21 Sep 2023

Do We Love Justice? A Journey in the Psalms

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: American Empire, Discipleship, Kingdom, Mission, Psalms

Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16.20, NRSV).

“Justice is what love looks like in the public arena” (Cornel West).

As you know we read through the Psalter every month in a lectio continua fashion. I frequently post a meditation on the mornings lection (reading). Today’s prayer lection was Psalms 96-100. These Psalms are short and celebrate King Yahweh and God’s kingdom. These psalms are so short we can read the whole lection a few times (and I recommend just that). The Hebraic idea of “justice” permeates the whole.

American disciples often misunderstand the term “justice” believing it is primarily a punishment idea. Such common expressions as “justice was served” reflect this belief. But in Scripture while punishment is sometimes associated with justice that is not the primary idea behind the biblical word. Justice is to make things right. It is a very positive notion not a negative one. Widows, orphans, aliens and even creation do not celebrate that they are getting punished but that they will finally be made whole. The predicament they are in will be made right.

These Psalms today proclaim that Yahweh is King and God puts the world “back together, correctly.” That really is the essence of biblical justice. Righteousness and Justice are extremely difficult to distinguish and are often paired together in synonymous parallelism. Even where the actual word “justice” is not in the text, the psalm is filled with it.

Take Psalm 98 as an example. The entire Psalm is a celebration of what happens in the world when Yahweh is King. It is a world filled with HESED and FAITHFULNESS (grace & truth), God’s name tags from Exodus 34.6. It is a world where even creation (seas & mountains) clap their hands because

let them sing before the Lord,
for he
[Yahweh] comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity
.” (98.9-10).

This is easily translated as “he judges the world in JUSTICE and the peoples righteously.”

These Psalms hit me. The Spirit always uses God’s Word to hit us as we are living life. Here God’s People are being confronted with God’s vision for Justice. God’s vision for “salvation.” God loves justice because it is part of God’s identity. Suddenly, I heard the question, maybe it was from Casper or from another source: Do you love justice?

The hubbub about Colin Kaepernick on my Facebook wall came to my mind. I took a quick scan of the nearly 300 comment thread. The question came back: Do we LOVE justice?

We love Americanism.

We love one anthem (not that other one).

Do we love an anthem more than Justice?

If we love justice, why the shift from Favre to CK?

But do we love the Black National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing)? We love whatever excuses us. We love, we worship, patriotism. (If you do not know Lift Every voice follow the link to YouTube now).

But do we love justice?

Suddenly, these morning texts made me step back and look at the whole book of Psalms. Justice and the identity of the God of Jesus are inseparable and supposedly endemic to the people of God.

What follows is the English verses in the NIV that have the word “justice.” There are dozens of texts, like Psalm 98, where the term does not appear in English but is the foundation of the text anyway. We just need to learn to have eyes and ears. So do we love Justice. Note that in the texts that follow it declares that Yahweh does “love justice.” That justice is part of God’s love (hesed), part of God’s faithfulness (emet), part of God’s acts of grace.

Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
” (Psalm 7.6)

The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
” (Psalm 9.16)

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face
.” (Psalm 11.7)

The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.
” (Psalm 33.5)

Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
You, Lord, preserve both people and animals
.” (Psalm 36.6)

In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.
” (Psalm 45.4)

Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
” (Psalm 45.6)

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
” (Psalm 50.6)

Endow the king with your justice,
O God, the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
” (Psalm 72.1-2)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
love and faithfulness go before you.
” (Psalm 89.14)

I cannot recommend Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy enough. Read it. Then read it again.

Clouds and thick darkness surround him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne
.” (Psalm 97.2)

The King [Yahweh] is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done what is just and right
.” (Psalm 99.4)

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, Lord,
I will sing praise.
” (Psalm 101.1)

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” (Psalm 103.6)

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
” (Psalm 112.5)

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
” (Psalm 140.12)

Justice is a powerful and pervasive, theme in the Psalms. Many many more texts (again like Psalm 98) can be cited. Do we hear what they are saying?

Justice in the Psalms, and in fact always in Scripture is social. The word “social” means “relating to society.” Note the texts: widows, orphans, courts, aliens, the king (Psalm 72) making sure this is done. This is social justice if there ever was social justice. God’s justice is by definition social. It heals the injustice and imbalance in relationships between people.

Yahweh loves justice. Does God’s people actually and truly love justice? What offends you? Injustice to the poor? a “minority”? Injustice to the aliens?

Which do we think, based on the texts themselves, do we think Yahweh finds offensive?

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Jesus was like, Moses, “Pursue justice and only justice” (Deuteronomy 16.20).

My Psalm prayer time this morning had me wrestling. Do I love, not tolerate, or think it is a worthy goal among lots of other things. But do I love justice?

Let me recommend getting to know Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative.

When the Spirit whispers in your ear … what do you say?

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One Response to “Do We Love Justice? A Journey in the Psalms”

  1. A. Ruth Miller Says:

    Maybe when Jesus prays, “Thy will be done on earth,” it’s a justice prayer.

    And it’s 1/3 of the “requirements” of Yahweh according to Micah.

    And maybe forgive debts/trespasses is mercy.

    And maybe asking for guidance and providence (“lead us not” and “daily bread”) is humility or recognizing our place in relation to the sovereignty of God.


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