The opposite of justice might not be what you think it is

I struggle with many things. I am a bear of very little brain. I can remember many things and I can retain a lot of information – except where I left my car keys. I can read words and I know what they mean. But often I can read words I understand placed altogether in one sentence and have no clue what it actually means.

I’m ashamed to admit this happens most often for me in the book of Isaiah. I get the general vibe – there’s warnings about judgement, and there’s descriptions of God’s blessing and rest, but the reading of it is like Shakespeare. You can kind of pick it up but it’s opaque. It’s not easy. So my little-bear brain starts getting in a muddle.

But even in the middle of feeling like a bit of a thicky, my brain can still notice patterns. Something that is wonderful in the Old Testament is that Hebrew literature and poetry has a rhythm and has little tricks to do exactly what it does to me – makes something stick out so it makes a point stronger, or forces you to go back to where it’s pointing to make the comparison, or deepen the significance.

In Isaiah 28, we see God communicating an assurance of future blessing among the warnings of judgement. In verses 16-17, God says:

See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
    will never be stricken with panic.

I will make justice the measuring line
    and righteousness the plumb line.

A measuring line was (and still is) used by carpenters and builders in construction. It makes sure everything is correct and therefore the structure stands strong. So God’s building is founded on justice.

A plumb line is a cord that has a weight at the bottom so it essentially uses gravity to create a straight line against which to check that a wall or structure is straight. So everything in God’s place will be checked against righteousness.

When we continue further in Isaiah and we see the prophecy of judgements, 34:11 says:

God will stretch out over Edom
    the measuring line of chaos
    and the plumb line of desolation.

So here, the measuring line used to build the fabric of society is chaos. The plumb line against which that structure is checked is desolation.

The opposite of justice is chaos.

That really made me stop and think because I would assume that the opposite of justice is injustice. But here the Bible tells us that without justice, the result is chaos. I guess that includes injustice, but the main point is that justice is a core element in the fabric of society, and without it, there is a breakdown which leads to a whole bunch of other effects. Ultimately, there is destruction and confusion and chaos.

However, there is also a deeper level to this.

The Hebrew “Chaos” in the Old Testament refers to the state of un-creation, anchored in Genesis 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Then we see creation reversing in the Noah narrative which ends with “The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water” (Gen. 7:18) So throughout the Old Testament if you see anything to do with waters, watery depths or floods etc, it relates to that sense of confusion and chaos before God created order in the world.

The absence of justice, also then means the absence of God’s order. There is a chaos akin to a formless space without God’s presence.

Thankfully for us, the blessing and promise of God enables us to live in his presence and peace – a place founded on “a tested stone” that is Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone of the new heaven and new earth. This is a promise in Isaiah, 600-700 years before the coming of Jesus, in which God says he has already laid this foundation stone. This promise will hold for all those who rely on it. The God is faithful to his promise for those that follow his word “in principle (righteousness) and practice (judgement).” (Isaiah by the Day, Alec Motyer).

God’s place of blessing is built on Jesus, the tested and true cornerstone, and the fabric is built by God’s justice and tested by righteousness. He is true to his promises. We need to remain true in him by being hungry for righteousness, and practicing justice.

The first way we can do that is seeking God himself. The knowledge that the opposite of justice is not injustice but chaos, should drive us directly to him. We should seek him in his word, in the church community he has planted us in, in our self-reflection and repentance and in working to grow in Christ-likeness.

God has us securely in his hands. Let us stay hungry and thirsty for righteousness as an ongoing living response to his mercy and grace.

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