As we study the names of God each Word Nerd Wednesday this year, I’m struck by the variety of ways His Word describes His character. Admittedly, some are more palatable than others… Love. Peace. Righteous. Provider. Healer. Redeemer.
But what about Judge?
If I’m honest, this aspect of God’s character tastes a little bitter in my mouth, but where there is a law, there must be a judge to uphold it.
HaShophet: The Lord the Judge
Sarai (later Sarah) first used this name for God in Genesis 16:5 when she confesses to Abram her attempt to manipulate God’s plans for their offspring by giving her maid to her husband to produce an heir. She calls upon the name of the Lord as judge between she and Abram.
“Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.’”Genesis 16:5
The Hebrew word Sarai used here is Shaphat (shaw-fat) Strongs number H8199 and means to judge, pronounce sentence (for or against); by implication, to vindicate or punish; by extension to govern; passively to litigate (literally or figuratively) avenge, condemn, contend, defend, execute (judgement), plead, reason, rule.
Today’s definition of judge means to form an opinion through careful weighing of evidence, to determine or pronounce after inquiry or deliberation; to rule or lead, decide how the guilty should be punished, or decide of something is good or bad.
Judge for Yourself
Interestingly enough, what Abram next tells Sarai to do is what later leads the Israelites to disaster. He told her to judge for herself, to do whatever she feels is right in response to Hagar’s haughty treatment of her mistress. Sarai’s treatment was so harsh, Hagar fled into the wilderness. It was here that an Angel of the Lord came to comfort and encourage her. This is when Hagar gets to name God, El Roi. Then God directs Hagar to do the right thing, even though it didn’t feel right to her. To return to Abram and Sarai.
Sarai and Abram did what was culturally acceptable to produce an heir. No earthly judge would have found them guilty. Abram encouraged Sarai to do what condemns us all—what is right in our own eyes. Judges 17:6 “In those days there was no king (HaMelek) in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That is precisely how we get ourselves into trouble. God appointed righteous Judges to help His people keep the law before the begged Him for a king to rule them. But over and over again we see the dangerous impact judges and kings who failed to seek God had on the nation of Israel.
Until our earthly kings point us to our eternal Judge for guidance and direction, we will all simply do what is right in our own thinking. And we are incapable of judging rightly. We do not possess the ability to see the hearts of all people as God does. God’s wisdom is far to high and wide and deep for us to comprehend it. Just because something is culturally accepted does not make it acceptable or pleasing in God’s eyes.
God is the Only Righteous Judge
We look for our judges to be beyond reproach, impartial, fair, and experienced. They should also be, patient, truthful, compassionate, and good listeners committed to equality and justice. Judges should be experts in the both law and human nature and possess a desire to see offenders rehabilitated as contributing members of society.
Only God perfectly fulfills all these requirements.
On the other hand, we humans are shallow, flawed, prideful, self-focused making us incapable of judging others without being hypocritical or self-righteous.
We wrestle as much with the law as much as we wrestle with judgement. We see some laws as antiquated and obsolete. Some laws seem good for others but not for ourselves. Occasionally, we deem it acceptable to break certain laws circumstantially. Some we choose to view as optional or mere suggestions, you know, like speed limits. When we’re in a hurry it’s ok to let the needle push past the posted limit, but rarely is it acceptable to exceed it in a school zone. Especially our children’s school. We set our cruise control to an acceptable speed just slightly above the limit, and then judge those who pass us.
But God is incapable of hypocritical or self-righteous judgement, because He cannot contradict Himself and He is righteousness. His focus is redeeming His people not condemning us. And He gave His only Son for that cause, to endure the punishment for all our sins so that we could be declared innocent.
Judges Require Justice
In Daniel chapter 9 we read how the nation of Israel deserved punishment for her transgressions and God exacted justice by desolating Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian conquerers. Because God is holy and righteous, He must punish evil. He must execute judgement on the wicked to uphold His perfect law.
We would impeach a judge who refused to properly exercise his authority and declare the guilty guilty. God is no different here. To be a righteous Judge He must declare the truth of our guilt. Time and time again the Old Testament tells of God’s righteous punishment of His people for their sin. He has a standard and a consequence for those who fall short (which is all of us). But because His Son bore the punishment, the consequence of our sin is no longer condemnation.
God is the author of the law, the judge, the jury, and the executioner. But He is also the Justifier of all those who believe in His Son as their Savior. When Satan stands as our accuser seeking to shackle us to our shame and guilt, God declares us free and forgiven by the grace of His Son’s sacrifice.
Good Judgment or Judgmental
One of the most prevalent complaints against Christians is that we are judgmental.
Love is the difference between being judgmental and practicing discernment. Accepting that we are all sinners creates compassion for those who’ve fallen into the temptation to break the law. The essence of the law is love. And so by keeping the law we practice loving our neighbors. When we love others as God does, we will keep the spirit of His law. God wrote the law to protect His people from themselves, each other, and outsiders. When they lived up to its standards their way of living set His people apart from surrounding nations. And it still does.
Cries to abandon moral absolutes corrupt even Christian congregations. The temptation to seek our own truth tears down God’s authority as our Creator and Judge. The fear of being called judgmental threatens to silence Scripture.
We all desire what is right in our own eyes.
We elect earthly judges to give offenders what they deserve, but we petition our eternal Judge to give us what only Jesus deserves. And He does. God judged Jesus for our sins and justified us by punishing Him in our place. It is a great injustice to point out problems without offering the solution to sin. To judge without mentioning the justification God freely gives. To accuse without confessing our own crimes. The world twists God’s Word convincing us we are not to judge others so everyone can do what is right in their own eyes. But what the Word really says is that we will be judged according to the same standards by which we judge others.Trusting God as my Judge relieves me of the need to judge so I can be free to love. #Hashophet #namesofgod #wordnerdwednesday #Judge Click To Tweet
Convicted by the Righteous Judge
When the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts of sin, it is not to condemn us, but to convince us of our need for a Savior. Those who do not believe they have sinned will never accept their need to be saved. On the other hand, only by comprehending the extent of our guilt, can we begin to perceive the extravagance of God’s grace. The one who feels wronged by another’s sin longs for a righteous Judge to determine guilt and innocence. But those who know they’ve done wrong tremble before a Judge who adheres to the letter of the law. One desires vengeance and the other mercy. Despite their seeming contradiction, both belong to God.
Vengeance and mercy.
Law and gospel.
Truth and Grace.
And there is only one standard for all—faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Jesus will return one day to deliver an eternal judgment upon all people. Until then we have a choice in who we trust to judge us—God or man. When we allow man to be the judge of us, we rely on our own wisdom and interpretation of the law, we lack a solid foundation of truth, and we are at the mercy of the court of public opinion. But when we trust God as our Judge, we have a single standard for living, are not constantly swayed to and fro by the tides of popular interpretations, enjoy freedom from condemnation and shame, embrace conviction as a means of sanctification and rehabilitation.
Trusting God as my Judge relieves me of the need to judge so I can be free to love.Will you trust God as your Judge? #hashophet #wordnerdwednesday #namesofgod #judge Click To Tweet