Justice and injustice are more than individual acts. Justice and injustice are manifested in the mores and laws of people groups, communities and nations. Whether it applies to people groups, cities or nations, God’s concern for justice is expressed throughout the Bible. God’s justice addresses the totality of people groups, cultures, languages, and how they organize themselves. Divine justice occurs in relation to the fallen condition of all humanity.
Adam’s sin affected the larger groupings of people. Our personal fallen nature is not cured by the larger group. If there is a general tenor of righteousness in the larger group, it may place limits on my sinful actions through righteous laws. But the standards of the larger group can easily shift to unrighteousness that allow and promote behaviors that are ultimately destructive.
Quickly the biblical accounts move to larger groups and their sin. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” The personal disobedience in Genesis 3 spread as rebellion on the earth. In response, God brought about the judgment of the flood (Genesis 6:8 through 9:29).
Yet, even that cleansing was not enough to remove sin. Soon after, humanity’s sinful inclinations reached a new height at Babel (Genesis 10:11-11:9).
All nations have commonly accepted standards, often reflected in legal codes and socially accepted behaviors. Some are even based on religious principles. But the Bible reveals there is only one way to God, not many ways.
The Bible declares that we are prone to idolatry. We are made to worship the one true God, but sin leads us to replace the invisible God with images from the created world. This is the point of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32. Thus the whole world stands under the wrath of God.
The Psalmist asked, “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:1-3).
Psalm 9 declares, “The nations have sunk down in the pit which they made,” “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” and “Let the nations be judged in Your sight. Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (vv. 15, 17, 19, 20).
The prophet Isaiah announced, “The nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless” (40:15, 17).
God’s plan of redemption included the making of a holy nation that would live by faith. That plan began with Abraham in Genesis 12 and continued with the formation of a nation whose faith led to a new way of living in the world. The Torah given to Moses was the revelation of divine law whose ways were life and blessings (Psalm 19:7-14). This holy nation, Israel, was called to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 51:4; 60:3).
While divine judgment came, and still comes, upon many nations, there are three Old Testament frameworks that guide our thinking regarding God’s divine justice and nations: Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:29), the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Leviticus 18, Deuteronomy) and Judah (Ezekiel 16).
First, Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins came before the Lord and were “very grave” (Genesis 18:20). Besides the homosexuality, which was clearly accepted by the society, Ezekiel 16:49 indicated that “pride, fullness of food, abundance of idleness,” along with failure to “strengthen the hand of the poor and needy” were part of the sin. These sins reflected the corrupt nature of a society which had abandoned righteousness whether by legal means or by changing societal norms.
What is hopeful in this passage is that the Lord “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is seen when Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:10-33). Appealing to God’s righteous character, Abraham “negotiated” with God to spare the cities if only ten righteous people could be found.
Abraham’s merciful actions stand in sharp contrast to those who would seek to condemn and destroy in God’s name. Righteous indignation at sin should cause us to repent and pray for mercy, rather than taking a posture of angry destruction.
Second, Genesis 15:6 shows that God gives nations time to either “fill up” their iniquity, or to repent as did Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10). This “filling up” is related to the nations in the land of Canaan that Israel displaced in the Joshua conquests.
Leviticus 18 details the abominations and perversions of these nations (18:3, 24, 25, 27). These included human sacrifice and a range of sexual perversions. What is interesting is that “the land” is defiled and “vomits” out its inhabitants as part of the manifestation of divine justice.
Third, Israel was constantly warned to live according to divine revelation and not by the dictates of surrounding nations and their gods. But Israel consistently fell into idolatry and lost her blessing from God. This runs throughout the Torah, the historical books, and the prophets. Thus Ezekiel 16 compares Judah to Sodom and Gomorrah, and Judah’s sin is deemed even greater because she had the revelation of divine righteousness.
God has clearly revealed His standards of righteousness for all nations. Our task as followers of Jesus is to share God’s life-giving Word, and stand in the gap for the nations. The Great Commission sends us into all the “nations” (Matthew 28:19). Our witness is not only for the sake of personal salvation, but also for the sake of justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and healing among the nations.