Why Is the Bible So Judgmental?

This is the first article in a series I’m entitling “The Good News About Injustice” We will be looking at the issue of Justice from the book of Amos, but today we are asking Why is the Bible So Judgmental? You can also listen to this podcast @ Podbean. This is not intended to be a comprehensive study of Amos. I want to drill down on the issue of Justice from Amos’ and subsequently, God’s perspective. There is certainly a lot of talk about Justice these days, but is the justice movements we are seeing, biblical justice or something else? In this particular article, I am going to take a look at how God’s justice is often seen as judgmental and harsh, but in reality, is no more judgmental than the justice movements today, and as a matter of fact, I’m going to attempt to show that God’s justice seeks redemption and reconciliation, whereas most of the movements of the day are often hate filled, entitled and revengeful. At the same time, I hope to show through this series, that the church is ignoring these movements to their detriment and the detriment of the gospel.

You may ask the question, why name the series The Good News About Injustice? Well actually I stole the title from a very good book by the same title and written by Gary Haugen founder of the International Justice Mission that assists international governments in the arrests and convictions of sex slave traders. I would recommend the book to anyone, it is convicting, but a great read! With that, human justice is never just, but the good news about injustice is the fact that God is moving, and He is working to make the wrongs right. God’s justice ends in redemption and reconciliation, whereas human justice is most often corrupt, blind and ends poorly. It is hardly ever satisfactory. While there is certainly a lot of judgment in Amos and the prophets of the Old Testament, there is a beautiful, redemptive story in the end, and that is “Good News!!”

I will start by laying my cards on the table and reveal my thesis; God is not judgmental. Shocker? Didn’t think so, but why do I say that? God always acts with complete, perfect knowledge and a perfect understanding of His creation, and the multitude of scenarios He is working with in eternity. The question is, does God have a right to judge? There are many protests for justice and pointing out the various injustices in our country. Do they have that right? Are they being ‘judgmental’ when they do point to our nation’s sins? Are they right? Are they perfect in their judgment? Is their household free of sin, and do they have the right to cast the first stone? God’s justice and subsequently His judgment is tied up in His perfect character. We can’t judge God on human standards because He is not human and motivated by the same things that motivate humans.

There is a song written by Bob Dylan for the gross injustices he felt our politicians were committing by continuing the Vietnam war. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam co-opted the song when they felt that the Iraq war of 2003 was equally unjust. The final stanza of a very pointed accusation against government officials went like this…

And I hope that you die
And your death will come soon
I’ll follow your casket
By the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Bob Dylan, Master’s of War

Now, no matter how you slice it, these words are judgmental, but the bigger question is are they right? Is the accusation correct? Were Bob Dylan and Eddie Vedder justified in their vitriol and calling out injustice? Is Black Lives Matter? The fact is, we all want justice; we just don’t want God’s Justice! The only real difference between the bible using judgment as part of justice and the world’s, is the content; What is considered unjust?God’s Justice is perfect, because His knowledge of good and evil is in the best interest of His creation. It’s like a car’s manual. The manual is written by the manufacturer for the purpose of keeping your car in the best shape possible. You can avoid putting oil in your car and save a little money, but you’ll soon find that that the nice new car you bought isn’t operating very well anymore. Therefore God’s desire for praise and obedience isn’t based on pride or some other human need, but He created humanity to find our contentment and joy by doing so. The problem with humanity is not war, racism, and crime, it’s related to our discontent that works its way into war, racism and crime.

Another note about God’s justice is the reality that when He exacts justice, it is undeniable, and perfect in its justice; unlike the way human justice works. God is justified in His judgments in the first chapter of Amos? As we look into the first chapter and we see the judgments on the outside nations such as Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Moab, etc. we find gross injustices such as mass murder, genocide, slavery, fratricide, the breaking of peace treaties and starting unwarranted wars for personal gain, as well as the horrible abortions by ripping babies from pregnant women’s womb. Are these unjust acts? Do they deserve judgment?

Let’s take a look at the Amos 1:1-2 and lay out some of the backstory to what Amos is dealing with.

“The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. And He said, the LORD roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1:1-2

First, Amos is a shepherd from Tekoa, a little village just south of Jerusalem. In Amos 7:14-15, he tells Amaziah he is not a prophet, but he doesn’t mean he is not speaking as a prophet from the Lord, but he is not a ‘professional’ prophet that rulers would hire to hear the ‘good news’ about their reign. Amos is not a bought entity, neither is he from the northern kingdom. He is an outsider; God uses him to deliver the message of doom he plans on bringing to the rulers and people of the northern kingdom.

Tekoa-Home of Amos

At the time of this writing, Israel is now divided into the northern kingdom (Israel) and ruled by Jeroboam II, while the southern kingdom (Judah) is ruled by king Uzziah. The splitting of the kingdom came as a result of two entities vying for power and control, like they always do. There is truly nothing new under the sun. Who are the players in this first chapter.

Tekoa

First, Amos is a shepherd from Tekoa, a little village just south of Jerusalem. In Amos 7:14-15, he tells Amaziah he is not a prophet, but he doesn’t mean he is not speaking as a prophet from the Lord, but he is not a ‘professional’ prophet that rulers would hire to hear the ‘good news’ about their reign. Amos is not a bought entity, neither is he from the northern kingdom. He is an outsider; God uses him to deliver the message of doom he plans on bringing to the rulers and people of the northern kingdom.

Next, there was Uzziah, the king of the southern kingdom, Judah. According to 2 Chronicles 26:4-6, he was a decent king. It says,

And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.”

2 Chronicles 26:4-6

The problem with Judah however is that they read their press clippings, and took credit for what God had provided. 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, “But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God.” We do that quite a bit. We gain success and then write books on what made us so successful while we give God a passing glance of credit. As a matter of fact, our president did what no president before him had ever done, he managed a five-minute prayer on the day of prayer without ever mentioning the name of God. That’s pretty hard to do. We can make fun of the president, but unfortunately the church does the same when it focuses its ministry on man’s needs rather than pointing to God and His glory. It is easy to omit God from religion, by taking credit for what He has done. As we see in Amos 2:4, Judah had rejected God’s commandments altogether. Once you omit God from your reality, it is easy to neglect His commands.

The third player is Jeroboam II, king of the northern kingdom, Israel. His dad, Jeroboam I had been king before him, and he was evil, and his son followed in his footsteps. According to 2 Kings 14:24,

And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin

2 Kings 14:24

Israel had lost territory to the surrounding nations, and Jeroboam had recovered much of the lost land and in a sense had ‘made Israel great again!’ There was monetary prosperity under Jeroboam. Many of the people were prospering as a result of the policies of the King, but in doing so they had ignored the poor. This was a direct rejection of the intention God had for His people, especially since they too were once enslaved and oppressed in the land of Egypt, and God delivered them from that so that they could be a blessing to the surrounding nations. Instead, they were pillaging and warring with other nations rather than being a blessing to them, and they were also oppressing their own people for their gain. They simply didn’t want to give up their privilege to listen to God and help those that were poor. As we have often seen, those that were once oppressed, become the oppressor once they are freed.

Amos was called to speak against that, because their own professionally paid prophets told them what they wanted to hear, which was that they were blessed by God, and their wealth reflected that blessing. This is not the message they would hear from God’s mouthpiece Amos.

What’s interesting is that Amos 1:1 says that Amos is speaking to the two kings of Israel, yet all of chapter one deals with the justice against the surrounding nations, which begs the question why? I think there are two possible reasons for this…

First, these other nations surround Israel, and are their enemies, and it’s a reminder to Israel as Amos circles around Israel, that they are not exempt from God’s Justice just because they see themselves as the “Chosen Ones.” It may have been to demonstrate to Israel that even though He is not ignoring the gross injustices of the surrounding nations, He is showing them that their sins will not be ignored, and that their self-righteousness is hollow. Nationalism breeds the notion that insiders are ‘good,’ while outsiders are evil. This appears to be the binary demonstrated by religion and many of the justice movements that have recently emerged.

Second, the injustices they were committing were a shame to God who called out Israel from their own injustice (The Exodus), to be a “blessing to the nations,” but they not only failed to be a blessing, they had become enemies of those surrounding them. They had become a hypocritical, religious stench to the world rather than the blessing God had intended. The sins most discussed in Amos, as well as the other prophets are the sins of Idolatry and Injustice or oppression of the poor. Calvin once said that the ‘human heart is an idol factory.’ When we reject God, we never stop worshiping because we are designed to worship. I believe Idolatry is linked to Injustice. Pagan worship of that time, looked within and horizontally for their solutions. Pagan gods were manipulated and used to control the environment, and the pagan gods were themselves often petty, manipulative and hateful. They were often very nationalistic too; the very thing God was upset with Israel about.

I’m afraid much of the western Church has fallen into the same trap. Instead of a blessing, we have become more concerned with politics, our rights and the ‘American Way’ than we have with the gospel of the kingdom of God, which includes ‘thinking of others more highly than yourself.’ We have substituted the God glorifying, reconciliatory message of the kingdom for earthly prosperity. In that sense, we have also become idolaters and ignored the poor!

When our world remains horizontal, it has a tendency to become self absorbed. Idolatry is not just worship of a golden calf, but any kid of allegiance we give to anything besides the God who created us and saved us out of slavery to sin, and reconciled our relationship to God vertically, so that we could be a blessing to others. When we gain our contentment, identity and joy from a vertical relationship with God, we can release ourselves to serve others. When we live a horizontal life, all we can do is get all we can, since this is all we have.

Like Israel, however, we have been redeemed to glorify God by finding our joy in Him and blessing the community’s we live in. Injustice is not just an action, but also an inaction, and as we will see in the book of Amos, it was what the citizens of Israel didn’t do (Sins of Omission) that they were being judged for, as well as some the things they did do (Sins of Commission).

6 Truths In Regard to Amos Chapter One and the Issue of God’s Justice

  • God’s chooses simple people, and sometimes outsiders to deliver His message to His people
  • God reveals Himself to people “The Lord roars from Zion and utters His voice from Jerusalem
  • God is the “Grandmaster of the universe not humans. V.1 says that Amos spoke to Israel ‘two years before the earthquake,’ which Amos predicted would happen. God is in control of what goes on in this world, and that does pose some more questions in regard to the character of God that we will deal with in future articles. The reference to the earthquake shows that what God promised through Amos, he delivered. However, skeptics such as physicist Michio Kaku feel that when they find the ‘Unified Theory,’ they will be god. He says,“When we find the rules that govern the chess game, we then become grand masters,” That’s our destiny, I think, as a species.” Is it?
  • He does not “take pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 18:32). As I said before, God’s justice is never out of hate or revenge, and He has given humanity a chance to repent and turn to Him. His character is based on His justice and holiness=, as well as, His love, mercy and grace.
  • Some of the judgments in the Old Testament law are strange to us. We need to admit that. I plan on doing future articles dealing with some of the very strange laws and judgments we see in the bible, and have been highlighted by men such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, but we also need to know that much of it makes more sense when we understand the times these were written. For instance Martin Luther King once said about the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Known as Lex Talionis) as one that “would leave us with a lot of blind toothless people.” I greatly respect Dr. King, and get what he is saying, but in reality, this part of the law was not to be harsh, but to make sure that proper justice was being accomplished by making sure people were given fair punishments for their crime. It was to protect against injustices that were happening all around Israel.
  • God Himself took on the punishment for our transgression, so the OT law and its punishments were placed on Christ on our behalf. You are free to do what you want, and pay the consequences or you can turn and trust Christ who re-established that relationship with God so we could once again enjoy fellowship with God. There is no judgment that Christ doesn’t know. He was punished as an act of justice that gave us the chance to be reconciled with God and to save us from God’s righteous and fair justice.

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