Justice (Proverbs 21)

In November 1974, the IRA detonated three bombs in Birmingham, two in pubs at the Rotunda and on New Street, one Image result for the birmingham pub bombings
in a bank on the Hagley Road.  21 people were killed. Six men were arrested, charged, convicted and put in prison.  In 1990 they were finally released, new evidence showed that they had been wrongly convicted.  They had suffered injustice. So too had the victims of the original bombing because the true culprits had not been punished.

What is your experience of justice? Some of us as parents, managers, union reps, church leaders etc  have a responsibility for seeing that justice is done.

Most of us will at some point seek justice:  a fair wage, a decent home to live in, an insurance claim, our immigration case. What is your experience of justice? Sadly, many people experience injustice

  1. Trust in the God of Justice who remains sovereign even in a messy and unjust world

The King is presented as the one who leads, rules -gives justice (v1).  Take in the image of streams of water providing a sense of refreshing, provision, goodness. The image of a stream here is of an artificial waterway carefully designed to bring irrigation to just where it is needed.[1] When God works through rulers, leaders and judges to bring justice it is for the good of others.

Justice provides discipline and learning to others (v11). It acts as a deterrent against foolishness. So justice is for the good of the whole of God’s people.  On a side, point this is one of the vital reasons for godly, living church discipline.

The righteous one observes, and judges the wicked (v11). The King is the righteous one. Ultimately it is God himself who is righteous. In the New Testament, we see Jesus as the Messiah. He is the righteous one who brings true and eternal justice

Justice brings joy to the righteous (v15).  We are glad when right is done but wicked people live in fear of punishment. Justice brings vindication, restitution, protection etc for victims and for those in the right but punishment for those in the wrong. Seeing God’s justice at work is a cause for praise.

Justice is one of the threads that holds the proverbial pearls together in this passage. It comes in the context of false testimony, of greed at the expense of the poor and of quarrelsome, fragile households.

This world may often seem unjust but God will work his justice out. We will see how ultimate justice happens shortly. In the mean-time we are challenged to stop and think. If we believe God is just and God is sovereign then how does that affect how we respond to human injustice.

First of all, it should encourage us to fight for justice for others. We should stand up for the vulnerable.

Secondly it means that even when we face human injustice and things look bleak in this life that we are encouraged not to lose confidence or hope in God. It may be that we have to wait until eternity for vindication but that day will come.

  1. Let your trust in the God of justice govern your day to day relationships at home, work and in the church family

With “Justice” as a thread holding the beads together we can look at difficult proverbs including

Proverbs 21:9

“It’s better to live alone in the corner of an attic     than with a quarrelsome wife in a lovely home.”

Note that “corner of the attic” may be better and more simply translated corner of the roof where the man is out on the flat roof of the house exposed to the storms and unprotected from falling off the edge.[2]

And Proverbs 21:19

“It’s better to live alone in the desert     than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife.”

Our first reaction is that this is sexist -insulting and degrading to women.

Note the following

  1. The Proverbs are for the King’s Son who will one day be King. They are given in a specific context hence the gender focus – he will seek a wife but is to do this wisely. The point applies equally to husbands and to wives


  1. The wisdom principle -this helps us see other proverbs in context – they are general wisdom to apply to life not absolute promises

So, for example, Proverbs 18:22 says that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” But this is not about relationships at any cost.  Fear of loneliness and peer pressure -the culture of church life may push you to seek out relationships.  Our society says “If you are not having sex you are missing out” and the church says “You can only have sex in marriage” -so you rush to get married.

Marriage is a good thing – but this is not an absolute -and so the writer says “sometimes it is better not to be married” Paul makes similar points in 1 Corinthians.

In fact, the imagery is deeply rich here isn’t it because you get the sense of the man or woman who because of their husband or wife’s temper feel pushed to the boundaries, living in a corner of the roof or in the desert – in other words as far away as you can possibly get, exposed, vulnerable, on the edge. Maybe that’s exactly how you feel in your relationship today.

Make sure that you don’t rush into relationships for the wrong reasons. Take time to pray, get to know each other, seek out someone who you can share life with. Seek out someone who glorify God with.

  1. Don’t make the opposite mistake of perfectionism

Tim Keller makes the point brilliantly that we never actually marry the right person. That’s shocking language isn’t it! But his point is clear that we can believe in an idolatrous, romanticised ideal of the perfect marriage and the “one true love” who will fulfil and complete us. This is selfish. It means I expect my marriage partner to provide everything. I go into the marriage to take instead of give.  It misses the point that we all come into relationships with mess and sin. We are never truly compatible.

Marriage isn’t easy work, rather:

“Over the years you will got through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn’t marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn’t exist.”[3]

So, don’t expect your future husband or wife to be perfect before you commit to marrying them.  Nor should you use their weaknesses as an opt out clause. The answer to a quarrelsome wife or husband is not to get out of the marriage but to learn to love and forgive consistently.

Note at this point two vital things.

First of all, that what we are saying about marriages applies to all relationships with friends, family, work, church etc.

Secondly that we are beginning to see what this has to do with justice.

The Justice point is that:

–          At times in our marriages we will experience deep injustice – your husband will not be perfect and he will wrong you.

–          You are not perfect and you will act unjustly towards your wife or husband. The cause of strain and pain in your marriage may well be down to injustice you have experienced.  I would be daft to skip through these verses  without asking “Why is it that the wife is quarrelsome?” Could it be that she is crying out for justice, desperately trying to get her voice heard? So, if her ignorant, insensittive husband heads off to the attic or the shed every time she cries out to him then where does that leave her?


  1. Make sure that justice is at the heart of your relationship – deal justly with your spouse. This righteousness includes steadfast covenant love. Keep your marriage vows.
  2. Forgive, be patient. Keep on forgiving. Know that God will ensure that true justice and mercy happens. Keep on with hope in future grace. Keep on because of the love and mercy you have already received.  Remember that for God, justice was done not when he punished you and me but when he bore the punishment himself.

Again -remember that this all applies to wider relationships.  You will be wronged at work and in the church and you will be wronged. Seek to do justice by acting righteously to each other. Be rwady to forgive trusting God for true justice.

  1. Be sure about where you stand in relation to God’s justice

Jesus is the Righteous One wo judges the wicked. Justice is either done at the end of time when the wicked will face Hell or it has already been done at Calvary because Christ bore the punishment in our place.

Where will justice be done for you? Make sure that it is at the Cross.


Proverbs 21 encourages us to work for justice in our contexts but also not to lose hope in the face of injustice. Rather, our hope, security and firm foundation is in Christ alone.

If you are struggling with the pain, fear, terror of injustice then don’t struggle on in silence.  Maybe you feel like you are living on the edge, fragile, vulnerable, exposed. Please take time to get help. Find someone to pray with you and offer wise Biblical counsel.

If you realised that you stand convicted and deserving God’s justice then take time now to respond. Ask God for forgiveness and place your life into the hands of Christ, the one who took your place and bore your justice so that you could be justified, receiving his righteousness and being reconciled to God.


[1] Waltke, Proverbs, 168.

[2] Waltke, Proverbs 175.

[3] Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 39.