Today's Word of Encouragement
JUSTICE OR MERCY?
Saturday, May 16, 2020
Deal with Your servant according to Your lovingkindness and teach me Your statutes (Psalm 119:124).
Scripture tells us that God is a holy, righteous, and just God - that He executes justice for the orphan and the widow (Deuteronomy 10:18), He gives justice to the afflicted (Job 36:6), He leads the humble in justice (Psalm 25:9), and that righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne (Psalm 89:14). ‘Justice’ (mishpat) has a broad range of meaning and application in the Bible, but basically it means ‘to make right’ or ‘to set in order’, albeit by judgment, penalty, or punishment.
In the ‘Ayin’ (A, but silent) section of Psalm 119 (vv. 121-128), King David cries to God for ‘lovingkindness’ (chesed: mercy, kindness, love) in ‘dealing’ with him (asah: to work with, to act toward, to attend to). It is an interesting request.
As King, David was expected, even commanded by God to rule over Israel with justice (2 Samuel 8:15). The same was true with Solomon (1 Kings 3:11). Yet David asked God to deal with him with mercy, not justice. Why? Beloved, if God were to deal with even the best of us with His righteous justice, no one would stand before Him or withstand His judgements, “for, sinners as we are, we can never urge that as a plea before God. No man who knows himself could ask of God to deal with him according to the strict and stern principles of justice” (Albert Barnes).
In the U.S., we are big on the idea of ‘the rule of law’. We understand that the established law of the land is to be administered ‘justly’, that’s why Lady Justice is blindfolded. The application of law is to be unbiased. King David knew that as well. But in knowing God’s Law, which David asked the Lord to continue to teach him, he knew a strict administration of that Law would condemn him. That’s why he asked for God’s ‘lovingkindness’ in dealing with him.
Jesus lauded the tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13) while condemning the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). No doubt the Pharisee did the good things he talked to God about. But he neglected his sinfulness. The tax collector knew he was a sinner and asked God for mercy.
King David was on the same page. He ruled the nation with justice, but he knew he was a sinner and therefore asked God to ‘rule’ over him with mercy. In his 103rd Psalm he expressed to God his praise and gratitude for such mercy when he wrote (v. 10), He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
God expects His people to be holy, righteous, and just in our dealings with others. Thank God He is gracious and merciful toward us when dealing with us!