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Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament
Justice and Mercy in the Old Testament
Exodus 22:21-23; 23:2-9; Amos 8:4-7; Isaiah 1:13-17; 58:1-14; Acts 20:35
July 16, 2016

One bitterly cold night in January, 1935, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appeared at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia released the judge and took over the bench himself. Before long a tattered old woman was brought in, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.

But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” he told the mayor. “She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

LaGuardia sighed, turned to the woman and said, “I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor reached into his pocket, extracted a bill and tossed it into his hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day newspapers reported that $47.50 was given to a bewildered woman who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. The grocery store owner himself contributed 50 cents of that amount. That night some seventy petty criminals, court officers and New York City policemen, who had just paid 50 cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation. [1]

Justice and mercy. We rarely see these two qualities working hand in hand. The Old Testament, however, is infused with the concept. This week’s Sabbath School lesson tackles the subject by looking at how doctrines such as the Sabbath and Bible prophecy can make a practical difference in our society.

The Sabbath is for everyone. Masters and slaves, parents and children, citizens and foreigners, laborers and bosses, no matter our walk in life we are all to be set free to rest equally on God’s Sabbath. Social status is abolished at least for a day. In the Sabbath, the downtrodden receive a measure of justice, and mercy is granted to those who have left some amount of work from the previous week undone.

The prophet Isaiah’s message is permeated with social justice issues for his day and ours. Just as Israel was to minister to the hungry, the afflicted and the poor, so we are to do the same today. True worship is not just coming together on the right day and singing the right songs; true worship is extending justice and mercy to all without regard for social standing.


[1] http://www.suddenlysenior.com/compassionlaguardia.html