There are many important phrases in the Scriptures; for example, “mercy (chesed) and truth (emeth)” is both common and vitally important. Mercy and truth are fundamental to the character of the Father listed in Exodus 34:6–7, yet of all the characteristics of God, ‘chesed’ alone is repeated. While “mercy and truth” is an important couplet, it is not found anywhere near as often as “judgment and justice”, another pair which are central to the character of God and of Christ. Indeed Ethan places the “justice and judgment”of Yahweh as king before His “mercy and truth”: “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face” (Psa 89:14).

As David so beautifully describes how the Father deals with His children, whom He dearly loves, we are told: “Yahweh executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed” (Psa 103:6). Yahweh sees the oppression of His children and acts. In ascribing excellence to the Creator, the Psalmist (33:5) recognises that the earth is full of Yahweh’s goodness for “He loveth righteousness and judgment”. Yahweh loves righteousness and judgment – so should we! It is the “righteousness and judgment”of the Father that makes it possible for the godly to live on planet earth, and will eventually bring an earth full of His glory. Judgment and justice is therefore rightly a scriptural topic worthy of our investigation; a characteristic of Yahweh, of Christ, and of the saints.

An Abrahamic tradition

The first occurrence of the phrase “judgment and justice” in Scripture is in the angel’s comment about the nature of Abraham’s spiritual education of his household: “he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Yahweh, to do justice and judgment” (Gen 18:19). Every member of Abraham’s camp who sat, ate, talked and walked with him would be instructed to preserve the way of Yahweh by doing justice and judgment. It was not a theoretical spiritual education, for this was the path that Abraham himself pursued – “keeping the way” through the active practise of judgment and justice. Abraham had already shown such important characteristics in his dealings with men such as Lot, the king of Sodom and Abimelech. As the ‘father of the faithful’ he established this quality as one for all of his successors to copy in their households.

A kingly tradition

The Samuel record shows David’s state of mind, having won what he thought were the four critical battles, and bringing the kingdom to peace and order: “And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people” (2 Sam 8:15). Here was a king who gave clear and decisive judgment and was absolutely righteous in his execution of it. The man who killed Saul and the murderers of Ish-bosheth were speedily despatched. It was later that Absalom seduced the nation because David was too sick to administer judgment (2 Sam 15:3–6). While Absalom promised them justice, it was perverted justice in promising a verdict to the complainant in order to befriend him.

Solomon continued this tradition of judgment and justice as the basis of the throne of David. The Queen of Sheba recognised it: “because Yahweh loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice”(1 Kgs 10:9). The judgment and justice which Solomon showed in matters like the baby born to the harlot were evidence to the Queen of Sheba of the enduring love of Yahweh for the nation of Israel. Subsequent history shows that doing “judgment and justice” was a hallmark of the throne of David and that Christ will show this above all others, as rightful heir of that royal position. At the end of Revelation, John records a vision of Christ going out to change the world, riding a white horse: “and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Rev 19:11). Christ will conquer the world because he is Truth and he judges “in righteousness”; the punishment of his enemies will be unquestionably righteous.

Doing justice and judgment

Both of the Hebrew words are well known. Justice is the common Hebrew word ‘mishpat’ – to make a decision or verdict. It is not a judgmental, nit-picking examination of others, but the desire to judge on principle what is right or wrong. This judgment starts with a clear discernment of doctrines such as the atonement (2 Cor 5:14) and then is seen in judging ourselves, in discerning our motives at the breaking of bread (1 Cor 11:31). It then permeates judgments of practice. Judgment is often translated righteousness and is the normal Hebrew word ‘tzedeqh’ or ‘zadok’ depending on how we spell it in English. It is the quality of the judgment; judgment must be just, righteous and true. It is not according to man’s judgment for it is based on the righteousness of the character of Yahweh alone, perfectly represented in he who was the express image of His person, Christ. To be righteous in judgment is to reject humanistic values and focus on what God would see as right, to avoid becoming what James calls “evil thinking judges” (James 2:4).

The Hebrew word “to do” (often translated ‘execute’ in the KJV) is often put in front of ‘judgment and justice’ indicating that these principles are for practice, not for theorising. Judgment and justice need to be internalised as a moral precept and then done. Doing judgment is essential in cases of moral wrong in the ecclesia: “judge them that are within”(1 Cor 5:12) and in ecclesial practice (1 Cor 11:13). As we will reflect later, Yahweh distinguishes Himself as the One who does judgment and justice in all the earth, in concert with His steadfast loving kindness (‘chesed’): “I am Yahweh which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight” (Jer 9:24).

That righteousness is a quality of the judgment is seen in a statement such as: “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isa 11:4). Christ judges with righteousness – with fairness and divine equity. There will not be a single decision that could be questioned against the righteousness of Yahweh. Jesus himself told his disciples: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” ( John 7:24). Judging according to appearance, judging by respecting persons and jumping to conclusions after hearing part of the case are all natural to human judgments.

“Judging righteous judgment” is therefore something we need to learn in our daily life. This is not something just the Arranging Brethren need to do. Workers will learn to do judgment and justice in right behaviour in the factory or office; mothers and fathers will practise righteous judgment in their daily dealing with their children; young people will exercise judgment and justice in their interactions at school or at youth group. In so doing we are preparing ourselves to reign with the righteous Judge.