Introduction: Did you ever consider the “rule of law” as a program to
benefit the poor? To refresh your recollection, the term “rule of
law” means that people live under established laws, not under the
constantly changing moods and commands of a ruler. I recently watched
a documentary which said that the best way to help the poor in less
developed countries is not to send them constant aid, but rather to
help them with the tools to make a living. These tools include
living under the rule of law, which treats the poor and the rich
equally. Let’s jump into our study and see what the Bible teaches us
on this subject!

  1. Justice

    1. Read Exodus 23:2. Why does the Bible warn about the crowd
      in connection with perverting justice? (A documentary I
      saw this week showed that cheating greatly increased when
      it appeared others were doing it.)

    2. Read Exodus 23:3. Why not? (As I mentioned in the
      introduction, another documentary I saw this week argued
      that most foreign aid was not intelligently given because
      it assumed that the people receiving aid were helpless.
      Favoring the poor man is not justice, and it assumes that
      he needs the scales tilted in his favor because he is

      1. Have you previously considered that favoring the poor
        showed a bias against them? That seems

      2. Notice the context: “in his lawsuit.” Does that make
        a difference in the prohibition on favoring the poor?
        (I think so. This is a formal dispute that needs to
        be settled, and whether you are poor or not is
        irrelevant to the merits.)

    3. Read Exodus 23:4-5. What other motive might wrongly affect
      our judgment? (Revenge. We don’t like someone so we don’t
      give the aid we might otherwise give.)

    4. Read Exodus 23:6. Now we are told not to deny justice to
      the poor! Why would we do that? (Because they cannot help
      us. The approach to the poor should be even-handed. Not
      favoring them and not disfavoring them in lawsuits.)

    5. Read Exodus 23:7. How serious a problem is this? (God says
      He will not acquit us! This sounds like we lose eternal

    6. Read Exodus 23:8. If you asked me whether a righteous
      person would ever take a bribe, I would say, “no.” What
      does this text suggest? (It suggests that they would take
      a bribe, and it would affect their judgment.)

    7. Read Exodus 23:9. The Western world is teeming with
      aliens. What is the Christian’s duty towards them? (This
      text seems rather limited – don’t oppress them.)

      1. Consider the historical reference in this text. How
        did the Egyptians treat God’s people? (They enslaved

  2. The Sabbath and Justice

    1. Read Exodus 23:10-11. Does this favor the poor? (Not
      really. Letting the land stand fallow every seventh year
      allowed it to produce better crops in other years. That
      was the goal – to make the farmer’s land more productive.
      A byproduct was aid to the poor. Even though the farmer
      did not do any work on the land, some crops grew

      1. Is this a hand-out to the poor? (The poor had to
        harvest the food themselves. They, however, were able
        to benefit from the farmer’s land.)

      2. Do you think the farmer policed his land to be sure
        only the poor collected food? (It appears that people
        decided if they qualified.)

    2. Read Exodus 23:12. What is the goal of the Sabbath
      according to this text? (To refresh our animals and our

      1. Do you look at the Sabbath as a day to get refreshed?

    3. Read Amos 8:4-5. What are these people supposedly doing
      right? (They at least superficially keep the Sabbath. But,
      they are hoping it will over soon so that they can get
      back to work.)

      1. Are these people refreshed by the Sabbath?

      2. What are these people doing that is unjust towards
        the poor? (They are cheating. They give the poor less
        than what they paid for.)

      3. Why do we find references to the Sabbath and cheating
        the poor together? (God wants us to see our
        hypocrisy. We think we are keeping the Sabbath, but
        in reality our lives are corrupt.)

    4. Read Amos 8:6. How else can we deal unjustly with the
      poor? ( Amos 8:5 refers to “boosting the price” and this
      verse seems to refer to paying the poor too little for
      their services. We should pay the poor what they are

    5. Read Isaiah 1:13. Again we see a reference to the Sabbath
      and worship. How can God call offerings “meaningless?”
      How could our worship ever be “detestable” to God? (Read
      Isaiah 1:16-17. Worshiping God is no substitute for
      treating the poor and weak with justice. Isaiah 1:13 says
      the offerings and incense are “detestable.” God does not
      want us giving Him what we stole from the poor.)

    6. Lately, I’ve been at meetings and read articles about the
      issue of justice for the poor in the courts of the United
      States. The main problem is that the poor cannot afford a
      lawyer, and they are often in court against the rich who
      can afford a lawyer. How would the Bible suggest that we
      fix this problem? (The texts we read say that the judge
      should treat the poor and the rich alike. The poor should
      not be favored or disfavored.)

      1. What about supplying the poor with a lawyer?

        1. If you pay for a lawyer for the poor, but not
          for the rich, is that favoring the poor?

      2. If a judge is not supposed to favor the poor, to what
        does the language ( Isaiah 1:17) “defend the cause of
        the fatherless and plead the case of the widow”
        refer? (This places an obligation on lawyers and
        those who provide the funding for lawyers.)

        1. We discussed false assumptions about the poor.
          Is the Bible suggesting that widows and the
          fatherless are helpless? (Yes. Note that the
          society involved is a big factor. Widows lacked
          legal rights.)

    7. Read Leviticus 25:8-12. This is a “Super Sabbath!” Every
      49 years is followed by the “Jubilee” 50th year. Everyone
      has to return home. How do they all eat? (Read Leviticus
      25:20-22. They are not to engage in formal sowing and
      reaping. Instead, God blesses them with an abundant crop
      in the sixth year.)

    8. Read Leviticus 25:25-28. What else happens during the year
      of Jubilee? (Everyone gets their property back. This
      explains how everyone can return home.)

      1. Is this consistent with the rule of law? (Yes,
        because all know the rules.)

      2. Read Leviticus 25:23-24. What is the basis for this
        rule? (God owns all the property, and since we are
        mere tenants, we follow His rule.)

      3. Does this “return of property” rule favor the poor?
        (I don’t think so. Since the rule is known, people
        would only pay the value of a 49 year lease for a
        piece of property.)

    9. Read Leviticus 25:29-30. Why is this rule different? (Open
      land would be farmed, thus the Jubilee return allowed
      people to retain the ability to work and feed themselves.
      Homes in walled cities are a logically different matter.)

    10. Read Leviticus 25:39-43. What else happens during the year
      of Jubilee? (Human debt is forgiven. This gives people a
      second chance.)

    11. Read Leviticus 25:35-37. Does this favor the poor? (Yes,
      in that they pay no interest and get the food at cost.)

      1. Re-read Leviticus 25:35. What is the condition for
        this kind of help? (The person is “unable to support
        himself.” Those who cannot work are to be helped,
        but this does not suggest a handout. It suggests

    12. What we have read about the Sabbath is something we can
      easily do now. But, how could we apply the Jubilee rules?
      (While this is an entirely different system of laws then
      we have in the United States, we certainly have some
      similar concepts. For example, people are freed from debt
      through bankruptcy. While their land is not returned to
      them, “homestead” laws protect family farms to some

    13. Friend, consider how the principles of Old Testament
      justice might apply in your life. What can you do to
      reflect God’s sense of justice and mercy?

  3. Next week: Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament: Part 2.