Discuss the following questions...
- How do we know what justice looks like?
- How might we go about using the Bible to guide our policies and laws?
Following the establishment of human governance in Genesis 9, we see God choose for Himself a people to be His image-bearers and uptake the creation mandate. God gives the nation of Israel the Law to distinguish them from the nations around them, and to live out His view of justice and government. Whilst Jesus fulfils the Law, meaning we cannot directly apply it to our day without reading it first through Him, we see plenty of principles of governance on display and can treat these texts as wisdom to discern how we might live today.
Passage: Exodus 19:1-8
- What does God promise the Israelites?
- What is the role of a priest? What does it mean to be holy? What does this mean for the nation of Israel?
- Represent the people to God, an intermediary (see Hebrews 5:1 for help)
- Holy is to be set apart, distinct as God’s (see Deuteronomy 7:6 for help)
- They are to be distinct from the world around them and represent God to the world and the world to God
Israel exists to be God’s special people living under His rule free from Egypt, delighting in His presence, and representing God to the world around them. When we think about governance within the context of Israel, we have to keep in mind this calling and responsibility.
Passage: Exodus 20:1-17
- Who does this law concern? Who does it apply to?
- Why are relationships the foundation of the law?
- How does Israel’s calling help us understand the law as Israel’s societal and governmental foundation?
The revelation of the law builds on the common grace given to Noah in Genesis 9 by specifying what justice looks like: right relationships with God and right relationships with others. Whilst all societies should seek to enact justice, Israel, as God’s chosen people, have a specific responsibility and accompanying revelation to pursue this task thereby pointing the watching world to God.
Passage: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Understanding the law
- Why does God give Israel the law?
- What is the law about?
- How important is the law?
- What issue from the Fall still remains? How might this affect Israel going forward? What does this teach us about God’s rule?
- Human depravity – there has been no change of nature despite the physical salvation from Egypt
- They will fail to govern society as they should and fail to represent God to the nations
- No society can recreate the goodness of the Garden – we await the New Creation
As Israel heads into the promised land – the promised salvation of Genesis 3 seems to be at hand. Here is a land flowing with milk and honey and here is God dwelling with them once more. The law exists to show them how to live in this new land under God’s loving rule.
There are plenty of examples of matters of governance and justice throughout the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) which reveal how God commanded His special people to live. Because of their unique calling, God demands more of them in their pursuit of just governance than He does other nations – hence the specific giving of the law to Israel as opposed to the generic principle of justice established in Genesis 9.
For Christians then, the law gives us a picture of God-defined justice, orientating around our relationship with Him and with others. But it does not prove a legally binding document for how you run a country in 21st Century Britain, for the UK has not been given the same unique calling as Israel. Nor can we, or Israel, fulfil the law due to the ongoing problem of sinful human nature.
- If the law is a picture of God’s justice, but not a legally binding manifesto how should that shape our political approach?
- What are the problems with trying to recreate Israel?
- Pragmatic: not an early agrarian, Middle Eastern society
- Theological: not been given the special calling of Israel
- Theological: God’s Kingdom cannot be established prior to the New Creation
- Thank God for showing what justice looks like. Pray for the coming of the New Creation when justice will be truly established.
- Pray for wisdom to understand how to use the law today when we think about governments and policies.