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What the Bible says about Perversion of Justice
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 1:15

The modern-day descendants of Israel seem to exhibit an especially high degree of idealism and perfectionism. These are not inherently bad traits, because God indeed requires us to strive to be perfect and to live according to His ideals. Sometimes, though, we can create stress for ourselves when we have expectations of perfection because, as Solomon teaches, our world is not perfect.

God has blessed the nations of Israel tremendously, and with those blessings comes the ability to overcome many obstacles. Yet there are aspects of our surroundings that are simply broken—words cannot be unsaid, deeds cannot be undone, and crookedness cannot be straightened.

This axiom in Ecclesiastes 1:15 is connected to the previous verse, which speaks of “all the works that are done under the sun,” giving verse 15 its context. All the works of man—everything in this kosmos, this world apart from God—include a crookedness that cannot be rectified. The number of things lacking in all of man's works is so great as to be uncountable.

By way of definition, the Hebrew word translated as “crooked,” 'avath (Strong's #5791), is used less than a dozen times in the rest of the Old Testament. Its basic meaning is “to wrest,” which is “to forcibly pull something from a person's grasp” or “to obtain by wrenching with violent, twisting movements.” In essence, it is the assertion of one person's will against another's, and the result is damage that can never truly be repaired.

In other places, 'avath is linked with the perversion of justice (Job 8:3; 34:12). It can mean wronging someone or dealing perversely with someone (Psalm 119:78). It indicates turning things upside down or upsetting the natural order of things (Job 19:6; Psalm 146:9). Finally, it can refer to subverting someone in his cause and falsifying the scales (Lamentations 3:36; Amos 8:5).

Solomon is saying that, once the natural order of things has been upset by this willfulness, it is essentially impossible to make those things right again. The order of things cannot be equalized (which is what the word translated as “straight” means), even though there may be a salve that can be applied. When something has been wrested from another—when one person's will has been asserted at the expense of someone else's—it sets things into motion that cannot be equalized. A measure of crookedness will always remain in man's works.

Thus, because of human nature and willfulness, anywhere we find human actions, we also find disorder and incompleteness. We see irregularity and deficiency. Not only that, but we also discover mankind's utter inability to truly fix them or fill in what is lacking.

David C. Grabbe

Ecclesiastes 1:15

When Solomon speaks of crookedness, he is not specifically speaking about sin. In fact, some crookedness is actually good, because it is created by God (Ecclesiastes 7:13)! But in general, sin and crookedness overlap in many ways because, when one person is wrenching something from another, whether physically or metaphorically, sin is almost always involved. It is the “way of get”; it is an act of self-centeredness.

On a human level, the crookedness in the world began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam upset the order of things by heeding the voice of Eve rather than the voice of God. He made a choice, and that choice introduced crookedness into the relationship between God and man. What Adam made crooked could not be made straight by any subsequent human action.

In fact, the more people there were, the more crooked the world became until finally God intervened by, not only drowning most of mankind, but also by shortening the human lifespan. In doing so, He dramatically reduced the amount of time during which any single person could make things crooked. Yet, even with only his allotted three-score and ten or perhaps four-score, each man has plenty of time to make things crooked in his and others' lives.

Crookedness began on a human level with Adam, yet it goes back even farther, to another being who was in the Garden (Ezekiel 28:13). The crookedness in God's creation began with a created being, Satan, whose heart was lifted up, who thought of himself more highly than he should. After his own heart and will became crooked, he began wresting the wills of other angels, then those of mankind. He is the source of this kosmos—this anti-God world—as well as human nature, and thus wherever those are found, we can also expect to find some crookedness.

What this means is that, even though God has redeemed us, any place in our lives that the world still holds sway, or any area where we allow human nature to get the upper hand, something will be made crooked. Our will will assert itself and be manifested in a perversion of justice, in wronging someone, in turning a matter upside down, in dealing deceitfully, or in upsetting the relationship with God by overlooking His will for us.

David C. Grabbe

Isaiah 10:27-34

The prophet Isaiah, living in the eighth century BC, spoke against the moral decline and idolatry of the people of Judah and those of the northern kingdom of Israel. His tenth chapter begins with a "woe" against those in government—princes, judges, administrators—who use their power to crush the needy, pervert justice, and line their own pockets. God promises shameful and painful judgment as their end.

The next "woe" falls on Assyria (Isaiah 10:5). God calls it "the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is My indignation," meaning that He would use Assyria to punish Israel for her terrible sins. God gives Assyria a free hand to slaughter and burn from Dan in the north to the wilderness in the South. However, it is clear that the Assyrians begin making more of themselves than is due them; God describes them as arrogant and boastful, thinking that they had conquered the people of God by their own power. God can take only so much of that kind of pride. So He says, "Therefore it shall come to pass, when the LORD has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, 'I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks'" (Isaiah 10:12).

The chapter goes back and forth, sometimes revealing the thoughts of the "arrogant heart" of the Assyrians, and sometimes predicting how he would punish them and how the remnant of His people would turn to God. As the chapter nears its end, God comforts His people, telling them, "O My people, who dwell in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrian. . . . For yet a very little while and the indignation will cease, as will My anger in their destruction" (Isaiah 10:24-25). Yet, Isaiah then records just how much of the land of Israel the Assyrian army will destroy and occupy before it meets God's wrath. (God Himself takes care of it outside the walls of Jerusalem, slaying 185,000 of Sennacherib's troops by disease, and having Sennacherib himself assassinated by his own sons after he returned home; see Isaiah 37:36-38.)

Isaiah 10:32 appears in this section. The "he" is the Assyrian army, perhaps more specifically the headquarters of the king and his staff, shown remaining at Nob, shaking a fist at the capital city just across the valley. Nob, known as a dwelling place for priests, is a city located on the eastern slopes of Mount Scopus opposite the Mount of Olives and just a mile or so northeast of Jerusalem. Isaiah's prophecy shows how close the Assyrians have encroached upon the City of David, treading the houses of the priesthood underfoot, defying the city of the Temple in which they served.

The good news is that the prophecy indicates that the Assyrians will get no further—in other words, to the city walls and no further. While He used them to raze and plunder and kill throughout the whole of the country, God would not allow them to touch Jerusalem and His Temple. Not yet. For their forsaking of God and the covenant, Israel would go into Assyrian captivity (see II Kings 17:1-23), but Judah would be spared for another century or so, when God would raise Nebuchadnezzar and his Chaldeans to finish what the Assyrians started.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh


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