there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being,
let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again."
I once served as a juror on a headline-making Wyoming double-murder
trial, described in the September 2003 Readers Digest article "Murder on the
Cliff." The defendant was accused of killing his wife and five-year-old son by
pushing them off a 100+-foot cliff, then claiming they fell accidentally. Hed
allegedly first tried to hire a friend to shoot them, then killed them himself when his
friend stalled. Later he attempted to get the same friend to kill his parents. This time
the friend went to the police.
The police had taped him planning to kill his parents, but the evidence
on his wifes and sons deaths was nearly all circumstantial. It took two weeks
to hear that testimony. Then twelve of us were given the case to decide.
We were sobered by knowing we held someones future in our hands.
We tried hard to be fair, look only at the facts, and weigh the evidence carefully.
We were fortunate. We had a good team of jurors and became friends. Our
presiding juror encouraged us to take our time, look at all the evidence, talk everything
over openly and honestly, and not rush to a decision. All of us said what we thought, pro
Those were emotion-filled sessions. We wept as we looked at close-up
photos of the two battered bodies on the rocks below the cliff, and were sobered by
visiting the site itself. We asked how a father could deliberately murder
his wife and small son in such a horrifying way. One of the jury ladies told us "my
head knows he did it, but my heart hasnt caught up!"
Our decision crystallized when, after ten hours of deliberation, we
realized that crime-scene photos of the inside of the defendants Jeep showed
unmistakably that hed lied to us on the witness stand. Hed claimed that his
family planned to four-wheel to the bottom of upper Flaming Gorge, picnic, and swim. They
got lost, which led to the "accident." But the photos showed us his open-topped
Jeep contained no picnic lunch; no swimwear; no changes of clothes; no towels; no wood for
a fire nothing at all that would have been there had his story been true.
Several jurors cried as we filed back into the courtroom. We knew we
were giving justice, but wed become keenly aware of the real-life tragedy.
We returned guilty verdicts on all counts, and were later upheld by the
State Supreme Court.
Why is justice part of loving and helping our neighbors? Because the
Bible treats justice as one of our neighbors most basic needs. It talks even more
about providing justice than about necessities like food, clothing, or housing. Even the
name "Melchizedek," the famous Old Testament king and priest, means
"Justice" (Heb. 7:2).
Justice helped people support their families. When justice was denied,
suffering and poverty prevailed. "A poor mans farm may have good soil, but
injustice robs him of its riches" (Prov. 13:23).
Today, groups like the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org) work to remedy injustice around the world.
Does God care about justice for his people?
Yes. He is a God of justice
and the Judge of the whole earth. Justice is part of his nature.
"For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and
wrong" (Isa. 61:8).
More Scriptures: Gen. 18:25; Job 34:17; Ps. 7:6-12; 9:7-9; 9:12; 37:6;
37:28; 37:33; 50:6; 58:11; 67:4; 85:13; 94:2; 94:14-15; 96:10; 96:13; 97:2; 98:8-9; 99:4;
101:1; 103:6; Prov. 17:26; 18:5; 20:8; 21:3; 21:15; 28:5; 29:26; Isa. 5:7; 5:15-16; 28:6;
33:22; 50:8-9; 59:16; 61:11; 63:5; Jer. 9:23-24; 11:20; 12:1-3; Ezek. 45:9-10; Hos. 12:6;
Mic. 6:8; Nah. 1:2-3; Zeph. 3:5.
Justice is a central theme of the Messianic prophecies:
"See my servant, whom I uphold; my Chosen One in whom I
delight. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will reveal justice to the nations of the world
... He will see full justice given to all who have been wronged" (Isa. 42:1-3).
Also read: Ps. 68:4-6; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:3-5; 61:1-3; Jer. 23:5-6;
How did God provide justice for ancient Israel?
Moses father-in-law urged him to delegate the task of
settling the nations disagreements (Ex. 18:13-26). His new system
aimed to ensure that everyone, rich or poor, got justice and that it was free.
Moses repeated the story in Deut. 1:9-17: "I told the people,
I need help! ... choose some men from each tribe who are wise, experienced, and
understanding, and I will appoint them as your leaders.
"They agreed to this; I took the men they selected ... and
appointed them as administrative assistants in charge of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and
tens to decide their quarrels and assist them in every way. I instructed them to be
perfectly fair at all times, even to foreigners. When giving your decisions, I
told them, never favor a man because he is rich; be fair to great and small alike.
Don't fear their displeasure, for you are judging in the place of God. Bring me any cases
too difficult for you, and I will handle them."
After Moses death, individual leaders (from Joshua to Samuel)
acted as judges. Then the nations kings assumed that role.
Years later King Jehoshaphat upgraded Judahs justice system.
Jehoshaphat appointed judges in all of Judahs larger
cities, so no one had to travel to Jerusalem except for final appeals. (Regional access
wasnt needed under Moses, since Israel then lived in one large camp.)
Jehoshaphat set up appeals courts and taught those judges to work with
the provincial judges. He emphasized careful, just, honest decisions unaffected by
partiality or bribes.
"So Jehoshaphat ... appointed judges throughout the nation in
all the larger cities, and instructed them:
"Watch your step I have not appointed you God
has; and he will stand beside you and help you give justice in each case that comes before
you. Be very much afraid to give any other decision than what God tells you to. For there
must be no injustice among Gods judges, no partiality, no taking of bribes.
"Jehoshaphat set up courts in Jerusalem, too, with the Levites and
priests and clan leaders and judges ... You are to act always in the fear of God,
with honest hearts. Whenever a case is referred to you by the judges out in the provinces,
whether murder cases or other violations of the laws and ordinances of God, you are to
clarify the evidence for them and help them to decide justly, lest the wrath of God come
down upon you and them; if you do this, you will discharge your responsibility.
"Then he appointed ... Zebadiah ... as the court of final appeal
in all civil cases; with the Levites as ... assistants. Be fearless in your stand
for truth and honesty. And may God use you to defend the innocent" (2 Chron. 19:4-11;
also read Ezek. 44:24).
Where do we glimpse Israels justice system in action?
"Samuel ... rode circuit annually, setting up his court first
at Bethel, then Gilgal, and then Mizpah, and cases of dispute were brought to him in each
of those three cities from all the surrounding territory. Then he would come back to
Ramah, for his home was there, and he would hear cases there too" (1 Sam. 7:15-17).
But many judges, including Samuels sons, fell short of
"In his old age Samuel retired and appointed his sons as judges
in his place. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons ... were not like their father, for they
were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of
justice" (1 Sam. 8:1-3).
More Scriptures: Judg. 4:4-5; Ps. 122:5; Eccl. l3:16; Ezek. 44:24; Mic.
7:3-4; Hab.1:3-4; 1 Cor. 6 1-9.
Absalom used peoples need for justice to plot treachery
"[Absalom] got up early every morning and went out to the gate
of the city; and when anyone came to bring a case to the king for trial, Absalom called
him over and expressed interest in his problem.
"He would say, I can see that you are right in this matter;
its unfortunate that the King doesnt have anyone to assist him in hearing
these cases. I surely wish I were the judge; then anyone with a lawsuit could come to me,
and I would give him justice (2 Sam. 15:2-4)!"
Either Absalom lied, or David learned from the experience, because
David later appointed many judges.
"David instructed, 6,000 are to be bailiffs and
judges" (1 Chron. 23:4-5).
When the Jews returned from exile, King Artaxerxes of Persia
reestablished Israels justice system:
"And you, Ezra, are to use the wisdom God has given you to
select and appoint judges and other officials to govern all the people west of the
Euphrates River; if they are not familiar with the laws of your God, you are to teach them
(Ezra 7 25).
Early Christians proved their conversions by making up for
injustices theyd committed:
"Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, Sir, from now
on I will give half my wealth to the poor, and if I find I have overcharged anyone on his
taxes, I will penalize myself by giving him back four times as much" (Luke
Was justice to be different for the rich than for the poor?
The Bible emphasized equal justice for all, especially the poor,
widows, orphans, and immigrants.
"God stands up to open heavens court. He pronounces
judgment on the judges. How long will you judges refuse to listen to the evidence? ...
Give fair judgment to the poor man, the afflicted, the fatherless, the destitute. Rescue
the poor and helpless from the grasp of evil men" (Ps. 82:1-5).
More Scriptures: Ex. 18:13-26; 23:6; Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:9-18;
10:17-18; 27:19; 2 Sam. 8:15; Job 29:12-17; Ps. 72:1-5; 146:5-9; Prov. 24:23; 28:21; 29:7;
31:4-9; Isa. 1:23-27; Jer. 5:26-29; 22:3-4; 22:13-17; Amos 2:6-7; 5:7; 5:10-13; 8:4-7;
Mic. 2:8-10; Zech. 7:8-14; Mal. 3:5.
Whats todays greatest barrier to justice?
Just as in Moses time, its lack of money. Too many can
only echo Job 19:7: "I scream for help and no one hears me. I shriek, but get no
Amy, one of my Florida co-workers, was the mother of two
small children. Her husband drank heavily and often beat her. They divorced, and she won
legal custody of the children. He kidnapped them. She went to court to get them back. Her
"ex" had an excellent job, and could afford a good lawyer. Amy, a clerical
"temp," couldnt. So the court gave him custody, and neither
punished him for kidnapping the children nor for beating her.
Then he sued her for child support. She couldnt
even defend herself. She had neither the $2,000 a lawyer would have cost, nor the money to
travel a thousand miles to the hearing in his new state. He won again.
The case was decided on one basis: who had money for a lawyer. Love,
tears, right, and wrong didnt help.
Is dishonesty in the justice system wrong?
"Never twist justice to benefit a rich man, and never
accept bribes. For bribes blind the eyes of the wisest and corrupt their decisions.
Justice must prevail" (Deut. 16:19-20).
Failing to testify was illegal:
"Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; dont
stand back and let them die. Dont try to disclaim responsibility by saying you
didnt know about it. For God, who knows all hearts, knows yours, and he knows you
knew (Prov. 24:11-12)!"
Consumer fraud was a form of injustice:
"In all your transactions you must use accurate scales
and honest measurements ... All who cheat with unjust weights and measurements are
detestable to the Lord your God" (Deut. 25:13-16; also read Ezek. 45:10-12 and Mic.
Near the end of his life, Samuel asked the people to rate
"Now tell me ... whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I
ever defrauded you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe? Tell me and I
will make right whatever I have done wrong.
"No, they replied, you have never defrauded or
oppressed us in any way and you have never taken even one single bribe" (1 Sam.
More Scriptures: Ex. 18:21; 23:1-3; 23:8; Lev. 5:1; 19:35; Deut.
1:16-17; 10:17; 19:16-21; Ps. 15:1-2; 15:5; 26:9-10; 58:1-2; 82:2-3; Prov. 6:16-19; 12:17;
14:5; 15:27; 16:11; 17:23; 19:5; 19:9; 19:28; 21:28; 24:28-29; 28:16; 29:4; Eccl. 7:7;
Isa. 1:23; 5:20; 5:23-25; 11:3-5; 29:20-21; 32:5-8; Amos 2:6-7; 5:10-13; Hab. 1:3-4; Zech.
7:8-9; 8:16-17; Luke 3:10-14
What was required for convictions in capital crimes?
More than one witness had to agree before anyone could receive the
"All murderers must be executed, but only if there is more than
one witness; no man shall die with only one person testifying against him" (Num.
35:30; also read Deut. 17:6; 19:15-21).
Difficult cases could be referred to a higher court:
"If a case arises that is too hard for you to decide for
instance, whether someone is guilty of murder when there is insufficient evidence, or
whether someones rights have been violated you shall take the case to the ...
priests and Levites, and the chief judge on duty at the time will make the decision. His
decision is without appeal" (Deut. 17:8-11).
If a murder victim was found but no one had seen the crime, the priests
were to conduct a sacrifice outside the nearest town, stating that the murderer was
unknown and asking forgiveness for the people (Deut. 21:1-9).
Curses were placed upon anyone who killed someone else secretly, and on
anyone who accepted a bribe to kill a person (Deut. 27:24-25).
But anyone who caused death unintentionally could seek shelter in
"Cities of Refuge:"
"Cities of Refuge shall be designated for anyone to flee into
if he has killed someone accidentally ... These are not only for the protection of
Israelites, but also for foreigners and travelers" (Num. 35:11-15; see also Ex.
21:12-14; Deut. 4:41-43; 19:1-13; Josh. 20:2-9).
Anyone who caused death unintentionally could seek shelter in
"Cities of Refuge:"
"Cities of Refuge shall be designated for anyone to flee
into if he has killed someone accidentally ... Three of these six Cities of Refuge are to
be located in the land of Canaan, and three on the east side of the Jordan River. These
are not only for the protection of Israelites, but also for foreigners and
travelers." (Num. 35:11-15; see also Ex. 21:12-14; Deut. 4:41-43; 19:1-13;
Are law and justice always the same thing?
"No one cares about being fair and true. Your lawsuits are
based on lies; you spend your time plotting evil deeds and doing them ... we carefully
plan our lies. Our courts oppose the righteous man; fairness is unknown. Truth falls dead
in the streets, and justice is outlawed" (Is. 59:4, 59:13-14).
Its easy to forget what patriotic-sounding words like
"justice" mean. A finance company where we once lived urged customers to apply
for loans by dialing "freedom" from one county and "justice" from
another. Since I could see no connection between borrowing money and either
freedom or justice, I wrote to suggest the company switch to two other seven-letter words
customers could associate with their product.
"Monthly" and "Payment."
More Scriptures: Ps. 109:6-7; Is. 10:1-2; Jer. 5:26-29; 22:3-4; Amos
5:7; Mic. 2:8-10.
How should we react to lack of justice?
While living in Orlando, my whole family experienced what first
seemed a persistent "flu bug." For weeks, then months, then a year we fought
aches, chills, low-grade fevers, extreme fatigue, and erratic memories. Tests showed only
low white blood counts. Antibiotics didnt help. Our children became too sick to
attend school, so we began home-schooling them.
Friends had suggested that the pesticide used to spray our home
monthly for fleas might be responsible. Id dismissed that. Surely laws enforced safe
levels! But finally we checked.
The Florida Poison Control Center told Yvonne, "Mrs. Ahlstrom, you
have all the symptoms of pesticide poisoning!" They recommended we stop the
treatments and scrub everything: floors, bedding, upholstery, drapes. We did, and began a
long, slow recovery.
Our daughters doctor agreed with the FPCCs
diagnosis, but cautioned it wasnt provable. Only one test existed (cholinesterase),
and wed have had to do that before we cleaned up our home. Even then, he
said, it would only have worked "if we were practically unconscious."
The pesticide affected our lives profoundly for more than ten years,
and we still face possible side effects. Justice certainly says effects that severe should
be compensated. But, because no confirming medical test existed, it couldnt happen.
How does that with fit Romans 8:28, which says "All that happens
to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans?
For my wife, it worked unexpectedly well.
Since before we met, shed suffered from chronic toxic sinuses.
VERY toxic sinuses. They had severely damaged her lungs until God led us to begin
activities that healed her. But though her lungs were healed, her sinuses continued to
worsen. By the time we moved to Orlando, one "glob" of drainage coming down the
back of her throat would nearly make her pass out. She had hallucinations. Her heartbeat
would become erratic. Sometimes those effects continued for days. On many days I left for
work very aware that I might not see her alive when I came home.
Then came the pesticide. Most of its effects were very bad. But
suddenly her sinuses no longer caused her to pass out. She had no more hallucinations. Her
heartbeat became steady and stayed that way. Something in the pesticide had almost
completely neutralized those toxic sinuses. Romans 8:28 had worked!
More recently, toxic mold in our Wyoming apartment affected us all, but
especially Yvonne. She was all but bedridden for over a year. Her immune and nervous
systems were severely affected. She had spikes of high blood pressure (giving her one
"mini-stroke"), severe weakness, a pulse of 120, frequent "panic
attacks," widespread knotting in her back, and uncontrolled twitching in her feet.
The mold cost us all our furniture and virtually all of our personal possessions a
$40,000 loss! Our renters insurance didnt cover it. Our landlords
contract did (because for six months his manager ignored our requests to fix the problem),
but he flatly refused to honor it.
How did we respond? We chose to praise God for everything, though that wasnt
easy,. To look forward, not back. To focus on the good things that had happened,
not the bad. To see Gods hand, extended through difficulties but in love, enlarging
Wed seemed to be "pressed on every side by troubles"
(2 Cor. 4:8). But the song we chose was "no mere man has ever seen,
heard, or even imagined what wonderful things God has ready for those who love the
Lord" (1 Cor. 2:9).
"No matter what happens, always be thankful" (1 Thess.
5:18; also read Rom. 8:28.).
What blessings does God promise to those who provide justice?
"Then once again enormous crops will come. Then justice will
rule through all the land, and out of justice, peace" (Is. 32:15-17).
More Scriptures: Deut. 25:13-15; Ps.15:1-5; 106:3; Isa. 33:15-16;
54:17; 56:1; Jer. 22:3-4; Ezek. 18:5-9; 33:17-19; Amos 5:14-15.
Did lack of justice help cause Israels captivity?
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, and Zechariah warned Israel she
faced exile if she didnt give justice to her poor and needy.
"They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is
right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter ...
They take bribes to pervert justice, letting the wicked go free and putting innocent men
in jail. Therefore God will deal with them ... for they have ... despised the Word of the
Holy One of Israel. That is why the anger of the Lord is hot against his people; that is
why he has reached out his hand to smash them" (Isa. 5:20; 5:23-25).
More Scriptures: Isa. 1:23-25; Jer. 21:11-12; Lam. 3:34-36; Amos 2:6-7;
5:10-13; 5:21-24; 6:8-12; Mic. 2:8-10; 3:9-12; Zech. 7:8-14.
Dare we risk Gods judgment by not making true justice available
"The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small
stones." William Faulkner