Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Justice and the Mission of God


Justice and the Mission of God


Dear Friends,

The most complete perspective of justice in the Bible is presented in Amos 5. A humble goat herder with no credentials as a prophet seemed an unlikely candidate to confront wealthy Israelites about their sins of social injustice, but God chose Amos for the task. This was a time of national prosperity, and many owned fine homes and productive farmlands. God had always intended that His blessings be shared among all of His people, but now, the rich were shamelessly taking advantage of the poor. They took bribes, imposed unfair taxes, and took away what rightly belonged to the weak (vv. 11,12). God was angry and offended, so He sent Amos to warn the people and remind them about what really matters to Him.

Two Hebrew words that appear many times in the Old Testament are often linked together to refer to justice. These words, mishpat and tsedeq, are used in the same sentence twice in this chapter (vv. 7,24). Mishpat, also used in verse 15, is translated each time as “justice.” It is used around 400 times in the Bible, and is even one of God’s names, Elohay Mishpat, or God of Justice (Is 30:18). This means that it is within the Lord’s nature and purposes to choose justice. Mishpat is tied into the Hebraic legal code, and means that the law of justice is both extended and applied evenly to everyone. Amos knew that people who are the most at risk and unprotected needed to be defended by God’s loving justice, while offenders should all be punished fairly.

Tsedeq, translated righteousness in Amos 5, is connected to mishpat, but it means uprightness, doing what is right, or finding a way to make it right. It is used in reference to justice over 60 times in the Bible. Verses 7 and 24 are examples of the poetic tool of connecting parallel phrases for emphasis. Amos spoke about “Those who turn justice (mishpat) into wormwood (a bitter plant) and throw righteousness (tsedeq) to the ground” (v. 7). The two words are used together again in verse 24: “But let justice (mishpat) flow like water, and righteousness (tsedeq), like an unfailing stream.” Amos grieved that so many people were disobeying God and disrespecting others. He called their injustice evil and told them that only if they repented and sought goodness, would they live (v. 14).

Amos also pointed out that all the while that the Israelites were living unjustly they continued to observe their religious ceremonies. God used strong words to describe how unacceptable their hypocrisy was to Him. He said that He hates, despises, will not accept, and has no regard for their religious rituals and that it was all just noise to Him (vv. 21-23). The sacrifice He really wants from His people is the sacrifice that comes from a regular lifestyle of practicing justice. Justice is not simply an add-on, a social program, or a missions activity. It is a reflection of God’s character that is indispensable to God’s mission on earth.

Warmest regards,

Linda Bergquist
Church Starting Strategist,
California Southern Baptist Convention

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