Where Does One Find Justice? Psalm 7
There are an abundance of legal dramas on TV. The newest one, “Bull.” is about a trial consulting firm that uses psychology to get the optimal jury and persuade jurors to find their client not guilty. This is a far cry from the legal system of the Old Testament where judges reign supreme and God, the just judge, was a prominent image.
Psalm 7 is an individual lament. The psalmist flees to God’s temple in search of sanctuary from those who would tear him apart like a lion’s prey (vs. 1-2). There he takes an oath that only someone who was innocent would swear, telling God that if he has done that which he has been accused of, then let his enemies overtake him and kill him (vs. 3-5).
He calls upon God for justice and expresses his confidence that the actions of the wicked will come back on their heads: “They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.” (vs. 15-16) Karma – they will reap that which they have sowed. Psalm 7 concludes with praise of God’s justice/righteousness.
God is a just judge in this psalm; happy are the righteous who are under his judgment. God as judge is not a popular image in this day, yet it was very common concept for God for the Hebrew people. The word judge and different variations appear in the King James Bible 192 times, judgment/s is mentioned 188 times, not to mention how often justice, God’s justice appears in Scripture. There is even a book of Judges, a recounting of these religious leaders who led Israel after Joshua and before David.
Judges played a very important role in Old Testament life. Unlike the judges of today who are restricted to advising the jury and not free to convict, they rendered decisions when there were conflicts among people. Patriarchs were judges in their own families, making decisions, deciding disputes; as were kings. Priests were judges and so the sanctuary became a place of judgment. The elders of the city could serve as judges at the gate, or a judge might go from town to town as Samuel did. Judges were also military leaders endowed by the grace of God to deliver and govern God’s people in times of oppression. They served for a limited time during a crisis.
Judges are found in many different situations, some were just, some unjust. It was injustices perpetrated by some judges that caused people to ask for a king, as if a king would be better.
So it comes as no surprise that the Hebrew people would apply this term to God. God is the supreme arbiter pronouncing sentences on people as we see in Gen. 18:24; Is. 33:22; James 4:12. He judges all the earth (Psalm 94:2; Acts 10:42; Rom. 3:6). He judges between nations (Is. 2:4). The sinner is well advised to avoid God’s judgment by remaining loyal to the covenant as we see in this week’s psalm as well as Psalm 50, 82 and 96. Very common yet we seem to avoid ideas of judgment. We prefer to focus on God’s love and mercy rather than his judgment – why? What are we afraid of? What have we lost in the process?
In Exodus, at one point the people strayed from the ways of God and Moses in anger wants God to wipe them out. God refuses to do so. At another point, God is angry, ready to destroy these people and start over again with a whole new race under Moses, just as he did with Noah at the time of the flood. Moses convinces God to give the people another chance and God relents of his anger. (Exodus 32:1-14)
This is an interesting and problematic passage. It poses the question – can God be wrong? Did God need Moses to show him he was wrong? If God can be persuaded by Moses, can we persuade him to do what we want? How often will God soften his heart and relent? How many chances will God give us to get it right? What does this tell us about God?
All good questions.
In Genesis 18, Abraham bargained with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah. God was ready to save the city if even 10 good men could have been found, but not even that small number was found and so the city was judged, found lacking, and destroyed.
God, as judge, is willing to listen to us plead our cases. Moses acts as the attorney for the defense; he pleads his case well and God gives the people another chance. God gave repeated chances throughout the Old Testament.
God, the just judge, listens to all sides of the story. He is able to discern rightly. He knows their hearts, knows when they are lying, knows wickedness even when it masquerades as good. The just judge knows that there are times to give a second chance, or a third or even more, but also time to say enough, no more chances; you’ve had all the chances you get, lots of opportunities to change, and you didn’t. Now it’s too late. We do run out of time.
God as judge reminds us that there will be an accounting for our lives. We are accountable before our God for how we live, and so we better get our act together now, while we still have time, for we do not know the day or hour death will come.
Perhaps part of our problem with this image is that we see so many imperfect human judges who make human mistakes. Our system is different from Old Testament times. They didn’t have to deal with a jury and our far from perfect legal system. We see people getting off because of legal technicalities or simply because one lawyer was better than the other. We often wonder, where is justice? The legal system seems to be more concerned with “wining” than the truth of a situation.
It can be hard to know when to give someone a break and when to throw someone into jail. It can be hard to be a judge, have the same people coming into your courtroom like a revolving door, repeatedly asking for forgiveness, using all the right words to convince you to give them yet another break. We can’t see what God sees. We can only do the best we can with what we have.
I wouldn’t want to trust my life to our judicial system and human judges. Hopefully I will not be placed in that position. But God isn’t like that. God, the just judge, sees to the heart. He knows when people are lying. He knows about tough love and what it takes to get people to reform their lives.
Psalmist today presents his case to God, the ultimate judge. He does so in confidence, knowing that he is innocent of any crime. Being under God’s justice is a good place to be.
What does the image of God as judge say to you? Are you afraid of that judgment, or looking forward to it with confident trust?
This post is part of a series on the Psalms. click here to follow blog