Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Impartial Justice

"Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd" (Exodus 23:2).

Recently several scholars have suggested that the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21–23) can be divided into several sections, each of which comments on one of the Ten Commandments. Thus, Exodus 21:1–11, having to do with the sabbath-year release of slaves, focuses on the fourth commandment, while 21:12–36, having to do with violence, focuses on the sixth. The eighth commandment, dealing with property, is highlighted in 22:1–15, while it has been suggested that perhaps the theme of 22:16–31 is “spiritual adultery,” relating to the seventh commandment. Justice, the ninth commandment, is detailed in 23:1–9, while the last section of the Book of the Covenant (23:10–19) returns to sabbath considerations.

Exodus 23:1–9 emphasizes the need for impartiality in our dealings with others, especially before the court. Verse 1 forbids gossip and tale-bearing and warns us not to become involved in a conspiracy to promote an evil cause. Verse 2 calls our attention to the reality of mass appeal and mob rule; we are not to follow the crowd but to have the courage to stand alone if the majority is wrong.

Verse 3 forbids us from favoring the poor man in a lawsuit just because he is poor. The Christian’s heart tends to go out to the poor, so when we serve on juries it is important that we steel ourselves to impartiality. There is a place for mercy and charity, but not in the court of civil justice. The poor man is just as likely to be guilty as the rich. Verse 6 speaks to the other side of the issue, warning us not to let our instincts side with the attractively-dressed and presentable rich against those who make a poor physical presentation of themselves.

Neighborliness is enjoined in verses 4 and 5. If we help our enemy when he is in distress, we help build bridges and reduce social conflict. Most of us have “enemies,” people who have wronged us or been nasty to us. “Be not resentful, but helpful” is the bottom line here. God desires that the community of His people be one in which tension and conflict are kept to a minimum.

This section closes (vv. 8–9) with an exhortation to judges not to take bribes, and to render equal justice to strangers and aliens.

For many of us, jury duty is an unwelcome task. As Christians who know the Bible, however, we are better equipped to serve on juries than anyone else. God calls us to render impartial justice, and it is a privilege to serve in court. Don’t try to get out of it, but study passages like the Book of the Covenant and prepare yourself to serve.