Justice Is Alive

For the week of September 23, 2023 / 8 Tishri 5784

Message info over a golden burst background

Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 32:1-52
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10 (English: 14:1-9); Micah 7:18-20, Joel 2:15-17
Originally posted the week of September 26, 2015 / 13 Tishri 5776

For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (D’varim/Deuteronomy 32:3-4)

When I first read this passage in this translation, I found it jarring, because I was used to hearing, “all his ways are just.” If you look at a list of various other English translations (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Deuteronomy%2032:4), you will see an assortment of words used, such as fair, right, righteous, just, judgement and the one used here, justice. The Hebrew word is “mishpat,” which indeed means justice, which is a noun, but in English it doesn’t sound right. The phrase more naturally lends itself to using an adjective, the way I am used to hearing it. But to make the text read, “God’s ways are just,” gives the impression that his ways simply possess a just quality to them. While that is true, what mishpat expresses here is much more than that. Regardless of the sound English prefers, God ways are in and of themselves justice.

Let me try to explain. If I said “smoking is harmful,” harmful being an adjective, then I am saying that smoking has a destructive quality. How it causes harm depends on how people relate to it (smoking or breathing second-hand smoke, for example). But if I say instead “smoking is harm” (which sounds strange, of course), I am claiming that smoking’s harmful quality is essential to its essence, and that its existence in and of itself brings about harm regardless of how people use it or relate to it. Whether or not smoking is truly that I will leave to anti-smoking advocates to decide.

So when Moses says God’s way are mishpat, it is not only because his ways have a just quality to them, but that his ways are in and of themselves justice. It is not as if they are shown to be just only when they are followed as when we follow good advice. Rather God’s ways establish justice by their very existence alone.

How this works becomes clearer when we understand that God is personally invested in his word. By his power his ways are actively at work in the world, confronting evil and leading people in the path of righteousness. No wonder the writer of the New Covenant book of Hebrews states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

One might argue that the word of God cannot function on its own, but rather requires someone somewhere to communicate it. While this is normally the case, from personal conversation to preaching to writing to broadcasting, we need to realize that the power of justice in God’s ways as communicated through these methods is far more dependent on God than we may think. It is God who uses people to communicate his word, and it is God who makes his communicated word effective.

Let me illustrate with a true story. I had been thinking and praying about this concept, when a young family friend posted online an experience she had. I share it with her permission:

Late this evening I was busing home, and I was very tired. So tired in fact, that I fell asleep. However, I was woken with a start when someone tapped on my shoulder to ask me about abortion. She had noticed the pro-life shirt I was wearing. She said “I’m pro-choice. Always have been and always will be. And you can’t change my mind.” I replied, “Guess what? I am also pro-choice, but not when it comes to taking the life of an innocent human being.” She then went on to say that she didn’t think that they were human until the point of birth. So we talked about when human life begins, and she finally agreed that they were human from conception. But she still said, “What if the mother can’t afford to keep the child? Wouldn’t it be better for her to just have an abortion in that case?” I replied “What if the mother of a toddler lost her job and could no longer afford to raise the child, would it then be ok for her to kill the toddler?” The woman right away shook her head and said, “No.” Then a light dawned on her and she said, “I never thought of it that way before. You’re right, killing a pre-born child is no different than killing a born child. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain all of this to me.”

Our friend was sleeping when the ways of God provoked the other person to wake her up, resulting in repentance. The other party was in collusion with death and destruction. God’s word, which appeared to be just lying there doing nothing was actually living and active as it pierced the heart of that up-till-then confused soul.

Mishpat, justice, is a living force, given to the world as a gift of God through the revelation of Scripture. And as it is living and active, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Perhaps it’s time to embrace it.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


World of Promises

For the week of September16, 2023 / 1 Tishri 5784

Message info over a photo of Planet Earth from Space

Rosh Hashanah
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 21:1-34; B’midbar/Numbers 29:1-6
Haftarah: 1 Shmuel/Samuel 1:1 – 2:10

The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-2)

This week’s Torah reading is special for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, which is derived from the biblical Feast of the Blowing of the Shofar (see Vayikra/Leviticus 23:23-25). The Torah reading begins with the wonderous birth of Isaac in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah.

Has it ever occurred to you that we live in a world of promises? Most of the time we are not aware how promises are pillars of human interaction. Promises make up so much of our lives. As I am writing this, it’s with an understanding that the computer I am using is going to work promised, be it the hardware or the software. And that’s just the beginning. Since my plan is to share this with the world via the extremely complex system known as the Internet, there are innumerable pieces of technology and human involvement committed to perform as promised. I am depending on those promises. I depend on the promises my fellow drivers make when they get their drivers’ licenses to not purposely harm me. I expect that businesses will be true to their word when I purchase their products. If I buy a carton of milk, I expect the promised milk to be in the carton. So many promises do we take for granted!

Most employment and work contracts contain all sorts of promises made by all parties involved. I promise to do a particular type and quality of work for a certain number of hours. You promise to pay me a certain amount of money to be given to me at set time intervals.

We depend on the promises given to us via travel and event schedules. You couldn’t plan a trip, be it locally or internationally, if buses, trains, and planes would only be available when travel companies might feel like it.

I am guessing that while you have been reading or listening to this, you have thought about the great number of broken promises you have endured in your life: companies that didn’t deliver the goods, undependable employees, the show you were looking forward to cancelling last minute, buses that don’t show up, and so on. The reason why this is so irksome is because we are promise oriented beings. We expect promises and we expect them to be kept.

We live in a promise-oriented world because it was created by a promise-oriented God. Promise is embedded in the very system of life. Even more than our dependance on the promises we make to each other, we depend on the systems of life, subconsciously most of the time. We don’t worry that gravity or buoyancy will not come through for us. That’s because the God of promise designed, implemented, and oversees these systems. Even people who believe that the universe is the result of random impersonal chance, relate to life as if it is designed in the dependable way I just described.

They do so until they want otherwise. More and more people are attempting to deny the innate dependability of God’s creation. It doesn’t matter to them that men and women are created a certain way, for example. It doesn’t seem to matter to that treating ourselves or others contrary to design will inevitably end in disaster. Desire, not design, is paramount.

It’s no wonder that along with rejecting the way the promise-oriented God made the world, more and more have human promises become less and less reliable. We still promise but do so in order to manipulate others not commit ourselves to promised outcomes. Politicians have been doing that for a long time. Perhaps we have all become political now, treating our word like it’s nothing.

This is not new, of course. When Messiah came into the world, he said: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37). Being true to our word should be normal. We are to be promise-oriented people because we have been made in the image of a promise-oriented God.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version