10 Key Bible Verses on Justice

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.

1. Isaiah 42:1–4

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
      my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
      he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
      or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
      and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
      he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
      till he has established justice in the earth;
      and the coastlands wait for his law. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

In contrast to the idols (“Behold, you,” Isa. 41:24) and the idol-worshiping nations (“Behold, they,” Isa. 41:29), God presents his servant as the only hope of the nations (cited in Matt. 12:18–21). whom I uphold. The servant’s success is of God. in whom my soul delights. The servant is God’s delight, in contrast with the “abomination” of Isa. 41:24 (cf. Matt. 3:17; Luke 9:35). my Spirit. The servant’s power, in contrast with the “empty wind” of Isa. 41:29 (cf. Isa. 11:2; Isa. 61:1). The human race, by implication, is impressed with the wrong strategies, remedies, and powers. justice The key word in Isa. 42:1–4. In the Bible, justice means fulfilling mutual obligations in a manner consistent with God’s moral law. Biblical justice creates the perfect human society (cf. Deut. 10:18; Isa. 1:17; 16:5; 32:1–2; 61:8; Zech. 7:9). The messianic servant is the only hope for a truly just world. This Messiah will bring not only individual spiritual forgiveness and health (cf. Isa. 1:18) but also the establishment of perfect justice throughout all earthly governments.

2. Micah 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;
      and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
      and to walk humbly with your God? Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

The Lord desires the primary forms of love—justice (do justice), mercy (love kindness), and faithfulness (walk humbly)—as the expressed response of his people to his redemptive acts (Matt. 23:23; cf. Deut. 10:12–13; 1 Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11–17; Hos. 6:6). On the meaning of “justice,” see notes on Isa. 42:1; Jer. 22:3; Amos 5:7. your God. The complement to “my people” (Mic. 6:3, 5).

3. Matthew 23:23

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

Fourth woe: neglecting the weighty matters of the law. tithe. The Mosaic law required giving a tenth of all that one produced for the ongoing work of the Lord through the Levites and priests (e.g., Lev. 27:30–33). mint, dill, cumin. The Pharisees were so scrupulous in following this injunction that they paid a tithe even from their smallest garden crops. Jesus does not say that they were wrong in this (“These you ought to have done”), but that they should do this without neglecting the far more important matters.

4. Jeremiah 22:3

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

The king and those with him are not to use their power for personal advantage, but are to rule in justice and righteousness. “Justice” (Hb. mishpat) means making right decisions according to God’s commands and case laws. “Righteousness” (Hb. tsedaqah) means what is correct according to God’s norms and moral standards (cf. 4:2; 9:24). deliver. Rescue from harm. resident alien. A foreigner residing permanently in Judah. fatherless. Due either to death or abandonment; see notes on 5:26–29; 7:6. widow. By death or abandonment. These spell out the responsibilities of the ideal king over God’s people (cf. 7:6; contrast 22:13, 15). The messianic King will carry this out (23:5; 33:15).

5. Amos 5:6–7, 24

Seek the LORD and live,
      lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
      and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
O you who turn justice to wormwood
      and cast down righteousness to the earth!
But let justice roll down like waters
      and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

True worshipers of God will manifest justice and righteousness (cf. James 1:26–27). See also Amos 5:21–24. Justice (Hb. mishpat) is much more than legal equity; it refers to the entire scope of God’s government of his world. Thus, to “do justice” involves, on the part of government, a fair and just use of power and proper functioning of a fair judicial system, especially to protect the weak from the strong. On the part of individuals, “justice” involves honest and fair business dealings and faithfulness to keep one’s word, as well as not taking advantage of the poor or those with less power or protection. Righteousness (Hb. tsedaqah) involves doing what is right in the sight of God, especially with regard to conduct toward others.

6. Luke 18:1–8

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

From God’s perspective, justice will come to his elect (cf. Luke 18: 7) speedily. From a human perspective, of course, justice may seem to be a long time coming. Therefore God’s people must persist in prayer, as the widow persisted until she received justice (Luke 18: 2–5). will he find faith on earth? The answer, of course, is “yes,” but Jesus poses this as a question in order to encourage his disciples to constant watchfulness and prayer (cf. Luke 18: 1, 7). When he returns, Jesus will be looking for those who are praying and watching for him.

7. Malachi 2:17–3:5

You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

The prophet begins by accusing the people of wearying the Lord with their cynical complaints: “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them” and “Where is the God of justice?” Now that they had returned to the Promised Land and the temple had been rebuilt, many were distressed at the apparent failure of the prophetic promises of restored prosperity, international prominence, and wealth (Haggai 2; Zech. 1:16ff.; 2:1–13; 8:1–9:17). Instead, Israel was experiencing only continued social and political oppression and economic privation (Neh. 1:3; 9:36ff.; Mal. 3:10ff.). Still worse, it had been promised that God would return to Jerusalem and to his temple, which he would again inhabit with his own glorious presence (e.g., Zech. 1:16ff.; 2:4ff., 10–13; 8:3–8; 9:9–17). Since Moses’ tabernacle and Solomon’s temple were filled with the visible glory of God as soon as they were completed, it was hoped that the same would happen with the rebuilt temple (Ex. 40:34ff.; 1 Kings 8:10ff.; Ezek. 43:1–12). Indeed, Hag. 2:9 promised that the rebuilt temple would be filled with an even greater measure of glory than Solomon’s. But far from enjoying such radiant glory, the temple of Malachi’s day was devoid of any visible manifestation of God. Yet it would not always be so, for Malachi promised, “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Mal. 3:1). Simeon witnessed at least a partial fulfillment of this prophecy when he encountered in the temple the infant Jesus, who had come “for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The NT unfolds further fulfillment, for only the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ would be this greater glory (Luke 2:29–32; John 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:6).

8. Ecclesiastes 3:16–17

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

The effects of the fall extend to human relationships (cf. Genesis 4), and thus in a fallen world one suffers outright injustice and wickedness at the hand of other human beings. What makes this sad reality tolerable is the certainty that God will judge the righteous and the wicked, i.e., ultimately justice will be done.

9. Romans 13:2–4

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad means that civil government in general is a great blessing from God for which we should be thankful. Without civil government there would be anarchy, a horrible alternative in which evil runs rampant.

Governing authorities are God’s servants and carry out his wrath on evildoers, and they do so for your good. Even though Christians must not take personal revenge (Rom. 12:17–20), it is right for them to turn punishment over to the civil authorities, who have the responsibility to punish evil. The reference to the sword most likely refers to the penalty of capital punishment (cf. Gen. 9:6).

10. Psalm 9:7–8

But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
      he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
      he judges the peoples with uprightness. Read More

ESV Study Bible Notes

The terms sits and throne continue the idea of v. 4, as does the concern with justice and righteousness (v. 8).That Israel’s God judges the world and all its peoples would be a bold claim if he was not the same God who made heaven and earth and all that is in them. In this particular case the judging is punitive, but this need not be true in every case and at all times (cf. Isa. 2:4). God’s judgment involves vindicating the oppressed, the people of Israel seen as weak and needy. This psalm grew out of an occasion in which the Gentile rulers sought to oppress them.

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