Growing up, whenever I heard people talk about biblical justice, it was always associated with giving some confirmed criminal what they deserved. That concept of ‘biblical justice’ seems to have come from the idea that God – especially from their perspective of Old Testament times – is leaning forward on His throne just looking to punish people. As a teen I used to believe the same thing having heard lots of ‘hell fire and brimstone’ preaching from the pulpit.
But that’s not at all what we see in God’s Word, even in the Old Testament when God certainly rained down fire on the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah, sent Israel into 70 years of captivity, and disciplined or punished others by His righteousness for their rebellion. There are at a two themes that put His wrath into context and reveal the actual heart of God – the heart for justice that calls us to love others in the same way. First, let’s look at a theme in the book of Ezekiel during a season of Israel’s life in which the Lord was particularly stern with them.
In Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11, the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel to relay to the people that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Rather, He longs for them to turn away from their self-destructive ways, to turn to Him and experience all the joys and securities of life under their sovereign King and Savior. Like any good parent, whenever the Lord inflicts or allows pain, it is for the purpose of restoring His wayward children to Himself.
Secondly, look at the theme of ‘justice’ throughout the Old Testament. Exodus 23:1-9 sets the tone: the heart of the concern is not so much giving the wicked what they deserve (although that certainly is just) but rather giving the hurting what they need. Specific pictures of the care of justice continue in Deuteronomy 24:17, Job 37:23, Proverbs 18:5 and 29:7, Isaiah 1:17, 10:2, 11:4, Jeremiah 9:24, 21:12, Ezekiel 22:29, 34:16, Amos 2:7, 5:12, Zechariah 7:9, and Malachi 3:5. And the Lord Jesus confirmed that the heart of biblical justice is caring for the hurting when He put justice on the same par with mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) and the help that the hurting would receive when they call on Him (Luke 18:3-8).
Few of us have or ever will have the responsibility to arrest felons, prosecute repeat offenders, or pronounce sentences on the guilty. But all of us have daily duties and opportunities to help the hurting. And it can be very simple. Just look to see what is lacking in their experience of practical care that glorifies the Lord Jesus.
For example, just this past month, I had several trips that put me in crowded shuttles and planes week after week. The frantic pace with loads of luggage were only an inconvenience to me since I was traveling alone. But some were traveling as families with small children.
On most airlines (not all, I’ve discovered), the seats are assigned so people are packed tight. On the shuttles to and from parking, however, most people spread out – at least in every other seat. I get that. I like my man-space, too.
But on one trip I saw a couple with several children and bags get on the crowded bus. From the cartoon figures on the smaller luggage, l assume they were on vacation to a theme park. I watched them struggle as the driver waited patiently for them to stow their bags and sit in the scattered seats. The younger children looked around, and looked up at their parents. They knew their parents could hold a couple of them on their laps but not all of them, and they were visibly nervous at being separated. I couldn’t help all of them sit together, but there was a space on either side of me. If I stood up I would create space for three.
I thought “…I’ll give ’em the chair.”
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