year of jubilee

Lev 25:10  So you must consecrate the fiftieth year, and you must proclaim a release in the land for all its inhabitants. That year will be your jubilee; each one of you must return to his property and each one of you must return to his clan.  NET

In the year of jubilee there was to be “a release” for those who were in bondage. As such, poor people were able to return to and reclaim ancestral property that they had sold (cf. vv. 28, 31, 33), and any poor person who had sold himself to work for another (cf. v. 39) was to be released (cf. vv. 40-41).

The right of redemption for Israelite servants and of ancestral land

Lev 25:47-49  If a resident foreigner who is with you prospers and your brother becomes impoverished with regard to him so that he sells himself to a resident foreigner who is with you or to a member of a foreigner’s family, 48after he has sold himself he retains a right of redemption. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or anyone of the rest of his blood relatives – his family – may redeem him, or if he prospers he may redeem himself.  NET

Lev 25:23-24  [God:] The land must not be sold without reclaim because the land belongs to me, for you are foreigners and residents with me. 24In all your landed property you must provide for the right of redemption of the land.  NET

Israelite servants (cf. Lev 25:47-49 ) and ancestral land (cf. Lev 25:23-24 ) could be redeemed (i.e. bought back) at any time for an appropriate price.

 Questions for Section E

Pray for persecuted Christians