Justice and Righteousness

But let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream (Amos 5:24).

The day of the LORD was coming. He had endured enough from the hands of the Israelites. Their oppressions, their faithlessness, their immorality– it had become too much. Amos explains the only way that Israel can set things right again: they are to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24).

The image was familiar to the Israelites. When the rains came after a dry spell, existing rivers would expand mightily. What had previously been bone dry wadis, or creek beds, would quickly fill with torrents of water. The water would come down from on top of the hills and mountains; it would often break through anything that stood in its way. So justice and righteousness were to be in Israel: in a land parched of them, all of a sudden, from the nobles and élites of Israelite society downward, justice and righteousness should be established. Nothing should get in its way, and it should overpower anything that would try!

Unfortunately, as the history shows, the Israelites did not heed Amos’ message. They persisted in injustice and unrighteousness, and another type of torrent– the judgment of God as executed by the Assyrians– washed their nation away (cf. 2 Kings 17:1-23). The Kingdom of Judah to the south fared little better. And, throughout time, there has been justifiable reason to return to Amos’ words in denunciation of the injustice and unrighteousness of nations. Within our own nation, Martin Luther King Jr. had reason to quote the verse in relation to the existing systems within the United States. Tragically there will always be times when this verse will be only too applicable to all nations in various ways.

Justice and righteousness are terms often paired in the Old Testament (Job 8:3, 29:14, Psalm 37:6, 72:2, 106:3, etc.). In the New Testament, we see more translations of “righteousness” than justice, but that does not mean that the concept of justice has been excised; the Greek word frequently translated as righteousness, dikaiosune, means both righteousness and justice. There are many times in the New Testament when both senses of the word are present (e.g. Romans 3:26). We would do well to mentally remember that “righteousness” in the New Testament also carries with it the idea of “justice”!

Justice and righteousness are terms thrown around quite easily, but what do they really mean? We have the sense that justice involves every action receiving its proper consequence: evil doing should lead to punishment, and right doing should lead to reward. We also have a basic understanding of righteousness as right living. Yet our understanding of these terms gets distorted by our culture and the way we would like for things to be. It is easy to want justice to mean that others get the proper punishment for their evil actions while we receive mercy, failing to understand that we judge others by their performance while we judge ourselves by our intentions (cf. Matthew 7:1-4). Righteousness is often reduced to not doing bad things to other people, and expecting everyone else to not do bad things to us. The scope and scale of justice and righteousness is also easy to distort. Many demand to see justice and righteousness exist on the grand scale– nations, institutions, and corporations– but prove less willing to see justice and righteousness carried out on a personal level. And there are plenty of others who believe that the domains of justice and righteousness primarily involve the individual and less so for government, institutions, and corporations.

We do well to turn to Scripture for an understanding of what is involved with justice and righteousness. And Job is a wonderful example of justice and righteousness in action.

Job has suffered much and, admittedly, he has been presuming more than he ought to presume. But in Job 29:14-25, he declares how he conducted himself in righteousness and justice, and in Job 31:1-39, he sets forth his integrity as he has lived according to justice and righteousness. In these passages we see much that we would understand as just and right conduct: avoiding sexual immorality, lying, deceit, covetousness, idolatry, and other such sins. But what may surprise us is just how much justice and righteousness seemed to require of Job: he fed the hungry, provided shelter to the homeless, encouraged the despondent, actively resisted the oppression done to others, honored the cause of his servants, provided for the widow and orphan, properly used the land, and even that he resisted taking pleasure in the downfall of an adversary!

There is much, much more to justice and righteousness, then, than just trying to be a good person and not grievously sinning against others. To seek to do justice and righteousness also demands that we provide for those in need and actively resist injustice and unrighteousness. Justice and righteousness ought to pervade all of society, from rulers to nobles or the élite down to the common man.

When justice and righteousness flow down as a mighty stream, people are respected and provided for, society is healthy, and real prosperity can be known. But where there is injustice and unrighteousness there is misery, pain, sickness, antagonism, rivalry, and all sorts of other forms of suffering. Ultimately, justice and righteousness cannot be merely private pursuits, and it should impact our work regarding the conditions of others.

Those who truly seek justice and righteousness are always rare in the land; most are out for some form of pseudo-justice and pseudo-righteousness that benefits them without necessarily benefiting others. Let us instead seek to work diligently toward justice and righteousness in our own lives and conduct and on behalf of all of those who find themselves oppressed and downtrodden. May it be said of all of us that we sought for justice to roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Beginning of Wisdom

And unto man he said, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).

The pursuit of wisdom has been one of the great pursuits of the ages. For generations, people have sought out wisdom and have attempted to preserve it for their descendants. Yet, unlike technology, advancements in knowledge, and other such pursuits. the pursuit of wisdom seems to begin anew with every successive generation. Why is it that we can learn about tools and information from those who came before us, but not wisdom?

For far too many, wisdom is considered as folly. We in the twenty-first century have “advanced” so much, and our forefathers were “ignorant” and “misinformed,” in their view, so what can we really learn from them? They may not have had cars, computers, cell phones, or quantum physics. In our new age, things are “different,” or so it is believed.

In reality, there are no greater fools than those who repudiate that which was learned by the experience of those who came before us. The fact of the matter is that while technology has advanced, nothing has really changed. Humanity is beset by the same woes that have always beset humanity: foolishness, sin, isolation, despair, temptation, and the like. The Preacher was quite wise in Ecclesiastes 1:9: there is nothing new under the sun!

One of the greatest tragedies of humanity is how each successive generation seems incapable of learning from the mistakes of their ancestors. Each successive generation either follows the paths of their fathers directly, or they decide to entirely repudiate that path and go to the other extreme. Parents make irresponsible financial or relationship decisions, and the children go and do the same. Parents raise children one way, and the children feel compelled to raise their children in the entirely opposite way. Neither of these reflect wisdom: our fathers made many mistakes that we would do well not to repeat, and over-reactions tend to produce different problems, but problems nonetheless, than the problem that was attempted to be solved in the first place.

Why is wisdom so hard to communicate? Job understands many of the difficulties as he reflects on wisdom in Job 28. Wisdom is not like precious metals or ore which can be discovered and mined (Job 28:1-2). Wisdom is not a faraway destination that requires great skill and an epic journey (Job 28:3-4). Wisdom is not gained by considering animals or nature, since it is not with them (Job 28:5-11). Thus, we cannot go anywhere to find wisdom, we cannot find the resources with which we could purchase wisdom, and we will not find it in death (Job 28:12-22)! The challenge of wisdom is that it cannot be obtained or discovered using the preferred means of human beings.

Instead, wisdom belongs to God (Job 28:23-27). Wisdom is not like knowledge– it cannot be forced upon anyone, and it requires a certain disposition to receive it. Wisdom must begin with a particular attitude and a particular perspective: the fear of God (Job 28:28).

This is why wisdom is so terribly hard to pass along to every successive generation. Wisdom is generally gained through hard learning. It is easy to give lip service to the “fear of the LORD” when one is young– the fear of the LORD is often gained through humbling experiences and challenges. We humans tend to insist on our own ways until we discover their folly and their end (Jeremiah 10:23). Until a person recognizes that they are the creation and not the creator, that they are in need of instruction and cannot figure everything out on their own, and that they need to trust in the LORD and His understanding and not their own, they can never obtain wisdom. Wisdom requires humility– the recognition that there is much to understand and learn that we do not understand and learn, and that we ought to keep ourselves in proper perspective.

When we come to terms with our own weaknesses, and can learn to trust in God Almighty, we can truly begin understanding that which is wise. Its basis is in the fear of the LORD and turning away from that which is evil (Job 28:28). If we understand that God is our creator and that He seeks what is best for us, we will trust that all things contrary to His will are detrimental to us, and we will avoid them. We cannot do that until we have humbled ourselves and have come to the realization that blazing our own trail leads to death and destruction (cf. Proverbs 14:12, Romans 6:23).

It is natural for every successive generation to attempt to strike out on their own trail. That is why many wise fathers end up with children acting foolishly, but it also means that some foolish fathers may, despite themselves, end up with wise sons. Wisdom can only be gained and understood when we realize that no matter how things change, things stay the same, and that we are really no better than our ancestors or anyone else. Wisdom can only be gained when we realize that we are the creation, God is the Creator, and life can only be found through Him and His will. Let us seek after wisdom, having hearts prepared to receive it!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Receiving Good and Evil

Then said his wife unto him, “Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? Renounce God, and die.”
But he said unto her, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
In all this did not Job sin with his lips (Job 2:9-10).

No one enjoys pain, difficulties, and suffering. We all would much rather enjoy the good life, pleasures, and success. We often believe that we “deserve” to obtain the good things, and we do not “deserve” the bad things.

When pain, difficulties, and suffering come, we have an impulse to blame some higher authority. Many people blame God for their problems and difficulties. They do not understand how God could do evil to them, or, at least, allow the evil to be done to them. Where is God when there is pain and misery and suffering?

But notice, if you will, how one-sided we humans tend to be. While many will blame God for their failures or pain or suffering, who “blames” God for the fact that they are successful and healthy and prosperous? Many will claim that God does not exist on the basis of the existence of suffering, but no one in his right mind will argue that God does not exist because people find success, prosperity, and health. Job’s wife never imagined to tell Job to let go of his integrity, curse God, and die while their children and possessions remained! No– when people obtain prosperity, success, and health, they may very well praise and thank God for it.

It is easy for people to have such “immature” views and ideas about God. We know for certain that God does not tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), and provides a way of escape from any sinful situation (1 Corinthians 10:13). But there is no guarantee that the life of the believer– or the life of anyone– will be free from pain, suffering, and misery. As we live our lives, we will receive both good and evil. If we are willing to honor and praise God when we receive that which is good, why should that change if we receive evil?

No one is saying that evil is desirable or pleasant, but it has its place in our fallen, broken world. Evil reminds us regarding the fundamental “dis-ease” that we should have while living on earth– this is not what God intends for the creation (cf. Romans 8:19-23). We must feel the “heat” of the law of sin and death at work in the world (Romans 5:12-18). If we did not experience discomfort, we would get rather comfortable on this planet and forget about Jesus and His sacrifice, just as the Israelites forgot about the LORD their God when they received the land of Canaan and enjoyed it!

Furthermore, human character is not developed through success and prosperity. Maturity and growth do not come from success and pleasure but from failure and suffering. Success and prosperity easily lead to belief in self-sufficiency and arrogance; trial leads to patience and growth in faith (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). Job could only truly learn to appreciate all of God’s blessings when he suffered great misery in life, and it is the same with us. We only appreciate health when we suffer illness and pain. Success is sweeter after experiencing failure. Those best suited to handle prosperity are those who know how to live contented lives in poverty (cf. Philippians 4:11-12, 1 Timothy 6:8).

It can be guaranteed that we will receive both good and evil in life. Let us remember that through times of health or illness, prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery, God is there, He loves us, and desires for us to seek after Him (Hebrews 11:6). Let us hold fast to God whether we receive good or evil!

Ethan R. Longhenry