Justice (Isaiah 42:1,3,4)

The World's Justice
The Kingdom's Justice
Justice is defined by lawyers.
Justice is defined by God.
I'm tired of foreigners taking over our community. What right do they have to be here?
We follow God's example by giving special care to people of other ethnicities living among us.
I don't like the injustice in our society but there's not much I can do about it.
We share God's concern for the oppressed and work to right injustices.
We can wipe out injustice if we just accept one another and work together.
Only God can give us the power and moral clarity to right injustices.

In the Bible, justice is always followed by one of 9 words:

  • widow
  • fatherless
  • orphans
  • poor
  • hungry
  • stranger
  • needy
  • weak
  • oppressed

Misphat (justice) (Isa 42:1,3,4) [422 times]: right order, divine truth, the revelation of God, right principles. Justice expresses righteousness in sound precepts.

Shaphat (to judge) (Isa 2:4): put things to right.

Tsedeq (righteousness) (Isa 9:7) [276 times]: doing the right thing, right practice. Norm or standard. The way things should be. Righteousness embodies holiness in sound precepts. It is the justice of God (misphat) enacted.

Misphat (justice) and Tsedeq (righteousness) coming together (Isa 5:7) usually means to make things right: right practice and right principles (Isa 1:21, 27; 9:7; 16:5; 32:1, 16; 35:5; 59:9). Righteousness (Tsadaq) is mishpat, the justice of God, en­acted. It means to be or to make right in a moral or forensic sense.

Justice is care for the vulnerableMisphat occurs 426/422 times in the Hebrew OT where it is typically translated as "justice." (The similar Greek word transliterated krisis appears 47 times in the NT.) Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.

The concept of justice in Hebrew is broader than just punishing people who do wrong. It is also affirmative, in that it means to give people their rights. Time and time again, misphat describes taking up the care of the vulnerable.

Justice and righteousness emanate from the nature and character of God. The Bible calls the people of God to abide in that character. “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isa 1:17). “A throne (seat of honor) will even be established in loving-kindness, And a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover, he will seek justice And be prompt in righteousness” (Isa 16:5). “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8) James 1:27 explains, “This is pure and un­defiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The Messiah's rule is consistently characterized by the administration of justice (Isa 9:7; 11:3-4; 32:1; 42:1,3,4; Ps 72:1-5; Jer 23:5; 33:15). The term justice (misphat) appears to be a fairly straightforward concept, but interpreters have connected this term with a multitude of ideas:
  • the general idea of a custom, manner of behavior,
  • a place of judgment,
  • a case to be presented for judgment,
  • the sentence, decision of a case,
  • ordinance, laws, rules of behavior,
  • a right, privilege of law,
  • true religion,
  • religious teaching, the rule of salvation; a royal duty of defending the weak and ordering the total "well-being of the community" based on earlier ideals presented in Isa 2:2-4; 11:1-5.
God intends to restore justice when his kingdom is introduced (Isa 1:27; 2:2-4; 4:4; 5:16; 11:1-5; 26:9; 28:6; 30:18; 33:5), and this servant will have a key role in accomplishing this goal (Isa 42:1,3,4).

The Hebrew word/noun translated "justice/judgment" (Isa 42:1,3,4) is מִשְׁפָּט (misphat). In many ways it is the antonym of תֹּהוּ (tohu, tohuw), chaos (Gen 1:3; Isa 24:10; 29:21; 34:11; 40:17, 23; 41:29; 44:9; etc). It is much more than merely legality, as "justice" has come to connote in English. Rather, it has the idea of "right order." This is why it is often paralleled to צֶדֶק (tsedeq), which is usually translated "righteousness," but simply has the idea of "doing the right thing." This means that misphat has a much larger pool of connotations than does the word "justice." To be sure, a world where the innocent are punished and the oppressors go free is a world where misphat is lacking. The word contains everything we think of as "justice," but it contains more than that as well.

The verb "judge" (שָׁפַט - shaphat) has the basic meaning of "making an authoritative pronouncement which decides issues." Likewise its noun misphat points to a society in which such a rule prevails. In Isa 42:1,3,4 misphat is the pronouncement itself, the revelation of the Lord's truth (Dt 5:1). Shaphat, therefore, does not have the meaning of "to condemn," to pass an adverse sentence, but to make whatever decision settles a particular issue -- or all issues (Ps 98:9), to "put things to right."

In Judges when the people disobey they are being beaten down by oppressors. They do not experience the kind of right order that God intended in his world. So in response to repentance and faith God sends a champion who will restore them to the kind of life God intended for them. Thus, misphat is restored in the land. So Isaiah is saying that the coming Messiah will do all that is necessary to restore God's right order on the earth.

"He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing" (Dt 10:18, NLT).

"He executes justice for the orphan [fatherless] and the widow, and shows His love for the alien [foreigner] by giving him food and clothing" (Dt 10:18, NASB, HCSB).

Cursed is anyone who withholds [perverts, distorts, denies] justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow (Dt 28:19a, NIV) [ESV, NASB, HCSB].

"Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely [all things, everything]" (Prov 28:5, ESV) [NASB, HCSB].

This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God (Lev 24:22, NLT).

"The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love [steadfast love of the Lord, lovingkindness of the Lord]" (Ps 33:5, NIV) [ESV, NASB]. {"When two words [Tsedeq (righteousness) and Misphat (justice)] are tied together, as they are over three dozen times, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is 'social justice.'" Generous Justice.}

In our fallen world, those in power tend to skew "the system" to their own benefit and to the benefit of those in their own group (Isa 10:1-2), God hates this injustice in all its forms (personal, social, legislative, etc). God treats all people with perfect misphat and especially looks out for the oppressed and neglected (alien, orphan, widow in Dt 28:19a). We are called to follow his example.