1. What is behind your having a sense of justice?
DOWN through history, there have been people who became famous for promoting justice. But consider this fact: Justice has an appeal because humans were made in God’s image. You have a personal sense of justice and want others to treat you justly because you are made in the image of Jehovah, who ‘takes delight’ in justice.—Jeremiah 9:24; Genesis 1:27; Isaiah 40:14.
2, 3. Why consider the books of the 12 prophets to learn about Jehovah’s justice?
2 As you read various books of the Bible, you can gain insight into God’s justice. But you will be especially rewarded by examining the books of the 12 prophets. Justice is so prominent in them that an edition of Hosea, Amos, and Micah published by a Bible society is entitled Justice Now! Consider, for example, Amos’ urgings: “Let justice roll forth just like waters, and righteousness like a constantly flowing torrent.” And note what Micah put first among your obligations: “What is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?”—Amos 5:24; Micah 6:8.
3 Therefore, to know Jehovah better and thus to be in a position to imitate him, we certainly need to recognize his justice. Jehovah’s justice is an aspect of his very being, so we cannot say that we know him unless we appreciate his justice. Even his ancient servants knew that “Jehovah is a lover of justice.”—Psalm 33:5; 37:28.
4. Illustrate why the writings of the 12 prophets can strengthen your confidence in God’s justice.
4 Sometime before Jehovah executed judgment on Jerusalem, the prophet Habakkuk asked: “How long, O Jehovah, must I cry for help? . . . Law grows numb, and justice never goes forth. Because the wicked one is surrounding the righteous one, for that reason justice goes forth crooked.” (Habakkuk 1:2, 4) Faithful Habakkuk had come to know Jehovah through the Scriptures available to him and through his own experience. Thus, he was confident that God both upholds and encourages justice. However, the prophet was concerned about why Jehovah permits wickedness. God confirmed to Habakkuk that He would deal justly with the faithful. (Habakkuk 2:4) If Habakkuk and others could have such confidence, you have much stronger reason for having it. Why? Well, the Bible is now complete, so you can consider a more extensive record of Jehovah’s dealings and expressions of his personality, including his justice. Hence, you are in a better position to know Jehovah and to be convinced of his perfect justice.
5. What aspect of justice is of particular interest now?
5 When sending messengers to Israel, Jehovah stressed being just. (Isaiah 1:17; 10:1, 2; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Ezekiel 45:9) He definitely kept that to the fore through the 12 prophets. (Amos 5:7, 12; Micah 3:9; Zechariah 8:16, 17) Anyone reading their writings can see that they call for exercising justice in one’s daily affairs. There are many ways that we can apply the lessons from these 12 books, but let us examine two areas in which those prophets emphasized justice and then see how we can put what we learn into practice.
JUSTICE IN BUSINESS AND IN MONEY MATTERS
6, 7. Why should justice in business and in money matters concern all of us?
6 Jesus said: “Man must not live by bread alone.” (Luke 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3) He did not deny that we need bread—we need to eat. For most, that means working or having someone in the family work to put food on the table. That was also true of God’s ancient servants. Some were self-employed—raising crops or making such products as clothing, furniture, or cooking utensils. Others were employers—hiring men to harvest crops or to make flour, olive oil, or wine. Still others were merchants—buying and selling goods. Or some might have provided a service—perhaps repairing roofs or playing musical instruments.—Exodus 35:35; Deuteronomy 24:14, 15; 2 Kings 3:15; 22:6; Matthew 20:1-8; Luke 15:25.
7 Can you see parallels to your own life or to that of friends and relatives? Granted, the technicalities of work today may be different, but do you not agree that God’s view of justice in such matters would be the same as it was back then? In his messages through the 12 prophets, Jehovah showed that he expects his people to practice justice in such areas of life. As we consider some indications of that, think of how you are called on to display godly justice.—Psalm 25:4, 5.
8, 9. (a) Why was the condemnation stated at Malachi 3:5 especially serious? (b) The Scriptures promote what balanced view of employment and work?
8 God declared through Malachi: “I will come near to you people for the judgment, and I will become a speedy witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against those swearing falsely, and against those acting fraudulently with the wages of a wage worker, . . . while they have not feared me.” (Malachi 3:5) Yes, Jehovah condemned those who dealt unjustly with employees, or hired workers. How serious was that? Well, he listed abusing workers along with spiritism, adultery, and lying. Christians know how God will judge ‘fornicators, those practicing spiritism, and all the liars.’—Revelation 21:8.
9 What was happening in the workplace was not merely a matter of human morality; Jehovah’s justice was involved. He said that because of the treachery of those “acting fraudulently with the wages of a wage worker,” he would ‘come near to those people for executing judgment.’ Admittedly, God did not say that an employer had to acquiesce to every whim of an employee or a group of workers. You can see from Jesus’ illustration of men hired to work in a vineyard that an employer’s position entitled him to set wages and work conditions. (Matthew 20:1-7, 13-15) Significantly, in Jesus’ illustration all workmen were paid a denarius, the contracted ‘day’s wage,’ whether they worked the full day or not. We can also note that the employer did not use dishonesty to make more profit at the expense of those hired.—Jeremiah 22:13.
10. Why should we be interested in how our employees are treated?
10 If you own a business with employees—or even if you just hire someone to do a job—how do your wages, requests, and monetary dealings measure up in the light of Malachi 3:5? It is good to think about this because the issue of not treating hired workers justly is considered in the Christian Greek Scriptures too. Concerning those dealing unjustly in such matters, the disciple James asked: “Is he [Jehovah] not opposing you?” (James 5:1, 4, 6) We are correct to conclude: Those who are unjust as to “the wages of a wage worker” have not really come to know Jehovah, for they are not imitating his justice.
11 Now read why Jehovah opposed some prominent men in Hosea’s day: “The princes of Judah have become just like those moving back a boundary. Upon them I shall pour out my fury just like water.” (Hosea 5:10) What wrong did Hosea denounce? A Judaean farmer lived off his land, its boundaries being marked with stones or posts. To ‘move back a boundary’ was to shrink a farmer’s plot and deprive him of some of his living, robbing him. Hosea likened Judaean princes, who should have been advocating justice, to those moving back boundary markers.—Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Proverbs 22:28.
12 Some today who deal in real estate might be tempted ‘to move back boundaries’ in order to deceive buyers. Yet, the principle applies to merchants, employers, employees, or clients—anyone involved with contracts or agreements. As you know, some in the business world hesitate to put things in writing, thinking that later it will be easier to do less than was agreed upon or to make new demands. Others do offer a written contract but include details in fine print in order to distort its meaning to their advantage, even if this unjustly hurts the other party. Do you think that someone acting similarly—whether a merchant or a customer, an employer or an employee—really knows the God of justice? Jehovah said in his Word: “Do not move back the boundary [of fatherless boys]. For their Redeemer is strong; he himself will plead their cause with you.”—Proverbs 23:10, 11; Habakkuk 2:9.
13. According to Micah 6:10-12, what injustices existed among God’s ancient people?
13 Micah 6:10-12 sheds still more light on justice: “Do there yet exist in the house of a wicked one the treasures of wickedness, and the scrimped ephah measure that is denounced? Can I be morally clean with wicked scales and with a bag of deceptive stone weights? For her own . . . inhabitants have spoken falsehood, and their tongue is tricky.” Today we may measure foods in liters or quarts, not ephahs. Or we weigh things in kilos or pounds rather than in stone weights on a balance. Still, Micah’s point is clear. Merchants or businessmen in his day were cheats; by not using standardized weights and measures, they treated people unjustly. ‘Wicked ones’ is what God called those ‘tricky with their mouth’ and in their business dealings.—Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 20:10; Amos 8:5.
14. Micah’s warning can help us avoid what sort of modern injustice?
14 Do Micah’s words on deceptive weights and measures have a bearing on how you run your business or what you do as an employee? It is something to think about, since there are countless ways customers and clients get defrauded. For example, some unscrupulous contractors put less than the normal or legal amount of cement in a mix. Or, in areas that he knows will be hidden, a craftsman may use cheaper materials than what is paid for. Some merchants pass off as brand-new items that are actually used. And you may have heard of other so-called tricks of the trade employed to increase profits. Would you be tempted to try them? A recent book on protecting one’s privacy noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses “believe their Creator is watching them, and most would rather die than steal.” It added: “They are in demand in businesses where large sums of money are being handled.” Why? Because true Christians know that Jehovah is ‘asking them to exercise justice,’ including in their business and financial affairs.—Micah 6:8.
“PRINCES FOR JUSTICE ITSELF”
15, 16. How were the leaders in Micah’s day dealing with the people?
15 You can see from the books of the 12 prophets that in some periods, justice suffered badly. Those in authority, who should have been exemplary as to justice, were not. (Exodus 18:21; 23:6-8; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:18) Micah pleaded: “Hear, please, you heads of Jacob and you commanders of the house of Israel. Is it not your business to know justice? You haters of what is good and lovers of badness, tearing off their skin from people and their organism from off their bones.”—Micah 3:1-3; Isaiah 1:17.
16 Those words should have shocked people familiar with rural life. A shepherd would at times shear the sheep he cared for and protected. (Genesis 38:12, 13; 1 Samuel 25:4) But the “commanders of the house of Israel,” who should have ‘known justice,’ exploited the people of God’s pasturage, as if tearing the skin and flesh off sheep and breaking their bones. (Psalm 95:7) Switching to another illustration from rural life, Micah said that princes ‘who were judging for a reward’ were like a brier or a thorn hedge. (Micah 7:3, 4) Imagine passing through an area full of briers and thorn hedges. Likely, you would get scratched, and your clothes would be ripped. That illustrates the effect of the leaders on God’s people. Rather than dealing with their brothers justly, they were treacherous and corrupt.—Micah 3:9, 11.
17. According to Zephaniah 3:3, what attitude did the leaders have?
17 Zephaniah made a similar point: “Her princes in the midst of her were roaring lions. Her judges were evening wolves that did not gnaw bones till the morning.” (Zephaniah 3:3) Can you picture leaders of God’s people who, like rapacious, wild lions, disregarded righteousness? Or judges who, like ravenous, insatiable wolves, devoured everything, so that only bones could be found when morning came? How could justice stand up under that? Justice was ripped to shreds by leaders who preyed on the people rather than caring for them.
18. How should the judges in Israel have treated God’s people?
18 Clearly, those leaders in a nation dedicated to God did not know him. If they had, they would have obeyed Zechariah 8:16: “These are the things that you people should do: Speak truthfully with one another. With truth and the judgment of peace do your judging in your gates.” Older men in Israel met at the city gate and were to handle judicial cases, not in accord with first impressions or personal inclination, but in accord with God’s thinking. (Deuteronomy 22:15) And Jehovah had warned against showing partiality, such as toward the wealthy or prominent. (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16, 17) The judges were to try to restore peace between contending parties, rendering “the judgment of peace.”
19, 20. (a) Why can Christian elders learn much from the 12 prophets? (b) How can elders show that they know Jehovah and his justice?
19 The apostle Paul quoted part of Zechariah 8:16 when writing to Christians. (Ephesians 4:15, 25) So we can be sure that the 12 prophets’ warnings and counsel about justice have a valid application in the congregation today. Older men, or overseers, ought to be exemplary in knowing Jehovah and in reflecting his justice. Isaiah 32:1 describes them refreshingly as “princes for justice itself.” What practical points about such elders can we discern from the warnings and counsel found in the 12 prophets?
20 Christian elders ought to bear in mind Scriptural truth and indications of Jehovah’s thinking. They need to base their decisions on such rather than on mere personal opinion or on what might be called a gut feeling. The Bible shows that there may be difficult cases, those that require extra time to prepare for, doing private research in the Bible and the publications containing wise counsel from the faithful and discreet slave class. (Exodus 18:26; Matthew 24:45) When elders put forth such effort, it is more likely that they will hate what is bad and love what is good from God’s standpoint. This will help them to “give justice a place in the gate” so that ‘with true justice they will do their judging.’—Amos 5:15; Zechariah 7:9.
21. Why should elders avoid showing partiality, but what might tempt them to do otherwise?
21 Even if one with the responsibility to do judging has Bible knowledge, he might show some partiality. Malachi deplored the fact that the priests, who should have been a source of knowledge, “were showing partiality in the law.” (Malachi 2:7-9) How could that happen? Well, Micah said that some head ones were ‘judging merely for a bribe, and priests were instructing just for a price.’ (Micah 3:11) How might an elder’s thinking be similarly affected? What if the person he is dealing with has been generous to him in the past, or what if the elder foresees some possible benefit in the future? Or suppose the case he is handling involves someone related to him by blood or by marriage. Will family ties or spiritual principles win out? An elder’s impartiality could be affected when he is handling a case of wrongdoing or weighing whether another is Scripturally qualified for additional privileges of service in the congregation.—1 Samuel 2:22-25, 33; Acts 8:18-20; 1 Peter 5:2.
22. (a) Elders have what responsibility as to justice? (b) What other godly qualities should elders reflect when dealing with erring ones?
22 When someone sins seriously, the spiritual shepherds in the congregation act to protect it from any dangerous, corrupting influence. (Acts 20:28-30; Titus 3:10, 11) If, though, the erring one is genuinely repentant, the elders want to “readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) Rather than show harsh coldness, they apply the direction: “With true justice do your judging; and carry on with one another loving-kindness and mercies.” (Zechariah 7:9) Jehovah’s regulations about handling legal cases in ancient Israel highlight his justice and mercy. Appointed judges had some latitude in many of their decisions; they could show mercy, depending on the circumstances and the wrongdoer’s attitude. Accordingly, Christian overseers must strive to judge “with true justice” and to display “loving-kindness and mercies,” thus manifesting that they have come to know Jehovah.
23, 24. (a) How can elders promote “the judgment of peace”? (b) The 12 prophets have helped you to appreciate what with respect to justice?
23 Recall Zechariah 8:16: “With truth and the judgment of peace do your judging in your gates.” What is the objective? “The judgment of peace.” Even when the apostles were alive, there were personal differences or disputes between some Christians. As Paul did with Euodia and Syntyche, elders today may need to offer assistance. (Philippians 4:2, 3) The elders should certainly strive earnestly to offer “the judgment of peace,” attempting to restore peace between contending parties. The Scriptural counsel they offer and their attitude in doing so should promote peace in the congregation and peace with God. Thus it will be evident that they truly know Jehovah and his justice.
24 The two areas mentioned above illustrate that it is vital to apply in our daily lives the advice about justice recorded by the 12 prophets. What a blessing it is when we and those around us “let justice roll forth”!