Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Saturday, 04 February 2012


By Jim Jordal

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice,

Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work,

Who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, and cut out windows for it,

Paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion.’

"Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar?

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well.

Was this not knowing Me?" says the Lord.

"Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness,

For shedding innocent blood, and practicing oppression and violence."

Jeremiah 22:13-18, NKJV

Can one truly know God without practicing justice?

In this passage the prophet Jeremiah unfavorably compares the evil, unjust acts of several ruling sons of King Josiah with their father’s rein of justice and righteousness. King Josiah practiced justice and righteousness in Judah by "judging the cause of the poor and needy" while his sons behaved in the opposite manner. Jeremiah then quotes God in establishing the vital spiritual principle that knowing God is inescapably tied to practicing justice. God’s powerful assertion takes the form of a rhetorical question: "Was this not knowing me?"

King Jehoahaz (also called Shallum, meaning retribution, by the people) the fourth son of Josiah, receives the brunt of Jeremiah’s diatribe. He departed during his short rein from the righteous ways of his father by withholding wages from his workers, living in greedy ostentation, shedding innocent blood and practicing oppression and violence against the unfortunate--truly egregious evils in God’s eyes. Thus was God’s wrath against him prophesied by Jeremiah and carried out later in the dispersion of Judah to Babylon.

First we need to define two terms used here by Jeremiah and many other places in the Bible. These terms are justice and judgment, which often appear together because they complement each other in implementing God’s will toward vulnerable citizens threatened with destitution by the wealthy and powerful. Justice generally refers to a personal or group position of moral rightness, or virtuous action (the moral high ground if you will). Judgment is the public imposition of justice, especially by judicial decision or executive decree. It implies a right to justice by all persons living under the king’s jurisdiction—especially widows, orphans, strangers [foreigners], or people innocent of any wrongdoing.

Why do biblical texts so often specifically mention widows, orphans and strangers? It’s because they were the people most vulnerable to injustice since they had little wealth, power, or influence in court. They could easily be taken advantage of, and often were, especially when unjust rulers and people with economic power controlled the nation.

I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that doing justice is the same as knowing God; but I would say that knowing God is doing justice. Knowing God is much more than merely believing in his existence: in it’s full sense it means participating in his divine nature by doing his will. We verbalize the prayer that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven virtually every Sunday; but do we go so far as to join with God in actually doing, not just believing, what he wishes? He wishes, according to thousands of Bible verses, that justice, judgment and righteousness be done here on this earth. If the very nature of God is love, as we so often say, how then can we claim to be Christians loving God and our neighbors without at least intending or attempting to put God’s love into action? We accomplish this by encouraging and doing justice, judgment and righteousness in personal and societal relationships.

Yes, we all fail to gain the full stature of Christ in our lives. But frailties and omissions in our personal daily lives are not the same as monstrous sins done to masses of vulnerable people by powerful, uncaring leaders. There’s a profound difference between personal and national sin. Our personal foibles and failings are covered by grace following our repentance, contrition and confession. Not so the massive sins done in the name of power: unless forgiven these earn literal hell-on-earth retribution under the hand of God.

Can national sins be forgiven? Yes, but only by sincere national confession and repentance by the people led by their leaders. Next week we’ll look at some examples of this.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980 and 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.