1, 2. (a) What gross injustices did Joseph experience? (b) How did Jehovah correct the injustices?
IT WAS a gross injustice. The handsome young man had committed no crime, yet he found himself confined in a dungeon, falsely accused of attempted rape. But this was not his first encounter with injustice. Years earlier, at the age of 17, this young man, Joseph, had been betrayed by his own brothers, who had nearly murdered him. He had then been sold into slavery in a foreign land. There he had refused the advances of his master’s wife. The spurned woman framed the false accusation, and that was how he came to be in custody. Sadly, there seemed to be no one to intercede for Joseph.
Joseph suffered unjustly in “the prison hole”
2 However, the God who is “a lover of righteousness and justice” was watching. (Psalm 33:5) Jehovah acted to correct the injustices, maneuvering events so that Joseph was finally released. More than that, Joseph—the man who had been cast into a “prison hole”—was eventually placed in a position of great responsibility and extraordinary honor. (Genesis 40:15; 41:41-43; Psalm 105:17, 18) In the end, Joseph was vindicated, and he used his lofty position to further God’s purpose.—Genesis 45:5-8.
3. Why is it not surprising that we all want to be treated in a just manner?
3 Such an account speaks to our heart, does it not? Who of us has not seen injustice or been a victim of it? Indeed, we all yearn to be treated in a just, fair manner. This is not surprising, since Jehovah bestowed upon us qualities that reflect his own personality, and justice is one of his principal attributes. (Genesis 1:27) To know Jehovah well, we need to understand his sense of justice. We can thus come to appreciate his wonderful ways even more and be moved to draw closer to him.
What Is Justice?
4. From a human standpoint, how is justice often understood?
4 From a human standpoint, justice is often understood to be nothing more than the fair application of the rules of law. The book Right and Reason—Ethics in Theory and Practice says that “justice is connected with law, obligation, rights, and duties, and measures out its awards according to equality or merit.” Jehovah’s justice, however, involves more than the cold application of regulations out of a sense of duty or obligation.
5, 6. (a) What is the meaning of the original-language words rendered “justice”? (b) What does it mean that God is just?
5 The breadth and depth of Jehovah’s justice can better be understood by considering the original-language words used in the Bible. In the Hebrew Scriptures, three principal words are involved. The word most often rendered “justice” may also be rendered “what is right.” (Genesis 18:25) The other two words are usually rendered “righteousness.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word translated “righteousness” is defined as the “quality of being right or just.” Basically, then, there is no distinction between righteousness and justice.—Amos 5:24.
6 Hence, when the Bible says that God is just, it is telling us that he does what is right and fair and that he does so consistently, without partiality. (Romans 2:11) Really, it is inconceivable that he would act otherwise. Faithful Elihu stated: “Far be it from the true God to act wickedly, and the Almighty to act unjustly!” (Job 34:10) Indeed, it is impossible for Jehovah “to act unjustly.” Why? For two important reasons.
7, 8. (a) Why is Jehovah incapable of acting unjustly? (b) What moves Jehovah to be righteous, or just, in his dealings?
7 First, he is holy. As we noted in Chapter 3, Jehovah is infinitely pure and upright. Therefore, he is incapable of acting unrighteously, or unjustly. Consider what that means. The holiness of our heavenly Father gives us every reason to trust that he will never mistreat his children. Jesus had such confidence. On the final night of his earthly life, he prayed: “Holy Father, watch over them [the disciples] on account of your own name.” (John 17:11) “Holy Father”—in the Scriptures, that form of address applies to Jehovah alone. This is fitting, for no human father can compare with Him in holiness. Jesus had complete faith that his disciples would be safe in the hands of the Father, who is absolutely pure and clean and entirely separated from all sinfulness.—Matthew 23:9.
8 Second, unselfish love is intrinsic to God’s very nature. Such love moves him to be righteous, or just, in his dealings with others. But injustice in its many forms—including racism, discrimination, and partiality—often springs from greed and selfishness, the opposites of love. Regarding the God of love, the Bible assures us: “Jehovah is righteous; he does love righteous acts.” (Psalm 11:7) Jehovah says of himself: “I, Jehovah, am loving justice.” (Isaiah 61:8) Is it not comforting to know that our God takes delight in doing what is right, or just?—Jeremiah 9:24.
Mercy and Jehovah’s Perfect Justice
9-11. (a) What connection is there between Jehovah’s justice and his mercy? (b) How is Jehovah’s justice as well as his mercy evident in the way he deals with sinful humans?
9 Jehovah’s justice, like every other facet of his matchless personality, is perfect, not lacking in anything. Extolling Jehovah, Moses wrote: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:3, 4) Every expression of Jehovah’s justice is flawless—never too lenient, never too harsh.
10 There is a close connection between Jehovah’s justice and his mercy. Psalm 116:5 says: “Jehovah is gracious and righteous [“just,” The New American Bible]; and our God is One showing mercy.” Yes, Jehovah is both just and merciful. The two traits are not at odds. His exercising of mercy is not a watering down of his justice, as if his justice would otherwise be too severe. Rather, the two qualities are often expressed by him at the same time, even in the same act. Consider an example.
11 All humans are by inheritance sinful and thus deserving of sin’s penalty—death. (Romans 5:12) But Jehovah finds no pleasure in the death of sinners. He is “a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful.” (Nehemiah 9:17) Still, because he is holy, he cannot condone unrighteousness. How, then, could he show mercy to inherently sinful humans? The answer is found in one of the most precious truths of God’s Word: Jehovah’s provision of a ransom for mankind’s salvation. In Chapter 14 we will learn more about this loving arrangement. It is at once profoundly just and supremely merciful. By means of it, Jehovah can express tender mercy toward repentant sinners while maintaining his standards of perfect justice.—Romans 3:21-26.
Jehovah’s Justice Is Heartwarming
12, 13. (a) Why does Jehovah’s justice draw us to him? (b) What conclusion did David reach regarding Jehovah’s justice, and how can this comfort us?
12 Jehovah’s justice is, not a cold quality that repels us, but an endearing quality that draws us to him. The Bible clearly describes the compassionate nature of Jehovah’s justice, or righteousness. Let us consider some of the heartwarming ways that Jehovah exercises his justice.
13 Jehovah’s perfect justice moves him to show faithfulness and loyalty toward his servants. The psalmist David came to appreciate firsthand this facet of Jehovah’s justice. From his own experience and from his study of God’s ways, what conclusion did David reach? He declared: “Jehovah is a lover of justice, and he will not leave his loyal ones. To time indefinite they will certainly be guarded.” (Psalm 37:28) What comforting assurance! Our God will never for one moment abandon those who are loyal to him. We can therefore count on his closeness and his loving care. His justice guarantees this!—Proverbs 2:7, 8.
14. How is Jehovah’s concern for disadvantaged ones evident in the Law he gave to Israel?
14 Divine justice is sensitive to the needs of the afflicted. Jehovah’s concern for disadvantaged ones is evident in the Law he gave to Israel. For example, the Law made special provisions to ensure that orphans and widows were cared for. (Deuteronomy 24:17-21) Recognizing how difficult life could be for such families, Jehovah himself became their fatherly Judge and Protector, the one “executing judgment for the fatherless boy and the widow.”* (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5) Jehovah warned the Israelites that if they victimized defenseless women and children, he would unfailingly hear the outcry of such ones. He stated: “My anger will indeed blaze.” (Exodus 22:22-24) While anger is not one of Jehovah’s dominant qualities, he is provoked to righteous indignation by deliberate acts of injustice, especially when the victims are the lowly and the helpless.—Psalm 103:6.
15, 16. What is a truly remarkable evidence of Jehovah’s impartiality?
15 Jehovah also assures us that he “treats none with partiality nor accepts a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17) Unlike many humans with power or influence, Jehovah is not swayed by material wealth or outward appearance. He is completely free from bias or favoritism. Consider a truly remarkable evidence of Jehovah’s impartiality. The opportunity of becoming his true worshipers, with endless life in view, is not restricted to an elite few. Rather, “in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) This marvelous prospect is open to all regardless of their social standing, the color of their skin, or the country in which they live. Is that not true justice at its very best?
16 There is another aspect of Jehovah’s perfect justice that merits our consideration and respect: the way he deals with transgressors of his righteous standards.
No Exemption From Punishment
17. Explain why the inequities in this world in no way impugn Jehovah’s justice.
17 Some may wonder: ‘Since Jehovah does not condone unrighteousness, how can we account for the unjust suffering and the corrupt practices that are all too common in today’s world?’ Such inequities in no way impugn Jehovah’s justice. The many injustices in this wicked world are a consequence of the sin that humans have inherited from Adam. In a world where imperfect humans have chosen their own sinful ways, injustices abound—but not for long.—Deuteronomy 32:5.
18, 19. What shows that Jehovah will not forever tolerate those who deliberately violate his righteous laws?
18 While Jehovah shows great mercy toward those who draw near to him in sincerity, he will not forever tolerate a situation that brings reproach upon his holy name. (Psalm 74:10, 22, 23) The God of justice is not one to be mocked; he will not shield willful sinners from the adverse judgment their course deserves. Jehovah is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, . . . but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) True to these words, Jehovah has at times found it necessary to execute judgment upon those who deliberately violate his righteous laws.
19 Take, for example, God’s dealings with ancient Israel. Even when settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites repeatedly lapsed into unfaithfulness. Though their corrupt ways made Jehovah “feel hurt,” he did not immediately cast them off. (Psalm 78:38-41) Rather, he mercifully extended opportunities for them to change their course. He pleaded: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living. Turn back, turn back from your bad ways, for why is it that you should die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11) Viewing life as precious, Jehovah repeatedly sent his prophets so that the Israelites might turn back from their bad ways. But, by and large, the hardhearted people refused to listen and repent. Finally, for the sake of his holy name and all that it stands for, Jehovah gave them into the hands of their enemies.—Nehemiah 9:26-30.
20. (a) Jehovah’s dealings with Israel teach us what about him? (b) Why is the lion a fitting symbol of Jehovah’s justice?
20 Jehovah’s dealings with Israel teach us much about him. We learn that his all-seeing eyes take note of unrighteousness and that he is deeply affected by what he sees. (Proverbs 15:3) It is also reassuring to know that he seeks to show mercy if there is a basis for doing so. In addition, we learn that his justice is never hasty. Because of Jehovah’s patience and long-suffering, many people wrongly conclude that he will never execute judgment against the wicked. But that is far from the truth, for God’s dealings with Israel also teach us that divine patience has limits. Jehovah is firm for righteousness. Unlike humans, who often shrink back from exercising justice, he never lacks the courage to stand up for what is right. Fittingly, the lion as a symbol of courageous justice is associated with God’s presence and throne.* (Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:7) We can thus be sure that he will fulfill his promise to rid this earth of injustice. Yes, his way of judging can be summed up as follows: firmness where necessary, mercy wherever possible.—2 Peter 3:9.
Drawing Close to the God of Justice
21. When we meditate on how Jehovah exercises justice, in what way should we think of him, and why?
21 When we meditate on how Jehovah exercises justice, we should not think of him as a cold, stern judge concerned only with passing judgment on wrongdoers. Instead, we should think of him as a loving but firm Father who always deals with his children in the best possible way. As a just, or righteous, Father, Jehovah balances firmness for what is right with tender compassion toward his earthly children, who need his help and forgiveness.—Psalm 103:10, 13.
22. Guided by his justice, Jehovah has made it possible for us to have what prospect, and why does he deal with us in this way?
22 How thankful we can be that divine justice involves much more than passing sentence on wrongdoers! Guided by his justice, Jehovah has made it possible for us to have a truly thrilling prospect—perfect, endless life in a world where “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) Our God deals with us in this way because his justice seeks to save rather than to condemn. Truly, a better understanding of the scope of Jehovah’s justice draws us to him! In the following chapters, we will take a closer look at how Jehovah expresses this sterling quality.
Although the Hebrew word for “fatherless boy” is in the masculine gender, this in no way suggests a lack of concern for girls. Jehovah included in the Law an account about a judicial decision that guaranteed an inheritance for the fatherless daughters of Zelophehad. That ruling established a precedent, thus upholding the rights of fatherless girls.—Numbers 27:1-8.