Tempering Justice with Mercy
IN THE shop of an apothecary there usually is a set of balance scales that is capable of weighing very small amounts of fine powder. A standard weight is placed on one pan and powder is put on the other one until there is enough powder to balance the weight. Justice is like that scale. When a person’s actions are compared with a specific law and they do not balance out because he has been disobedient to that law, justice requires that he be punished. This action balances the scales of justice. But should the rendering of justice be limited to the cold balancing of matters?
The great God of the universe has given mankind good laws, and from time to time he has had to balance the scales of justice by punishing those who violate those laws. In so doing, however, he warms up cold justice and tempers it with kindness and mercy. A representing angel said of him: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth.” (Ex. 34:6) Such are the gracious qualities he puts into the scales of justice.
When one violates God’s law, thus throwing off balance the scales of divine justice, action must be taken to right matters. Strict justice calls for punishment to the full extent specified by the law. However, when heartfelt repentance is shown on the part of the wrongdoer, mercy can be extended. Such mercy is not something that God owes to one who violates His law; it is an undeserved kindness, but the sincere repentance of the sinner provides a basis for mercy to be shown. As a result there may be a lessening of the punishment administered. In the case of King David, the sentence of death was not carried out on him when he sinned with Uriah’s wife because of his sincere repentance. “David now said to Nathan: ‘I have sinned against Jehovah.’ At this Nathan said to David: ‘Jehovah, in turn, does let your sin pass by. You will not die.’” (2 Sam. 12:13) But he was punished by losing his infant son by Bathsheba.
JEHOVAH WEIGHS EVERYONE ACCURATELY
Unlike God, who always judges righteously and accurately, many men in authority give unjust and crooked judgments and expect a bribe to induce them to straighten things out. This was done in the case of the apostle Paul when he was brought before the Roman Governor Felix. The governor kept Paul unjustly imprisoned for two years, hoping for a bribe. (Acts 24:26) Felix’s successor, Festus, was no better, for he was willing to send Paul to his death by turning him over to his enemies in order to win the popular support of the Jews for his Roman administration. (Acts 25:9) Other men in authority may not be as crooked, but they will permit their emotion, sentimentality, prejudice and fear of men to distort justice.
The great God of justice, however, is just at all times and weighs everyone accurately in his true scales of justice. Regarding this Job says: “He will weigh me in accurate scales and God will get to know my integrity.” (Job 31:6) The judgment he renders and the punishment he measures out always are just and right, for he is a lover of justice.—Ps. 37:28.
Belshazzar, who ruled Babylon in the days of Daniel, came under God’s judgment, and he failed to balance the scales of justice. In the year 539 B.C.E., a strange handwriting appeared on the wall of his banquet room while he and his royalty were having a feast, in which they defiled the sacred vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jehovah’s temple in Jerusalem sixty-eight years earlier. The handwriting warned him: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and has finished it. . . . you have been weighed in the balances and have been found deficient. . . . your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and the Persians.” (Dan. 5:26-28) The scales of justice were balanced by his violent death that very night.
In the exercising of divine justice, Jehovah does not move to balance the scales of justice until the errors of the guilty come to their full. Warnings are given and time is allowed for repentance, but none can escape his judgment. Showing that he is long-suffering in order that violators of his laws might repent, he states: “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?” (Ezek. 33:11) But in due time he will “pay back to earthling man according to his activity.”—Prov. 24:12.
The Amorites, for example, that were living in the land of Canaan during Abraham’s time had not developed their error to the point that required divine punishment, but Jehovah saw that their bent of badness was putting the scales of justice off balance. Abraham’s descendants were used by God to balance the scales by their acting as executioners of the Amorites. “He began to say to Abram: ‘You may know for sure that your seed will become an alien resident in a land not theirs, and they will have to serve them, and these will certainly afflict them for four hundred years. But the nation that they will serve I am judging, and after that they will go out with many goods. But in the fourth generation they will return here, because the error of the Amorites has not yet come to completion.” (Gen. 15:13, 14, 16) By means of the Israelite armies, divine justice was executed on them.
In the case of the first man, Adam, who disobeyed God by eating a fruit that was forbidden to him, justice was executed when he died, which would not have happened if he had been obedient. His offspring inherited his sin and passed it down to all mankind. God has shown compassionate mercy to Adam’s descendants by providing a redemptive sacrifice that can free them from the execution of cold justice because of their sinful condition. It opens the way for them to escape from the permanent death sentence that came upon Adam, but they must manifest their repentance and their faith. They must furnish grounds for having God’s mercy extended to them. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16.
Jehovah also tempered his justice in the days of Noah. The Biblical record tells us that about 120 years before the great Flood “the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time.” The violating by man of what was righteous in the eyes of God threw the scales of justice off balance. Jehovah God judged the world of that time and sentenced it to destruction. “Jehovah said: ‘I am going to wipe men whom I have created off the surface of the ground.’” (Gen. 6:3-7) But this judgment decree was tempered when Jehovah showed the guilty undeserved kindness by staying the execution decree for 120 years. He was long-suffering with them. This gave men the opportunity to produce grounds for Jehovah to extend mercy to them on the basis of their repentance, which would mean the preservation of their lives through the Flood. All who failed to take advantage of those 120 years to build up legal grounds for mercy to be shown them were swept from the surface of the ground by the floodwaters. Their destruction balanced the scales of justice.
Down to our modern times mankind, as a whole, have been repeating the unrighteous acts of the people who were swept away by the Flood. Their wickedness has become just as great, reaching a point that requires justice to be executed. God’s patience with them will soon run out. Because the scales of justice have been thrown off balance by their wickedness, Jehovah will execute global judgment once again in order to bring about a balancing of justice. Through his written Word he foretold the executing of this justice. “It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess. 1:6-8) That will be the “war of the great day of God the Almighty,” at which time “he must personally put himself in judgment with all flesh. As regards the wicked ones, he must give them to the sword.”—Rev. 16:14; Jer. 25:31.
As during Noah’s day when Jehovah tempered his justice by deferring execution for 120 years, so today he tempers his justice by deferring his war, called “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.” (Rev. 16:14) Since 1918, he has shown undeserved kindness toward disobedient mankind by holding back his executional forces in the heavens in order that some “flesh would be saved.” (Matt. 24:22) By means of his patience Jehovah has been giving all mankind opportunity to repent and to perform works of repentance. He has thus tempered justice with mercy. People must take advantage of this opportunity before Jehovah can show them further mercy by providing them with deliverance. They must give him grounds for preserving their lives through his coming war.
Although Jehovah God has a legal right to apply cold justice toward disobedient mankind, he has been compassionate by tempering his justice with mercy. Out of love he has provided the means by which mankind can escape the execution of cold justice and can regain what Adam lost—eternal life. But to benefit lastingly from this act of undeserved kindness, a person must appreciatively accept and act in harmony with God’s provision for life.
If your brother commits a sin give him a reproof, and if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” you must forgive him.”—(Luke 17:3, 4).