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Love and Justice in Ancient Israel

Love and Justice in Ancient Israel

“He loves righteousness and justice. The earth is filled with Jehovah’s loyal love.”​—PS. 33:5.

SONG 3 Our Strength, Our Hope, Our Confidence


1-2. (a) What do all of us want? (b) Of what can we be sure?

ALL of us want to be loved. And all of us want to be treated fairly. If we are repeatedly denied love and justice, we may feel worthless and hopeless.

2 Jehovah knows that we long for love and yearn for justice. (Ps. 33:5) We can be sure that our God loves us dearly and wants us to be treated fairly. This becomes evident when we look closely at the Law that Jehovah gave to the nation of Israel through Moses. If you have a heart starved for affection or a spirit crushed by injustice, please consider how the Mosaic Law * reveals Jehovah’s concern for his people.

3. (a) As explained at Romans 13:8-10, what do we discover when we study the Mosaic Law? (b) What questions will this article answer?

3 When we study the Mosaic Law, we discover the warm feelings of our loving God, Jehovah. (Read Romans 13:8-10.) In this article, we will examine just a few of the laws given to Israel and answer these questions: Why can we say that the Law was built on love? Why can we say that the Law promoted justice? How were those with authority required to administer the Law? And whom did the Law specifically protect? The answers to those questions can bring us comfort, give us hope, and draw us closer to our loving Father.​—Acts 17:27; Rom. 15:4.


4. (a) Why can we say that the Mosaic Law was built on love? (b) As recorded at Matthew 22:36-40, what commandments did Jesus highlight?

4 We can say that the Mosaic Law was built on love because love motivates all that Jehovah does. (1 John 4:8) Jehovah founded that entire code of laws on two basic commands​—love God, and love your neighbor. (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; read Matthew 22:36-40.) So we can expect that each of the 600 and more commandments that make up the Law reveals a facet of Jehovah’s love. Let us look at some examples.

5-6. What does Jehovah want married couples to do, and of what is Jehovah aware? Give an example.

5 Be loyal to your marriage mate, and care for your children. Jehovah wants married couples to develop a love so strong that it lasts for life. (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-6) Adultery is one of the most unloving crimes a person can commit. With good reason, the seventh of the Ten Commandments prohibited adultery. (Deut. 5:18) It is a sin “against God” and a cruel blow to a marriage mate. (Gen. 39:7-9) A victim of adultery might feel the pain of betrayal for decades.

6 Jehovah is keenly aware of how marriage mates treat each other. He particularly wanted Israelite wives to be treated well. A husband who respected the Law would love his wife and would not divorce her for trivial reasons. (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:3, 8) But if a serious problem arose and he did divorce her, he had to give her a certificate of divorce. This certificate protected a woman from false accusations of immorality. In addition, before the husband could give his wife the certificate of divorce, he apparently had to consult the city elders. In this way, the elders would have the opportunity to try to help the couple save their marriage. When an Israelite man divorced his wife for selfish reasons, Jehovah did not always intervene. Nevertheless, he saw the tears that the wife shed, and he felt her pain.​—Mal. 2:13-16.

Jehovah wanted children to feel safe and secure as they were lovingly raised and taught by their parents (See paragraphs 7-8) *

7-8. (a) What did Jehovah command parents to do? (See cover picture.) (b) What lessons do we learn?

7 The Law also reveals that Jehovah cares deeply about the welfare of children. Jehovah commanded parents to provide not only for their children’s physical needs but also for their spiritual needs. Parents were to take every opportunity to help their children appreciate Jehovah’s Law and learn to love him. (Deut. 6:6-9; 7:13) One of the reasons the Israelites were punished by Jehovah was that they mistreated some of their children in a shocking way. (Jer. 7:31, 33) Parents were to view their children, not as mere property that they could neglect or mistreat, but as an inheritance, a gift from Jehovah to be cherished.​—Ps. 127:3.

8 Lessons: Jehovah pays close attention to how marriage mates treat each other. He wants parents to love their children, and he holds parents accountable for the way they treat them.

9-11. Why did Jehovah give the law prohibiting coveting?

9 Do not covet. The last of the Ten Commandments prohibited coveting, or developing a wrong desire for what belongs to another. (Deut. 5:21; Rom. 7:7) Jehovah gave this law to teach a valuable lesson​—his people must guard their heart, that is, their thoughts, feelings, and reasonings. He knows that wicked acts begin as wicked thoughts and feelings. (Prov. 4:23) If an Israelite allowed wrong desires to grow in his heart, he would likely treat others in an unloving way. King David, for example, fell into that trap. Normally, he was a good man. But on one occasion, he coveted another man’s wife. His desire led to sin. (Jas. 1:14, 15) David committed adultery, tried to deceive the woman’s husband, and then had him killed.​—2 Sam. 11:2-4; 12:7-11.

10 Jehovah knew when an Israelite broke the law about coveting​—He can read hearts. (1 Chron. 28:9) The law against coveting told his people that they should avoid thoughts that lead to bad behavior. What a wise and loving Father Jehovah is!

11 Lessons: Jehovah sees beyond a person’s outward appearance. He sees what we really are inside, in our heart. (1 Sam. 16:7) No thought, no feeling, no action can be kept secret from him. He looks for and encourages the good in us. But he wants us to identify and control wrong thoughts before they become wrong actions.​—2 Chron. 16:9; Matt. 5:27-30.


12. What does the Mosaic Law emphasize?

12 The Mosaic Law also emphasizes that Jehovah loves justice. (Ps. 37:28; Isa. 61:8) He set the perfect example of how to treat others fairly. When the Israelites obeyed the laws that Jehovah gave, he blessed them. When they ignored his just and righteous standards, they suffered. Consider two more laws from the Ten Commandments.

13-14. What did the first two of the Ten Commandments require, and how would obeying those laws have benefited the Israelites?

13 Worship Jehovah exclusively. The first two of the Ten Commandments required that the Israelites devote themselves exclusively to Jehovah and warned against the worship of idols. (Ex. 20:3-6) Those commandments were not for Jehovah’s benefit. Rather, they were for the benefit of his people. When his people remained loyal to him, they prospered. When they worshipped the gods of other nations, they suffered.

14 Think about the Canaanites. They worshipped lifeless idols rather than the true and living God. As a result, they degraded themselves. (Ps. 115:4-8) As part of their worship, they engaged in defiling sexual acts and horrifying child sacrifices. Likewise, when the Israelites ignored Jehovah and chose to worship idols, they degraded themselves and hurt their families. (2 Chron. 28:1-4) Those in authority abandoned Jehovah’s standards of justice. They abused their power and oppressed weak and vulnerable ones. (Ezek. 34:1-4) Jehovah warned the Israelites that he would execute judgment on those who victimized defenseless women and children. (Deut. 10:17, 18; 27:19) By contrast, Jehovah blessed his people when they were loyal to him and treated one another justly.​—1 Ki. 10:4-9.

Jehovah loves us and knows when we suffer injustice (See paragraph 15)

15. What lessons do we learn about Jehovah?

15 Lessons: Jehovah is not to blame when those who claim to serve him ignore his standards and harm his people. However, Jehovah loves us and knows when we suffer injustice. He feels our pain more keenly than a mother feels the suffering of her baby. (Isa. 49:15) Although he may not intervene immediately, in due time he will hold unrepentant wrongdoers to account for the way they have treated others.


16-18. What was the scope of the Mosaic Law, and what lessons do we learn?

16 The Mosaic Law covered many aspects of an Israelite’s life, so it was vital that the appointed older men judge Jehovah’s people with righteous judgment. They were responsible for handling not only spiritual matters but also civil and criminal cases. Note the following examples.

17 If an Israelite killed someone, he was not arbitrarily executed. The elders of his city would investigate the circumstances before deciding if the death penalty was appropriate. (Deut. 19:2-7, 11-13) The elders also judged numerous aspects of daily life​—from resolving public controversies over property to settling private marital disputes. (Ex. 21:35; Deut. 22:13-19) When the elders were fair and the Israelites obeyed the Law, everyone benefited, and the nation brought honor to Jehovah.​—Lev. 20:7, 8; Isa. 48:17, 18.

18 Lessons: Every aspect of our life is important to Jehovah. He wants us to be just and loving when dealing with others. And he takes notice of what we say and do, even in the privacy of our home.​—Heb. 4:13.

19-21. (a) How were elders and judges to treat God’s people? (b) What safeguards did Jehovah put in place, and what lessons do we learn?

19 Jehovah wanted to save his people from the corrupting influence of neighboring nations. So he required that the elders and judges enforce the Law impartially. However, those doing the judging were not to treat his people in a harsh or rigid manner. Instead, they were to love justice.​—Deut. 1:13-17; 16:18-20.

20 Jehovah has compassion for his people, so he put safeguards in place to prevent individuals from being treated unfairly. For example, the Law limited the possibility that a person would be falsely accused of a crime. A defendant had the right to know who was accusing him. (Deut. 19:16-19; 25:1) And before he could be convicted, at least two witnesses had to give evidence. (Deut. 17:6; 19:15) What about an Israelite who committed a crime that was seen by only one witness? He could not assume that he would get away with his wrongdoing. Jehovah saw what he did. In the family, fathers were given authority, but that authority had limits. In some family disputes, the elders of the city had the responsibility to become involved and render a final judgment.​—Deut. 21:18-21.

21 Lessons: Jehovah sets the perfect example; nothing he does is unfair. (Ps. 9:7) He rewards those who loyally uphold his standards, but he punishes those who abuse their power. (2 Sam. 22:21-23; Ezek. 9:9, 10) Some may act wickedly and seem to escape punishment, but when Jehovah determines that the time is right, he brings them to justice. (Prov. 28:13) And if they do not repent, they soon learn that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”​—Heb. 10:30, 31.


When settling disputes, elders were to reflect Jehovah’s love of people and of justice (See paragraph 22) *

22-24. (a) Whom did the Law specifically protect, and what do we learn about Jehovah? (b) What warning is found at Exodus 22:22-24?

22 The Law specifically protected those who could not protect themselves, such as orphans, widows, and foreign residents. The judges in Israel were told: “You must not pervert the judgment of the foreign resident or of the fatherless child, and you must not seize the garment of a widow as security for a loan.” (Deut. 24:17) Jehovah showed tender personal interest in the most vulnerable in the community. And he held those who mistreated them to account.​—Read Exodus 22:22-24.

23 The Law also protected family members from sex crimes by forbidding all forms of incest. (Lev. 18:6-30) Unlike the people of the nations surrounding Israel, who tolerated or even condoned this practice, Jehovah’s people were to view this type of crime as Jehovah did​—as a detestable act.

24 Lessons: Jehovah wants those he places in positions of responsibility to take a loving interest in all whom they oversee. He hates sex crimes and wants to ensure that all, especially the most vulnerable, receive protection and justice.


25-26. (a) Why can we say that love and justice are like breath and life? (b) What will we discuss in the next article in this series?

25 Love and justice are like breath and life; on earth, one does not exist without the other. When we are convinced that Jehovah is treating us justly, our love for him grows. And when we love God and love his righteous standards, we feel impelled to love others and treat them justly.

26 The Mosaic Law covenant breathed life into the relationship between Jehovah and the Israelites. However, the Law was done away with after Jesus fulfilled the Law, and it was replaced with something even better. (Rom. 10:4) The apostle Paul described the Law as “a shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) The next article in this series will discuss some of those good things and the role that love and justice play in the Christian congregation.

SONG 109 Love Intensely From the Heart

^ par. 5 This article is the first in a series of four that will discuss why we can be sure that Jehovah cares about us. The remaining three articles will appear in the May 2019 issue of The Watchtower. The titles of those articles are “Love and Justice in the Christian Congregation,” “Love and Justice in the Face of Wickedness,” and “Providing Comfort for Victims of Abuse.”

^ par. 2 EXPRESSION EXPLAINED: The 600 and more laws that Jehovah gave to the Israelites through Moses are referred to as “the Law,” “the Law of Moses,” “the Mosaic Law,” and “the commandments.” In addition, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are often referred to as the Law. Sometimes this term is used with reference to the entire inspired Hebrew Scriptures.

^ par. 60 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: While preparing a meal, an Israelite mother enjoys a lively conversation with her daughters. In the background, the father is training his son to care for the sheep.

^ par. 64 PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Elders at the city gate lovingly help a widow and her child who have been mistreated by a local merchant.