Sunday Messages

Exodus 20:16 & Topical by Pastor Dan Walker
In this message, we look at how God's Word lays out a hierarchical legal system that applies to governments and many other types of organizations. The essential part of the system is truthfulness by leaders as stated in the ninth commandment. Learn why it is the responsibility of every believer and every church to be involved in bringing justice to our country through involvement in the political system.
Duration:27 mins 25 secs

Today we are continuing in our message series entitled “The Way of Love.” God’s Word is God’s revelation of who He is and who He has created us to be. God as the Lord, the creator of the universe, then gives us commands to obey. These commands, in both the Old and New Testaments are instructions for how we should live in loving God and loving people. We can’t keep these commands in our own strength, but as we put our faith in God, He will help us obey and experience His blessing.

Today, our message is entitled “Practice Justice.” Justice is the condition of being morally correct or fair. How are we to determine what is morally correct or fair? True justice can only be determined from God’s Word where God reveals to us true justice and true righteousness.

Micah 6:8 (ESV)  He [the LORD] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The Lord God is the only one who can tell us what is good and the justice that He requires of us. Justice applies to each of us individually in our personal lives. Justice also applies to nations and governments at every level. The Bible has a lot to say about justice. The Old Testament law in particular has many principles that apply to us today.

The are three main types of law in the Old Testament.

  • The first is the ceremonial law which has to do with sacrificial worship. This was part of the old covenant and pointed forward to the new covenant brought by Jesus.
  • The second is civil law which had to do specifically with the government of Israel. Many principles still apply today, but certain details do not.
  • The third type of law is the moral law which is universally applicable and applies to us today.

Our whole system of democracy in America was created based on biblical principles. How are the laws and government of America determined today? The are determined by politics, which is the activities and affairs involved in managing a state or a government. In a democracy, how are we to be involved in politics? By voting and being involved in political activities to bring or keep justice, God’s justice in our nation according to the Bible.

Recently, I was astounded to read a respected poll from Pew research that said 63% of American adults say the church should keep out of political matters. Let’s think about that view for a minute. The are two and only two types of people in America. There are believers, who make up the church and there are unbelievers who are part of what the Bible calls the world. If the church keeps out of political matters, then political matters will be dominated by the world, which knows little of biblical justice. It is imperative, it is commanded by God’s Word that the church, including members and leaders seek to bring God’s kingdom justice into our government.

Matthew 5:13-14 (ESV) “You are the salt of the earth, … “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

The church is to preserve the nation and to let our lights shine, in every aspect of our lives, including our active participation in democracy in America. So, today, we’re going to look at some of the biblical principles that directly apply to both our individual lives and to our involvement in the politics of our government.

Biblical legal system

The Old Testament laws that governed the nation of Israel give us the principles of a biblical legal system. These principles are the basis of our government today and we must not deviate from them. A biblical legal system must be …

Fair and honest

Exodus 18 describes a visit between Moses, the leader of Israel, and his father-in-law Jethro. At that time Moses was acting as the judge for all of Israel. Even though Moses was hearing cases all day long, he could not keep up with the volume of needs. So Jethro gave Moses some advice, which came from God and is recorded in Scripture.

Exodus 18:21-22 (ESV)  Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.  And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.

The system of governance that Jethro proposed was one of hierarchical layers of government. The chiefs of thousands would report to Moses, the chiefs of hundreds to chiefs of hundreds and so on. If the people had a case, they would go the chief of tens, who would know them personally. If the chief of tens can not resolve the case, it would go to the chief of fifties and son. In this way, the work load was distributed and the governing was usually done with chiefs familiar with the people involved.

Now, in order for this to work the chiefs or judges must have three characteristics. They must fear God, be trustworthy and hate a bribe. Chiefs that had those characteristics would be fair and honest in their judgements. When Israel moved into the promised land, further instructions were given concerning the biblical legal system. It must be …

Wise and orderly

Deuteronomy 16:18-19a (ESV) “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.  You shall not pervert justice.

In the towns of Israel, judges and officers were to be appointed, depending on the size of the town, The requirement for these judges if that they must judge with righteous judgement and not pervert justice.

Deuteronomy 17:8b-9 (ESV)  … any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose.  And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision.

If the judges in the towns could not make a judgement on a case, it would then be referred to the priests and a higher judge, who would make the decision. In order for this system to work, the judges must make their decisions based on God’s Word, thereby rendering righteous judgements. Those are the basic principles of a biblical legal system.

These principles apply to all areas of life where God has established authority. Whether in families, the church, business or other organizations. We all need to learn to be fair and honest in our dealings, as well as wise and orderly. We all are under authority and need to submit to that authority unless it contradicts God’s Word. With respect to our government, we need to elect leaders who are fair and honest, wise and respectful of authority. When we vote, we are always choosing between imperfect people. We must vote for the one that best upholds the most important biblical principles.

Justice requires truthfulness

In order for the biblical system of authority to work, there must be truthfulness at every level.

Truth brings stability

Exodus 20:16 (ESV)  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

This is the ninth commandment of the ten commandments. It specifically deals with a person in a legal case giving false testimony regarding another person. Obviously if someone is convicted of a crime based on a false witness, a great injustice has occurred. In the next point, we’ll see the instructions given to deal with this. Besides the application of this command to legal cases, it also carries the great principle of truth-telling in every area of life.

Knowing that truth is the norm in legal cases, business cases or dealing with other people brings stability to relationships and to the legal system. When lying and false witnesses become rampant, the entire society and government becomes unstable and cannot be trusted.

Justice sustains interdependence

Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV)  “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

This command is the first way that the issue of a potential false witness is dealt with. The testimony of one witness is not enough to support conviction of a crime. Rather, there should be evidence of two or better three witnesses in order for the charge to be vindicated. The second way that a false witness is dealt with is in the next verses.

Deuteronomy 19:18-19 (ESV)  The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely,  then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

So suppose a false witness accused another person of stealing from him and the penalty was to repay the stolen amount with an additional penalty added. When the false witness was caught, he would have to give that same amount of money plus the penalty to the person he had borne false witness against. There were severe, but proportional penalties for every case of false witness discovered. These penalties would act as a deterrent for others being false witnesses. Justice requires truthfulness.

Being truthful in our relationships with other people is essential in building strong, healthy relationships. Whether this is in marriage, family, church, business or any other type of relationships. Our system of government, whether at the local, state or federal level also must be committed to being truthful. The only basis for truthfulness is an understanding of God’s Word. 

In our democratic government, the interpretation of our laws in a just manner is by our judicial system. Unfortunately, we have many judges who do not interpret our laws based on God’s Word. We need to pray and do what we can to see them replaced with just, godly judges. 

Justice must be evenhanded

Justice at every level must be applied correctly, based on the crime that has been committed and on the person who committed the crime. Justice must …

Be balanced

In Exodus 21, there is a case described where two many are fighting and one of them strikes a pregnant woman whose child is born prematurely. In those days, a premature birth often meant the death of the baby unless the baby was close to being born. The law required the person who caused the harm either to the mother and/or the baby to be responsible.

Exodus 21:23-24 (ESV)  But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

These consequences were never applied literally in the Old Testament. What they meant was that the punishment must be balanced with the harm done. If the baby died, the punishment must reflect the loss of life of the unborn child. As the situation described an accidental death, the laws concerning that would be applied. Lesser harm would result in a lesser penalty. Justice also must …

Be impartial

Leviticus 19:15 (ESV)  “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

In this verse, we are warning against showing partiality either to the poor or the great in riches or power. Notice that justice can be partial to either the rich or the poor, both are equally wrong. Justice must be impartial, treating every human being the same, irrespective of their age, wealth, background, physical appearance or any other characteristic. Impartial justice is here called judging righteously. Justice must be evenhanded.

It is obvious how justice being evenhanded must apply to our governmental system. But for this last point, let’s talk about how it applies to our personal lives and church. The book of James in chapter 2 talks about no showing partiality in the church. It describes a situation where a rich man visits and is treated much better than a poor man. James condemns this type of partiality as sin and says it has not place in the church or in a believer’s life. We are to treat each and every person as someone who Jesus died for. We are to love each person as God has loved us. We must not be partial to the rich or the poor. We must not be partial to those who have the same or different skin color than us or those who come from other countries. We must love our neighbor as ourselves in every area where we may meet them. That is part of practicing justice.

We have barely scratched the surface as to what the Bible teaches about justice. How the principles of God’s Word should affect our lives, our politics and our government is a vast topic. In this election year, we must all seek to practice justice. Love those who have an unbiblical view on the issues, but don’t keep quiet. Show your love by teaching others what God’s Word says, as many don’t know. Practice justice by being knowledgeable on the issues of the day and voting in keeping with biblical principles. God has called us to practice justice and be salt and light in a dark world. Finally, let’s not forget to pray, both for ourselves to be people of justice and for others to support justice and to meet Jesus, the only righteous one.