October 9, 2011 God as Just Judge
Exodus 32:1-14 Psalm 7 Phil. 4:1-9 Matthew 22:1-14
Psalm for today is an individual lament, the psalmist flies to God’s temple in search of sanctuary from those who would tear him apart like a lion’s prey, then he takes on oath that only someone who was innocent would swear, telling God if he has done that which he has been accused of, then let his enemies overtake him and kill him. Next section he hopes in God’s protection, he expresses his confidence that the actions of the wicked will come back on their heads, “They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.” (vs. 15-16) Like karma – they will reap that which they have sowed. Psalm concludes with praise of God’s justice/righteousness.
God is a just judge in this psalm; happy are the righteous who are under his judgment. God as judge is not a popular image in this day and age. Don’t hear a lot about it, yet was very common concept for God for the Hebrew people. The word judge and different variations appear in King James Bible 192 times, judgment/s is mentioned 188 times, not to mention how often justice, God’s justice appears in Scripture. There is even a book of Judges, a recounting of these religious leaders who led Israel after Joshua and before David. Judges played a very important part in Old Testament life. Unlike the judges of today who are restricted to advising the jury and not free to convict, they rendered decisions when there were conflicts among people. Patriarchs were judges in their own families, making decisions, deciding disputes, as were kings. Priests were judges and so the sanctuary became a place of judgment. The elders of the city could serve as judges at the gate, or a judge might go from town to town as Samuel did. Judges were also military leaders endowed by the grace of God to deliver and govern his people in times of oppression. They served for a limited time during a crisis. Judges found in many different situations, some just, some unjust. It was injustices perpetrated by some judges that caused people to ask for a king, as if a king would be better.
No surprise that Hebrew people would apply term to God. God is the supreme arbiter pronouncing sentences on man as we see in Gen. 18:24; Is. 33:22; James 4:12. He judges all the earth (Psalm 94:2; Acts 10:42; Rom. 3:6). He judges between nations (Is. 2:4). The sinner is well advised to avoid God’s judgment by loyalty to the covenant as we see in today’s psalm verse 8 as well as Psalm 50, 82 and 96. Very common yet we seem to avoid ideas of judgment, we prefer to focus on God’s love and mercy rather than his judgment – why? What are we afraid of? What have we lost in the process?
Readings today remind that there will be an accounting; we are accountable before our God for our actions. Exodus – just last week heard how God appeared to the people in thunder and lightning, terrifying them, lest they sin. Today we see how it didn’t work. People strayed, built a golden calf, an idol to worship, even if they said it was to represent their God – was in direct disobedience to commandments God had given them. God is angry, ready to destroy these people and start over again with a whole new race under Moses, just as he did at the time of the flood with Noah. Moses convinces God to give people another chance and God relents of his anger.
Interesting and problematic passage – poses question – can God be wrong? Did God need Moses to show him he was wrong? If God can be persuaded by Moses, can we persuade him to do what we want? How often will God soften his heart and relent? How many chances will God give us to get it right? What does this tell us about God?
All good questions – was God even wrong in creating us given the fact that we constantly get it wrong, we don’t seem to be improving much as a race; we continue to miss the mark, sin. Yet there are good people among us as well, enough that God won’t destroy us or our world. We saw that in Sodom and Gomorrah when God was ready to save the city if even 10 good men could have been found.
God, as judge, is willing to listen to us plea our cases, Moses acts as the attorney for the defense, he pleads his case well and God gives the people another chance, gave repeated chances.
Gospel – parable of the wedding feast – king throws a wedding feast but people don’t come, not only that, when he sends a second invitation, they kill the messenger. What is the king to do with such ungrateful servants? He destroys their cities, kills them then sends out to the highways and byways and invites any one willing to come. But when one came not dressed properly he was thrown out – reminder that many are invited, few are chosen.
What does this tell us about God’s justice and mercy? God, the all powerful, is powerless before our free will. God has this incredible party, banquet waiting for us, but for whatever reason, we aren’t coming, maybe too busy about own affairs – incredible thought to people of that time, wedding parties were big affairs, went on for days, whole village would attend – who would want to miss out on that, especially when the king was buying? And yet the people weren’t responding, not only that, when asked a second time they either ignored the messenger or killed him, as they did to the prophets. Reminder to Jewish nation that kingdom could be taken away from them, as we heard last week.
Then God invites everyone, but that doesn’t mean there are no requirements. It isn’t enough to just show up, need to be dressed properly, it is a wedding after all – need to have inner garment of living a good, righteous life. Even though all are welcome, all are invited, doesn’t mean all will get in – there are some standards. God sets the standards. Maybe why we don’t like this aspect of God, we have got the part about all being welcome, what we seem to be missing are the standards. There are standards if we want to be admitted to the heavenly banquet. It isn’t just anything goes.
Let’s look again at God as the just judge – the just judge listens to all sides of the story, listens to the people. He is able to discern rightly, knows their hearts, knows when they are lying, knows wickedness even when it masquerades as good. Also knows that there are times to give a second chance, or a third or even more, but also time to say enough, no more chances, you’ve had all the chances you get, you had lots of opportunities in this life to change, and you didn’t, now it’s too late. We do run out of time.
That’s a tall order, hard to do, impossible for man, possible for God. God as judge reminds us that there will be an accounting for our lives, we are accountable before our God for how we live, and so we better get our act together now, while we still have time, for we do not know the day or hour death will come.
Perhaps part of our problem with this image is that we see so many imperfect human judges who make human mistakes. Our system is different from Old Testament times. They didn’t have to deal with a jury and our far from perfect legal system, which sometimes leads us to wonder does justice ever prevail. We see people getting off because of legal technicalities or simply because one lawyer was better than the other. Often wonder where the justice is. Justice truly is blind at times in our legal system. The position of judge not as important as in Old Testament times, still it does carry some power and weight. They have the power to allow or disallow evidence, the power to impose sentences.
Hard to know when to give someone a break, be lenient, and when to throw into jail; hard to be a judge, have same people coming like a revolving door, repeatedly asking for forgiveness, use all the right words to convince you to give them yet another break – we can’t see what God sees, we can’t look into the heart, can only do the best we can with what we have.
I wouldn’t want to trust my life to our judicial system and human judges. Hopefully I will never be placed in that position. But God isn’t like that, God, the just judge, sees to the heart, he knows when people are lying, he knows about tough love and what it takes to get people to reform their lives. Psalmist today presents his case to God, the ultimate judge. He does so in confidence, knowing he has done all that he could, that he is innocent of any crime, being under God’s justice is a good place to be.
There is a party going on, a heavenly banquet, Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, we have reason to rejoice, in that we believe we are already part of that party to a small extent. If we continue to do what we are already doing, living lives that are honorable, true, pure, as Paul tells us, then the peace of God will be with us. There is a party, all are invited but not all get in. First we have to stand before our God in judgment, but we don’t have to fear, in that we are doing our best, trying to be loving, caring people, trying to follow God, our God, the just judge knows this so there is no reason to fear. In that we have done this we have clothed ourselves in Christ, Jesus, and so are ready for the party whenever God invites us.
Robertson, copyright November 2011