Ben Azzai was a renowned Jewish sage of the second century. Once, while he was teaching, mysterious flames appeared around him.
I was linking up the words of the Torah with one another, and then the words of the Prophets, and the Prophets with the Writings, and the words rejoiced as on the day they were delivered from Sinai! And were they not originally delivered from Sinai in fire?
This”linking up” of multiple passages of scripture is the ancient Jewish practice of “stringing pearls” and it’s what you and I are doing in this series on biblical justice: connecting portions of the Bible different books and genres and ages to arrive at a more beautiful and complete understanding of justice. The words of scripture – previously separated from one another in our minds – become so excited to be brought together that they burst into flames!
Before adding another pearl, let’s string together the ones we’ve discovered so far:
In The Image Of God
In Genesis 1 and 2, God was depicted as the King of the Universe, ordering the chaos into a home where people would live with God and have their every physical and spiritual need met.
God called these people “the image of God,” a title previously given only to kings in the ancient Near East. As “the image of God,” people were given authority to be God’s ambassadors on earth, ruling and subduing on God’s behalf, continuing God’s work of ordering the world God’s good way.
Going Our Own Way & Choosing A New Image
But humans failed to rule and reign God’s good way, resulting in families and communities and entire nations filled with scarcity and hurt. God chose Abraham to “guide” his family to “do what is just and right,” promising that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
What God Says Is Due
Biblical Hebrew is a word-poor language, so words often have multiple definitions or layers of meaning, like diamonds with many facets. One facet of “justice” (mishpat) is giving others what God says they are due without favoritism or discrimination. God is “no respecter of persons” and gives punishment, provision, or protection to people as God sees fit – regardless of their age, status, wealth, or nationality. Abraham’s family was to do the same.
Do What I Did
Abraham’s descendants were eventually enslaved in Egypt for about four hundred years until God delivered them. God rescued them from Pharoah, gave them food and water, and lived with them. God gave His people a constitution, a set of laws that would order their families and communities and nation God’s good way. In those laws were specific instructions on how to care for and protect the most vulnerable and needy. God told them to remember how he had treated them when they were vulnerable and in need and treat others the same way.
Levites, Foreigners, Orphans, Widows, And The Poor
These new laws, spelled out in Exodus and again in Deuteronomy, were very specific about how the people of God were to provide for and protect Levites, orphans, widows, foreigners, and the poor. Why were these groups singled out? They were often without land and, if they had land, often had it taken from them by those who were more powerful. Without land they couldn’t survive.
Next in this series on justice… All of a sudden, “justice” and “righteousness” start traveling together in scripture as “justice and righteousness.” Why?