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Bringing Justice to the Poor
By Dr. Mary Craig
Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness
To the kingís Son. He will judge Your people with righteousness,
And Your Poor with justice. The mountains will bring peace to
The people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He will bring
Justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of
The needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor.
(Psalm 72.1-4 NKJV)
Justice. The word describes the character and activity of God and should distinguish Godís people from others. We could use the word "righteousness" in its place. The Hebrew sadaq incorporates two aspects of one idea, loyalty to a relationship. In the OT righteousness or justice is the fulfillment of the requirements of a relationship, whether with God or with His creation. Each relationship brings with it a set of expectations, a set of commands and demands to be fulfilled. Fulfilling the conditions imposed by the relationship constitutes justice.
Sadaq concerns the right order of things, the correct ordering of the creation according to divine intention. Justice, then, would be conformity to the right order of things as God intended for His creation. Things are to be as they ought to be, as God intended them to be, as God orders them to be.
For example, when weights and measurements are true to what they ought to be, they are just. (Lev. 19.36; Ezekiel 45.10) When sacrifices are true to what they should be, they are just. (Psalm 4.5; 51.19) When God acts in accord with His nature, He is just. He reveals Himself in mighty acts, which are to be remembered and proclaimed and commended to future generations (Psalm 71.15-17; Psalm 66.1-6; Psalm 145, e.g.). Nothing exemplifies Godís justice more than His acts of salvation and deliverance, His saving deeds, and His mercy and forgiveness as He remains loyal to Himself and loyal to His covenant promises. (Psalm 31; 71; Isaiah 46.13; Isaiah 51; Isaiah 61.10, e.g.)
God is faithful to His covenant promise. Godís covenant is a unilateral commitment in which God commits Himself to act toward His chosen covenant partner with unmerited favor or grace, with overwhelming kindness and generosity, with saving mercy. When God faithfully carries out what He has pledged to do in covenant relationship, God is just. When God orders things according to His divine intention, He is just. When God brings low the exalted and raises the lowly, He is just. When God acts for the sake of His name, when He is faithful always to act for His own nameís sake in order to preserve and display His glory, He is just. (Psalm 143; Isaiah 43.25; Isaiah 44.23; 46.13; 48.9-11; Daniel 9)
When God moves in some mighty act of redemption, it is not based on merit or demerit, but on God being true to what He promised in His covenant of grace. In that covenant, God commits Himself to help and to save wretched, undeserving people. Godís justice generally has a positive meaning of deliverance, help, and salvation. Yet within that deliverance of the oppressed comes by implication the destruction of the oppressor. Thus, when Godís judgment falls, the wronged receive mercy while the perpetrators and profiteers receive retributive and remunerative justice.
God rewards His rational creatures in proportion to their works, without partiality (Deut. 10.17; Romans 2 and 3; 1 Thessalonians 1.5-7), acquitting the righteous and condemning the guilty (Exodus 23.7). God judges with infinite wisdom and knowledge, with a commitment to truth, and with a constant integrity. God judges with equity.
When we think about justice, we must inquire into the nature of God. He is the Judge of all the earth who does right. He holds in His hands and heart the eternal destinies of all peoples. Scripture tells us that God loves justice and hates evil. He has compassion for those who experience injustice and seeks to rescue them. He judges and condemns the perpetrators of injustice.
Herman Bavinck notes that Godís righteousness is "usually represented as the principle of the salvation of Godís people," i.e., the "attribute by virtue of which God justifies [acquits] the righteous, and exalts them to glory and honor." (Bavinck, Herman. The Doctrine of God. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1977, Pgs 216, 217) God is just when He grants salvation in accord with His covenant of grace, when He establishes them, helps them, answers them, hears them, delivers and revives them, acquits them, when He demonstrates His lovingkindness to them, when He shows forth His grace to them and forgives their sins. God fights their battles, gives them victory, pours His Spirit into their hearts, grants them a new heart, writes His law in their hearts, and delivers them from sin.
God is just. He cares about the right exercise of authority, how rulers rule. He wants dominion, not domination. He desires a proper use of power, not exploitation. He seeks conformity to His standards of morality and holiness, love and grace, not the strong preying on the weak or the misuse of power. He is against that one who takes from others what God has given them, things like life, dignity, liberty, or the fruit of their own labors. Thus the prophet Nathan tells King David a story about a rich man who used his power and influence to steal a poor manís only lamb to point out Davidís injustice when he used his kingly position to take Uriahís wife and then put Uriah in a place where he would be killed.
When the strong use force and deceit to take from the weak, God will take up the cause of the weak and oppressed and move to fight their enemies. God loves justice. He hates robbery and iniquity. (Isaiah 61.8) Psalms 10-13 will tell you more.
Jeremiah 9.23, 24 reveals Godís passion for justice. "This is what the LORD says: ĎLet not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.í" Doing justice involves pleading the cause of the afflicted and needy. (Jeremiah 22.15, 16)
The just man or woman and the just community are rightly related to God and neighbor. Who are the just? They are the ones who:
When Abraham believed God, Paul says, it was considered justice (Genesis 15; Romans 4.3). When the nation of Israel had faith in God, they were doing their part and considered just. The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2.4) God expects His people to relate in correspondence to His own acts of justice. So, they must not mistreat or oppress aliens, take advantage of the weak and poor, mistreat slaves, defend the cause of the fatherless and widow. (Exodus 22; Deut. 10.18, 19; 23.15, 16; Psalm 76; Psalm 103)
The just or righteous person of the Old Testament is a person of compassion and benevolence, especially toward the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. Thus the righteous in the covenant demonstrate righteousness or justice by dedicating themselves to bringing deliverance and restoration to the needy and afflicted who are unable to help themselves. Faith fulfills the demands of the just personís relationship with God while deeds of mercy fulfill the demands of the just personís relationship with the creation. In Romans we see Paul arguing that faith alone is reckoned as justice before God because he deals with the vertical relationship, while James argues that justice is faith in action on behalf of the destitute because he deals with the horizontal relationship.
Israel had a king. His chief function was that of judge. The two aspects of judgment are justice and wrath. The king was to rule, judge, and execute decisions. The king was to administer justice in Israel, mirroring Godís justice by coming to the aid of the suppressed, repressed, and oppressed. (Jeremiah 21.12; Jeremiah 22.3, 15, 16) The king was Godís representative as well as the peopleís representative. God covenanted with David to establish his royal line forever. Israel was "in David" (2 Samuel 20.1). The prosperity of Israel was bound up with the king. So if the king was just and Godís faithful son, the people were blessed. If the king did not fulfill the conditions of relationship, the entire nation was liable to punitive judgment (2 Samuel 24). If God rejected the king, Israel was rejected also. (Psalm 89)
But what if there were a perfect king? What if a perfect representative of God and of the people ascended the throne as Godís anointed king? Psalm 72 tells us that such a just king would mean that all the blessings of God would come upon the people of God in full measure. The blessings would include peace and security within the community along with abundance of crops, prosperity, fertile fields, and homes. The blessings would be encompassed in shalom, life in its fullness. The instrument for bringing this condition of blessedness would be Godís Messiah, because only as the king stood perfectly in relationship with the Lord and with Israel would such blessedness become a reality. Such a ruler would restore to Israel all the goodness of the creation and perfectly embody Godís justice.
It is Jesus Christ who brings justice to the poor. He delivers the needy and the poor, those who have no helper. He takes up the cause of the oppressed. The Spirit of the LORD is upon Him, which has anointed Him to preach good news to the poor; He has sent Him to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4.18, 19)
By the time Jesus came from heaven into history, born of a woman, born under the Law, His message and deeds surprised the Jews and offended the current principles of justice. Jesus told the people to seek first Godís kingdom and His justice, or righteousness. (Matthew 6.33) Jesus overturned the prevailing ideas of justice. For Jesus, there was no such thing as moral ambiguity. He had no confusion about right and wrong. He wasnít noncommittal. He has a passion for justice and teaches it through stories.
When Jesus taught justice in the parable of the prodigal son, it seemed outrageous! The younger son wants his inheritance, goes off and squanders everything, lives with the pigs, and then wants to return home. As he comes to his senses, returns, and repents of his sins before his father, he is not only welcomed with open arms; he is rewarded. The elder brother comes off as self-righteous and unwarranted in his anger, yet he is the one who remained loyal and faithful to serve the father. What kind of wisdom and justice is this? Why didnít the younger brother get what he deserved for disgracing the family name, shirking responsibility, and living like the dregs of society? But Jesus defines the core concepts of justice in this story--love, faith, and grace.
Jesus teaches that Godís justice means a determination and commitment to aid the oppressed. Godís justice favors those who are wretched, deprived, poor, and needy. Godís justice finds expression in mercy. Godís justice brings salvation to those who come to their senses and return to the Father in faith, trusting in His goodness. Godís justice calls for celebration. Godís justice lifts up the poor and levels the proud.
Jesus went out of His way to speak to outcasts of society, applaud a widowís offering, help the ignorant, heal the sick, remember the poor. He identified Himself with the shepherd, an occupation which made it impossible to abide by Sabbath regulations. He is the Good Shepherd. He hung around with Galileans, who had inadequate instruction in the law. He ate with tax collectors, renegade Jews serving the enemy. He spoke and helped women of ill repute. He forever elevated a Samaritan to Good Samaritan, when Samaritans did not worship at Jerusalem and were despised in the current society. He approved the faith of Gentile dogs, a centurion who understood authority and a woman who sought healing for her daughter. He raised the dead, cleansed lepers, and blessed children.
In going to those counted as outside the law and outside the holy community, Jesus brought justice to the poor. He proclaimed to them the good news that those who were deprived of their dignity would be special objects of Godís justice as He identified Himself with the suppressed, the depressed, the oppressed, and the repressed. He bore their curse and experienced rejection. In His humiliation He was deprived of justice (Acts 8.33; Isaiah 53.8). He is so much on the side of the poor that He became such Himself.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He
Was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His
Poverty might be rich. (2 Corinthians 8.9)
In bringing justice to the poor, Jesus took up the cause of the oppressed, the condemned, wretched, forsaken sinner. He died a degrading death and was crucified in weakness. He experienced cursedness, condemnation, and forsakenness. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He justified Jesus. He kept His promise to deliver the oppressed. Jesus was delivered for our offenses and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4.25) God executed a liberating justice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He
Might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3.18)
Faith in Jesus Christ brings a righteousness that is by faith. By virtue of Christís righteousness God forgives and grants His righteousness to believers, who are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3.24) The atoning work of Christ demonstrates Godís justice as He is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3.25, 26)
The question becomes: Are you poor? Oppressed? Wretched? Forsaken? Are you like the publican who would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but cried out to God for mercy because he was a sinner? Or are you like the Pharisee who stood and prayed with himself, thanking God that he was not as other menÖextorting others, unjust, adulterers, or like that publican over there. The Pharisee fasted twice a week and gave tithes. But Jesus justified the publican, not the Pharisee. Jesus said, "everyone that exalts himself shall be abased; and the one that humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18.14)
To misuse power and authority insults God and shows contempt for Him (Proverbs 14.31). God calls it sin, and it brings the wrath of God. Jesus brings justice to the poor. The one who knows he is a sinner and cries out for mercy will receive mercy. He will find in Jesus Christ a Savior, a just King, a Redeemer, a Deliverer, the LORD.
You might pray something like this: Dear Lord Jesus, I am poorÖpoor in spirit, in need of a Savior, in need of salvation, lacking wisdom. I have exploited others, dominated and manipulated others, shown contempt for your compassion and grace, used deceit and whatever power and authority I have been given to rob others of their God-given dignity, liberties, and rights. Please forgive my sins and my iniquity. It is my desire to repent of my sins and turn to follow You. I know that You are God; that You came in the flesh and fulfilled all righteousness; that You died to pay for my sins and rose again from the dead. I know that You sit at the right hand of the Father in all majesty as King and Lord and Christ/ Messiah. I come to You in faith, believing. I ask You to give me the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Paraclete. I ask You to save me to the uttermost and give me eternal life. Grant me great grace. Thank You. Amen.
Copyright © 2004 Mary Craig Ministries, Inc.
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