Theme: Practice Justice!
From this week’s lessons we learn that government is given by God for the good of its people, and those who rule are responsible to act justly.
Scripture: Psalm 82:1-8
In a judicial setting as significant as this one seems to be, we might anticipate a thunderous judgment of eternal death being passed upon Israel’s unjust judges. And indeed, there are some who take the sentence of verses 6 and 7 in this way, death being understood as eternal death or damnation. Yet the psalm does not actually say this, though it might be inferred as a final consequence of the ruler’s sin. Instead, it seems to speak temporally only, reminding the rulers that they are human after all, that they will die in time, just like anybody else, and that they will fall from their exalted position just like any other ruler.
That doesn’t seem enough somehow. And yet it probably is! For what people in high office need to know is that, although they may have been called to a position in which they have functioned as “gods,” and are almost regarded as gods, they are not actually gods but only men and women after all. They will die. In time they will be replaced by others. In the meantime, while they still hold and exercise their high office, they need the wisdom of God to function even minimally. As for those like ourselves, Christians who are not in government, we need to remind people who are in authority of these truths and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1, 2).
And one thing more: We need to practice justice and come to the defense of the poor and oppressed ourselves, as Job did. I say this because of the way the psalm ends and because of the way some commentators have handled it. The psalm ends: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance” (v. 8). This last verse matches verse 1 in describing God’s judgment, the two verses being what Marvin Tate calls “framing verses for the speech in between.”1 It extends the judgment scene in heaven to earth, like the words “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
How is this to be done? Is this a prayer for God’s intervention in history in what we call the Last Judgment, when he will pour out his wrath upon all evil doers? Yes, probably. But it is not only that. It is also a prayer that justice might be done by God through his people who, whatever the failure of the civil rulers may be, nevertheless are called to show mercy and exercise justice in the sphere of their more limited influence and to the extent of their responsibility.
This is a challenge for what each of us can do. We must not avoid it. One commentator wrote wrongly, “There will be no universal betterment of human existence till the right judge appears and saves the poor and needy…The true Church does not pray this prayer.”2 No? I say that we had better pray it, and we had better act justly and for justice too.
1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 20, Psalms 51-100, p. 334.
2Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), pp. 318, 319.
How does understanding the temporary nature of power help to keep it in check?
What is our responsibility as Christians toward the government over us?
Reflection: Does your prayer list reflect an adequate concern for those in need of mercy?
Application: Take an action in defense of the poor and oppressed, such as tutoring children, serving food at shelters, etc.