Proverbs Week 5: Justice
God and Justice
3:33 The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.
16:11 Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.
17:15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the LORD detests them both.
20:10 Differing weights and differing measures—the LORD detests them both.
21:3 To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
22:22-23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.
24:12 If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?
28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.
29:26 Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the LORD that man gets justice.
Rulers and Justice
8:15 By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just;
16:10 The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth should not betray justice.
20:8 When a king sits on his throne to judge, he winnows out all evil with his eyes.
29:4 By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.
29:14 If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure.
31:4-5 It is not for kings, O Lemuel— not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
Wisdom and Justice
8:8 All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse.
8:14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
8:16 by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.
8:20-21 I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing wealth on those who love me and making their treasuries full.
Man’s relationship to justice
3:27-32 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"—when you now have it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason— when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence.
12:5 The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful.
21:8 The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.
21:12-15 The Righteous One [a] takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin. If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath. When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.
21:8 The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.
29:7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
6:30-32 Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house. But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.
13:23 A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.
17:23 A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.
19:28 A corrupt witness mocks at justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down evil.
Consequences of Justice and Injustice
2:20-22 Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.
3:31-33 Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence. The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.
5:22-23 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
14:14 The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good man rewarded for his.
24:15-16 Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man's house, do not raid his dwelling place; for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.
28:10 He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.
29:10 Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity and seek to kill the upright.
29:27 The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright.
The LORD is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish. Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with terror, O LORD; let the nations know they are but men.
Psalm 10:14-18. But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Discussion question: What is justice?
Biblical justice is when people get what they deserve. It is frequently used in the context of judicial proceedings (i.e. proceedings to determine what is “just”). Consider the following statement: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit…. Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.” – Ex. 23:2-3,6-8 See also 1 Ki 3:28, Neh. 9:13, 9:33
Discussion question: Where do we see this definition of justice in Proverbs?
16:11, 17:15, 20:10, 29:14. The statement about equal weights and measures (16:11, 20:10) clearly have practical implications. But they also give us a sense of what justice is: a precise correspondence between deeds and consequences. This is brought out even more strongly in 17:15. To justify or acquit the guilty is just as bad as condemning the innocent.
Discussion question: How does the concept of justice relate to the role of authority?
16:10, 20:8, 29:14. Kings and rulers are instituted to promote justice, that is, fairness in society and to ensure that people are rewarded for the good and punished for the evil that they do. See Rom. 13:3-4.
Discussion question: Why does this duty require wisdom?
Because it is difficult for humans to know what justice is! Even with the best intentions, the world is complicated. See 1 Ki. 3:16-28, the story of Solomon and the two women. We need wisdom to know what is right and just (8:16).
Discussion question: What is included in the duties of justice?
If we are in a position of authority, rewarding the keeping of the law and punishing its violation. 17:15, 20:8, 29:27
Not showing favoritism or partiality in judgment 22:22, 29:14
Not cheating in business 16:11, 20:10
Not accepting bribes 17:23
Caring especially for the rights of the poor 29:14, 21:12, 29:7
Loving your neighbor as yourself! 24:12, 3:27-28
The first four of these statements fit into a more politically conservative view of justice. The next two, which are stressed in multiple proverbs fit into a more politically liberal view of justice. Tim Keller points out that the statements in 3:27-28 can actually be viewed as a form of parallelism, “…from those who deserve it…to your neighbor”. The word “deserve” actually implies ownership (NASB “from those to whom it is due”). In other words, if we withhold help from our neighbor, we are not just being stingy, we are being unjust by denying him help that should be rightfully his! So given the Biblical definition of justice, neither the traditional conservative nor the traditional liberal view of justice is correct. Justice is giving people what they deserve. So it includes the concept of rewards and punishments for individual behavior and fairness in business. But it also includes caring for our neighbor (because we owe it to him) and protecting the poor from oppression (because they do not deserve to be oppressed).
Discussion question: What is the ultimate source of justice?
God (22:22, 29:26). As the sovereign ruler of the universe, he administers justice to all people. God will “give to each man according to what he has done” Rom 2:6, Rev. 22:12. Proverbs states repeatedly that through God’s providence, wickedness will lead to death and righteousness to life (2:20-22,5:22-23,14:14,28:10). It’s interesting to note the language of 14:14 “The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways”. Again, justice is retributive and equable. It is not vengeance nor is it excessive. It is paying back exactly what is fitting (see Rom 6:23, “the wages of sin is death”).
Discussion question: If God is just, why do we see so little justice in the world then (13:23)?
Because God is reserving his final judgment for Judgment Day, or the Day of the Lord (in the OT). One day, God promises to return and pay back each man according to his deeds.
Discussion question: Is justice a neutral, positive, or negative concept? Why?
“what is right and just” (21:3). The implication is that what is not just is wrong. Again there is a positive quality to justice and a negative quality to injustice. We shouldn’t think of justice as some cold, neutral, or sterile concept. It is a positive and good thing because it is part of God’s character. “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” – Dt. 32:4
I find it helpful to think of justice as putting things right. The world as it is now is in a terrible state of misery and suffering caused by our sin. When God’s justice comes, it will put all things right and make everything sad come untrue. David’s attitude towards God’s justice in the Psalms is wonderful. He longs for God to come and save the poor and the oppressed, for Him to come put things right (Psalm 9 and Psalm 10).
Discussion question: How can we as people of justice? How will it affect our attitude towards discipline? work? the poor?
Discussion question: Is justice all that God requires of us? Is justice the primary characteristic of his dealings with us?
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” – James 2:12-13
Discussion question: What is the problem with God’s justice for us as human beings? How has God solved this problem? Rom. 3:25-27