What does it mean to ‘do justice’

Well there’s lots of things it could mean. But in Deut 10 it’s surprisingly straight-forward and uncomplicated. In v. 18 the NIV says “He [that’s YHWH] defends the cause…” – a more literal translation of the Hebrew would be something like “He does justice…” – and he does it for the orphan, widow, and stranger. What does that mean or look like? The last part of the verse expands – “giving him food and clothing.” Now of course it could be that there is a strict disjunction between something God does for orphans and widows, and then something different done for the alien, but that seems artificial to the context. No, part of justice (mishpat) is simply about giving clothing and food to the needy – a task explicitly passed on to the community (v. 19). It’s not rocket science is it? And it seems exactly the sort of thing the early church were doing (cf. Acts 6). Here’s a nice quote from Brueggemann to finish:

The tale of the book of Acts is an account of the ways in which this little community became a great assembly. It is, moreover, no stretch to see that it is precisely its practice of a missional ethic – to execute justice, provide food and clothing, love the stranger – that has been the occasion for its growth to be as ‘numerous as the stars’


6 Replies to “What does it mean to ‘do justice’”

  1. How does that spread from the people of Israel offering support to the needy among them, the early church having everything in common and the church today reaching the community around it, rather than just it’s church community?

    1. just two things we do that I think are working ok – CAP and foodbank – both help us meet loads of needy people, help them practically, and lots of them come to church and some get saved. Both are resource intensive though – does that help?

      1. To some degree they do – they’re things we’re looking at also. But more what I was meaning was the command to do justice was meant for the Israelite community, the people of God. In Acts it talks of caring for the people in the early church. And then alot of what we talk of is using these examples of what we should be doing as churches in our wider community as outreach, rather than in our church community. Does that make sense?

      2. sorry – misunderstood the question. The Israelites were to take care of their own but also the alien/sojourner (i.e. non-covenant person) (Deut 10:19). The early church presumably didn’t have sharp distinctions between in and out, particularly in Acts 2-6 – think temple courts, house to house, people joining them (Acts 5), winning the favour of all the people (Acts 2). The sheer numbers involved make me think their deeds of kindness spread beyond strict ‘covenantal’ boundaries – especially as they were still working out where those boundary lines fell (Acts 15). Clearly Galatians 6 emphasises the household of faith, but does say do good to ‘all’. Matt 5 and 1 Pet 2 explicitly suggest that good deeds (including mercy and justice??) shine a light before a watching world. So while I’d want to say looking after own is the biblical priority, it should spread out to love for neighbour as the logical extension and expression of grace. Does that answer the question any better?

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