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We can have ethical true justice for all. How it was in former times and how we can apply it today.
True justice in the Old Testament is a major point of contention because of its apparent cruelty. I say apparently, because from a humanistic point-of-view, which we, in the West have, harsh application of punishment is a sore issue.
Before we can discuss true Justice, we must discuss the framework. Why does a loving God treat people this way? And to add fuel to the fire, why does God treat His own chosen nation this way? Assimilate the overview first, then we can discuss individual laws.
First Principle: God’s People are Holy Morally Clean
That’s quite a dogmatic affirmation. How can The Explanation support such a statement, especially the first one? The Bible says so, as you can see in the next verse. We are talking about major principles here and there has to be some sort of order in their presentation. Here are a couple of connecting lines. First, the Bible confirms this holiness in the Old Testament for UNconverted people, God’s chosen nation was not a God-respecting, accommodating people, to the contrary.
In the New Testament, I hope it goes without saying God’s people, His Assembly is a holy one. We’ll see what that means in just a second. Second, we could ask, why does God want His people to be holy? The quick answer is God is Holy, and we are created in His image. So, we should be holy too. But there’s an even more important reason I’ll discuss in a couple of weeks when we discuss the nature of God and His people as sons and daughters, a family relationship. Suffice to say, God’s people is a holy people.
6 For you are an holy (H6918) people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a special people to himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.
9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
A holy nation. That’s a religious word used frequently, having lost much of its meaning. Here is the Biblical Hebrew.
קָדוֹשׁ qâdôwsh kaw-doshe’; or קָדֹשׁ; from H6942 (קָדַשׁ); sacred (ceremonially or morally); (as noun) God (by eminence), an angel, a saint, a sanctuary:
KJV – holy (One), saint.
קָדַשׁ qâdash kaw-dash’; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally):
KJV – appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy(-er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify(-ied one, self), ⨯ wholly.
The key to retain is clean morally. God wants His people to be clean in the conduct of their lives. A verse in Ephesians says the same thing. “That he (Christ) might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish, (Eph. 5:27)” God’s Church with no spot, no moral spot, holy, without blemish, clean and pristine.
Morally clean is just as valid in the Old Testament era. Strong’s comment is ceremonially clean. Yes, there’s a lot of ceremony with the washings and clothing, but it goes much further than that. God wants the lifestyle of his nation to be decent. In particular, the behavior of each citizen of His nation. And I remind you we’re talking about an unconverted nation. As an aside, if you think you’re living in a Godly nation, ask yourself the question, does my nation possess a clean moral lifestyle?
This is a fundamental Godly principle, throughout God’s Word, Old and New Testaments. God’s people are holy, pure and clean. We cannot go into details without this clarification. This does not mean God’s people are perfect, no human can be. It means God’s converted people are leading their lives God’s way and have accepted the death of Christ to pay for their sins. Only God’s forgiveness makes us clean and holy. It means that even those who don’t believe in God lead decent lives. God wants His nation(s) to be a special people (Deut. 7:6) examples of clean living. That’s why there must be true justice.
Second Principle: Definition of clean. Keeping God’s way,
What does it mean to lead our lives God’s way? Deut. 7:9 already answered that, “love Him and keep His Commandments.” It doesn’t end there, “to a thousand generations.” Many read that and think its hyperbole, an exaggeration to emphasize how much Old Testament Israel was to keep the commandments. But the New Testament, Biblewide corroboration confirms that believers must still keep the New Testament commandments (John 14:15, 15:10). At 20 years per generation, that’s 20,000 years. We’re well within those 20k years, we’re still to be clean, as a nation of God and as God respecting individuals.
We can sum up “keeping God’s commandments” by citing the Two Great Commandments. But remember, “on them hang ALL the law.” These are the principles of the law of the Old Testament.
You can group ALL the hundreds of verses about God’s laws, statutes, judgments into two groups. The way to love God and the way to love your neighbor. These two principles have never changed and never will.
Summary, To be holy is to keep God’s commandments. Be careful with this statement. Remember, being holy is not the same as being saved. Being holy does not get you saved. Keeping God’s commandments is not what saves anyone. We are saved by Christ and only by Christ. I hope that’s clear.
But are we to be holy? The Bible says yes. So, regardless of salvation, we are to keep the commandments, love God and love your neighbor on these hang all the law. This applies in OT and NT times, then and now.
Third Principle: Free choice in Old Testament and New Testament
We ALL, every human being, have free choice. In the Old and New Testaments, everybody has a choice. That choice is between TWO TREES. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Death.
- We can choose God’s way, His cleanliness, holiness and Christ’s Sacrifice, In other words, the Tree of Life.
2. We can choose to do it our, my way, according to MY definition of good and evil. In other words, the Tree of Death.
These are not always easy choices. In fact, they are very difficult ones in real life. I realize we are bound by certain siituations depending on our position in life and we don’t have the freedom we need. Nonetheless, there are two ways in front of us, all our lives, and each moment, and each of us has free will to make their own decisions.
Fourth Principle: Physical precedes the Spiritual
There is, however, one aspect that has radically changed between these two dispensations, the fulcrum point being Christ’s First Coming. BEFORE God dealt with the PHYSICAL nation of Israel. AFTER God works with the SPIRITUAL nation of His Church.
The physical precedes AND prefigures the spiritual. The implications of what The Explanation expounds here are vital to understand. They are foundational regarding God’s plan for humankind.
In the Old Testament they had to keep the letter of the law in their bodies. If not, true justice is applied. For the innocent, the Tree of Life. For the guilty, the Tree of Death. it was a literal application of the appropriate punishment to fit the crime. Necessary to maintain true Justice and peace in a physical nation. That may sound harsh, but that’s exactly what justice in all nations does today, with more or less success.
In the New Testament, we have to keep the spirit of the law in our minds (which obviously expresses itself by loving God and neighbor through our bodily actions). Otherwise God’s true justice will be applied. In NT the ultimate punishment is the Tree of the second death (Revelation 21:8). The ultimate blessing is the Tree of Life, escaping the second death (Revelation 20:6) to be the priests (rulers and teachers) of God for eternity.
Fifth Principle: Death in the Old Testament is First Death, then comes a Resurrection
We don’t have space to elaborate here, Read Life Prevails for details. The bottom line is the death penalty existed and God and the Israelites practiced it under the Old Covenant. However, those who died are not condemned eternally. There is a first death followed by a resurrection according to God’s plan. Death is sorrowful, but there’s hope for all the dead in the future.
Whereas most people are aware of the horrific death penalty both in our world, and especially in the Old Testament with a loving God, which they cannot figure out and explain. Even theologians deny that it was ever applied or avoid answering the question. It’s there in black and white, so to speak. On the other hand, the resurrection is also there in black and white and few comprehend this applies to giving life to ALL dead, including the worst sinners and those who were punished by the death penalty under the Old Covenant. True justice maintains peace, that is God’s goal, then, now, and in the future.
When the time comes for the resurrection of all people, there will be enough priests and teachers to handle them properly. Those priests and teachers will make healthy use of their spiritual tools. They will have the wisdom to know how to help even those who were the most depraved during their first life.
When this fifth principle is understood and integrated into one’s knowledge base, one’s mind then it becomes easier to understand God’s true justice, including the why and how of its workings.
God chose a nation and gave them land and leaders.
Here’s an overview of how true justice worked in ancient Israel. Again, these principles can be applied to modern justice to maintain law and order, or put another way, peace and quiet for persons and the general population. God set up the nation in a territory and says who to establish as rulers. Notice, in verse 15, the hierarchy, that there were sufficient responsible people throughout the tribes.
1 These be the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, 3 And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month,
8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after them.
13 Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.
14 And you answered me, and said, The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do.
15 So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.
He appoints judges, judging fairly in the gates.
In the same way, the nation established officers for the cause of true justice. From the local to the tribal to the national level, there were competent judges to apply true justice. Notice that court sessions took place at the gates. Everyone passed by this location. We’re talking about public hearings. Notice how in few words the law defines the demeanor of judges.
Judges and officers shall thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD your God gives you, throughout your tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.
19 Thou shall not wrest judgment; you shall not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift does blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
The following verses show the extent and the equity of true justice. The foreigner had the same rights and obligations as the Israelites, there was equity between the rich and poor. Judges were not to be intimidated and they could say they were not competent is the case was beyond them. There was a Supreme or Higher Court.
16 And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.
17 Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.
God gives humans obligation to apply true justice
Immediately after Noah’s flood, God passed responsibility of judging humans to humans (Gen. 9:5-6). That injunction was still in effect in Paul’s time, some 2000 years ago after the First Coming of Christ. Hence, it is still in effect today. Society, governorship, countries and people change, but the principles applying to true justice remain in human hands for application. Please notice that I said the principles of the law. The Explanation has expounded on the development and application of the law from Mose’s time to Solomon’s time, notably in the book of Proverbs.
5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. 6 Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Psalm 82:3-4 2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. 3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. 4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. Proverbs 21:3, 29:4 3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. 4 The king by judgment establishes the land: but he that receives gifts overthrows it.
5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
6 Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
Proverbs 21:3, 29:4
3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
4 The king by judgment establishes the land: but he that receives gifts overthrows it.
Here are different categories of true justice. Space lacks to give many verses both in Proverbs, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. An interesting study is to find the same offense in different books and see how God and His servants apply true justice. You can see how it is modified, but the principle of true justice remains unchanged.
Proverbs 23:10 Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:
Amos 2:6 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;
This reminds me of a grocery store in a poor country that used scales with a bowl. Under the bowl, a small fish was caught in the mechanism and added to the weight each time the bowl was placed on the scales. Not heavy, true, but it’s like stealing cents from thousands of people. It adds up, but even with a little amount, the intent is there and it’s fraud.
Amos 8:5 Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? (v. 5)
The new moon and Sabbath were special days. On the latter, no commerce took place. But these people not only had their minds focused on business, on these days devoted to God, they were thinking about tricking their customers.
There are so many Bible verses on this matter: Deut. 25:13-16, Lev. 19:35-37,
7 Cursed be he that removes his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
18 Cursed be he that makes the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
19 Cursed be he that perverts the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
There are many other categories of offenses and true Justice study Proverbs like dishonesty and violence etc. Make categories and find verses.
True justice as a dissuasion
True justice has the role of keeping peace and order when someone commits a crime. But there’s another primary purpose that we have forgotten today. And it’s causing much sorrow. True justice should be a source of dissuasion for those thinking about doing wrong. In the Old Testament you find the people of Israel, the man and woman in the street, as we’d say, taking part in true justice not just as a spectator, often as a participator. Read the verses below, notably verse 20.
This hear and fear is an external motivation to put them in the offender’s seat. Participate in the offender’s crime, feel what would happen to them if they committed such a felony. In a world of liberalism, this sounds terribly harsh, but God knows he’s dealing with a definite trait characterizing His people. They are hard-hearted. They are not open-minded to doing what’s right, to the contrary, they are prone to do what’s wrong. Participating in the punishment is intended to be a deterrent. So it should be with true justice.
Today death is so common on TV, movies and especially in violent video games we’ve gotten used to seeing killing and maiming. Sports have gotten violent. Many people don’t care that much about death. There’s nothing dissuading them from committing crime.
15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.
16 If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong;
17 Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days;
18 And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother;
19 Then shall ye do to him, as he had thought to have done to his brother: so shall you put the evil away from among you.
20 And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
21 And your eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Verse 21 includes the famous eye for an eye punishment that has Bible detractors up-in-arms. I agree it sounds and must be horrific. There’s no example of it being carried out in the Bible, so I don’t know if it ever happened. With regard to capital punishment, there are examples (in Joshua 7, Achan was stoned for stealing. 2 Samuel 1, an Amalekite is slain for saying he killed King Saul). There’s even an example in the New Testament with Ananias and Sapphira, who lied (Acts 5). These are serious matters God has recorded for our benefit. This is where you have to keep in mind the various principles above, in particular the fifth, about the first death.
The entire story of humankind, the Bible concludes with a blessing and a very stern warning.
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.
These are the two Trees I referred to higher up. The Tree of Life and verse 15, those without, who have ultimately rebelled and rejected God’s way. Notice, they love wrong-doing, they’re set in their ways. Theirs is the Tree of Death, the Second Death. There are deterrents in the New Testament as well that we are to heed.
Old Testament law represents but a few pages of text, a few chapters compared to the library of books and interpretations of law-makers’ efforts to cover every possible criminal situation. This in itself is a masterpiece, It covers personal and national law for:
- Property (theft, damage)
- Health (quarantine and Covid-19)
- Injury and murder (cities of refuge, capital punishment, reparation)
- Religion (false gods and preachers, Priests and Levites),
- Family (marriage, sexual practices, parenting).
- Rulership, the King
Very concise and clear. Judgment was fair and swift. Oh, that we have such Godly justice in our countries today.
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