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Lesson 4: Mercy and Justice in Psalms and Proverbs *

Introduction: "Justice" and "mercy" are words in natural tension with each other. It is justice to give you what you deserve! It is mercy (perhaps) to protect you from getting what you deserve. As beneficiaries of Jesus' great mercy, we need to be careful about how we apply these two concepts. We don't want to be shown great mercy by Jesus, and then fail to show mercy to others. The question is always, "What is mercy in this situation?" Let's see what we can learn from the Bible about justice and mercy!

  1. God's Justice Approach For the Oppressed

    1. Read Psalms 9:7-8. Why has God established His throne? (For judgment!)

      1. What kind of judgment does God provide? (Equity. This means that God is fair.)

      2. Notice the two roles of God mentioned in Psalms 9:8. God manages the world righteously, and judges with equity. Does that mean that true "equity" will reflect God's righteousness?

      3. Let's apply that to a legal struggle that is going on right now in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided a case in which a Christian baker refused to use his artistic talent to create a wedding cake for a homosexual "marriage." Anyone could buy anything from his shop, he just would not create special cakes to celebrate things the baker considered unrighteous. How would God decide this issue if we use the standard of Psalms 9:8? (Equity means taking into account the moral issues.)

    2. Read Psalms 9:9 and Psalms 9:16-18. I have heard it said, with regard to this series of lessons, that God is always on the side of the oppressed. That seems to be the message of Psalms 9:9. Let's apply that to our baker situation. Are the homosexual couple oppressed by the Christian baker?

      1. Is the baker oppressed by the government, which fined him and shut down part of his business for following his Christian conscience?

    3. Look again at Psalms 9:16. When we are told that the wicked are "ensnared by the work of their hands." What does this suggest results from wickedness? (Problems. To be "ensnared" is to be caught in a net.)

      1. Is a person caught in a net oppressed? (Yes. We see here that just because a person is "oppressed" does not mean that God is on his side. We have to determine why the person is oppressed.)

      2. What does Psalms 9:16 suggest is the basis for deciding which "side" God supports? (God supports justice. Justice sometimes results in the wicked being oppressed.)

    4. Read Psalms 101:1-4. What would King David do if he were the baker? (This psalm of David tells us that his goal is to "have no part" in doing things that are "vile" or "evil." This is the "gold standard" for those who have faith in God.)

  2. God's Defense for the Poor

    1. Read Psalms 82:1-4. What is the problem described here? (The "gods" of the people defend injustice and are partial to the wicked.)

      1. What should be done instead? (Rescue the weak, the needy, the poor and the oppressed.)

      2. Who is causing problems for the needy and poor? (The wicked.)

    2. Read Proverbs 22:7-9. What is the natural order of things? (Those who borrow money are enslaved by debt. The rich rule over the poor. If you are unjust, you will face calamity. Your strength will be broken. If you are generous with the poor, you will be blessed.)

      1. What overall lesson about poverty and wealth do you find in these statements? (God naturally sorts these kinds of things out.)

    3. Read Leviticus 19:15. What kind of justice does God demand? (Even-handed justice.)

      1. Should the poor receive less justice because they are poor?

      2. Should the rich receive less justice because they are rich? (The answer to both of these questions is "no." You should not be penalized because you are poor or rich.)

      3. What does this suggest about God supporting the side of the poor and oppressed? (It shows you cannot make that assumption. God is on the side of justice. Whether a person is poor or rich is not a basis for judgment.)

    4. Read Psalms 146:1-4. Why should we turn to God for our defense rather than humans? (Among other reasons, humans die!)

      1. Read Psalms 146:6. What other reasons should we rely on God? (Not only is He so powerful that He created everything, but He is faithful.)

    5. Read Psalms 146:7-9. There are two statements in these verses that seem to be in conflict. We are told that God "sets prisoners free" and He "loves the righteous." Setting prisoners free to harm others is not an obvious act of love. How would you resolve this apparent conflict? (The implication is that the prisoners are wrongfully imprisoned. Since God "frustrates the way of the wicked" (v.9), He would keep dangerous prisoners in prison.)

      1. Notice that verse 7 tells us that God gives "food to the hungry." Does that let us off the hook? (Are we not partners in doing God's will on earth?)

    6. Read Proverbs 10:3-5. What does this say about God and hunger? (God does not let the righteous go hungry.)

      1. Does that mean that God is in favor of the unrighteous being hungry?

      2. What is God's view of being lazy? (It brings poverty.)

      3. What is the overall message of Proverbs 10:3-5? (If you are diligent you will be fed and have wealth. If you are lazy and prefer to sleep, you are disgraced and poor.)

      4. Let's go back to this idea that God is always on the side of the powerless. If you just happened on someone who was disgraced and poor, could you automatically say God favored that person? (This text teaches just the opposite - it is consistent with God's rules that a lazy person, one who prefers sleep to work, will not be successful.)

        1. What should a merciful Christian do with a lazy person? (Encourage work and the use of an alarm clock.)

      5. When Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, Republicans and Democrats agreed on welfare reform. The reform created a five-year lifetime limit on welfare, and the number of individuals receiving welfare declined dramatically. What do you think happened to the poor because of this? Would you favor or oppose time limits on welfare? What would God say? (After this reform passed, employment of the least-skilled mothers surged, "the poverty rates of black children and single-parent families dropped rapidly to historic lows." (Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1620, February 6, 2003.) This provides proof of God's view that work is the cure for poverty.)

        1. Is this conclusion about work being the primary cure for poverty based on only this one Bible verse? (No. The Old Testament instructions about gleaning and the Jubilee return of land are about helping the poor to feed themselves.)

      6. This week I was in Taco Bell (a favorite restaurant) and one of the workers was leaving with her two sons. I avoid this store because she cannot afford day care and lets her sons run wildly around. Undoubtedly, neither the mother nor her sons consider this ideal. She is working. What is mercy? What is justice here?

  3. Middle of the Road

    1. Read Proverbs 30:7-9. What should be the goal for our life?

      1. Why are both wealth and poverty dangers to our soul?

    2. Friend, will you ask the Holy Spirit to help you see situations involving justice and mercy in the way God sees them?

  4. Next week: The Cry of the Prophets.
* Copr. 2019, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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