Dr. John Hartmann

Proclaiming the Whole Counsel of God

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Waiting for the God of Justice

April 25th, 2010 · No Comments

In this study we look at the idea of God’s justice and what Scripture teaches concerning waiting for His justice.

In Jeremiah 12:1-4 the prophet discusses matters of justice with God and pleads his case before him, asking how long it would be that the wicked prosper before God acts to set things right. Psalm 89:14 states that justice and righteousness are the foundation of God’s throne, so that the execution of justice is a function of God’s government, something that He performs as the righteous moral governor of the universe. Deuteronomy 32:1-4 reveals that justice is central to God’s character, which informs how He acts in relation to His whole creation. Jeremiah 9:23-24 shows that God executes righteousness, justice, and lovingkindness in the earth because He delights in these things. Justice therefore is not just an attribute of God (which it is), but also an activity of God, something He does as the Sovereign ruler over all things. Scripture thus teaches that the Lord longs to have compassion on His suffering people, because He is a God of justice, proclaiming “how blessed are all those who long (wait for) Him” (Isaiah 30:18-19).

So there is no question that God is a God of justice and that He executes justice on the earth; in fact our response to injustice begins with this faith conviction that God is just and executes justice in the earth. From this we move on to the question of how and when God will do this and what we are to do in terms of co-operating with Him as we wait for His justice. We here need to be examined by the plumb line of the Word of God, which searches the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12). We need to be about doing the will of the heavenly Father (Matthew 7:21; 12:46-50), which really means hearing His Word and doing it (Luke 8:21).

James 1:19-22 is helpful here. James instructs us in verses 19-20 to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, because man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God, which Dr. Hartmann defines as that faithful working of God in which He brings vindication to those who are in the right and straightens what is crooked. Proverbs 3:5-6 similarly promises that God will make our paths straight if we trust in Him with all of our heart, do not lean on our own understanding, and acknowledge Him in all of our ways, which means that we commit our way to Him and submit to Him with intent to honor and obey Him. James 1:21-22 follows with a command to put aside all filthiness and overflowing of malice (ill-will, evil intent in the heart) and to receive with meekness the implanted Word of God which is able to save our souls, being doers of the Word and not hearers only who delude themselves.

Psalm 94 provides an example of a suffering saint who waits for God’s justice. Here the psalmist asks the Lord, the God of vengeance (avenging acts) to shine forth, to take action as the Judge of the earth, to render recompense to the proud, who arrogantly abuse power and oppressively crush His people. The wicked oppressors speak arrogant words and vaunt themselves, crushing and afflicting God’s people, slaying the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner, and saying that the Lord does not see or pay heed to what they are doing. God rebukes this foolish and senseless stupidity, which displays deep ignorance of His ways, all of which comes from hardness of heart. Vile, arrogant, and wicked men think God does not see or take account of what they are doing, that their wickedness will go on unchecked, that God does not notice their lies, robbery, murder, oppression and blasphemies, that He will never arise to confront them and act to vindicate those who suffer at their hand. But it is not so. God does notice and God will judge, which means He will act in judgment to vindicate the weak and humble the proud. He is the God of avenging acts and He will shine forth.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, says the Lord (Romans 12:19; Heb 10:30; Deuteronomy 32:35), which means that vengeance belongs to God, is something holy, set apart to Him, His prerogative, and not to be touched by man. The Lord is a God of knowledge (Whose eyes are in every place, beholding good and evil), and with Him actions are weighed (1 Samuel 2:3; Proverbs 15:3). Paul instructs us to leave vengeance in the hands of God, because it is His prerogative to bring it about, and we do well not to touch it lest we be burned by it. Scripture thus instructs us in Psalm 37 to cease from anger and forsake wrath, because it will only lead to evil-doing, adding that evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord will inherit the land (Psalm 37:8-9). Indeed, the whole of Psalm 37 is full of instruction concerning things we are to do and be about as we wait for God to execute justice.

Returning to Romans 12:19-21, Paul gives this instruction: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Thus, if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The apostle is guiding us in the path by which we leave room for God to work His vengeance toward evildoers and set things right for those in the right. He here cites Proverbs 25:21-22a, leaving out 22b, which states that “the Lord will reward you” or “repay you with good”

The reference to heaping burning coals on the head of an enemy through undeserved acts of charity is subject to some interpretation. The original text in Proverbs leaves the impression that the good deeds of charity performed by the righteous serve to highlight the wickedness of the enemy, thus rendering him liable to a greater degree of punishment at God’s hands. Support for this is found in Psalm 120:4 and 140:10 where “glowing coals” refer to punishment of evildoers, while in Joel 3:4 the phrase “on your head” refers to God’s recompense of evildoers for their evil deeds of plunder and oppression. Chrysostom and other Greek Fathers understood Paul’s citation of Proverbs 25:21-22 in this punitive sense: by doing good to one’s enemies one intensifies their punishment in the eschaton. Other Church Fathers (Origen, Augustine, Pelagius, and Jerome) understood this text in terms of a more positive outcome, that “heaping coals of fire” on the head refers to one’s enemy being brought to a sense of shame and remorse that will lead to a change of heart, i.e. conversion. I Peter 2:12 could support such an interpretation in the thought that as unbelievers behold the good deeds and excellent behavior of believers, they will glorify God in the day of visitation. In terms of extra-biblical support, there is now evidence of an Egyptian ritual in which a pannier of blazing coals was carried upon the head as a sign of repentance. If applied to Romans 12:20, Paul would be saying that the charitable deeds of the righteous in relation to their enemies will lead to conversion for the latter. Dr. Hartmann suggests that both interpretations could apply, depending of course on the response of the enemy to one’s good deeds.

In this matter of the Christian not taking their own revenge, i.e. not returning evil for evil, we have also the witness of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-38. Jesus teaches that His disciples are to love their enemies, pray for their persecutors and mistreaters, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, etc., and promises great reward if they do so, connecting these acts to their sonship with God. Further witness is found in 1 Peter 2:18-25; 3:8-13, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, which states: “See that no one repays another evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men”.

Zephaniah 3:8ff gives a picture of the righteous awaiting God’s avenging acts in the eschaton. The Lord says “wait for Me” and then speaks of His acts of judgment and salvation that will occur at the end of the age, when He establishes His kingdom on earth. This ultimate “waiting for justice” in central to the faith and perseverance of the saints.

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