Is Micah Calling for Social Justice?

We live in quite a broken society. I think we all know this already. Even among believers, there is great conflict regarding issues of racial

tensions, past wrongs, social injustice, etc.

Because such conflicts are prominent, I cannot help but have my ears perk up when justice is a topic of discussion in Scripture. Consider this well-known passage:

Micah 6:6-8

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 is one of those regularly cited verses. It is beautiful. It is poetic. And, if not handled properly, it can be a tool used by folks to bludgeon others into social justice submission.

How can you argue with Micah 6:8. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God. Amen! Obviously then, some would argue, the focus of the church has to be the restoration of justice for those who have been previously oppressed.

But stop and look at the verse in its context. Honestly, we need to grab more than I cited above, but I fear folks would not read it all. Micah chapter 6 begins with a case between God and his people. The Lord called on his people to remember the way that he led them up out of Egypt and the way that he protected them in the wilderness from the curses of Balak. At the same time, God brought to the minds of his people the way that they, after Balaam could not curse them at Balak’s request, still found a way to rebel against the Lord.

Then God begins with the questions we see in verses 6-7. What should I do to please God? The idea is that of radical offering. The person seeing the tremendous guilt of Israel would wonder what they must do to get right with God. And God points out that some would suggest all sorts of radical things. Should they offer their children as offerings? Should they give mountains of grain and thousands of animal sacrifices? What do they need to do as a people to please the Lord?

And while verse 8 is beautiful and poetic, it also could have been said in a single word: repent. The point that the Lord is making is that these people need to turn from their sins. They had been an unjust nation, as we see in the next verses. People were cheating one another. People were brutalizing one another. People were refusing to obey God’s command to love God and love neighbor. And God tells them that if they want to please him, it is not through going above and beyond in their animal sacrifices. They will please him when they love him enough to obey his commands including his command to love your neighbor as yourself.

God does not want his people to make some sort of man-made, self-imposed radical gesture toward the sins of their past. God is not asking them to hold vigils in which they repeatedly rehash what was wrong in years gone by. God is not asking for them to invert the pyramid and put the formerly oppressed on the top and react to the former oppressors by oppressing them or their children. All the sacrifices that are suggested in verses 6-7 are examples of man’s best idea of how to deal with his sin. But in the end, God tells the people that obeying him now, from today forward, is the best way to go. Repent of your past by treating each other with righteous respect, justice, and equity today.

Now, is God in verse 8 telling the people that no sacrifice is needed for their sins? Is God saying that an individual can live justly enough on his own to not need his sin covered? Of course he is not. We know that from all of the rest of Scripture. But God is saying that the people cannot come up with some sort of extra self-punishing set of ceremonies that will make everything be alright. God just wants the people who are called by his name to follow his word and live in accord with the standards he has given them. He wants his people to love their neighbors and treat them with biblical justice. He wants them to turn to him in faith, obedient to his word, and get under the grace that he offers through the blood of a perfect sacrifice.

Micah is not calling for social justice, at least not in the way that we are defining it today. In fact, the opposite is true. Verses 6-7 would better parallel modern man’s attempt to somehow make things right through acts that God does not command. Modern social justice imposes all sorts of restrictions and punishments that God does not impose. Modern social justice brings in more and more division as mankind finds newer intersections of oppression to develop greater and greater victim statuses. But in the end, God calls his people to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. God calls his people not to make up new punishments and restrictions, but to do what he has always commanded. Today, treat people with biblical justice. Today, be kind and merciful to all. Today, walk with the Lord in simple faith and obedience.

Justice

Justice is quite popular in discussions today. People are crying out for all sorts of things they call justice. But when we look at the word in Scripture, how do we know what it means? After all, it seems like people are strongly disagreeing with one another regarding what justice truly is.

For many people, a call for justice is a call for punishment. For them, to ask God to do justice is to ask God to properly punish the guilty. This is, of course, a part of justice, but only a part.

Others consider a call to justice to be a call to take power or privilege away from one group and spread that power around to those who did not previously have it. Thus, these would consider justice to be fairness. If one group has been hurt by another, the strong group should receive equal or even greater hurt in return.

The question is, when the Bible talks about justice, what picture is drawn? Take a peek at this poetic parallelism and see what it tells us.

Psalm 106:3

Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!

God pronounces a blessing on those who do justice. This is no surprise. But what does that mean. The second line in the verse goes on to explain. Observing justice, in this verse, is equal to doing righteousness. Doing what is right in accord with the law, the word, the standard of God.

So, if we want to see justice done, we must begin with and remain firmly entrenched in the word of God. What does God say is righteous? That is what we must do.

The reason that justice is often connected to crime and punishment is that the word of God shows us God as the righteous final judge. God will properly punish what opposes him and God will rightly and sweetly reward his followers who are under his grace and obedient to his commands. Heaven and hell are displays of God’s justice and his righteous mercy. And, yes, the law of God shows us clear standards for crime and punishment as well.

But there is more. Loving your neighbor as yourself is righteousness, because such is obedience to the command of God when done for the glory of God. Acting to oppose immorality of all sorts, immorality as defined by Scripture, is doing justice because it is biblical righteousness. Protecting life, preserving marriage, punishing crime, all these are justice.

When you hear a call to justice, ask some important questions. Is the action I am being asked to take commanded in Scripture? Can I conclude that the action being championed is the direct result of proper application of biblical principles interpreted by faithful and consistent hermeneutical principles? Is the action that I am being called to champion going to treat others in an unrighteous way in order to achieve what one group is calling justice? Are there biblical examples of the action others want me to take? Would Bible-believing Christians of all cultures, globally and historically, be able to affirm the actions or standards being proposed?

Christians, we want to observe justice. We want to do righteousness at all times. This honors the Lord. And the only possible way for us to do so is for us to so marinate in Scripture that we think and bleed Bible in all our thoughts. Only the sanctifying word of God will lead us to true justice, to truly doing what is right in all things.

Who Understands Justice Completely?

Maybe it is simply because justice is such a buzz word lately, but this verse leapt out at me in my reading of Proverbs 28.

Proverbs 28:5

Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.

Here we have an antithetical parallelism. That is a poetic technique often employed in Hebrew poetry, especially in wisdom literature, in which a clear contrast is made. We often will see two opposite kinds of people or attitudes compared and two opposite results obtained.

In this verse we are dealing with who understands justice. One group lacks the capacity to understand justice at all. Another group will have complete understanding of justice. If the Bible is going to be this clear on who gets and who does not get justice, we probably should pay attention.

The comparison is simple too. We see evil men on the one hand. That should lead us to expect a polar opposite on the other. And, in fact, we get that opposite, but not perhaps what people would expect. The opposite of evil men is not good men. No, the opposite is those who seek the Lord. Of course, this would open a nice can of worms regarding seeking God. WE know from other passages in Scripture that no one seeks after God without God first doing a work in their hearts, but that is a point for another post.

How do we seek the Lord? One might seek the Lord through prayer. One might seek the Lord through sincere participation in acts of worship. But I believe we know enough to recognize that, in a biblically sound church, we understand that seekers of God are those who look for the ways and will of the Lord in his holy and inspired word. (Note: My argument here hangs on an acceptance of the fact that the way to seek the Lord and to know the Lord is through his word. I’ll not take the time here to prove that this is the case.)

Thus, we see that we have a comparison between those who cannot grasp justice and those who understand it fully. The difference in those groups is a difference of either being evil or seeking God. And if we accept that seeking God is something we do through the word of God, then we must understand that having a grasp of justice, true justice, God-pleasing justice, non-evil justice, is only available to the one who seeks for justice in the seeking of God through his holy word.

In this understanding is a warning for many modern believers. Many today are seeking for justice in people’s expressions of their experiences. Others are seeking for justice in the embrace of critical theory with all of its rejections of biblical standards. Many are claiming that the only justice they can find is the justice being sought, not by the word of God, but indeed by those who reject the standards of God at every turn.

But God’s own word and his wisdom teach us that to understand justice requires, not first a seeking of an understanding of systemic oppression or secular theories of intersectionality, but first a seeking after the Lord in his word. God has shown us who he is and what he requires. God has shown us what he proclaims to be true about every human being, every nation, every people group. And if we want to understand justice, if we want to not be counted as evil, we must seek our understanding of justice in a biblically faithful seeking of the Lord. That means we never twist Scripture to make it fit a secular theory. Nor do we read Scripture through a filter of secular ideas. Instead, we go humbly to the word, let God’s law define justice for us, and then seek with all our hearts to please the Lord revealed in that law.

An Example of Mishandling Scripture to Preach Critical Theory and Social Justice

What happens when we preach on social justice without using the Scripture as the definition of what is just? We find ourselves tempted to take from Scripture, twist truth, and then draw applications that make our point look strong.

In this video, Dr. Moore declares that Israel’s temptation to worship Baal was similar to southern American Christians’ support of Jim Crow laws. How in the world does he do this? Dr. Moore suggest that the worship of Baal was an acceptance of the status quo, an embrace of the current system of power. Even worse, the Israelites called their service to Baal service to the Lord. And, similarly, American Christians who fought for Jim Crow laws accepted the present system, and even renamed it as faithfulness to the Lord.

Let’s be clear. Dr. Moore is not saying this, I do not believe, out of any evil intent to do harm to the church or to Scripture. He wants to help Christians see the evils and the lasting impact of racism. That is good. Dr., Moore understands that racism is an evil to be repented of. That is good and biblical. Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. He is right—more right than I think he would admit. (we’ll come back to that).

But, in order to make his point, Dr. Moore is mangling the truth. Baal worship was not simply an embrace of a present system of power politics. It was the bowing to a false god. It was The participation in perverse sexual rituals in order to bring the harvest. It was the indulging of human depravity as the people bowed to a demon rather than to the Lord who made the earth. It was pure evil, not merely a systemic failure. It was the rejection of the clear word of God.

The problem here is that Dr. Moore is so passionate about presenting critical theory, so passionate about making us see that we must oppose what he understands as systemic racism, that he is willing to read systemic racism and critical theory back three millennia into the Old Testament. There is simply not a hint from the Lord that Baal worship is a failure to recognize the insights of critical theory and oppose the presenting power structure. Baal worship was about, get this, Baal worship. The sin to repent of was Baal worship. The sin to repent of was not a power structure sin.

The ironic thing here is that critical theory is becoming so popular that to preach it is no longer to oppose the current power structure. To preach critical theory, to stand opposed to systemic racism—however you define it—is to virtue signal that you are on the side of the loudest voices of the day. Earlier I suggested that Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. Is it not then fascinating to watch believers baptize intersectionality and critical race theory, allying themselves with many who have no grasp of the gospel or respect for the word, and then read back into Scripture notions from said theory with no biblical warrant?

Sadly, in order to speak to the charges that are raised against anyone who speaks about this issue, I must say, with clarity, that racism is evil. To hate or hurt any person because of their color of skin is a violation of the word of God. To build a society in such a way that you intentionally disadvantage people because of their skin color is wrong. To side with anyone toward injustice—siding with the rich against the poor or the poor against the rich, siding with the seemingly advantaged against the seemingly disadvantaged or the seemingly disadvantaged against the seemingly advantaged—is a violation of the principle of biblical justice. Oh, and to pluck an some folks’ pet peeves, I do not see skin color. Seriously, get to know me—I can prove it.

The bottom line, Christians, is that we must not read into Scripture what God did not put there. When we attempt to help the Lord by adding to his word principles he did not prescribe, we behave as did the Scribes and Pharisees who hated and opposed Jesus. God’s word is sufficient. God’s word tells us that we must not do anybody injustice. And God’s word tells us what justice looks like. God’s word shows us that pre-judging any person, of any color, or of any social status, outside of their actions and the attitudes of the heart is wrong. God shows us that punishing children for the sins of their parents is wrong. And God’s word tells us that, when we come to faith in Christ, we become new creations in a new family where there is no distinction in our identities based on nation of origin, language, or color of skin.

God’s word, if we would follow it, is clear enough. WE need not baptize secular critical theory to make a biblical point. And we surely need not somehow pretend that Baal worship and Jim Crow are twin brothers. Yes, both are evil, but they are not the same thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwfrzlAYUiw

What I Did not Steal Must I Now Restore?

Watch the words of David here, and see if you do not find something sadly familiar with modern hot-button talking points.

Psalm 69:4-6

4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

David is being attacked by harsh and evil men. Yet David has not wronged these men. David is no fool. He knows that he is not personally perfect. We see that in verse 5. David pleads with the Lord that his own failure not cause others to dishonor the Lord. Yet, even with his own admission of his own imperfection, David grasps that there is an injustice being done in his direction.

In verse 4, we see the question, “What I did not steal must I now restore?” That is the question that grabbed my attention today. David is clearly asking if he must pay back a thing that he, himself, did not steal. This is David clearly indicating that such a thing would be David being wronged. Biblically David should be forced to repay anything he stole, with interest. But David should not be forced to repay anything he did not steal.

Can you see the application for the modern day? Right now, as social justice is such a prominent issue among believers, there are those who would claim that many should be forced to pay for the sins of others in the past. There are many who would claim that those who have not acted wrongly should be shamed for the sins of their forefathers. There are those that believe that financial payments should be made, or that those in positions of leadership should be forced to vacate those offices to make room for others based on things that were done years ago and how those sins of the past shaped society in the present.

But the Bible does not promote such a supposed justice. David knew that he should not be forced to repay what he did not steal. Even when David knew that he was not perfect in all areas, even though David knew of failures in his life, he knew that it would not be just for men who opposed him to force him to pay for things he did not do. There would be no justice in making David a victim of injustice.

As we attempt to navigate the difficult waters of a society brimming full with social justice advocacy, formal shamings, intersectionality, and critical theory, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is not just to force one to repay what she has not stolen. It is not just to punish a child for the sins of his father. Like David, let us all be honest enough to admit our own sins and failures (verse 5). Let us ask the Lord to help us never shine a negative light on his glory (verse 6). Let us do all we can to be a just people, never repaying evil for good, never condemning people for crimes they did not commit, never judging any person based on ethnicity. Let us be careful to see to it that voices speaking truth are not silenced, regardless of the look of the faces behind those voices.

A Quick Thought on Biblical Justice

The word justice is being thrown around so much in recent days that I fear many have no idea of its meaning. So many sources present to us so many various standards for what is just, what is right, what is required. But how do we have the wisdom to speak of real justice, not a political ploy, but genuine justice?

Psalm 37:30-31

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

In my daily reading, I ran across the above psalm which I believe tells us something that we absolutely must not forget. There seems to be a person who speaks wisdom and justice. There seems to be a way to have God-honoring, God-pleasing justice just roll off your tongue. And in a messed up world where all sorts are crying for very different ends and declaring them to be justice, we need to know how to have that wisdom.

Verse 32 shows us what we need to know to get justice right when it says, “The law of his God is in his heart.” How do we find justice? The law of God is where we find justice. The holy, perfect, law of God is full of all we need to grasp justice.

It is tragic when Christians do not love the word of God. That word of God, Old Testament and New Testament, with its commands and wisdom is our only solid source for actual justice. God has told us what pleases him. God has told us how to treat each other with rightness and fairness. God has even given us an example of one ancient nation’s system of justice in all sorts of civil cases. And that standard teaches us justice.

So, today, when you hear a person call for justice, compare what they are asking for to the word of God. Are they asking for what God calls just? Are they treating others with God’s standard? Are they trusting God as the final and eternal judge? Are they seeking to please the Lord in obedience to his revealed will in all things? Is Their handling of the word of God in keeping with the clear commands and obvious principles of justice that flow from Genesis through Revelation and over every book in between?

Friends, simply put, if you want wisdom, if you want justice, if you want righteousness, you must find it in the word of God.

God Shows no Partiality

At the present moment in American Christianity, much is being said about ethnic differences and backgrounds. And, for certain, there are many people who have personally been the victims of ill-treatment from others based solely on their nationality, skin color, or accent.

How should the church deal with people who come to Christ from differing backgrounds? How does the church deal with people who come from groups who are at odds, groups who have oppressed one another or who are still oppressing one another? What extra requirements does the Lord have for those who come to faith from a privileged group?

In Acts 10, we have a situation that could certainly speak to our modern moment. Peter is a Jew, an oppressed people under the government of Rome. Peter is a Christian, following a risen Savior who was executed by a corrupt Roman official. Peter had lived his entire life knowing that his people were hated or at least looked down upon by the Romans. And Peter knew that the Romans who had some knowledge of Christianity were certainly not apt to treat him with kindness.

But then God sent a message to Peter. It came in the form of an initial vision involving unclean animals. The Lord told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). Though Peter did not know how to handle that vision at first, it became plain that this was going to be the Lord moving Peter to take the gospel to gentiles.

Later, as you probably know, the Lord brought Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman. But Cornelius was not just any Roman, he was a centurion, a Roman military leader. This man was one of the men living under Roman privilege, empowered to have success and unfair advantages over people like Peter.

What then would Peter conclude about the Lord sending him to Cornelius’ home? What would be the outcome of the meeting?

Acts 10:34-35 — 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter is amazed by the working of God in this situation. He realizes that, as it comes to the gospel and the church, there is no such thing as allowable partiality. Neither the Romans nor the Jews have the right to treat the other group as somehow second-class. Peter speaks nothing of the Romans needing to take extra steps to make up to the Jewish Christians for their oppressive treatment. Instead, Peter simply points out that God shows no partiality.

Then, when Peter finishes talking about the gospel of the Lord Jesus, God does something glorious.

Acts 10:44-48 – 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Peter sees that God saved the Romans. And Peter immediately commands that the new believers in Christ be treated, not as Romans who have to make up for their Roman-ness, but as brothers and sisters in Christ who are saved by the grace of God and sealed by the Spirit of God.

Later, in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem counsel, the early church had to deal with the gentile problem. The determination among the leaders of the church was that no special obligation was to be placed upon the gentiles. They were simply to be treated as Christians. They were merely to act like all believers were to act. As James said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.”

Dear Christians, may we be a people who acknowledge that God shows no partiality regarding ethnicity. May we stand strongly opposed to all forms of racism. But that stand must include a stand against favoring oppressor or oppressed, strong or weak, formerly guilty or formerly innocent. In Christ, we are one body, one people, one holy race. God did not favor the Jew or the Roman in this story. God did not favor the put-upon or the one in power. God simply saved people and then showed that they are all one family. Let’s work hard to be that family.