Day 15

God is Just and God is Merciful

Wisdom Psalm 9:13-20
New Testament Matthew 12:1-21
Old Testament Genesis 31:1-55

Introduction

Media headlines frequently express outrage at judges who are ‘soft on crime’ and fail to impose the appropriate penalty for the offence committed.

When I worked as a barrister, I noticed that the legal profession did not respect judges who were regarded as too lenient. We expect judges to execute justice. We do not expect them simply to be merciful.

On the other hand, we do expect mercy in our personal relationships. A loving parent will be merciful to their child. We expect friends to be merciful to one another. Justice and mercy do not normally go together. We tend to see them as alternatives. We expect either justice or mercy, but not both at the same time.

Yet God is both a God who judges with justice, and also a God of mercy. How can he combine these two apparently contradictory characteristics? The answer is that the sacrifice of Jesus has made it possible for God to combine both justice and mercy.

When I first encountered Jesus, the following illustration helped me to understand what Jesus achieved for you and me on the cross: Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on and they went their separate ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other’s life spiralled downwards and he ended up as a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognised his old friend and faced the dilemma, which, in effect, God faces.

He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn’t simply let the man off. On the other hand, he wanted to be merciful, because he loved his friend. So he fined him the correct penalty for the offence. That was justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That was an act of mercy, love and sacrifice.

The illustration is not an exact one. Our plight is worse – the penalty we face is death. The relationship is closer – your Father in heaven loves you more than any earthly parent loves their child. And the cost is greater. It cost God far more than money – he came himself, in the person of Jesus, and paid the penalty of sin.

God is not soft on crime. In his justice, God judges us because we are guilty. Then in his mercy and love he comes down in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, and pays the penalty for us. Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God is both just and merciful.

Wisdom

Psalm 9:13-20

    13 Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
        Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
    14 that I may declare your praises
        in the gates of Daughter Zion,
        and there rejoice in your salvation.

    15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
        their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
    16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
        the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
    17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
        all the nations that forget God.
    18 But God will never forget the needy;
        the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

    19 Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
        let the nations be judged in your presence.
    20 Strike them with terror, Lord;
        let the nations know they are only mortal.

Commentary

Rely on the justice of God

David knows that God is a God of justice: ‘The Lord is known by his justice’ (v.16). He also cries out for mercy: ‘Have mercy… that I may declare your praises’ (vv.13–14).

In this psalm, the desire for justice and the desire for mercy come together. David prays that God will have mercy on him by executing judgment on his enemies: ‘Arise, O Lord… let the nations be judged in your presence’ (v.19).

We sometimes think of justice in a negative way, as primarily about punishment. But justice is also profoundly positive. In Hebrew, the word for justice (mishpat) carries the sense of putting things right. It is because of God’s justice that David can be confident that ‘the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish’ (v.18).

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that you are a God of justice. Thank you that one day there will be justice for all those who face injustice in our world today. Thank you that one day there will be justice for the poor and the oppressed.

New Testament

Matthew 12:1-21

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

12At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

God’s Chosen Servant

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

    18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
        the one I love, in whom I delight;
    I will put my Spirit on him,
        and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
    19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
        no one will hear his voice in the streets.
    20 A bruised reed he will not break,
        and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
    till he has brought justice through to victory.
        21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Commentary

Receive the mercy of Jesus

We sometimes send parcels with the words ‘Fragile – Handle with Care’ stuck on them. Have you ever felt in need of one of these stickers yourself? Jesus is there for you when you feel like this.

Jesus utterly rejected the legalism of the Pharisees (vv.1–12), quoting and fulfilling the prophecy of Hosea: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’ (Matthew 12:7; Hosea 6:6). Justice and legalism are not the same – indeed they can be opposites. Jesus breaks the legalistic pharisaical laws by healing a man on the Sabbath in an act of great mercy, love and compassion (Matthew 12:13–14).

Jesus combines justice and mercy. He fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament about God bringing justice to the nations. Here Matthew quotes Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 42:1–4), which Jesus fulfilled (Matthew 12:18–21). He would bring ‘justice to the nations’ (v.18c) and lead ‘justice to victory’ (v.20c).

Yet he is full of mercy, love and compassion: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’ (v.20). There are times in life when we are physically, emotionally or spiritually fragile – like a ‘bruised reed’ or a ‘smouldering wick’.

Jesus continues to show us mercy, love and compassion when we are weak and fragile. When you are fragile, Jesus handles you with care.

Jesus is quoting one of the ‘servant songs’ from Isaiah 40–55. These songs are all about a suffering servant who will sacrifice his life in order to bring forgiveness of sins (Isaiah 52:13–53:12).

In these ‘servant songs’, God’s mercy and justice come together. The world is set right: injustice and oppression are ended, and the needy and broken are set free. Yet it is God himself who makes the sacrifice, who bears the punishment and consequences of our sins. Rather than being crushed by God’s justice, you are set free by it. At the cross, justice and mercy meet.

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, that you came as the suffering servant. Thank you that you enable justice and mercy to come together through your sacrifice on the cross.

Old Testament

Genesis 31:1-55

Jacob Flees From Laban

31Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.

3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. 8 If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. 9 So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.

10 “In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land. ’”

14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”

17 Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.

19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.

Laban Pursues Jacob

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him , he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods? ”

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.

33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.

35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period. ” So he searched but could not find the household gods.

36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.

38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you. ”

43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”

45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.

Commentary

Rejoice in the sacrifice of God

Have you ever experienced a promise of promotion that never came, or spent countless wasted hours working late to complete some thankless task? Have you ever been the victim of envy, false accusation or downright deception?

So much in this passage resonates with our day-to-day lives. In our everyday situations of frustration and pain, it is reassuring to know that the Lord always has the last word.

We see a breakdown in what was essentially a family business. Perhaps Laban took his son-in-law for granted. Certainly Jacob felt his goodwill had been abused. He felt Laban’s ‘attitude to him was not what it had been’ (v.2). He had given his job 100% effort – he had worked with all his strength: ‘I have served… with all my might and power’ (v.6, AMP).

Jacob’s terms of employment had been very tough. His father-in-law had been a fairly draconian boss. He had made Jacob pay for any loss that occurred due to accident or theft by others (v.39). His working conditions were very unsatisfactory (v.40).

Further, he felt cheated. Instead of putting his salary up, Laban appears to have put it down ten times (v.7). Rachel and Leah also felt they had been hard done by. They had been sold off to Jacob and then watched as their father envied their husband’s success (vv.14–16).

It is understandable that they all felt resentment towards Laban. However, their response was not very gracious. They all ran off when Laban was out at work. They did not give him the opportunity to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren (vv.26,28). On top of all that, for some incomprehensible reason, Rachel steals from her father without telling her husband.

In spite of all this, God blesses Jacob: ‘But God did not allow [Laban] to hurt me’ (v.7, AMP). He becomes more prosperous than Laban. It was actually God who had called Jacob to return home to Isaac and promised him ‘I will be with you’ (v.3). Although Jacob was doing the right thing, the way it was done was not right. Nevertheless, God intervened on his behalf by speaking to Laban in a dream (v.24). But for that, Jacob might have been sent away empty-handed (v.42).

In the end, they negotiate a satisfactory settlement. In the midst of this passage we see hints of the foreshadowing of what was to come. Both Jacob and Laban look to God for justice (v.53). Then there is sacrifice (v.54).

As they seek God’s justice and offer this sacrifice, we are reminded once more of the cross, where God’s justice and mercy come together.

Prayer

Father, thank you that you are just and merciful. Thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus. Thank you that, in times of injustice, I can look to you for protection and mercy. Help me to be merciful, as you are merciful to me.

Pippa adds

Genesis 31:32

I wonder what on earth was Rachel doing stealing her father’s household gods? And, what was Laban doing having household gods in the first place?

Rachel had been stealing, lying and dishonouring her father… No wonder God needed to give us the Ten Commandments!

Verse of the Day

Psalm 9:18

God will never forget the needy…
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

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