Justice of God

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 19.16-21
16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. 

Reflection: Justice of God
By John Tillman

Sometimes when we find penalties in the Bible harsh, it is because we have been fortunate enough to never suffer serious harm or experience evil first hand. Shockingly light sentences today for rapes, police shootings, or deaths caused by negligence or drunk driving often lead to outcries from victims. When we have been harmed, pity is the last thing on our mind. 

Miroslav Volf writes that In order to maintain non-violence, we need a belief that God will act in vengeance on behalf of victims.

“One could object that it is not worthy of God to wield the sword. Is God not love, long-suffering and all-powerful love? A counter-question could go something like this: Is it not a bit too arrogant to presume that our contemporary sensibilities about what is compatible with God’s love are so much healthier than those of the people of God throughout the whole history of Judaism and Christianity?

In a world of violence it would not be worthy of God not to wield the sword; if God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship.

My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love.

Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind. If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”

*Excerpt from Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm— Wait Upon the Lord
Wait upon the Lord and keep his way; he will raise you up to possess the land, and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, flourishing like a tree in full leaf.
I went by, and behold, they were not there; I searched for them, but they could not be found.
Mark those who are honest; observe the upright; for there is a future for the peaceable.
Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; the future of the wicked is cut off.
But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord will help them and rescue them; he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in him. — Psalm 37.36-42

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 19 (Listen – 3:04)
Psalm 106 (Listen – 4:52)

Read more about The Promise of Justice
Those who deny moral absolutes cannot show that they lack anything. Without a moral ideal, no complaint regarding justice can be made.

Read more about Miscarrying Justice
The calls of the prophets about bloodshed echo in our halls of justice too. We cannot dismiss bloodshed or violence as a legal problem. It is also a spiritual problem.

Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 15.4-5, 7-11
4 …there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God …

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. 

Matthew 26.11
11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

Reflection: Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor
By John Tillman

Matthew 26.11 is just one phrase of many words of Jesus that have been misquoted, taken out of context, or abused in history. People have used this to imply that poverty is intractable and action against it is ineffectual at best and against God’s will at worst. This false teaching is one of the more damaging ones to spread in the history of the church.

Jesus never implied opposing poverty means opposing God’s sovereignty. Instead, Jesus directly referenced Deuteronomy 15.11, including its command to be openhanded toward the poor.

Deuteronomy makes an extraordinary promise that “there need be no poor people among you” (Deuteronomy 15.4) but follows it up with realism, saying, “There will always be poor people…” (Deuteronomy 15.11)

God proclaims the possibilities of generosity while acknowledging the grim reality of greed. Through following God, we can open our hearts and hands, maintaining idealistic visions and actions without losing sight of ugly realities. Christians can look the darkest realities of poverty in the face and confidently say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” 

“If only you fully obey the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 15.4)

The dream of Deuteronomy 15.4 was fulfilled (for a short time) in the early church. It was said of them, “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4.33-34) These Spirit-filled believers fulfilled Deuteronomy’s proclaimed possibility about the poor.

All systems controlled by humans eventually become corrupted and the Acts 4 church is no exception. Racism slips into the distribution of food and the highest levels of the church leadership must get involved (and get honest) to solve it. Corruption in systems run by humans is inevitable. If the church’s own system faced accusations of inequity, how much more can we expect inequity to be a concern in secular systems? However, these concerns are not a reason that we should abandon our calling in this area. 

At the heart level of each individual and at the highest levels of our churches, denominations, and governments, Christians must acknowledge that the poor are our responsibility and are one way that God will judge how well we are helping his will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6.9-10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.6

 – Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Spiritual Indicators
God holds his people responsible for the welfare of the poor, the foreigners, the widows, and the orphans.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/spiritual-indicators

Read more about He Became Poor
The reasons God gives for his just acts of judgment against Israel and Judah…always include offenses related to oppression of the poor.

Spiritual Indicators

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 14.22-23, 28-29
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. 

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 

Reflection: Spiritual Indicators
By John Tillman

The offerings the Israelites presented served many purposes. They symbolically pointed to the future sacrifice of Christ, but they also served practical and direct functions in society.

The spiritual purpose of these offerings was to bring people into the presence of the Lord for a meal. When people worshiped at the Temple, it was a large family meal in which they and the Levites and priests ate in God’s presence. This picture reflects other meals that God ate with his people, including the elders on Sinai, the disciples with Jesus, and the coming wedding feast of the Lamb.

There were practical purposes as well. Levites had no land to support themselves. They were to focus on cultivating faith, not grain or animals. The tithes, offerings, and sacrifices were God’s provision for these families. God often would judge the condition of the nation by the condition of the priests and Levites. If they were starving and struggling, the people were being unfaithful. If they grew fat and overly prosperous (1 Samuel 2.22-36) the priests and Levites were unfaithful.

God also expected the poor and marginalized to benefit from the offerings. God holds his people responsible for the welfare of the poor, the foreigners, the widows, and the orphans. The tribal economic system was not perfect and had specific problems and abuses that commonly harmed widows and orphans. These groups represent to us people who may regularly fall through the cracks of our flawed economic systems.

As with Israel, God will judge nations by the conditions of these groups. 

How are our “Levites?” Are they neglected? Are they struggling without enough financial support? Are they weighed down with demands? Are they crying out for righteousness but no one is listening?

It is simultaneously possible for Levites to become the abusers. Are they growing fat on the sacrifices? Do they abuse their followers? Are they concealing corruption and allowing abuse to continue?

How are our poor and marginalized people? Are they harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd? Are they victimized and blamed for their own suffering? Are they crying out for justice but no one is listening?

These groups are spiritual indicators, testifying to the condition of the hearts of those who claim to follow God. If we expect to dine with God in fellowship, we should not be surprised to be confronted/convicted based on the condition of these groups.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said: “As long as the day lasts we must carry out the work of the one who sent me; the night will soon be here when no one can work. As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.” — John 9.4-5

 – Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 13-14 (Listen – 6:35)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

Read more about Christ, the True Hero
We are not the saviors, but the ones in need of saving. It is Christ, not us, who is the hero of our cities and our world.

Read more about Where Judgment Falls
Eli’s sons were corrupt in the extreme…a textbook case of spiritual abuse and financial malfeasance in the name of ministry.

Ways of Canaan, Ways of Christ

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 12.4-7, 30-31
4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

…be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

Psalm 97.10-12
10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil, 
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones 
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 
11 Light shines g on the righteous 
and joy on the upright in heart. 
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, 
and praise his holy name.

Reflection: Ways of Canaan, Ways of Christ
By John Tillman

Despite Moses’ warnings, eventually the Israelites would accommodate to the practices of the land, even while claiming to be God’s people. Every evil thing that God sent Israel to destroy Israel would eventually set back up. 

They topple corrupt and brutal kings, then ask for their own. They cleanse the land of cultic prostitution, only to become prostitutes themselves. They destroy shrines and altars soaked in the blood of children, and later set them back up. The Temple in Jerusalem that Babylon would later destroy had been debased with the very Asherah poles God commanded Joshua to cut down. Some children in the line of Christ’s human ancestors would be sacrificed to Molech by wicked kings in David’s line.

The way the world worships, the way the world operates, and the way our world’s kings lead will always be a temptation for us, just as they were for Israel. 

The way of the world is the way of Canaan. The world idolizes brutality in leaders, demanding our opponents to be crushed and dominated. The world lusts after promiscuity, desiring endless and unlimited sexual conquest. The world sacrifices others (children, family, friendship) for self-empowerment in the form of financial success, political acceptability, and personal advancement. 

As in Israel, some will take up these practices while claiming to serve God. But God will not be mocked in this way by us any more than he would by Israel. In our devotion to God, we must not take up these ways of Canaan but the way of Christ.

God would eventually choose Jerusalem as the place for his name and for centralized worship. Our worship must stay centered on Christ. Christ is the city where God dwells with us, the temple through which God meets us, the priest who serves us, the king who rules us, and the sacrifice which saves us.

We must admire gentleness instead of brutality in our leaders. We must maintain a passion for pure and holy ways of loving others, rather than satisfying our own desires. We must be willing to sacrifice our own empowerment for the benefit of others.

Our priestly task is to set before the world a better way, a light in the darkness.
Seek God’s face and ask him to reveal and remove “ways of Canaan” within you, replacing them with the ways of Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away. — Psalm 65.5

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 12 (Listen – 5:11)
Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Over Jordan
When we cross over the Jordan with Christ, the land has no enemies to be defeated.

Read more about Ready to Exit the Desert
The exit from Egypt was more than salvation from slavery. God began shaping Israel to walk in their role as his priestly nation, to bless all nations.

Between Gerizim and Ebal

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 11.18-20, 26-29
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.

Reflection: Between Gerizim and Ebal
By John Tillman

Moses gave instructions for a gigantic event that he would never see. Joshua would carry it out after Moses died. (Deuteronomy 27.9-13; Joshua 8.33-35) Half the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim and half on Mount Ebal. The tribes standing on Gerizim would pronounce the blessings that would come from obedience. The tribes standing on Ebal would pronounce the curses that would come from rebellion.

It was part antiphonal choral reading, part performance-art, part visual demonstration, part community learning event, and part worship ceremony. What a meaningful and memorable moment.

Standing in between Gerizim and Ebal, there is more at stake than personal holiness or individual choices. Israel was not just choosing whether they would be blessed but whether they would be a blessing to the nations as God promised Abraham that they would.

Israel’s role was not to destroy all other nations but to bless them. They were to bless them by being an example of righteousness. They were to bless them by being the priestly nation to whom all could come to meet God. 

God wants blessings for all people and his loving voice echoes in scripture like shouts across a canyon. Often, however, we plug our ears to God’s voice and shout back our rebellion and rejection of him. Curses echo back to us in our own, proud, stubborn voices.

Yet, God does not abandon us to the curses we choose. Jesus came to become a curse for us. (Galatians 3:12-14) Through Christ, the curse’s hold on us is broken (Revelation 22:3) and our life can overflow with good things. Jesus took the curses of Ebal and he brings to us the blessings of Gerizim.

Israel was to be God’s instrument but forgot the tune they were to play. Through Christ, we can pick up the melody. Will we choose God’s blessings and to bless others?

When we lie down and when we get up may we talk about God’s word and pass it on to others. (Deuteronomy 11.19-21)
Let us daily make a meaningful and memorable moment, dedicating ourselves to God.
Let us set before ourselves the image of Gerizim and Ebal.
May we hear and obey God’s call toward blessing.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.3

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 11 (Listen – 4:38)
Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 1:37)

Read more about His Blessings, Our Curse
We have your blessings today, Lord,
Because you took our curse!

Read more about The Value of Words
Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that are filled with life, not death.
Words that bless and do not curse.

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