Justice – Shaping Community
Background Scripture: Deuteronomy 27:1-26
Then Moses and the priests, who are Levites, said to all Israel, ‘Be silent, O Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the Lord your God. Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today.’ Deut. 27:9-10
At the end of his life, Moses gave a farewell address to the children of Israel. They had concluded their wanderings through the wilderness, and were poised to enter the Promised Land at last. Moses would not be accompanying them, and his death marked an important transition for the nation. Of the perhaps millions of people standing before Moses that day, only Joshua and Caleb had been alive when Moses led the newly-released Egyptian slaves into a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai. Because of that generation’s disbelief, they were refused entry into Canaan, and now forty years later their children were preparing to enter.
Moses’ speech (the book of Deuteronomy) was designed to remind them of their identity as a people. In part it was a history lesson, and in part it was a recitation of the Law. Near the conclusion, Moses ordered that after the nation had occupied central Canaan they were to gather near Shechem to affirm the words of the law. Half the nation would assemble on Mt. Ebal, the other half two miles away on Mt. Gerizim. A monument of stones with the law written on them would be erected on Mt. Ebal, after which the Levites would read a liturgy of blessings and curses that would come from obedience or disobedience to the law. The six tribes on Mt. Gerizim were to affirm the blessings by saying “Amen”; the six tribes on Mt. Ebal were to affirm the curses of disobedience in the same way.
A second generation of Israelites would be accepting the law as their covenant with God. Although the first had not succeeded in keeping it, and the second would also fail, it was the law which marked and defined God’s covenant with His people, and which therefore gave identity to the new nation.
The law was given to a particular people at a particular time in history. It was that nation which was to observe it. While the New Testament asserts emphatically that our salvation does not come from observance of the law (Rom 8:1-8), it also affirms that the Law is “holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12). Because that particular expression of justice, holiness and righteousness was affirmed by the nation of Israel on a particular day at the end of Moses’ life, Moses could announce that they had become the people of God.
Justice gives identity to a people. Community comes as the people live under – and live out – a particular expression of justice. It not only distinguishes them from those around them who do not accept the law, it also gives shape to their values, their institutions, their patterns of life and their relationships.
Suggested readings: Study Deut. 27:11-28:68. Meditate on the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience, and consider in what ways these signal the health and the sickness of communities which are shaped by, or which reject, the justice of God revealed in Scripture.
In what ways does biblical justice give Christian lawyers identity? How does it shape our community?
Does it distinguish us from others who do not accept it standards? Or like the nation of Israel, do we all too often look like our neighbors?
Dan Van Ness, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives with Prison Fellowship International.
D. Van Ness, Week 11: Justice – Shaping Community, in WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? 30-31 (L. Buzzard ed.1997).
Used with permission of the publisher, Advocates International.