Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Finding Justice in the Bible - Part 7

They have also been referred to as retributive justice and distributive justice. The first deals with the punishment of crimes and holding people accountable for their sins. The second deals with the ordering of society in a way that provides for the needs of the people. Both types of justice are covered in God’s law.


Witness Requirements – A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained. – Deuteronomy 19:15

Cities of Refuge – “You shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, so that a slayer who kills a person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, so that the slayer may not die until there is a trial before the congregation. – Numbers 35:9-12

Tempered Response – “If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Exodus 21:23-25


Tithe – “Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites…resident aliens, orphans and widows…may come and eat their fill.” Deut. 14:28-29

Gleaning – When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest…you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:9-10, Deut. 24:21-22

Sabbath – If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free…you shall not send him out empty-handed. – Deut: 15:12-18, see Exodus 20:8-11

Jubilee – And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. – Lev. 25:10

“Vengence is mine,” says the Lord. God knew that his people were prone to violence; a violence that desecrated the image in which humanity was made (remember Genesis 6:11, 9:6). So, God instituted laws of justice that could temper humanity’s natural, violent response so that justice could be done. Comparatively, Israel’s laws were merciful than many of the surrounding cultures. Again, the reason is that each human being is made in the image of God and it would be unjust to dismiss that life based on false witness or in the heat of revenge.

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God new that his people were prone to be hard-hearted and tight-fisted (see Deut. 15:7ff). So, God instituted laws of justice that would call for regular and generous distribution of grain and land. No man or woman, because they were made in God’s image, was to be deserted to a life of slavery. They had been called to co-create with God, to bring order and beauty to the world. It was not a vocation that could be carried out in slavery. God’s laws of economic justice ensured that no one would be stuck in a cycle of poverty and no generation would suffer injustice without relief.

The Lord would set up judges over the land to maintain these rituals. Israel would be unique in this way as well, but not for long. Their insecurity, hard-heartedness, and tight-fistedness would lead them down a different path. Instead of pursuing justice and only justice, they would pursue the path of the other nations. God would not be happy about it.

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