“Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Genesis 18:25 NASB
Deal justly – What does it mean to “do justice”? How does it make you feel to be accused of judging someone, even if you know that you stand on biblical principles? How do you feel when you see the judicial system manipulated and contorted so that commonsense conclusions are ignored because of technicalities? In a culture saturated by the idea that we are not to judge others, something terrible happens to our concept of humanity when actions and consequences are separated. “Justice is what holds the world together, and it does so by connecting consequences with deeds. This is what makes it ‘connective.’ Justice links human action to human destiny and welds individuals into a community . . . When connective justice stops functioning, when evil goes unpunished and good no longer prospers, then the world is ‘out of joint.’”
Abraham asks God the central question of ancient Near Eastern cultures. “Are you just?” The experience of all other Near Eastern cultures demonstrated that the gods were capricious. They weren’t just. They didn’t mete out reward and punishment on the basis of good and evil actions. Favoritism, blind fate, luck and whim governed the actions of the gods. But not in Israel. That is Abraham’s point. “God, are you like the rest of the gods that surround us? Or are you different? Are you just or do you play favorites too?”
When we hear the verse, “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,” we often think this is an unfair statement, as if it expresses God’s capricious exercise of compassion. But we haven’t read the verse in its Near Eastern context. This verse is the answer to Abraham’s question. God is merciful to all! The point of the verse is that God is the decision-maker, not some higher principle or legal restraint. God can choose, and does choose, to show mercy even on those who do not deserve it. The Judge of all the earth does deal justly. In Hebrew, the thought is expressed by the words ‘asah (to do, to make, to accomplish) and mishpat (a legal judgment or decision or claim). God makes justice. How does He do that? By judging on the basis of who He is. That means both His compassion and His holiness come into play. How God resolves the tension between compassion and holiness is the story of redemption and that story is the final answer to Abraham’s question. Yes, the Judge of all the earth does act justly, and to do so cost Him His Son.
Abraham’s question took thousands of years to answer, but when the answer came to the earth, it shook the foundations of all that we believe about justice. It proclaimed that justice is ultimately a divine issue and can only finally be resolved by God. Once that answer was demonstrated on earth, justice among men finally had a firm foundation. God Himself upheld what it means to do justice. We have a model, a divine prerogative, to follow. Those who wish an answer to Abraham’s question will have to be willing to look at God’s Son for resolution. Those who are not willing to look at God’s Son will not be able to answer the question, or any other final question about justice for they will be left with the fickleness of fate, the luck of the draw and the manipulation of the system.
You and I know how to do justice. We have been told and we have been shown. Now we must act.
Topical Index: justice, mishpat, Genesis 18:25
 John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, p. 304.