We saw yesterday that God is holy because he is sovereign over all peoples. But it’s not as some kind of egocentric despot. He is holy also because in his sovereignty, he establishes justice:4 The King is mighty, he loves justice– you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.
This is the second reason God is holy – he loves justice, and establishes it throughout the earth.Prov 11:1 ‘A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but an accurate weight is his delight.’
(A false balance? No, it’s not when the ATM screws up. Dishonest shopkeepers would cheat people by using a second set of weights, hollowed out. They wouldn’t do it to the educated or well-connected; only to the powerless, the poor. To those who wouldn’t know they’d been cheated, or if they did, wouldn’t have the power to demand justice.)
God loves justice. And this doesn’t just relate to Israel in the Old Testament, or to us in the new, but includes all people everywhere.
Why does God love justice? Why does he delight in seeing all people act in fairness and equity? Because when he sees justice in the world, he sees the image of himself – however tarnished by sin – reflected back. In fact, wherever justice exists – even when executed by people still in rebellion to him – it is the work of God.Prov 16:11 – ‘Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.’
This is called ‘common grace’, called so because it is given to all. It is not ‘saving grace’, but is the same grace that makes the sun come up every day on believers and unbelievers, and sends rain to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). It is what keeps society from disintegrating into anarchy – holding the world back from premature self-destruction. It’s a testimony to all people of the creative and sustaining work of God. God is holy because he rules the whole world with justice.
And yet the second half of the verse says God has done what is just and right ‘in Jacob’. (Jacob is another way of referring to his people Israel, as Jacob was the father of the twelve sons who formed the twelve tribes – and later God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). This means that the main focus of God’s justice is in ‘Jacob’ – God’s justice is most obviously evident in his dealings with Israel. His plan was that all nations would see his justice reflected in his protection of Israel from her enemies; in his blessing her with prosperity; and in her obedience to his Law.
Particularly in this last aspect, Israel’s legal system given to Moses on Mt Sinai was to be a witness to the surrounding nations. There are many laws similar to those that existed in these other nations. But even though many of the laws may have been familiar, there is a number which contain significant – often shocking – differences to those of the nations around. Many of these show a concern for the poor, the oppressed, the slave, and the foreigner that was ‘ahead of its time’. For example:Ex 22:21-23 Do not mistreat an alien (foreigner) or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.
Our society would consider these quite normal since our legal system grew out of Jewish and then Christian law. But at the time, this concern Israel was to show for the weak and oppressed – precisely because God had shown them concern when they were weak and oppressed – was a shining witness to the justice of God.
If we bring this now into the New Testament – our time – how does God demonstrate his justice in the world? Through us. Just like he did through Israel. First and foremost this is through what he has done for us in Christ. The fact that God has offered us a way of salvation (the gospel) demonstrates his justice – his righteousness – to the world through us. That alone should be sufficient witness, and this is our primary testimony and mission.
But just as God expected Israel’s society to reflect his justice in the world, he expects Christians to do likewise. Our concern for the poor, our concern for the outcast, the weak, the foreigner, the drug-addict… should testify to God’s concern for them.
In worshipping God, it’s empty worship indeed to say ‘you are holy, because you love justice’, unless our lives demonstrate that we, too, love justice. How much do we stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the weak in society?
Our God is a God of justice. For this, we should worship him, as the psalm goes on to say:99:5 Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.
What is God’s footstool? The Old Testament refers to various things as God’s footstool: the ark, Jerusalem, the earth! I think they all are in view here. You see, the point is that whether it is in God’s people (salvation), or through God’s people (Christian witness), or throughout the whole earth (common grace), God works to establish justice. Because he is holy.
Spend some time in worship now, praising God for his love of justice, and committing yourself to being like your Father in heaven:Matt 5:44-45 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.