Chapter 2: Justice and the Old Testament

I love this chapter in the book Generous Justice and I hope if you haven’t read it already you take the time to do so. In my book there are highlighted sentences in about every paragraph! It’s filled with incredible nuggets of wisdom and insight, and many that I think can teach us a great deal in our efforts of doing justice today.

The chapter is broken into three main ideas.

  1. What is the Christian role in regards to the ceremonial and civil laws?
  2. What kind of society does God call Israel to be and what can we learn from it?
  3. What are the causes of poverty: including a case study of New Song Church, Sandtown, Baltimore MD

Christians and the OT Law (Section 1)

I remember several years ago sitting in a bible study talking about a biblical issue when one of the people in the group responded to the conversation with a statement like this, “Well it doesn’t really matter what the Old Testament says on this issue, Jesus’s coming fulfilled the law and what matters now is what the New Testament says.”

Though said out of innocent ignorance, I think this guy was probably not alone in his confusion, doubts and questions. The Old Testament can be a challenge at places to understand and apply; we have probably all been there. However, I think to discard its relevance towards modern day application and turn solely to the New Testament is a poor choice. In this chapter Keller does a good job using the Old Testament to not just support the issue of justice but to build a robust foundation and starting point for a biblical understanding of justice. I appreciated it and found it incredibly useful.

One phrase Keller used that I found particularly effective was this:

We should be wary of simply saying,these things don’t apply anymore,’ becausethe Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God’s character, and that never changes.”  (pg 22)

I took several minutes and pondered that statement while reading this chapter. It’s ultimately God’s character that demands and pleads justice, and the principles we read in the OT are a reflection of that. How often when reading do we skim over the principle and simply seek to plug in the idea? Then when it doesn’t fit to modern day society or life we quickly discard it and presume it as outdated or “relevant for that time only.” I’ve been guilty, maybe you have as well??

This section of the chapter really connected two differing challenges in my mind; one being my desire to see the OT laws as fundamental to my faith and the other being my desire to see the relevance of some of the OT laws to my life today. It took me from seeing jubilee, sacrifices and giving to the poor as not simply regulations but reflections of God’s character.

Every command from the Old Testament reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians. That is, even the parts of the Old Testament that are now fulfilled in Christ still have some abiding validity.  For example, the principle of offering God sacrifices still remains in force, though changed by Christ’s work.  We are now required to offer God our entire lives as sacrifices as well as the sacrifices of worship to God and the sharing of our resources with others.”  (pg. 20)

A Godly Society (Section 2)

If someone asked you to explain the principle and application of gleaning in the Bible what would you say? Prior to reading this chapter I would have had a really hard time coherently answering that question. I know it was to help the poor…. I remember Jesus not condemning it on the Sabbath…(Luke 6:1) My explanation would have been a great deal of repetition and stumbling through words. But as far as truly understanding the principle and applying it to life today, I would have been out of luck.

However, now I understand in a new way that what we see in many of the principles shared in the law (such as gleaning) is truths reflecting God’s character. I learned two specific ideas relating to gleaning in this chapter. First, that the concept of gleaning is more than just charity to the poor but a principle recognizing aspects of limiting profit taking. Secondly, that biblical gleaning gives opportunity for the poor to provide for themselves and not rely on the sole benevolence of others. In all, I have come to realize that these principles are images of justice but that they also reflect God’s character and heart. For example: forgiving debts and the release laws express God’s merciful character. Gleaning echoes God’s compassionate heart. The Sabbaths and years of jubilee reveal a little about God’s attitude towards wealth and equality. The reader comes to realize that these ideas point beyond the initial regulations and into a deeper reflection of God’s character. That to me was very powerful and extremely beneficial.

(For those interested our blog post on Wednesday of this week, June 18, will cover in more detail the concept gleaning)

Causes of Poverty? (Section 3)

The third and final section of the book digs into the deep question of poverty. What causes it? What factors contribute to it? Who is to blame? Keller does a great job providing a balanced outlook upon poverty and drawing into the biblical understanding of poverty as it relates to individuals and communities. He sums up his thoughts with this statement:

“The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure.”  (pg. 38)

Keller concludes that poverty is a very complex phenomenon with roots that are both systemic and individual. In order to bring this issue to current day Keller gives a present day example of a neighborhood in Baltimore MD called Sandtown. A neighborhood once thriving then devastated by various economic challenges. This case study helped me to see the systemic side of poverty.  I must admit that for a long time I viewed poverty from a very narrow perspective. Seeing it as primarily a moral failure by the individual. However, this study of Sandtown shed great light on the complex factors of systemic poverty. How individuals are often trapped in a generational poverty that is not easily escaped. Ultimately reinforcing the idea that poverty is very complex with varying root causes. Our blog post on Friday of this week (June 20) will go further into this topic.

Where is your neighborhood or city in this story? What can we learn from taking an open mind and approach to understanding the poverty people are trapped in?


Keller hits a homerun in this chapter. I found chapter 2 extremely insightful and full of rich wisdom and application. Keller tackles the task of understanding justice in a very powerful way. I don’t think you can finish this chapter and not be challenged to see justice as an issue that reflects God’s heart and calls God’s people to action.

What stuck out for you in this chapter? Any insights you would like to share?  Feel free to post your thoughts in our comments section.

Image courtesy of Luke Chan /
By | 2014-06-16T05:30:16+00:00 June 16th, 2014|Categories: Learn and Apply|Tags: |

About the Author:

John Warden is Reconciled World’s global staff pastor and the facilitator for 2:10. He holds a Masters of Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has more than fifteen years of ministry experience. He lives in Sioux Falls, SD with his wife and two daughters. You can contact him directly at

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