Justice/Judgement: it’s not about vengeance; it’s about love!

Mishpat מִשְׁפָּט– Judgement/Justice (Strong’s 4941)

Hebrew 3 letter root: שָׁפַט (shin-pey-tet)- to judge-to govern (Strong’s 8199)

Would you say justice and judgement are two separate words? In Hebrew they are one and the same; they are mishpat. Why does judgement seems harsh and unforgiving? Why does justice seem like a positive, inclusive, aspect of a progressive society? How can they be the same thing?

Can we judge people and at the same time be champions of justice?

Scripture makes it clear that God is THE Judge. God seeks out and judges the heart of everyone.

Psalm 96:10-11a, 13

Say among the nations, “YHWH reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice…  Be before YHWH for He is coming; He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the people in His faithfulness.

Notice that God’s judgment is in the positive. It’s not brimstone and fire. He judges with equity; He judges in righteousness and in His faithfulness. He judges to SAVE the humble of the earth.

Interesting that we often associate God’s judgement with God’s wrath. It is a common human desire to let God handle our enemies with vengeance. Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair when horrible people seem to have great success in life. We want God to judge the wicked in anger. Vengeance is a powerful human desire. But the answer to vengeance is vindication, not judgement. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord… for YHWH will vindicate His people” (paraphrased from Deut. 32:35-36). To vindicate (God acting in judgement) is a completely different word in the Hebrew language: יָדִ֣ין (yadin).

God understands our anger at the evil we see in the world. Even King David prayed for the punishment of the wicked:

Psalm 58:10-11

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!” 

The prophetic book of Nahum is a pretty intense book outlining God’s wrath and the destruction of Ninevah.

The_Royal_lion_hunt_reliefs_from_the_Assyrian_palace_at_Nineveh,_the_king_is_preparing_for_the_hunt,_about_645-635_BC,_British_Museum_(12254994263)
Royal Lion Hunt- Assyrian Palace at Nineveh. 645-635 B.C.E. (Relief now housed at the British Museum).

 

Nahum 1:2-3a

A jealous and avenging God is YHWH; YHWH is avenging and wrathful. YHWH takes vengeance on His adversaries and He reserves wrath for His enemies. YHWH is slow to anger and great in power, and YHWH will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.

 

But here’s what is interesting- nowhere in the book of Nahum, which is full of devastation, desolation, destruction and God’s burning wrath, is the word judgement/justice used.

Why is that? Because God’s judgement and God’s wrath are two separate things. The core of God is love, note hate. First and foremost God uses judgement to seek out and reward those who love Him:

Psalms 76:8-9

You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; The earth feared and was still. God arose to judgment, to save all the humble of the earth.

He uses judgement to save, not destroy! To save the meek who seek out God and love Him. Last week we discussed how part of righteousness (tsedeq) is seeking God out. In judgement God finds those who long for a relationship with Him… He seeks out the righteous.

Isaiah 30:18

Therefore YHWH, longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For YHWH, is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.

But justice isn’t for God alone. YHWH expects those who love Him to be advocates of justice on earth:

Zechariah 7:9-10

Thus has YHWH of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widower, the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ 

Isaiah 1:17

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

This kind of justice is an action WE are capable of doing, and what God expects us to do.

What God does not want us to do is exact judgement. God alone is Judge…

James 4:10-14

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the Law and judges it. And if you judge the Law, you are not a practitioner of the Law, but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?

GOD is the Judge alone, we are the advocates of His Justice, which includes lovingkindness (chesed), humility, and compassion, on earth. We need to stop judging everyone around us and instead offer hope, unfailing love, and true justice to those in need! And “those in need” is EVERYone around you!

Psalm 33:4-5

For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all he does. YHWH loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Next week: faithfulness

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6 thoughts on “Justice/Judgement: it’s not about vengeance; it’s about love!”

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