Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

True Justice

By Dennis Pollock


The prophets of Israel were a strange breed. They were fearless; God's message burned within them so powerfully that they were willing to face ridicule, persecution, and even death rather than suppress the word that filled their hearts. They were sort of divine troubleshooters who appeared in Israel at times of spiritual declension and forcefully called the people back to the ways and commandments of their God. They had no university degrees; they arose from the people to whom they spoke. Some were common farmers; others came from wealthier backgrounds. But these were men who heard from God and knew that Israel was in trouble. They determined to do their best to turn their straying nation back to God. And frequently they spoke of a Messiah who was to come.

Zechariah was one of these prophets. He had a lot to say in his book, which makes up fourteen chapters of our Bible, but we will confine ourselves to just three verses. Zechariah announced:

Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Execute true justice,
Show mercy and compassion
Everyone to his brother.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
The alien or the poor.
Let none of you plan evil in his heart
Against his brother."  (Zechariah 7:8-10)

He insists that what he was about to say was directly from God, an audacious thing to assert. But this was the way the prophets of Israel thought and spoke. They were anointed, they heard from God, and they were not averse to telling people so. They were not mild life-coaches suggesting certain changes or advocating philosophical insights. Zechariah unapologetically tells his listeners and readers that what he had to say came straight from the mouth of the Almighty.

True Justice

He then begins by telling the people of Israel to "execute true justice." The idea of "justice" in the eyes of the prophets was not the justice that we think about today. These days, if we hear of someone calling for justice, it is likely a person who has had a loved one murdered and wants the courts to do their duty and send the man to prison for life, or perhaps sentence him to death. They want justice!

But often, in reading the Old Testament prophets, justice meant something very different. It meant treating the poor and the underprivileged well; it meant sharing what you have with others who have nothing. And we can see that this is exactly what Zechariah had in mind as he continues: "Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother."

Mercy in the Bible often means something we would simply call kindness, even when the person receiving the mercy may not deserve it. Jesus tells us: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Just as our Heavenly Father is kind to us, even though we have no right to insist upon it, so we are to do to others less blessed than us. Compassion is a similar word, but it hints at deep feelings of concern. So Zechariah's idea of "true justice" involves showing compassionate kindness to desperate people who are in deep need.

Do Not Oppress!

He then goes on to list four categories of people he has in mind, people who often need this mercy and compassion, saying, "Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor." In those days widows were often among the poorest of the people in the cities and villages. Few women worked outside the home. It was expected of young women that they marry as soon as possible, and then depend on their husbands to provide for them. They would clean the house, prepare the meals, have babies, and be the primary caretaker of those babies and children.

The husband, in turn, would provide a dwelling for the family, along with food, clothes, and the security that they needed. It was a good deal for both and as long as the couple could get along with each other reasonably well, it worked beautifully. The problem was that women often outlive their husbands, and when, in their later years, the husband died, the woman might live for another ten, twenty, or more years. She became a widow.

If she had a son who could take care of her, she was in good shape. But if not, she was in trouble. There were few jobs for women in those days, and what jobs most women could do paid little. The story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth is a perfect example of this. When the husbands of Naomi and Ruth died, they became two widows living under one roof, a younger and an older one, barely scratching out a sufficient living to survive. Soon Naomi knew that the only solution to their survival would be to find another husband for Ruth, and she told her, "My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?" (Ruth 3:1). The word "security" literally meant "rest," but Naomi was not talking about taking a nap. She was talking about a plan to find Ruth a husband, which she did. Ruth found her rest.

"You Hypocrites!"

Zechariah, speaking for God, is upset because the Israelites are not treating their widows well. They are at best, ignoring them, refusing to help them in their dire poverty, or, worse still, some are oppressing them. We don't know just how they oppressed them, but it may have been something Jesus referred to when He blasted the Pharisees, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers" (Matthew 23:14). Apparently, some of these wealthy Pharisees were taking advantage of unfair inheritance laws and forcing widows out of their houses after their husbands died.

Zechariah goes on to declare three other groups who were not being helped: the fatherless (orphans), the aliens (people who had come from other nations and were now living among them), and the poor. These were all categories of people who did not fare so well in society. They needed the help, concern, and "mercy" that could be provided to them from those who were prospering and more successful, but no one noticed or cared. They were either ignored or taken advantage of. And God was not happy about it!

It is interesting that it was precisely these types of people that Jesus felt He had been anointed to minister to. At the beginning of His ministry, He said:

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." (Luke 4:18-19)

The people Jesus mentions are very similar to the ones Zechariah warns Israel not to oppress or ignore: hurting, poor, weak people. It is evident that God cares about vulnerable, struggling people, and He expects the ones who are stronger, wealthier, and going through fewer struggles, to care for them and share with them. The apostle Paul agrees with this, writing: "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Upholding the weak from collapse is what the strong are supposed to do. If God has made you strong, if you have the ability to make good money, if you drive a nice car, if you live in a fine house, if your salary is above your actual needs, you are not to despise those who have less than you. Why do you think God made you strong? Why did He give you the ability to make a good living? Was it so that you can sit around in your beautiful house and enjoy yourself, ignoring the plight of the poor and hurting of this world? No, God made you strong and prosperous so that you can help those who aren't very strong, aren't very prosperous, and whose lives are a constant struggle to survive, whether financially, emotionally, or any other way.

Have Two – Give One

When John the Baptist preached repentance to Israel, some wanted to know specifically what he expected them to do, other than submit to baptism. One of the things the fiery prophet told them was: "The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same" (Luke 3:11). If God has blessed you with an abundance, don't just hoard all your blessings – share them!

What is being described here is what some have called our "horizontal relationships." Most important, of course, is our vertical relationship – our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We come into this relationship by putting our faith in Jesus, believing He died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day. The key law of this relationship is to love God with all our hearts. We express our love for God by walking with Him. We pray to Him, we praise Him, we sing songs to Him, and we read His word and hold to Him alone as the supreme love of our lives.

But as wonderful and good as this is, it is not enough. We must also relate in love to the people around us. We must follow Jesus' second most important command: to love our neighbor as ourselves. The message of Zechariah, to show compassion and concern for the widows, orphans, aliens, and poor is not a salvation message. No one could enter God's kingdom by determining to be kind to those less blessed than him. But once we are in the kingdom, helping, supporting, encouraging, and upholding the weak and struggling people around us is one of the cardinal rules of our lives.

Massive Need

This is what we do. In addition to prayer, praise, and Bible reading, we reach out to those around us who are weak, struggling, and near collapse. One of the main reasons many never do this is the thought that there are so many crushing needs in the world that any efforts we might make to help the unfortunate would be miniscule. People are struggling everywhere and in every country. What could any of us really do that would make a difference?

The answer is that we cannot fix the world. We cannot solve all the needs of all the hurting, oppressed, discouraged, depressed, and poor people of this world. But we can find a few and help where we can. And the good news is, that is all God expects of us. We don't have to feed all the poor of Africa; we don't have to give words of encouragement to all the depressed men and women in America, we don't have to adopt all the orphans in India, we don't have to give money to every organization that is helping the less privileged. God knows our limitations. But still He expects us to make at least some effort to help at least a few people, as we are able. We cannot merely sit in our nice homes, eat big meals, thank God for our abundance, and watch Netflix every night. We must get off our hands and do something.

Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment He will commend His children with these words: "I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus is not telling us that by feeding the poor and visiting the sick we will inherit eternal life. He has assured us that whoever believes on Him will receive everlasting life (John 3:16). But He is saying that true believers will do these things. They will care for the poor and weak, they will be generous with the money God has put into their hands, they will go out of their way to encourage the ones who struggle. They do this, not to be saved and go to heaven, but because they are saved, and the nature of their Master lives and works in them.



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