What Justice Means

I am a fan of Walter Bruggemann, and I recently read his little book, Journey to the Common Good. This is an amazing primer on the central themes of the Bible. Along the way in this book, Bruggemann defines what the Hebrew words for “justice” are, and the definition might be the best I’ve ever read.

So here is YHWH’s triad, which we first might state in Hebrew: hesed, mispat, sedeqah.

Steadfast love (hesed) is to stand in solidarity, to honor commitments, to be reliable toward all the partners.

Justice (mispat) in the Old Testament concerns distribution in order to make sure that all members of the community have access to resources and goods for the sake of a viable life of dignity. In covenantal tradition the particular subject of YHWH’s justice is the triad “widow, orphan, immigrant,” those without leverage or muscle to sustain their own legitimate place in society.

Righteousness (sedeqah) concerns active intervention in social affairs, taking an initiative to intervene effectively in order to rehabilitate society, to respond to social grievance, and to correct every humanity-diminishing activity (pp. 62-63).

So the Old Testament’s words for justice mean solidarity, redistribution, and activism.

 

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