The Call to Justice

Scripture teaches that God is a God of justice; he “loves justice.” (Isa 30:18; Ps 11:7; 33:5)

The kingdom of God, established through Christ, is a kingdom of love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness. He will eventually bring justice to the nations and particularly to the poor. Through his obedient children his desire is to defend, sustain and secure justice for the fatherless, widows, foreigner, oppressed, weak, needy and poor.

God “will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever …. with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” He is “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness … he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.” The Messianic Servant “will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.” (Isa 9:7; 11:4; 16:5; 33:5; 42:1,4)

God hates injustice, oppression, extortion, dispossession, dishonest business, bribery etc., and commands us to avoid them.

Before the people entered the Promised Land the Levites were commanded to pronounce publicly: “Cursed is the man who moves his neighbour’s boundary stone [steals land].” “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” (Deut 27: 17, 19)

The Bible declares: “The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him … Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless … Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?’ – skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.’” (Prov 20:23; Isa 10:1–2; Amos 8:4–7)

God commands his people to defend the rights of the weak, needy, fatherless, poor and oppressed; to rescue the oppressed and administer justice, including justice for the foreigner.

God’s law is quite clear: “When a foreigner lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The foreigner living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” God asks: “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked … Maintain justice and do what is right … Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place … what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Lev 19:33–34; Ps 82:1–4; Isa 56:1; Jer 22:3; Mic 6:8)

Under Old Testament law the poor are to be provided for: given food, not to be charged interest or sold food at a profit. Their debts may be cancelled.

“If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.” (Lev 25:35–38)

“Do not take a pair of millstones – not even the upper one – as security for a debt, because that would be taking a man’s livelihood as security … Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge … When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow … You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you.” (Deut 24:6, 17, 19–21; Deut 15:3)

God watches over foreigners (including people from another tribe, race, social or religious background) and condemns those who ill-treat or withhold justice from them.

All human beings are equal in God’s sight. We are all created in God’s image: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:26–27)

That unity and equality is restored in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

God commands us to love foreigners, people from another tribe, race, social or religious background as ourselves, to treat them as our native-born and help them where necessary: “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev 19:33–34) The offender is to have the same humane punishment as a citizen and is not to be degraded: “If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves, but he must not give him more than forty lashes. If he is flogged more than that, your brother will be degraded in your eyes.” (Deut 25:2–3)

God has also given human beings responsibility for creation, so they are to care for the environment. (Gen 1:28; 2:15)

Consequently, the church is right to be at the forefront of prophetic proclamation and action about such issues as national and world poverty; racism and tribalism; social division and violence; immigration and asylum seekers; religious, political and economic oppression; dishonest and unjust business; unjust laws and punishments; injustice in society and the judiciary; conservation and animal welfare.

The call to justice in the Middle East

Both Israelis and Palestinians should practise justice in their relationship with their own people and one another.

The above standards should mark both Israeli and Palestinian society. There is corruption in both, including in government circles, although it seems to be more prevalent in Palestinian society. Palestinian poverty and deprivation are partly caused by Palestinian corruption. There have also been some well-publicized incidents of corruption at high levels in Israeli society.

However, it is very important that Israelis and Palestinians should practice justice in their dealings with one another. They should care for one another and treat one another as they would their own people. This rules out unjustified and indiscriminate violence, such as Palestinian suicide attacks or irresponsible Israeli attacks which can be expected to injure or kill innocent civilians. It also calls for honesty and reliability in political and economic co-operation or negotiation. Justice also requires the two people groups to respect the national concerns of each other – the Israeli need of a secure homeland and the Palestinian yearning for their own state.

Zionists need to realize that the same Scriptures which they believe foretell the final return of the Jewish people to the land also strongly call Israel to justice. By the nature of the situation, Israel has much greater power and influence than the Palestinians. Consequently, it has greater moral responsibility.

Because of its continuing control over the Palestinians, the Jewish (Hebrew) Scriptures, referred to above, show that God requires Israel to:

  • Regard Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs) as loved by God as much as they themselves are.
  • Care for the welfare of the Palestinian people
  • Treat Palestinians as they would fellow-Israelis, as far as practically possible.
  • Use only justified violence against legitimate Palestinian targets.
  • Act justly in all financial matters to do with the Palestinians.
  • Respect Palestinian land rights.
  • Protect the livelihood of Palestinians.
  • Be generous towards the poor and needy.
  • Uphold justice for Palestinians in the court system.
  • Provide compensation where Palestinians have been treated unjustly.
  • Avoid humiliating Palestinians.
  • Avoid maltreating and humiliating Palestinian prisoners.

If Zionists (Jewish and Christian) love Israel they should, where possible, urge Israel to fulfil these biblical obligations. If God has brought the Jewish people back to the land it is partly so that they can practice justice and righteousness.

© Tony Higton