18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgement. 19 You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
The terms justice and just are often used these days, but there is never a clear definition of what is meant by the term. Just recently I went to a Consumer Congress, and the word justice was used in the context of business ethics. Justice was presented as an important element in the code of ethics that relate to business transactions; but then the examples of justice were situational and variable depending upon the context.
In the text above, the Scriptures talk of "just judgment" and that which is "altogether just" and commands that "you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous."
The Greek and Hebrew words that are translated justice and righteousness contain the full range of meanings that are translated into the two English words, which have been, over time, made to mean different things. In the Hebrew and Greek, that which is just is also that which is righteous, and that which is righteous is also that which is just.
What does righteous mean? Very simply, a righteous act is the right act. It is a universally right act; it is right for the poor and it is right for the rich; it is right for men, and it is right for women; it is right for adults and it is right for children; it is right for Chinese and it is right for Germans, or any from any other nationality. That which is right is right, and that which is wrong is wrong; and they are always right and wrong in every circumstance.
Only a God can determine that which is right and that which is wrong; that which is good and that which is evil. This is the theme of the Two Trees of the Garden of Eden again. God is not existential. His justice and righteousness is not situational. However, at the same time as God is just, He is also merciful, and has provided for a dispensing of justice with a consideration of intent.
Murder is murder, and the soul that murders must die. However, God appointed that there be cities of refuge set apart for those who had no intention in their act that resulted in the death of another; such an accidental killing we call manslaughter. Manslaughter is wrong, and required a just penalty, but the penalty was a restriction of liberty during the lifetime of the High Priest. On the other hand, God commands that the premeditated murderer, on the testimony of two or more witnesses, was to be killed without mercy. Today, murderers walk away on the basis of technicalities, murderers are protected by legislation (in the case of murderers of pre-born babies), murderers plead diminished responsibility. This is a miscarriage of justice; this is an unrighteous situation.
Theft is theft, and the soul that steals must pay back the victim up to seven times. Where it can be proved that theft was the result of desperation, then there is a case for a diminished restitution, but justice demands restitution, even including temporary slavery until the thief has worked for the victim equal to the amount that was stolen plus a determined amount that represents compensation for the loss. On the other hand, where theft is demonstrated to be a lifestyle that avoids productive labour, then the restitution is to be up to seven times the amount stolen, or longer periods of slavery. The hardened thief, who repeat offends, is to be killed. This is justice; this is the right thing to do. Such justice is mediated by the courts, but the restitution is from the thief to the victim, not to a nebulous "society." Putting a thief in jail, for instance, as an expression of payment to society without restitution to the victim, is a miscarriage of justice and is an unrighteous act.
There will never be justice in the market place until God's Law is applied in every area of life. There will never be justice, until godly judges judge according to the Law of God without favour and without prejudice. Such judges need to be aware of their own need of justice, and that God has shown them mercy, therefore they need to make judgements of others in the context of the mercy of the Triune God as displayed through the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We will not see justice in our courts until there is justice in our homes and justice in our churches. The road to impartial justice begins with the first steps of applying God's Law to everything that we do as individuals, fathers of families, members and leaders of churches, city leaders, leaders of ethno nation groups and geo-political nations. Justice is a bottom up application of the Law of God, and can never be imposed from above without universal consent.
The road back to justice will be a slow one, and it will be one person and one family at a time. We cannot give up because the task is difficult, but we cannot short cut the process either. Many of us will suffer at the hands of unjust men and women, but we must continue to declare the justice and mercy of our God. In time, God, by the work of His Word and the activity of His Holy Spirit will change the hearts and minds of many, and sometime, maybe not in our lifetime, all the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. At that time there shall be universal justice and all things shall be done righteously, as men and women live in the fear of God, and the knowledge of His mercy expressed in His love displayed in the atonement of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
"He has shown you O man what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Amen! Let it be so.