And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:32-34)
A Judge who Built an Altar
Samuel was a judge who spent his days judging over Israel:
Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:15-17)
With his hometown Ramah as home base, Samuel would go on a circuit to different towns every year to serve as judge to the Israelites. His role and purpose as judge was to administer justice among the constituents of the land. He had to make a fair judgment whenever there was a dispute among the townspeople (and indeed, the people did have disputes and they did need a judge). Besides being a judge, this passage also tells us something important that Samuel did—he built an altar to the Lord! Why did he build an altar? What does building an altar have to do with being a judge? An altar is a place where sacrifices are offered. In biblical times, whenever someone wanted to call upon the Lord and pray to Him, they would first build an altar and offer sacrifices. Samuel built an altar to the Lord in his hometown, so that he could often pray to God for help to be a good and fair judge in administering justice.
Samuel showed great wisdom by choosing to build an altar. He knew that God was the source of righteousness, and that one must be connected to God in order to act justly. Even though we are not judges, yet we often “judge the Israelites”. Are our judgments righteous? This depends on whether we have “built an altar to the Lord”. Righteousness is an attribute of God. By “administering justice”, we are allowing the righteousness of God to be displayed. Such practice of justice by dependence on God not only offers a fair judgment to the affected parties, but also relieves the burden on us who act as judges! Dear brothers and sisters, the weight of judging others is too heavy for us to bear! We must give this burden to God, and through prayer rely upon Him, so that we become not the bearers, but rather the channels, of righteousness.
Walked Not in His Ways
Every person’s relationship with God is personal; a father’s relationship with God cannot be passed on to his son. Samuel had two sons, his firstborn named Joel, and his second named Abijah. They served as judges in the southern town of Beersheba, but they did not walk in their father’s ways.
But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (1 Samuel 8:3)
Samuel built an altar to the Lord, but his sons did not. Samuel walked in the ways of righteousness, but his sons did not. His sons no longer had a relationship with God. The consequence of not walking with God is to be conquered by sin—the heart grows covetous for dishonest gain (gain of money or fame and power), the hand accepts bribes (monetary or popularity), and justice is perverted (the righteous are wronged or the wicked allowed to go free).
Every generation has its fair share of injustice. It was so rampant in the days of the prophet Amos that he strongly rebuked his generation with these harsh words:
You who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground…you hate the one who reproves in court and despise him who tells the truth…For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. (Amos 5:7, 10, 12)
In the world, injustice may be the norm, but in God’s kingdom, justice is weaved into its very fabric. A person’s ability to act justly hinges upon whether he is living in the world or living in God’s kingdom. To live in God’s kingdom does not mean to leave the earth, but to live on earth while abiding in God. This is not just adherence to some religion –practices such as self-imposed worship, false humility, and harsh treatment of the body, these all lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (Colossians 3:23). Only when we abide in God are we able to be victorious. Before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed for his disciples in this way:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:15-17)
Jesus said that the purpose of truth is for sanctification (to be set apart for God). Some pursue truth not for the purpose of sanctification but simply to gain knowledge. One cannot be victorious through knowledge; one can only be victorious through sanctification. Samuel’s sons grew up watching what their father did. They had all the knowledge they needed, but they were not sanctified. Without sanctification, it is impossible to be just. But justice flows naturally and easily when those who are being sanctified allow themselves to be conduits of God’s righteousness.
Let Justice Roll down as Waters, Righteousness as a Mighty Stream
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)
What a picture painted by these timeless words of the prophet Amos, telling us what the Lord desires of man.
According to the teachings of the Bible, “to act justly” is “to do what is good in the eyes of the Lord”. On the one hand, to act justly means “not to act unfairly”; on the other hand, to act justly means “to do what pleases the Lord”. To act justly is “not to pervert justice”. To act justly is also “to love others as yourself”. Brothers and sisters, God values us and has great expectations of us: He does not want small, unsteady trickles of righteousness, but desires His people to display a righteousness that rolls like mighty streams of waters!
Micah, also a faithful prophet of the Lord, records another meaningful and enduring verse telling us what the Lord requires of man:
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
So this is what the Lord requires of man. This is what is pleasing to Him. It is “to act justly and to love mercy”. How can we act justly and love mercy? We must walk humbly with our God. This means we must abide in Him. Dear brothers and sisters, God has revealed His desires to us. He does not require religious rituals, but requires us to act justly and to love mercy, to let justice roll down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream!
I Will Teach You the Good and Right Way
Samuel not only administered justice, but he also had mercy. When the Israelites did not listen to Samuel and acted in disobedience to the Lord, Samuel did not give up on them, but rather said to them:
As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. (1 Samuel 12:23)
O Samuel! Samuel who built an altar, Samuel who prayed, Samuel who administered justice, Samuel who taught the way that is good and right. Though Samuel is now far from us, praise the Lord for God is near to us. The true and living God abides with us, and his truth lives in us. The example of Samuel reveals the righteousness and mercy of God, and gives us great hope that we may also be channels of God’s justice.
Samuel’s experience teaches us:
- God wants His people to administer justice.
- We can only administer justice when we are connected to God, who is the source of righteousness.