Justice for All
Introduction: We are created in the image of God. This should lead us to conclude, though much maligned, there is a sense of moral oughtness or justice in each of us. That is, we know innately when something is wrong or people are mistreated. We desire and sometimes demand justice in situations like these. The problem is that sometimes we just don’t see things as they truly are. That often leads us to false conclusions and snap decisions. Often, we judge by appearance and aren’t even aware of it.
The question, “What keeps us from seeing people as they truly are?” has been addressed in a book written by Malcolm Gladwell titled Blink. It is a book about “the power of thinking without thinking.” Choices we make in an instant aren’t always easy and right. Gladwell writes about how the classical music world realized that their system for auditioning new musicians was corrupt. They thought the system unbiased until they erected screens between the judges and the musicians being auditioned. With the screens in place, the number of women in the top US orchestra has increased fivefold. Consider the story of Julie Landsman…
When Julie Landsman auditioned for the role of principal French horn at the Met, the screens had just gone up in the practice hall. At the time, there were no women in the brass section of the orchestra, because everyone "knew" that women could not play the horn as well as men. But Landsman came and sat down and played—and she played well. "I knew in my last round that I had won before they told me," she says. "It was because of the way I performed the last piece. I held on to the last high C for a very long time, just to leave no doubt in their minds. And they started to laugh, because it was above and beyond the call of duty." But when they declared her the winner and she stepped out from behind the screen, there was a gasp. It wasn't just that she was a woman…. And it wasn't just the bold high C, which was the kind of macho sound that they expected from a man only. It was because they knew her. Landsman had played for the Met as a substitute. Until they listened to her with just their ears, however, they had no idea she was so good.
This exemplifies our need for wisdom and discernment that can come from only above. For many years we may think we’re right while we have perverted justice all along. God demanded justice for all when He gave His Law to Israel. We continue our study through Exodus in the midst of the Book of the Covenant, the practical application of God’s Ten Commandments.
Transition: Tonight we consider five objects of God’s comprehensive justice. God desires justice for all. God desires justice for, first of all, the guilty.
Justice for the Guilty (23.1-3)
Explanation: Here, God is warning Israel about allowing the guilty to go free. There must be justice for the guilty. This is a specific application of the 9th commandment which states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (20.16). There is an added facet, however, to this Hebrew word for false in v. 1. The word means empty, vain, without result, or worthless. That is, no report should be circulated that has no foundation to it or that causes the perversion of justice.
The report may be true and it may not be true. The person circulating the report just doesn’t know whether or not it is, and that’s the problem. What is needed is a true report – something substantive.
The temptation for judges, officials, and witnesses in any legal system is to manipulate the outcome. God knew this, and He commanded people in this position to not give into a mob mentality (i.e. “follow a crowd to do evil”; v. 2). Further, one may “turn aside after many to pervert justice”. He may, even as a singular person, turn the many to his position.
This would be common among judges. If several judges gathered to determine a matter, they would often make the junior judges voice their opinions first. This was done so that these junior members would not turn aside after many and pervert justice.
Verse 3 offers another admonition: don’t show partiality to a poor man in his dispute. The poor man is often isolate and alone in his struggle. A judge might look at this as an opportunity to be protector of the poor. The problem is that the poor often guilty and there must be justice for the guilty! Making a snap decision on the basis of weak compassion for the poor is unjust.
Application: We often make snap judgments because we don’t substantiate what we know. Most of our lying is this way. We leave out details that don’t fortify the outcome we desire. We listen to people, but then use their words out of context. This leads others to believe a lie.
Often this leads ruined relationships and reputations. It can devastate the life of an innocent person. What’s worse we believe we’re on the side of justice but have been inaccurate in our testimony.
Don’t believe one side of any story. We can’t help but hear false testimony from time to time. The key is we need to not hear it in the sense that we don’t believe it. Often, people circulating reports without substance do so because they have the proverbial axe to grind. Don’t repeat what you hear from them. Get the other side of the story.
Also, whoever said a majority opinion was necessarily a good thing. There is mob mentality out there fueled with energy from the devil. Think of people and what they really want in life. It causes a lustful spirit in all of us. We are driven to collect as many possessions as we can, to become enamored with the beautiful people instead of the spiritually stable ones, and to gratify evil, sinful desires. After all, we can’t be inconvenienced by other people’s needs. We need time for ourselves, don’t you know!
Also, beware carrying the banner for the poor. We love the underdog, but sometimes there is a reason they are the underdog! Special interest groups call for their own brand of justice at times. There is a whole branch of theology built on this thinking – it’s called liberation theology.
Our nation cannot see that our drive for health care is not motivated by a compassion for the poor who cannot afford insurance, but it is driven by something even more sinister: the justification of socialistic and communistic ideas. How is this happening in our Republic? Our leaders are pulling on our heartstrings for the poor. But, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. The poor aren’t always right. There must be justice for the guilty!
Transition: The first object of justice is the guilty – no matter what form they take. Secondly, this evening, there must be…
Justice for the Enemy (23.4-5)
Explanation: The operative word in v. 4 is enemy’s. In other words, one who hates you (v. 5). It is possible that the enemy in this scenario is a person involved in a legal case with them. They could not be unjust because of feelings of aversion for an enemy. If the ox strays, bring it back – even if he belongs to your enemy. If the one who hates you owns a donkey that pinned under a burden, you must help the animal. If you don’t, there is no distinction between you an him. But there should be – “you shall surely help him with it” the text says.
Application: This is a part of belonging to God that is supernatural. We are distinct, holy, separated people even as Israel was. We cannot allow public opinion, polls, the direction crowd, weak compassion for the poor, and now natural aversion toward our enemies to keep us from doing the right thing.
When we demand justice for even our enemies, this allows us to testify to the world that we are different. They are able to see the character of God shining through our earthen vessels.
Transition: Justice for all means justice for the guilty and the enemy. Third, there is…
Justice for Righteous (23.6-8)
6You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute. 7Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked. 8And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.
Explanation: While the poor may be guilty, they are often taken advantage of. Israel should not pervert the judgment of the poor in his dispute (v. 6). This is the opposite scenario of v. 3 and is much more common.
Verse 7 contains an admonition to keep away from a false matter; don’t be guilty of killing the innocent and/or the righteous. In a official capacity this could be deemed judicial murder.
Illustration/Application: A poor, righteous man did not get justice from King David. His name was Uriah. Uriah’s wife was beautiful. Uriah himself was a man of honor. As a poor man, Uriah “had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought nourished (Bathsheba; reference from Nathan; 2 Sam 12.3).” As a rich man, David “had exceedingly many flocks and herds” (2 Sam 12.2). The rich man took the poor man’s little lamb. Nathan’s glance seems to ask David, “What should be done?” David said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” (2 Sam 12.5-6) What did Nathan say? That’s right, “You are the man!”
Application: Sometimes our self-lies are deceptive. We think we’re okay, but we’re not. We pervert justice and withhold it from the poor. Just look at the blessings with which He has blessed us! And yet, it’s not enough. We want it all and we’ll step on whoever gets in our way. But there is a price to pay – estrangement from our God! May God deliver us from our deceptive natures!
Illustration/Application: What about Ahab and Jezebel? Do you remember Ahab pining for Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21? Naboth would have none of it and that caused Ahab to become sullen and displeased. He wouldn’t even eat.
Then, Jezebel his wife came to Ahab and told him to exercise his authority! She helped him out by setting Naboth up. Feigning a dinner in his honor, she incited two ‘witnesses’ to rise up against Naboth falsely, saying, “You have blasphemed God and the king” (21.11). They took Naboth out and stoned him. The innocent killed by a guilty, wicked judge! Whereas v. 1 warned against the idea of allowing the guilty to go free, v. 7 warns against treating the innocent as if they were guilty!
Explanation: The phrase, “words of the righteous”, communicates the idea of subverting the cause of those who are right. In other words, the words of the righteous are perverted.
Application: There must be justice for the righteous. If not today, then tomorrow. Our God will make all things right!
Transition: Justice for the guilty, the enemy, and now the righteous. Fourth, this evening there is…
Justice for the Stranger (23.9)
Explanation: A stranger is a person from a foreign country. This echoes from Ex 22.20 which warned against the mistreatment of a stranger. Here in our text, Israel as a nation needed to be warned that God would not tolerate the oppression of foreign people in judicial matters. They could not be refused justice or treated harshly. God told them the reason for this is that they were once strangers in Egypt (v. 9).
Application: There is a strong temptation to deny justice to the outsider – this is especially true if we deem that outsider repugnant. We ought to carefully weigh evidence and facts. Remember, snap judgments pervert justice!
Transition: The guilty must not go free. Our enemies deserve to see the grace of God. The righteous must flourish and the outsiders must know that we will do right! The fifth and final object of justice is found in v. 13…
Justice for God (23.13)
13And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth.
Explanation: To make no mention of other gods means not recognizing the existence of any god but the true God. God says to be circumspect or to carefully maintain what He has said. So, we’re told what God says and what we should not say in this verse.
Justice demands that God get Israel’s exclusive devotion and worship. God’s jealous love for Israel led Him to repeatedly warn them against idolatry. This makes the golden calf incident in chapter 32 especially glaring.
Application: Justice for God means giving to Him our loyalty…our fidelity. Idolatry takes many forms in our lives. It robs God of what belongs to only Him. We are created in His image. The restoration of that image through the work of Christ ought to be preeminent in our lives. When it is not, we fail to render justice to God – to do the right thing.
Transition to Conclusion: The five objects of justice in this text are the guilty, the enemy, the righteous, the stranger, and God Himself. There is also in this text verses 10-12. They provide a fitting conclusion to our study this evening. They teach that when there is justice for all, then all will be refreshed…
Justice for Refreshment (23.10-12)
Conclusion: Here, God explains principles involving the Sabbatical week and day. This expands the fourth commandment (20.8-11). It is evident that God owns the land and Israel merely superintended over it.
23The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.
The verses make it clear that this was a way to provide for the poor (they could eat which grew wild in the field during the Sabbath year); a way to provide for animals – what the poor left behind, the beasts ate. The rest brought refreshment. The word refreshed has the sense of literally drawing a breath. We say that we need to catch our breath to communicate the same idea.
The key here is that this passage focuses upon others whereas the fourth commandment focused upon God. That is, in Exodus 20.10, it was a “Sabbath of the LORD your God.” The fallow year prevented the exhaustion of nutrients in the soil.
This Sabbath principle of refreshment carries over to our theme of justice for all. A country flourishes, rests, and is refreshed when there is justice for all!
Hymn 34: Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise