Justice for All

Justice for All

Justice, equal justice for all, is supposed to be one of the key characteristics of the Jewish people.

Deuteronomy 16:18 You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the L-RD your G-d is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. (NJPS)

Every town is to have judges, who make judgements and decide cases, and officials, who prepared evidence, carry out sentences and administer the town. The judges and officials are there to serve the people by making sure that justice is done for all.

Deuteronomy 16:19 You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. (NJPS)

Justice is to be fair for all, rich or poor. No bribes or special pleading.

Deuteronomy 16:20 Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (NJPS)

The first phrase is just three Hebrew words: tzedek tzedek tirdof. Repeating ‘justice’ says that “only justice”, or “absolutely the fairest, most righteous possible justice” are acceptable. Ibn Ezra comments that the first time means “if it seems good to you” and the second “even if it doesn’t seem good to you”.

tirdof means to chase or run after, run to find. You must do everything possible to catch up with justice; leave no stone unturned in seeking the whole truth and the right decision.

Notice how the grant of the Land is conditional upon the maintenance of justice.

Deuteronomy 17:6-7 A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. — Let the hands of the witnesses be the first against him to put him to death, and the hands of the rest of the people thereafter. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst. (NJPS)

There must be reliable testimony from at least two or more witnesses. Nothing may happen on the word of just one man (because it might be untrue). Moreover, sentence must be carried out by the witnesses . they must be sure enough of their testimony and the rightness of the verdict that they are personally prepared to throw the stones.

Deuteronomy 17:8-10 If a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault — matters of dispute in your courts — you shall promptly repair to the place that the L-RD your G-d will have chosen, and appear before the levitical priests, or the magistrate in charge at the time, and present your problem. When they have announced to you the verdict in the case, you shall carry out the verdict that is announced to you from that place that the L-RD chose, observing scrupulously all their instructions to you. (NJPS)

A centralised appeal court, consisting of both priests and judges. This is assumed to include speaking to the L-rd about it (as was the case with the case of inheritance rights for Tz’lophehad’s daughters). Their verdict is final and must be observed, whether you like it or not. So the appeal is not conditional upon whether you want to accept the result.

Deuteronomy 17:11-13 You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left. Should a man act presumptuously and disregard the priest charged with serving there the L-RD your G-d, or the magistrate, that man shall die. Thus you will sweep out evil from Israel: all the people will hear and be afraid and will not act presumptuously again. (NJPS)

This establishes the idea of “contempt of court”. The central court has the power to enforce its decisions on a capital basis! Again, this clearly predicates divine origin for the decisions.

Judges 21:24-25 And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (ESV)

But it didn’t last and things went downhill fairly quickly.

Isaiah 1:21-23 How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them. (ESV)

Isaiah laments the state of Jerusalem.

Amos 5:10-12 They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. (ESV)

Amos reports the same in Israel.

Micah 3:9-11 Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the L-RD and say, “Is not the L-RD in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.” (ESV)

Micah shows how it affects the whole nation from the leaders down; no-one is safe. And the name of the L-rd is wrongly invoked.

Luke 18:2-8 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared G-d nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear G-d nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not G-d give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (ESV)

Yeshua’s parable of the dishonest judge – what does it teach? Certainly not that G-d is like the judge and needs to be constantly nagged to make anything happen. The prologue verse (v. 1) was almost certainly not part of Yeshua’s original teaching. For Yeshua to use the story, there must have been common knowledge of such judges within the general population.

Matthew 12:18 Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. (NASB)

Matthew quotes the first of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs. Yeshua will proclaim justice to the nations. How is this happen in our day? Through us and our proclamation of Him and His kingdom.

first published at the MET blog