“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
Justice is a major theme in Scripture, which contains many calls for justice and commands to worship God for His justice. Justice has to do with conduct in relation to others. Just behavior accords with what is morally right and fair. Justice is the quality of doing what is right.
The Justice of God
God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4). The justice of God can be defined as “that essential and infinite attribute which makes his nature and his ways the perfect embodiment of equity, and constitutes him the model and the guardian of equity throughout the universe” (ATS Bible Dictionary, 1859).
God’s rule over the universe is grounded in justice and righteousness (Psalm 89:14). There is never a time when God has been unjust; it is against His unchanging nature to be anything but perfectly just. “The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right” (Psalm 99:4).
“The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9, NKJV). Adam and Eve saw the justice of God when they were punished for their sin in the Garden. Even in that judgment, however, they experienced mercy, as “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). God’s justice requires Him to deal with sin. Scripture records many instances of God’s justice meted out for mankind’s rebellion: the flood of Noah’s day, the plagues in Egypt, the destruction of Ahab and Jezebel’s house, and the Babylonian Captivity, just to name a few.
The justice of God is also demonstrated at the cross. As Jesus was crucified, the sins of the world were laid on Him (Isaiah 53:4–5), and Jesus’ death became the propitiation, or the satisfaction, of God’s justice: “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:25). God could not just ignore sin; justice requires a penalty. To our eternal benefit, that penalty for sin fell on Jesus Christ: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Of course, it was also at the cross where God’s mercy and love were on full display. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8, NLT). The cross is the intersection of God’s justice and mercy; God’s justice was meted out in full (upon Christ), and God’s mercy was extended in full (to all who believe). He is truly “a just God and a Savior” (Isaiah 45:21, NKJV).
The Mandate for Justice Because God is just, He demands that mankind, created in His image, also display justice (Micah 6:8). Before Israel had a king, God ensured that His people had justice, as the whole book of Judges attests. Deborah the prophetess set up court beneath a palm tree (Judges 4:5), and Samuel presided over a circuit court, traveling from place to place to hear cases and administer justice (1 Samuel 7:16). Later, the king became the nation’s chief justice.
Scripture is full of commands that humans act justly. This includes acting on behalf of those whose rights are being denied and those who are powerless to defend themselves:
• “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:17, ESV).
• “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3, ESV).
• “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3–4).
God’s desire for justice extends to crime prevention and the punishment of evildoers:
• “For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong” (Isaiah 61:8, ESV).
• “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15, ESV).
• “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Proverbs 24:24–25, ESV).
The Mosaic Law specifically forbade unjust weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35–36) and condemned the taking of bribes (Exodus 23:8). God places a special responsibility on judges and other authorities to provide justice, warning them in Psalm 82 that they will themselves face judgment. Every human tribunal is under God’s order to do what is right:
• “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15, ESV).
• “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9, ESV).
• “Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God” (Deuteronomy 1:17).
• “In a lawsuit, you must not deny justice to the poor” (Exodus 23:6, NLT).
• “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Justice is linked to a right relationship with God, and those who know God will act justly:
• “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7).
• “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely” (Proverbs 28:5, ESV).
• “The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice” (Proverbs 17:23).
• “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (Psalm 106:3, ESV).
We live in a world of injustice. Because of the fall of mankind and the sinful nature we inherited from Adam, we all have a bent away from what is morally right toward what is morally wrong. The result is that we live amid partiality and unfairness, and, even as we honor the concept of justice, we see many examples of the corruption of justice.
Isaiah the prophet decried the state of Jerusalem in his day, as the city “once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
Your rulers are rebels,
partners with thieves;
they all love bribes
and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:21–23).
And Isaiah continues, “Justice is far from us. . . . We look for justice, but find none. . . . Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance. . . . The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice” (Isaiah 59:9, 11, 14–15).
As the world drifts further from God, justice becomes a rarer commodity. When sin is redefined as a virtue, and righteousness becomes offensive, then justice is twisted, the wicked go unpunished, and innocent people are victimized.
God Will Bring Justice
Believers look forward to the day when the Lord returns and establishes true justice on the earth. Whatever the injustice in this world, God has promised, “I will repay” (Romans 12:19). A world pining for justice will finally see it administered when the King of Righteousness comes:
• “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:27; cf. Psalm 62:12).
• “With righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4).
• “Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psalm 96:13).
• “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11).
• “Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 32:19).
The Lord has promised to return and set things right. Truth will win in the end. In the meantime, we wait, and we do not lose hope: “The Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18, ESV). And we praise Him for His justice: “I will thank the LORD because he is just; I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High” (Psalm 7:17, NLT).