Week of March 20

How Just are We?

Read: Joshua 1-2; Psalm 37; 1 Corinthians 3
“For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.”
Psalm 37:28, ESV


The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you?” He replies, in part, with the key phrase, “to act justly” (Micah 6:8). The principle of justice figures prominently throughout the beautiful Psalm 37. I believe that our psalmist shows us how to live by the principles of God’s justice while we await the fulfillment of His promises. Such faithfulness to God bears present and eternal dividends. “God Our Trustworthy Benefactor” provides the rubric beneath which we are to live our lives.

I like to think that I practice God’s justice in my own life and actions, but this psalm really challenges me on several levels. Perhaps you will feel the same way when we begin to apply it to our daily living. Let’s examine this idea more carefully today.

Understanding the Bible Context

The poetic structure of the psalm
Psalm 37 is an acrostic poem, meaning that the first line of each strophe (2 lines) begins with a successive letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The song consists of twenty-two strophes, and each one is a complete proverb (Handbook; cf. EBC). The hymn is also classified as a wisdom psalm, meaning it teaches truths about God and humankind. Themes like the providence of God and the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous are offered in a variety of ways. One scholar has said that it is “not so much a psalm as a collection of proverbs” (Weiser, as quoted in Handbook).
Seeing the world through the eyes of our just God
Our focal verse begins with a general concept that is followed in the next line with a specific one. The contrasting words are “justice” and “saints,” and yield a proverb like: “The Lord loves that which is right, but what is more he will not abandon those who are faithful to him” (Handbook). We hear and read much about “justice” in our generation, which is understandable, but we must note that the biblical meaning of the term varies in significant ways from contemporary secular conceptions (cf. Proverbs 2:8). So, we do well to understand its meaning and application from God’s perspective, because the Psalmist states that “the Lord loves justice.”

Most in our generation associate notions about justice, and secure corresponding human rights, in the rule of law and various governmental constitutions. The biblical term does hold features of this meaning, but with a noted difference. While contemporary citizens often believe that government is the first place to turn for seeking fairness, this is not the case in the Scriptures. All true biblical justice, as a primary attribute of God, finds its source in God Himself (Theological Wordbook). The Bible is very clear that all the right, justice, authority, etc., there is, is His, because He is the God of justice. To speak of biblical justice means that which is “right,” “fitting,” and “proper”—not only in culture, but in the lives of His followers.

So, when the Bible speaks of the justice of God, the word has a particular shade of meaning that states more than simply the just or right norms of God, but also the just claims of God on our lives. We now may see more clearly where the psalmist is heading with this idea of justice in the second line of the strophe. The word “saints” corresponds to the notion of justice and has the meaning of “godly.” These are God’s special people, and they are helped and protected by Him.

Therefore, the just/godly know that God will answer their prayers because they are in vital contact with Him, so they wait upon Him to rescue and judge. Not to “forsake” His saints means that God will not abandon or desert them. They are preserved, meaning that He will protect them and keep them safe (37:28c). This is not a momentary pledge to safeguard them; indeed, He will do this forever (cf. John 6:36-39; 1 Peter 1:6-8). In contrast, the lawless will be banished forever. There are specific ways that we may show our trust in God’s justice.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Images of humanitarian atrocities in the Ukraine have streamed for days across our television screens and inside our social media apps. No picture or video has been quite as disturbing as the destruction and chaos that ensued following the Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Images from the aftermath of the horrific injustice elicited global cries for retaliation. Even though our emotions are still raw, I ask, “How may we apply Psalm 37 to such a tragedy?”

Many people attempt to live their lives by ethical systems and codes of conduct which require them to bend and twist the Scriptures to support their decision-making. I choose instead to share a moral framework that emerges from within the principles found in God’s Word and in His world. Christians who hold to such a biblical worldview will recognize moral principles in this psalm—indeed, they span the entirety of the Scriptures—that may be used to frame the whole of our lives and guide our decisions.

First, the psalmist promotes a lifestyle that pays eternal dividends by practicing “good” (v. 3). If you are like me, then you are greatly tempted to cry out, “Enough! Bomb the enemy into submission!” We should consider that most of the world does not have the means, or the military might, to “bomb” anyone. It is ironic that Christian Larry too often is tempted to see a moral option that includes the escalation of violence rather than the de-escalation of the same. How about you? Furthermore, isn’t the proliferation and use of weaponry to bring peace a questionable approach to resolve conflict? For example, history teaches us that the Pax Romana, which was based upon military might, was never able to quell rebellion. Therefore, I believe that the Lord calls us to make use of a foundational moral principle that was crafted into all that He created—active “good” (cf. Genesis 1-2); and it was “good”)! We should refuse to repay evil with evil (cf. Romans 12:18).

Secondly, choose to act rightly (vv. 5-6). Our active obedience to God has two clear features to it. On the one hand we show God our reliance upon Him (vv.3-4) and, on the other hand, we actively await His final justice (vv. 5-6). The Lord reminds me, “Larry, you are in the peace business. There is more power there than in bombs. I need you to be available for relief efforts and soul triage.”

Thirdly, as I have just suggested, we will choose to treat others fairly (vv. 8-11; Matthew 7:12). While it may appear that only the evil person will prosper, God will vindicate the righteous and bring justice to the wicked (37: 11; cf. Matthew 5:5; meek will inherit the earth). Billions of Russian rubles are being poured out to encircle and destroy Ukrainian cities. I am reminded, however, that God encircles and judges those who perpetrate evil upon the innocent (Isaiah 40:21-24)! The church should be dedicated to pouring out the currency of prayer on the violence that is occurring in the Ukraine and our world. We also should plead for God to grant wisdom and discernment to global leaders who are responsible to Him for how they handle the spread of evil. He holds all rulers to account (Romans 13:1b). I am asking for the Lord to halt the advance of evil in the Ukraine and the world (Matthew 6:9-10, 13). Fourthly, the entire psalm provides us with the core moral principle of showing proper respect for the life that God gives to us.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. The place to begin working on justice is in our own lives. Ask the Holy Spirit to point out if your conduct, as defined by Divine standards, is just. Make changes where they are needed.

2. Justice claims of a group may easily override the “lesser” claims of the weak, poor, and helpless. Healthy food distribution is one example. Plot on a map, for example, where supermarkets are built and their accessibility to the poor. Then plot on the same map where fast-food restaurants often flourish—in poorer neighborhoods. Churches and ministries practice God’s justice when they seek to protect the weak and vulnerable against injustice (cf. Mission Arlington and church food pantries).

3. For Families: Your children may not be sheltered from knowledge about the Russian invasion and attack upon the Ukraine, especially if they are in school. This may be a good time to have a quiet family chat about what they know, where they may be asking questions, and if aspects of the news has caused fear to arise. Assure them, based upon today’s devotional, of God’s justice. Both the evil will ultimately be destroyed, and God will care for all of His children, including the Ukrainians and your own children.

Many Christians around the globe are meeting at churches, in their homes, or pausing within their own hearts, at 7:00 in the morning and evening each day, to pray for Ukraine and its people. Lead your family in regular and special prayers for protection over the peoples of Ukraine. Ask your children to write letters to Ukrainian children, telling them of their prayer support and love. Send these letters to the Baptist Center, 4900 Sonterra Ct., Granbury, TX 76049. We will collect them and send them to friends who are serving the refugees in Ukraine.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock