Judging the judges
Most times when someone dies it is not a happy time. Even when a criminal is executed, sadness and somberness surround the occasion. But when news of the death of the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Osama Bin Laden reached our shores, there was exultation and celebration throughout our nation. Why was this man’s death such a boost for the morale of our country? Was it because our President stepped up to the plate, made a bold, and right decision? Was it because our military proved they could get the job done? Was it because the world— even the Muslim world— will be a better place without this man? All that is true, but the real reason for the elation— our President pinpointed for us when he said, “Justice has been done.”
We serve a just God— a totally just God, and He has placed within the human heart that same desire for justice. We want things just. We want things fair. We want the good rewarded, and the bad punished. And the killing of Osama Bin Laden satisfied something deep, deep within the heart of the American people— something God put there— our sense of justice.
C. S. Lewis said, “The longing for justice in our hearts and our offense at injustice show that we are not simply random creatures swimming in the soup of relativity. No, our cry for a just universe and our demand for order reflect the reality of that transcendent order held in the hand of God.”
A sense of order in the world that can ensure justice and fair treatment of people— that’s why God established government. Paul to the Christians at Rome—people subject to a not-so-good government: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” (Romans 13:1, NLT) “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good… sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.” (Romans 13:4, NLT)
That word “for” when it comes to God’s purpose in government is very important. Abraham Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Throughout history God has blessed various forms of government— some not “of” the people; some not “by” the people, but never has He blessed a government that wasn’t “for” the people.
We desire justice. And most importantly, God desires justice on the earth. But many times— maybe because of the form of government, or because of the people who occupy governmental offices— justice is not done. Such is often the case today, and such was the case from time to time in the history of Israel.
The Psalmist Asaph, the temple worship leader, saw the injustice that was going on, sensed God’s heart, and wrote a song about it, Psalm 82. It is a song that everyone can sing— but it is a song specifically for those “in positions of authority” who “have been placed there by God.” (Romans 13:1, NLT) To those persons of influence in government, this Psalm is most profound— God proclaiming His demand for justice, and the consequences that come to those who are unjust. Reformer Martin Luther said, “Every civil leader should have this psalm painted on his wall… or conspicuously displayed on the clothes he wears.”
In verse 1, court is in session. God’s court. It is a bit different than our courtrooms— no jury, no lawyers, no witnesses, no legal strategies, no Miranda rights, and no objections on technical grounds. The verdict is not delivered by those like our juries today who are not privy to all the facts. God— “Elohim”— the all-knowing God, will deliver the verdict and it will be right. And it will be final.
Who is being tried? Literal translations say, “gods.” Asaph is using a Hebrew word for God, Elohim. Those who are judges— and those in government offices are indeed placed there by God— they are literally, “little elohims.” That speaks of a tremendous responsibility and accountability. God has placed them there. But as “little elohims,” they are to operate just as God operates— they are to mirror God— render justice just as God would render justice. He’s God— but they, in a practical sense, are “little g” gods.
Think of how our nation’s condition would improve if government office holders looked at their duty— their responsibility, and their accountability, from the perspective of being a “little elohim.” A representative of God
What has God observed from these government officials? He sees “unjust decisions” handed down. (Vs. 2) He sees the “wicked” favored. (Vs. 2) It seems the scales of justice are tipped entirely in the wrong direction. The wicked— the guilty who can afford the best lawyers or offer the biggest bribes— they are favored with “not guilty” verdicts.
The Psalmist says these government leaders were wicked and unjust because they were operating presumptuously, like they have no accountability— like they are above the law. They took the power and authority of their office (which was given to them by God), and they let it go to their heads. Power has this tendency— it is a temptation for any in a position of authority to see one’s self on a higher level than others.
But God sets the record straight. “Yes, you are little elohims— you do have power and authority, but…” “You will die like mere mortals and fall like every other ruler.”(Vs. 7) With all their power and authority, they are still mortal— subject to failure and death. They will not escape judgment.
The psalmist speaks of the importance of justice, from a very practical viewpoint. “While the whole world is shaken to the core.” (Vs. 5) “All the foundations of the earth are out of course.” (KJV) “And now everything’s falling apart, the world’s coming unglued.” (The Message) “Shaken,” “out of course,” “falling apart,”— the original Hebrew word has in it the idea of slipping, sliding, decaying.
Justice— is at the core of a civilization. A lack of justice leads to anarchy and chaos. It leads to instability. Without justice, indeed, the “whole world is shaken to the core.” In just recent days, we’ve seen governments with histories of injustice— crumbled. Hopefully, they will be replaced with just governments, and leaders who have a heart for what’s right.
So, what does God desire? “Give justice to the poor and the orphan…” (Vs. 3) “Uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.” (Vs. 3) “Rescue the poor and helpless; deliver them from the grasp of evil people.” (Vs. 4) I assure you that God is not pleased when laws and policies are enacted that take advantage of people. I assure you He is not happy with an inequitable tax system that favors the wealthy. Or when taxes are increased and put a strain on people—without making an effort to make government work more efficiently.
I can’t help but think of those who are the most helpless— those who have no rights even in our country— the unborn. “Give justice… uphold the rights… rescue.” I assure you that judges, and politicians, and legislators that have made decisions favoring abortion thinking there would be no personal accountability— will face one day, a very angry Judge Who values all human life— Who presides over heaven’s court— and when that gavel comes down, justice will be rendered.
Those in positions of authority and influence, placed there by God, have a great accountability. What should be our desire—the focus of our prayers for government leaders? In verse 8, the psalmist expresses a desire that God “judge the earth” now— that corrupt governmental officials be exposed and removed from office… now— that God direct the affairs of this world so that there might be “liberty and justice for all”— that God work in such a way that our governmental leaders recognize their positions as “little elohims”— and take seriously their responsibilities and accountability.
First Baptist Church