The August Theologian: The City of Justice

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But the fact is, true justice has no existence save in that republic whose founder and ruler is Christ, if at least any choose to call this a republic; and indeed we cannot deny that it is the people’s weal. But if perchance this name, which has become familiar in other connections, be considered alien to our common parlance, we may at all events say that in this city is true justice ; the city of which Holy Scripture says, ‘Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God.’ —Augustine, City of God

Do You Really Like Grace? (Exodus 34:1–9)

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV).’”

What Moses sees on Sinai is a revelation of God’s name (Exodus 33:19, 34:5, 6), His goodness (Exodus 33:19), and God’s ways (Exodus 33:13; cf. Psalm 103:7–8). Moses gets a glimpse into the very heart of God and what he see is this, Yahweh is a God of mercy and justice. As you read through Exodus, is this not the epic glory you are overwhelmed with? In Exodus, the immeasurable mercy and fierce wrath of Yahweh sweep over one like a colossal tidal wave.

Some would think this a contradiction. How could a just God be merciful? At best this is only a paradox, though I don’t think it even rises to that level of perplexity. For there to be grace there must be justice or grace doesn’t mean grace. Grace presumes justice. Justice must be a necessary given for grace to have opportunity to exist. Only in an atmosphere of justice does any species of grace thrive.

By grace some take God to be an indifferent, impersonal fountain of rainbow bubbles. Indifference isn’t love and only a loving God can be gracious. Also, if God loves, this means he hates, for love hates that which is opposed to the object of its love.

What really bothers people about this passage is nothing they take it to mean of grace, but what they understand it to say about justice. Which is to say, they don’t like true grace, for grace presumes not only judgment, but guilt. But for those who have really seen God, what stuns them is His mercy. His wrath, though awesome as a river of blood to behold, is expected in its coming. It is grace that surprises and amazes. If you see God, your posture isn’t one of protest, but of petition. In the light of God’s glory Moses cried out for mercy and grace. It is not astounding that at the revelation of the Holy One so many bow. What is astounding, is that so often, for those He sets His love on, there is something in the beholding that leads them to believe that mercy is something they may cry out for.

As one ponders the cross of Christ, it is clear that there can be no contradiction between grace and justice, for there we see the fullest revelation of both. The glorious harmony of grace and justice that rang out from the cross ever reverberates through all creation and will forever resound to the glory of the crucified Christ.

Bloody Justice and Bloody Grace (Exodus 21:12–32)

Give God’s law a fair shake and I believe you’ll be struck with the fairness of it. A cursory glance looking for barbarisms and inconsistencies won’t suffice. That’s not fair. Study it. Generally our society agrees that law takes some of that. I don’t want to argue for this here, rather, I want you to be struck with where you see this in the Bible.

After God’s mighty redemption of His people He gives them these laws of justice. After grace, justice. After mercy, righteous judgment. Grace isn’t allergic to justice. Mercy isn’t polarized against righteousness. Remember that the salvation of God’s people came by judgment. Justice fell on Egypt that Israel might go free. But this wasn’t justice enough. The death penalty hung over Israel’s head as well. If they were to go free, redemption must be paid. A lamb must bleed. There will be blood: bloody justice and bloody grace. The only reason any get grace, is because God upheld justice.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).”

God compromises no justice in His grace, and His grace instills justice into His people. We who are saved by grace should seek justice. When one son harms another, a good parent punishes the guilty not only because they love the innocent, but because they love the offender. We should lovingly seek for justice to be done in society by the proper authorities, all while declaring the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel of Christ who shed his blood in payment for the eternal death penalty that stood over our heads. May God’s redemption make us people of righteousness.

Poetic Justice (Exodus 7:14–25)

In the Exodus, how many signs are there? How many wonders? How many great acts of judgment? We speak of the ten plagues, but the Scriptures talk of signs, wonders, and acts of judgment. In 4:17 Moses was told to take the staff with which He will do the signs (4:22). The staff/serpent gig is clearly a sign. So, Pharaoh receives not ten, but eleven signs. Still, the staff/serpent sign is clearly not one of the “wonders” that God “strikes” Egypt with (Exodus 3:19).

What we commonly call the ten plagues are linked together as a set—ten wonders, ten great acts of judgment. Yet, this first wonder, and second sign, of water being turned to blood clearly forms an inclusio, that is, a form of literary brackets, with an eleventh wonder, the parting to the Red Sea. The first wonder foretells of the last. The previous Pharaoh commanded, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live (Exodus 1:22).” That very river turns to blood. The firstborn of Egypt die in the “final” wonder that brought them out of Egypt. Pharaoh’s heart grows hard again (remember this is God’s doing, cf. Exodus 4:22; 9:16; 14:8). He pursues Israel to the Red Sea, and there, his host is drowned.

This isn’t just justice. It’s poetic justice. The wrath that falls on Egypt has a beauty, a wonder, a rhythm, and a poetry to it. It has motifs and themes. It swells and moves. It is God’s orchestration. A symphony unto His own glory. This is no mindless rage. Wisdom unsurpassed has penned notes of wonder long ago for glory. One day, this motif will reach it’s pre-composed crescendo, and we will sing for its glory.

The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

And I heard the altar saying,

“Yes, Lord God the Almighty,
true and just are your judgments!”

—Revelation 16:3–7