Justice


So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua 11: 23

 

This is a bloody and gruesome chapter in the recitation of a series of similar events during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. There is simply no escaping the brutal nature of these events except perhaps by considering all of this as some form of allegory, but I believe that this is a rendering of historical events. This is what actually happened. It is only from that perspective that I hold that there is also an allegorical application to it all. These were battles that God sent His people out to fight against others who were extremely hardened in their attitudes toward God. They were going to resist the Lord with all of their beings and for as long as time would run. These events occurred in a specific time and place, and they are not at all indicative of how God works in our world today.

 

The Lord has not ordered anyone or any group of people to go forth and wage war against others. The wars that we fight, whether we can justify them or not, are the result of the sort of sinfulness in our world that the Lord was directing the Israelites to eradicate from their land in the time of Moses and Joshua. All violence in our world has its source in the evil that has attempted to overcome God’s perfect plan of creation. Depending upon how an individual views things in this regard, there may be times when a violent response to an aggressive act or the intent to commit one is justified and is even Godly. I am not entering into a discussion of these ideas; however, I am saying that in God’s original creation plan and in His restored one at the end of time there is no violence, no war.

 

So, it seems to me that discussing briefly how this passage is allegorical might be worth taking on. There is a harsh reality to our world today that is very similar to the one that the Israelites faced, for God is opposed by people, both individually and in organized groups, throughout the world. There is almost nowhere that we can go where this is not true. As followers of Christ we are, like Joshua, called upon and tasked by Christ to go forth and to wage a fearless campaign for the reclamation of the world around us. We do not fight with swords but rather with love, grace, mercy, and truth. Christ doesn’t direct us to drive people out and to eradicate the record of their existence; rather, He sends us out to befriend people whose beliefs are different from ours, to share life and the truth of the Gospel of Christ with them, and to seek peaceful means of resolving our disputes and conflicts. In Christ we have God’s complete and total plan for the restoration to salvation of our world. This is the battle that our Lord is calling upon us to fight every day of our lives.

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Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 20: 7

 

Let me take a wild guess here, and state that very few of us use the word consecrate on a regular basis. This is simply not something that we think much about doing in the course of our days. Yet, it might be one of the most important things that any of us who desire to know and to follow God could do. To consecrate means to dedicate or to commit to something. It is usually used in religious settings so that the person or thing that is being consecrated is being committed to service in that setting. This idea strikes me as being very formal and even as rather archaic in light of the way that we live in the presence of Christ in our lives and with service to Him being something that we can do outside of the formal setting of the temple or the physical place that we call church.

 

Yet, when the Lord inspired Moses to write down this directive to the Israelites, I believe that God had something in mind that was much bigger than the formal aspects of religious practice. This simple, proverbial statement is embedded in a series of very strong comments on sinful behaviors and the direst consequences that were to be related to them. For the Israelites and for us, living a life that is holy, that is set apart from our world and from its rebellion against God’s righteousness, is the way and the means for us to escape the pain of those consequences. Even more important than that, it is the way that we can dwell in this world while bringing honor and glory to our God as we serve Him and reach that same world with Christ’s Gospel of truth and life.

 

So, this action of consecrating is something that each of us can and, I submit, should do. It is a mindful and purposeful endeavor on the part of each of us to step outside of the influence of the forces around us in our world, away from self-interest, to renounce nationalism as a religion, and to set aside all other forms of false religious allegiance and practice that we have adopted. Consecrating or purposefully setting ourselves apart is the first step, and it is followed by living out this deep commitment to Christ by means of thinking, speaking, and acting as a clear and outwardly visible follower of Jesus. This is not so easy to do if approval and acceptance by the world around us is of great importance. However, as we set aside the world’s concept of worth, power, and significance and enter into God’s view of the same things, we are empowered by Christ to live out our days as His consecrated workers who labor with holy hands in His fields of harvest.

Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

Joshua 8: 36

 

This event might not look the same in our times as there is little probability that any large gathering of people, much less that any nation of people would gather together in this manner. Here the sum total of the people of Israel had come together across one great valley and its adjoining mountain sides in order to worship God in celebration of the Lord’s redemptive work in their military victory over the city of Ai. The centerpiece of this celebration was the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and the priests were the ones who were leading the nation in both substance and in the form of this great victory party. Yet, as they transition from focusing on the tactics and the methods of war and return to the task at hand of settling the land, the people are reminded of the true power that was behind their success and of the basis for all that defines their national and individual character.

 

They are a people who have been given their identity by God, and they have gained their understanding of morality and of justice through God’s Law, His Holy Word. There is nothing that stands before this recitation of God’s will in the law of the land or in the ordering of their society. This was a special time and place in the history of the world, and it has really never been duplicated since. Even under Joshua’s strong and Godly leadership, the people were very quick to depart from the Lord’s way and to set out upon their own course of thought and action. Today the best that we can hope for is an off-handed reference to God or a quote from His Word, but our nations seldom express any real interest in following the Lord or in even hearing and utilizing His truth as counsel or as direction to be followed. It is as if God were now an irrelevant part of ancient history and His Word is granted the status of troublesome and obscure literary fiction.

 

None of these modern attitudes can possibly be pleasing to God. He is not amused by our self-reliance and negation of His wisdom and direction. Although a modern day turning to God on the parts of people, our leaders, and nations might not look exactly like that assembly in a natural amphitheater at Shechem. Yet, the location is not really the point. The idea is that the entire collection of people were giving praise and honor to God as their one true King, and as they did this they engaged in group recitation of God’s Word in its entirety. They left out nothing; so, they made no editorial or cultural changes to the message of that word. In sharing it in this highly public manner, they were also affirming its priority as their singular point of guidance for their moral, cultural, and spiritual lives. Thus, they were affirming that the Lord was the singular and final authority over all aspects of life and over its conduct into the future.

It seems to me that this might not be such a bad idea in our world. There is an aimlessness to the way that our nations and our leaders are going that might find focus and valid purpose in God’s Word. The degree to which the people of this earth have become self-reliant and absorbed in actions and enterprises that we think will benefit ourselves primarily and that often work against the well-being of others must be troubling to the God of justice and peace. God’s design for this world works, and our redirection of it has not. Although I am not so naïve as to think that the leaders of nations or the people of those countries would actually do what the people of Israel did on that day, I do wonder what effect such a turning to God would have on us all. So, how might our world be different if each of us began to do the sort of things that Joshua led them into as they centered their day upon worship of God, devoted themselves to reading and to sharing His Word, and gathered openly in a universal fellowship of faith? What might that world look like?

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5: 24

 

When does life begin? This is a question that has been debated for a very long time, and it continues to be a point a real contention to this day. Some people argue that life commences at conception, others say that it is at birth, and still others hold that it doesn’t begin until an individual draws independent breath. I am proposing a fourth alternative. This is that life truly begins for each of us when we accept God’s offer of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. The rest of what we might consider to be life is a weak shadow in comparison to being fully alive in Christ, and this new state of being alive is ours from the moment that we surrender ourselves to Christ as this is when His Spirit comes to dwell within us and God’s sentence of judgment upon us as sinners is placed upon Jesus as our personal redeemer.

 

Thus, from that moment forward our lives take on a new meaning and a redeemed purpose. In accepting Christ we have also entered into the will of the Father for relationship with Him. Jesus is the mediator who brings people into the holy presence of the Father with our sins removed and the judgment that we so rightly deserved taken on by Him on the cross. As we are right with God, we can live righteously throughout our days in this world. This is an important aspect of the calling that God has for us as His children and that Christ places before us as His redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross has an eternal purpose and it also has one that is for this moment in time.

 

The life that w have been granted as a gift from God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus is to be used to bring the character and nature of the Father and the Son into direct contact with this world. As we who know Christ go about our lives and engage in the activities of our days, we can touch others with love, grace, mercy, and the truth that comes from God’s Word. We can have a redemptive effect upon the brokenness of this place where we live in the manner that we conduct ourselves as we follow the example of Christ and the leading of His Spirit. In Christ we are set free to live without fear of judgment, and we are also granted the freedom to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ to a world where death rules. So, this is the primary purpose of this new life that we receive in Christ. We can demonstrate and speak of life as something that we possess and offer that same life to anyone who accepts God’s offer of it through Christ.

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger, the foreigner, the sick and the weak, and those who might angrily reject me.

 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9: 36

 

Jesus knew the people; He was very aware of what they were like and how they were living. This was true because He spent significant amounts of time in their company. He didn’t stand back or remain aloof and separate from the crowds. Jesus wanted to get up close to the full spectrum of humanity, and He was willing, even desirous, to connect personally with the dirty and unwashed, the angry or demented, the poor and oppressed, and the well off and powerful. They were all to be counted among the lost and wandering sheep of this earth when it came to these encounters with the Savior. Each and every one of them was in need of the truth of the Gospel and the love of God.

 

So, Jesus traveled along their paths of wandering as He went where people in need were located. Christ did what God had done from the beginning of His relationship with us in that He came after us. Jesus did not sit back, station Himself in a suitable place to conduct His business, and wait for the people to come to Him. He went out into the world, took the risks that this act involves, and He reached out His hand of mercy, love, and truth to everyone that He encountered along the way. Jesus knew that He held the answer to the challenges that all people face in this life. He was fully aware that direction and purpose and the empowerment to enter into them are all provided to us by God and through His Word. He brought that Word of Life to the doorsteps of the world in His flesh. He carried God’s salvation to the paths of destruction that people had taken in our shepherd less states of being.

 

Jesus conducted Himself in this compassionate manner, and He desires or us to do the same sort of thing. Christ has left each of His followers with His Word of truth to cherish and to utilize in understanding and engaging with life. However, that same word is a living and a dynamic document as well as a Spirit-engaged testimonial to God’s grace, mercy, love, and redemption. We are, in fact, to be the workers in the fields of harvest that the Lord speaks about. Christ sends us out from our homes, our churches, and our comfort into a world where directionless existence is the normal state of affairs. He guides us and counsels us in this journey of faith, and Christ, Himself, does the actual work of convincing and convicting people of their need for Him. We are to be people who act in faith as we are yielded to Christ’s compassion for others. As we journey into our world, we will encounter these lost sheep to love and to share the truth of life with, and the compassion that we show to them will reflect that of our Lord onto the landscape around us.

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