Scripture describes justice as something we ought to pursue. The Hebrew word tzedek, which means “justice or righteousness,” implies that God’s people are to purposely seek to do what is right, not just avoid doing what is wrong. The call to be just, act justly, and pursue justice occurs over and over again in Scripture.¹ The psalmist declared, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5, NIV).
To be clear, the Bible is not a book about how to set up legal statutes. But we can learn a great deal about what God cares about and what good law is by examining the advanced legal system God gave to Moses for the nation of Israel. The Mosaic Law (also called the Torah) is one of the earliest sources of written rules that God gave the Israelites. Newly freed from slavery, the Hebrews needed laws to govern themselves while surrounded by hostile nations and possessing no natural source of food and water. Survival was at stake. At its heart, the Torah tells the story of how life ought to be lived as newly freed people. It has profoundly helpful insights into justice, environmental stewardship, property, welfare, criminal law, marriage and divorce, and sex.²
Within this context, we can gain many insights into how God’s revelation of himself translated into rules by which his chosen people were to live. Further, these laws were written down so that leaders could not change them, make up new rules, or enforce rules that did not exist. This accountability protected the people from injustice.
Rabbis counted 613 laws from the Jewish Bible. Jesus later affirmed that all these laws fall into two categories: loving God and loving our neighbor (Luke 10:26–28).
We love God with our all. Deuteronomy 6 reveals the Shema, one of two prayers that Jewish people say every day: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Everything else flows from this. We bear God’s image. We are human beings, not human doings. Our worth comes from God, not from our activities. We are distinct and inherently valuable persons regardless of size, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, or intelligence.
Since we are all image-bearers, loving our neighbor is one of the main ways we express our love for God. Loving our neighbors goes far beyond a cheerful hello. It is a practical kind of love that applies to all of society. Are our neighbors doing better because we are here? No one can solve every problem, but we all ought to be able to point to concrete steps we are actively taking to improve the lives of those around us.