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Old and New Testament Justice: One and the Same?

NOTE: Read this article after you have read “Omni” Says It All!

Have you ever wondered why the Old Testament (OT) has so many examples of God’s justice being exacted on people? Have you wondered why the New Testament (NT) has so many examples of God’s lovingkindness? Sadly, many people see this juxtaposition. As a result, they spend more time reading the NT than the OT. Is the God of the OT the same God of the New? Certainly, He is! Could it be possible that there is as much of God’s love in the OT as there is in the NT? Yes, it is not only possible, but it is also a fact! Is it possible that God’s justice in the NT is equal to that in the OT? Absolutely!

Old Testament Sacrificial Justice System

As you think through this article, remember that the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, outlines the early history and development of a people, specifically chosen by God, to represent Him in the ancient world. The Torah provides this new nation with all the laws (to include the Ten Commandments) and statutes that, if followed, would enable the people to represent God properly and retain His great favor or grace. Since people are innately (naturally) prone to selfishness, they will often violate these laws and statutes. For this reason, God provided a vicarious sacrificial system (primarily, the Book of Leviticus) that, if followed as outlined, would most often transfer God’s justice or wrath upon an animal, whose death would take the place of the person who violated the law of God. Through this system, the people and the nation could remain righteous before God, that is, continue a lifestyle that is consistent with God’s very being and, therefore, reflect His love and justice to the nations around them.

The PROBLEM: Human beings, by nature, have an intense desire to “do their own thing.” Rebellion is one of or possibly our primary attribute. We innately resist authority. Without guidance or direction, we go after anything that gives us power and satisfaction. We want our way and we will fight for that desire/want even when the consequence proves disastrous. Basically, human beings will try anything or anyone (socialism, fascism, communism, dictatorships, oligarchs, false religion), again and again with the same disastrous results, rather than submit to the Creator, who knows exactly what we need and can meet those needs. In this world, God will continue to create a people of His own from among the masses, but to do so, there must always be the threat and use of judgment. Divine judgment is the impediment to self-destruction and ultimately, total annihilation. The greatest threat to the existence of humanity is NOT divine judgment; it is humanity itself.

While we can find acts of divine justice throughout the OT, the Book of Lamentations captures the essence or dreadfulness of justice upon a sinful and rebellious people, that is, the Israelites in Jerusalem during the Babylonian assault on the city of Jerusalem from 588 to 586 BC. The following verses describe the circumstances in and around the city of Jerusalem (the personal pronouns, “my, her, I, you, your”, refer to Jerusalem).

Lamentations 1:8, 11, 15-16, 18-21

1:8 Jerusalem sinned greatly, Therefore she has become an unclean thing. All who honored her despise her Because they have seen her nakedness; Even she herself groans and turns away.

11 All her people groan seeking bread; They have given their precious things for food To restore their lives themselves. “See, O Lord, and look, For I am despised.”

15 “The Lord has rejected all my strong men In my midst; He has called an appointed time against me To crush my young men; The Lord has trodden as in a wine press The virgin daughter of Judah. 16 “For these things I weep; My eyes run down with water; Because far from me is a comforter, One who restores my soul. My children are desolate Because the enemy has prevailed.”

18 “The Lord is righteous; For I have rebelled against His command; Hear now, all peoples, And behold my pain; My virgins and my young men Have gone into captivity. 19 “I called to my lovers, but they deceived me; My priests and my elders perished in the city While they sought food to restore their strength themselves. 20 “See, O Lord, for I am in distress; My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is overturned within me, For I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword slays; In the house it is like death. 21 “They have heard that I groan; There is no one to comfort me; All my enemies have heard of my calamity; They are glad that You have done it. Oh, that You would bring the day which You have proclaimed, That they may become like me.

Lamentations 2:17-20

2:17 The Lord has done what He purposed; He has accomplished His word Which He commanded from days of old. He has thrown down without sparing, And He has caused the enemy to rejoice over you; He has exalted the might of your adversaries. 18 Their heart cried out to the Lord, “O wall of the daughter of Zion, Let your tears run down like a river day and night; Give yourself no relief, Let your eyes have no rest. 19 “Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches; Pour out your heart like water Before the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to Him For the life of your little ones Who are faint because of hunger At the head of every street.” 20 See, O Lord, and look! With whom have You dealt thus? Should women eat their offspring, The little ones who were born healthy? Should priest and prophet be slain In the sanctuary of the Lord?

When people forget God, they degenerate and become like those peoples who surround them. The Israelites failed to retain their relationship with God through the sacrificial system of justice that He provided them. Practically, they forsook God’s protective shield. They were no better than the enemies that surrounded them. Those who survived were deported into captivity to Babylon for 70 years. In this foreign land, God began anew to raise up a people in His name. The words of Jeremiah, which he spoke during the catastrophe in and around Jerusalem, depict the understanding of a believer who knows that justice is required, even deserved, before righteousness is restored.

Lamentations 3:21-32

21 This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. 22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. 26 It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the Lord. 27 It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth. 28 Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him. 29 Let him put his mouth in the dust, Perhaps there is hope. 30 Let him give his cheek to the smiter, Let him be filled with reproach. 31 For the Lord will not reject forever, 32 For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.

New Testament Sacrificial Justice System

The New Testament System is no different from the Old Testament System. Sin demands a sacrifice. Rather than the sacrifice of thousands of lambs, the Lord God sent His Son, the Messiah of Israel and the Christ of the Church to be the One and last Lamb to be slaughtered for the sins of God’s people. The faithful of the Old and New Testaments have their salvation secured once and for all in the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. The CROSS is the fulfillment of justice; it satisfies God’s requirement that justice is served upon the sinful. My faith in His work on the CROSS means that I died with Christ—He hung there for me and for all who trust in God. Faith in God’s love, justice, and righteousness secures all believers throughout all time (Romans 3-8 describes this message clearly). Christ not only died for the sins of the faithful in the past (OT), He died for all those who put their faith in God from the time of His death and resurrection until He creates the New Heavens and the New Earth. Jeremiah’s faith in God was rewarded just as mine was—when we both put our trust, our faith in God and the CROSS on which our Savior died. Nothing, not even our occasional failures, will ever separate us from God (Rom. 8:28-39).

Just as Jeremiah and other OT saints suffered from the faithlessness of corrupt Israelites and their unbelieving neighbors, so too do believers today find themselves in precarious and deadly situations due to their unbelieving neighbors who, at times, think themselves to be Christian. God punishes the unfaithful of the world while He preserves the faithful. This is true in the Old Testament times and it is true today. All the judgment upon the Israelites that we read about in the Old Testament is justified. However, the CROSS of Christ is the decisive act of justice. The moral decadence, the treachery, the covetousness, the killing fields, all the sins of the past, present, and the future were placed upon a sinless and blameless victim, the Son of God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Darkness filled the skies and the earth shook violently as the weight of all the world’s sin fell upon the body of the Christ. There is judgment in the OT remotely like the sacrifice of Christ. God will chasten his children from time to time to help us develop our faith (Hebrews 12:4-11), but a death that eternally separates a believer from God will never occur. Remember now Jeremiah’s words in Lamentations 3:21-32 which ends with the words: 32 For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. It appears that God's justice is ultimately the greatest act of love! I love the Lord and His Son, my Savior. I hope you do as well!

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