Justice and the Character of God Part 2
A Call To Worship
So, it’s Friday, you’ve been asked to select the passage that will call God’s people to worship this coming Lord’s Day and you’re stuck. It’s not that you’ve exhausted the Psalms but you’re looking for something from a different book or even genre of Scripture. A few weeks ago you were meditating through Isaiah and used some encouraging passages from that beautiful book but would prefer not to go back to that well at least for this Sunday. Allow me to make a suggestion. It’s a wonderful passage that speaks of the greatness of God in ways that should draw those who’ve come to worship to focus their minds, hearts, souls and energy on His perfections and greatness. As an added bonus it comes from one of the books of the Law from which we rarely draw material for the call to worship.
Deuteronomy 10:12-17 (ESV) “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?
Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.
Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
Just read through that a few times and reflect upon it. See how it pulsates with the goodness, glory, majesty, grandeur, beauty, power, and grace of the living God. It’s the kind of passage that can enthuse those who’ve come to fasten onto the blessedness of gathering before a God like this for worship as an end in and of itself.
God of the Oppressed
But wait, there’s a bit more to the passage that might enrich your worship just a tad more. Take a look at vss. 18-19. ‘He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’.
The great, mighty, glorious, awesome living God, the One who is Lord of heaven and earth and sets His heart in love on His people for their holistic redemption is also the God who is passionate about biblical social justice for the poor and less powerful. In the first post of this series I remarked how passages like Prov. 31:8-9 awakened me to the reality that the God of Scripture cares deeply for the poor and less powerful. Deut. 10 was another passage. But it didn’t end there (though if it did those two would be more than enough). The Old Testament is filled with passages just like this, so much so that the pursuit of biblical social justice was one of the primary ways God commanded His people to reflect His call, walk in His ways, demonstrate His character and express their gratitude to Him.
Biblical Social Justice
And in my view this is why the pursuit of biblical social justice is so vital to our witness now. What do I mean by the phrase ‘biblical social justice’? In short it’s God’s call and command to watch for, stand with, speak for, advocate for, protect and pursue the rights of the poor and less powerful so that they’re not marginalized, oppressed or subject to ongoing systematic injustice. (once more see Prov. 31:8-9) God recognizes these people created in His image as not just separate individuals, but as part of particular groups of people. Consequently, He often mentioned them by group when issuing commands for their benefit. Exodus 23:6-9 (ESV)
6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit.
7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.
8 And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
9 “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Since the living God views these souls as groups (as well as individuals), it dispels the belief that systematic injustice is a foreign concept to Scripture. Furthermore, Scripture instructs us that sin is not just confined to my personal offense against a particular individual, but it’s also a systematic offense against a group of people. Psalm 82:1-4 (ESV)
1God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
So important was this truth that the living God tied it directly to His people’s desire for protection from their enemies along with the ongoing peace, blessing and prosperity of their country. Jeremiah 7:1-8 (ESV)1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD.
3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.
4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,
6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,
7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail.
In fact, reading through the prophets it certainly appears that in addition to idolatry, Sabbath breaking and general wickedness, oppression and injustice against the poor and less powerful was one of the main causes of God’s judgment against the ancient Hebrews. (see Jer. 22).
What does all this mean for us and is it even applicable? That will be the subject of our next post. For now just remember that the call to worship you’ll hear this Lord’s Day is a summons to worship the God of gods and LORD of lords, the great, the mighty and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the immigrant, giving him food and clothing. Joyfully In Christ, Pastor Lance Lewis Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church Elk Grove, CA