Proverbs Thematic Sermon - Justice and Injustice in the Sight of God and Actions of Men (Erik Veerma

May 5, 2024    Erik Veerman

This morning, we’ll be considering the Proverbs theme of justice and injustice. Please take out your Proverbs insert. By the way, I think we’ll be wrapping up Proverbs by the end of June. We have a few themes left and a couple of concluding chapters.

Our verses today are organized into three groupings. Determining Justice, Defending Justice, and Denying Justice. In other words, what is justice and injustice? And how do we uphold justice and avoid injustice?

Reading of selected Proverbs


Determining Justice

11:1 A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.

16:8 Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.

16:11 A just balance and scales are the LORD's; all the weights in the bag are his work.

17:23 The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice.

18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

20:10 Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

20:14 “Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.

20:23 Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD, and false scales are not good.

21:15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

22:8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.

24:12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?

24:23 These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good.

28:5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.

28:21 To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.

Defending Justice

16:10 An oracle is on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.

16:12 It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness.

16:14 A king's wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it.

16:15 In the light of a king's face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.

20:8 A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes.

20:26 A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.

24:10 If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

24:11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

25:1 These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.

25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.

25:3 As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth, so the heart of kings is unsearchable.

25:4 Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel;

25:5 take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness.

28:2 When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.

29:4 By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down.

29:12 If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked.

Denying Justice

13:23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.

14:31 Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

18:5 It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice.

22:16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

22:22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate,

22:23 for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.

22:28 Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.

23:10 Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless,

23:11 for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.

28:3 A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.

28:15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people.

29:13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together; the LORD gives light to the eyes of both.

29:14 If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.

31:8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.

31:9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.


King Solomon was known for his wisdom. We’ve read that. We’ve talked about that. We’ve considered how the Queen of Sheba travelled to Jerusalem to experience his wisdom and how amazed she was.

But there’s one historical account of Solomon that we have yet to consider. And it’s in fact the most well-known display of Solomon’s wisdom. A few times throughout this sermon series, I considered including it, but it just didn’t seem to be the right time.  But today is the day.

Part of Solomon’s rule as King was to adjudicate matters that escalated up to him.

And it so happened that a very complicated case came before Solomon. It was a sad one. Two mothers had each recently given birth. Both of them lived in the same communal home. One night, one of these mothers inadvertently rolled over in her sleep on to her child. Tragically, he died.

And then this mother, in the middle of the night, switched her dead baby for the living child while the other mother was asleep.

The next morning, the mother of the living child awoke to nurse him, but the baby laying next to her was dead. However, she quickly noticed that it was not her child, and realized what had happened.

And so, this case comes before king Solomon. And each woman rejects the narrative of the other. “The dead child is yours and mine is the living.”

“No he is not, yours is the dead one and mine the living one.”

How does a king navigate such a case? He did not know these women. He did not know their hearts. He did not know which child was which.

And so, as these women stood before him, Solomon beckoned one of his servants to bring him his sword.

And then he declared in front of all that the living child was to be cut in two and half given to the one mother and half given to the other.

I know I probably don’t need to say this, but for the younger children here, I want to be sure you understand. Solomon never intended to cut the child in two.

No, rather, he knew that by the very idea of killing the living child, the true mother would make herself known. And sure enough, the woman whose child had died agreed to Solomon’s gruesome plan, but the true mother pleaded that the child be given to the other woman so that he may live.

Solomon then commanded that the child be given to his real mother – the mother who pleaded for his life.

There are several aspects of wisdom displayed in this testimony. For one, Solomon had amazing discernment. He knew the human heart and human condition. And as the judge in this case, he desired justice to be done. He understood that the good and right solution was to restore the child to his true mother. It was his responsibility as king to do that. And God had given him wisdom to determine and the authority to enact that righteous justice.

I bring that up because it illustrates not only justice and injustice, but also how those in power should be upholding justice. Those are two major themes found in these verses. In other words, the “what?” and the “how?”

Determining Justice

For obvious reasons, it’s important to begin with the “what?” question. What is justice and injustice? Out of that will flow the “how?” How can we be just.

Ok, there are a couple of things here that really capture the heart of justice. The first is honesty in your dealings.

By the way, I’m using the word “dealings” very intentionally here. Your “dealings” are a kind of interaction with people or organizations. Dealings involve some sort of exchange that happens. That exchange could be a business transaction like buying or selling something or it could be a decision that affects someone. If you are a student, your dealings would involve taking exams and submitting papers. If you are a judge, your dealing would involve decisions that affect defendants and plaintiffs. Their dealings would be their honesty or dishonesty as they present their case.

I’m using the word dealings because it broadly captures the scope of where justice or injustice is applied.

We’re called to be honest in any and all of our dealings – whatever they are.

And the image here is the accuracy of your scale. A scale weighs things. Look at Proverbs 20:10 “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” That is one of four Proverbs that use a scale to illustrate justice and injustice.

If you go to buy peppers from the grocery store, and the scale has been rigged so that it measures more than the true weight, the store is being dishonest and unjust! You are paying more than you should. As it says here, it is an abomination to the Lord!

Whatever it is, whether distorting the numbers on your taxes, cheating on a test, scamming someone, or accepting a bribe for a decision (a bribe, by the way, is also called out in these verses)… or some other kind of fraud and stealing… it’s all dishonest gain that perverts justice. Proverbs 16:18 summarizes it well, “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.”

You know there’s a problem in your culture when it has like a gazillion expressions for this. “Cooking the books;” “Pulling the wool over someone eyes” or “Pulling a fast one;” “Taking someone for a ride” or how about these business practices: “bait and switch” or “smoke and mirrors.”

They all point to different avenues of dishonesty. And the Lord hates them all. They do not reflect his goodness and truth and righteousness.

God calls us to honesty in our dealings.

So, that is one aspect, honesty. Another aspect of justice is impartiality. The opposite, which is partiality, is condemned here. Partiality is when you show unfair bias for someone or against someone in your dealings. There’s an important phrase there in Proverbs 24:23 – “Partiality in judging is not good.” It is talking about being prejudice when you have the responsibility to decide on matters.

That prejudice could be, for example, racial or it could be socio-economic in some way. If your dealings display prejudice, you are showing partiality.

Earlier in the service we read from the book of James, chapter 2. And he gave us a helpful example. If a man with fine clothing comes in to your assembly… how would you treat him?

Specifically, how would you treat him compared to if a poor man came in to your assembly? That word assembly, which James uses, is the word synagogue in the Greek. It could be referencing an assembly of any kind (a gathering). It would certainly apply to THIS – what we are doing now. We’ve assembled for worship.

So, if a clearly well-to-do man joins our worship and also a poor, perhaps homeless man, joins us for worship… and we tell the homeless guy to sit in the back corner away from everyone. But we tell the man with social status to sit in the front row as an honored guest. That would be prejudice. We would be committing the sin of partiality. We’re to be impartial, welcoming and respecting them both, in the Lord.

Justice involves those two things: (1) honesty and (2) impartiality.

Based on these two aspects, let me define justice: Justice is treating everyone with the same standard of respect and honesty in your dealings, based on God’s standard of truth and righteousness. (repeat).

You ask, but how does God define truth and righteousness?

Well, that has essentially been our study of Proverbs. In essence, when we apply everything we’ve learned about what is good and wise and true and righteous to our dealings, then we are being just. Conversely, if we are acting foolishly or deceitfully or wickedly in our dealings, then we are being unjust.

Here’s the definition one more time: Justice is treating everyone with the same standard of respect and honesty in your dealings, based on God’s standard of truth and righteousness.

Before we move on, let me make two observations about this which are counter cultural.

1. First, justice is objectively external. God determines what is just and unjust based on his righteousness. Take a look at Proverbs 16:11. It says, “a just balance and scales are the Lord’s…” It’s confirming that justice is based on God’s standard of right and wrong. In other words, we do not define justice, God defines justice. And that is very different than how our culture sees justice. Today, justice is often seen as either subjective or based on a different standard of right and wrong.

2. Second, justice is based on our actions (or inactions). That is very clear in these verses. You and I act or deal justly or unjustly. That can apply to individuals or organizations or businesses or government agencies. God is pleased when we are honest and unbiased in our dealings based on his standard. In other words, we are considered to be just or unjust based on the pattern of our just or unjust actions.

Now, that may sound obvious to you, but culturally today, being just or unjust is often not based on how you act. Rather being just or unjust is ascribed to a person or group based on their class or beliefs or race. And that is not a Biblical view of justice.

As you know, more could be said. Hopefully, this first grouping of Proverbs helps you to see God’s standard of justice, which ultimately comes from his nature as perfectly just.

Defending and Denying Justice

Moving on, we’re going to take these next two groupings of Proverbs together: defending and denying justice. You can see those in the insert.

These groupings are, in essence, applying justice and injustice to those who have responsibilities over other people in some way.

Most of us here, in our lifetime, will have responsibilities over other people. Like maybe as a teacher, or a parent, or a manager, or a business owner. Or maybe you are or will lead a project or a team. Or maybe you will have some civil role in a government entity. Those are just examples. There are plenty of other ways to have responsibilities over someone else or over a group of people.

If and when that happens, God calls you to pursue justice and to reject injustice. I’m meaning, of course, how we just defined them – honest and impartial dealings according to God’s standard.

And here’s the thing, having control or responsibility over someone else comes with all kinds of temptations. Temptations to abuse or oppress or to use your authority for selfish gain – either for yourself or for others you know. And the more responsibility or control you have, the greater the temptation.

Lord Acton, the 19th century English historian, put it this way: “Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” You may have heard that quote before. Acton was observing kings and queens and the pattern of presidents and dictators throughout history. The more power you have, the more you are tempted to corrupt and abuse that power.

Related to that, there are two main exhortations in these Proverbs.

1. The first is to defend justice in your domain of responsibility. If you have authority in any way, you are to defend justice.

Let’s look at some of these Proverbs in this middle grouping. And let me say, the main application is for kings. None of us are obviously kings or queens, nonetheless, we do have our own little kingdoms, so these principals apply.

·       Proverbs 16:12 “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness.” Every single authority on earth has been established by God. Those in authority are therefore to reflect God and his righteousness and not pursue evil.

·       In fact, evil and wickedness are not to be tolerated in your kingdom. Look at Proverbs 20:26 “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” A couple of the other proverbs essentially say the same thing. To be a just ruler, you need to not only deal in just ways but you are also to seek and end to injustice. You’re to establish a kingdom that is just and righteous in God’s eyes… no matter how big or small your kingdom is.

Let’s go back to Solomon. Solomon could have taken a bribe from the mother of the dead child. He could have displayed partiality in some way, or he could have had the living child literally killed so that neither mother would have a child.

But none of those solutions would have been just in God’s eyes. Instead, with the responsibilities he had as king and judge, Solomon sought true justice. Now, sadly, later in his reign, Solomon began to abuse his God-given role by oppressing the people.

2. And that brings us to the second exhortation here – we’re to deny injustice. Someone in authority is not to use that authority for injustice. He or she is not to abuse those under his or her authority.

That abuse of power is worked out in two ways here. First, straight up injustice. Proverbs 22:8 captures that: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.”

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of when the Watergate transcripts were released. That scandal ended the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Watergate was an attempt by Nixon to get an upper hand in his re-election campaign. To do that, Nixon ordered a break in to the opposing party national committee office. Four men were caught stealing documents and wire-tapping phones at the Watergate hotel. That led to an elaborate cover up by the Nixon administration. As some of you know, Nixon’s main legal counsel was a man named Chuck Colson. Colson was called the hatchet man because of his bullying tactics. He and others destroyed evidence. They used their power to control agencies. They paid hush money to the guys who broke into Watergate so they would not talk. They tried to discredit and defame the whistleblowers – Colson was directly involved in that one. But in the end, as Proverbs puts it, they reaped calamity. Nixon was impeached and would resign before being convicted by the Senate. Nixon has been the only President in history to do that. And hatchet man Chuck Coleson was convicted for… obstructing justice.

Their words and actions perverted justice. It’s a classic example of injustice. Injustice which Proverbs decries.

The second kind of abuse is more destructive: oppression. Oppression is taking advantage of those under your authority. The Biblical use of the word oppression is about mistreating someone unjustly and causing them to suffer in a tangible way – that could be economic or that could be taking something from them. It could also be spiritual or physical oppression.

Proverbs 22:16 is a good example: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” For someone in power, that may include enacting laws or rules that deprive those under his or her authority. It may be abuse of some kind. It may be forcing someone or a group to unjust labor. Or it may be taking something valuable from them.  

Those two proverbs about ancient landmarks… they are about taking land away from a community or family. It’s a kind of oppression. And to be sure, oppression is not always inflicted by the rich and powerful. Look at 28:3, “A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.”

God hates it all – He hates any kind of injustice and he especially hates oppression. I should note that oppression is a type of injustice – oppression is described by specific as acts of oppression. You are an oppressor if you inflict oppression on a person or people. Again, that is different than how some in our culture define oppression.

Here the summary so far:

#1 God is a God of justice. Justice is applying his standard of honesty and respect to all people in all our dealings. It’s God’s goodness and righteousness and truth worked out in the day-to-day exchanges we have with other people and organizations.

#2 God calls those who have responsibility over other people to fulfill their responsibility with justice. Especially for those in authority, God demands that they exercise that authority by overcoming wickedness and never through oppression.

Let’s pray. No! just kidding.

We can’t be done because we have yet to consider God’s justice fulfilled in Christ!

The problem is that God’s infinite justice demands our perfect justice. However, we are unable to fulfill that justice in ourselves. And that’s where the problem lies. A just king will defeat all injustice in his kingdom. And that would include us - you and me. These Proverbs condemn us because they reveal our injustice and what a just king will do.

If you would take out your bulletin and look back at our assurance of pardon. It’s from Romans chapter 3. Let me read a portion of it in the middle there. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” And it goes on to say that through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, God accomplished that justification for us. In other words, Jesus took on the full justice of God in our place. And by faith in him, we are made just.

That verse right at the end of our assurance of pardon beautifully summarizes it. Romans 3:26. It says that through his righteousness God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ – just and the justifier. He is both perfectly just in his justice and he is the justifier meaning he justifies us so that we become just in his sight through faith.

That, beloved in Christ, is the perfect fulfillment of justice. Jesus is the just king who has justified us so that we may pursue his justice in our lives.

As some of you know, in the middle of the Watergate scandal, Chuck Colson came to know and believe in the justification of Christ. And it transformed him. He wrote about his conversion in his autobiography. As things began to unravel because of the scandal, he was lovingly confronted by a dear friend about his pride and his guilt. And he began to realize that he had, at all costs, put the interests of the Nixon administration above true justice. When Colson was charged with obstructing justice, he did something unthinkable. He pleaded guilty. He went against the counsel of his lawyers who believed he could win if he fought the charges. But he knew in his heart that the charges were true. He gave up any future career aspirations and sought instead to allow true justice to be done.

That’s what God does in us, through Christ, when we submit ourselves to him and receive his forgiveness. We’re not only justified, but we’re given the desire and ability to pursue justice in this world, through faith in him.

May God give each of us a heart to know and pursue true justice – a justice not according to the world but according to his truth and his righteousness, which he fulfilled in Christ. Amen?