Judge, Judgment, Justice (in Psalms)

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“Moderns tend to equate justice with the application of the legal system. Such a view is too narrow an understanding of biblical justice. . . . In a court or legal setting, the primary import of justice is ‘fairness.’ The judge(s) shall be evenhanded, treating all alike with regard to the law . . . (cf. Exod 23:2–3, 6–8; Deut 17:8–13; Lev 19:15).. . . The meaning of justice . . . is not restricted to the role of the legal institutions [but] is concerned to restore harmony to the community. It consists of action for members of the community and against oppressors . . . (cf. Job 29:7–25). It [justice] is the responsibility of every member of the group, not merely the judiciary. It consists of concrete actions of caring. It moves beyond written codes to address weakness, poverty, and inequities of every kind” (Guenther: 390). Or, put another way, “doing justice” is seeing to “honorable relations” all around (cf. Martens: 299–300).

The Israelites connected justice with their God, Yahweh. The Lord, called “lover of justice” (Pss 33:5; 37:28; 99:4; Isa 61:8), was regarded as the source and guardian of justice because justice (mišpaṭ) and righteousness (ṣĕdāqâ) are his very nature and attributes (Pss 33:5; 72:2; 97:2; 99:4). These passages pair the terms justice and righteousness and use them synonymously. Yahweh, the Judge of the whole earth (Gen 18:25; Ps 94:2), is the righteous Judge (Pss 7:11; 9:8; 119:137; 145:17). The Lord created the world and established equity and justice (99:1–4).

The Hebrew word for “just” is used with reference to rulers, judges, and the Lord in the sense of seeing that people are treated fairly. A prominent OT use is the concern that justice is done to the accused (Pss 35:24–28; 40:9–17). This may take the form of punishment for sin (Isa 5:13–16; 10:22; 42:24), but is often used in the sense of deliverance and vindication of God’s oppressed people (Ps 40:9–10; Isa 42:6; 46:13; 62:1–2).

When the Israelites summoned God to judge them, they were calling him to avenge them of their enemies as vindication for their own uprightness (Pss 17:2; 26:1–3; 28:3–4). Thus, they saw God’s acts of helping, leading, and saving them as acquittals, since judgment is deliverance and victory (Ps 135:4; Isa 30:18). They summoned God to judge the nations for their disregard of justice in their social dealings with other people (Ps 9:7–9). It is not piety that God required of humans, but the practice of justice and righteousness (Amos 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8).

God is portrayed as having a special concern for the poor, particularly the widow, orphan, foreigner, and oppressed (Pss 10:17–18; 82:1–4; 109:16; 146:7–9). God judges in order to restore the lost rights of the oppressed (76:9). He establishes justice in the world by eliminating inequalities (113:4–9), thus upholding the covenant by coming to the help of the weak and driving out the oppressor. Biblical justice actively pursues the welfare of the community and the individuals in it.

In addition, the temple festivals were associated with the king who played the role of judge. The object of these ceremonies was to renew the covenant and to strengthen justice, which was the condition of life and happiness (Pss 50:4, 7, 16–21; 81:5, 8–10). The Lord’s judgments confirm the covenant and demonstrate his faithfulness.

References: Blackman, IDB, 2:1027; Guenther: 390–91; Kraus: 92–93; Mafico: 1127–29; Martens: 299–300; Pidoux: 209, 216.


  • Blackman, Edwin C. “Justification, Justify.” In vol. 2, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by G. A. Buttrick. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1962.
  • Guenther, Allen R. Hosea, Amos. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1998.
  • Kraus, Hans-Joachim. Theology of the Psalms. Translated by Keith R. Crim. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1986.
  • Mafico, Temba L. J. “Just, Justice.” In vol. 3, Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
  • Martens, Elmer. Jeremiah. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1986.
  • Pidoux, G. "Judgment". In A Companion to the Bible. Edited by J. J. von Allmen. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958.

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James H. Waltner