Shall the Judge of All the Earth Do Right? A Study of the Righteousness of God

One great value of the Old Testament is the way it conveys to us the nature and attributes of God. It is in the Old Testament that we are given a clear depiction of who God is and what He is really like. Especially in the Pentateuch, where God’s laws and ethical admonitions are given, we gain insight into the essence and personality of deity.

In Genesis 18, we have a record of a conversation between God and Abraham regarding the fate of Sodom. When Abraham learned that it was God’s intention to evaluate the spiritual condition of the city with a view toward responding to its great wickedness (vs. 20), he initiated the interaction with God in the following words:

Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:23-25).

Abraham pinpointed a central feature of God’s character: the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness refers to His fairness, His impartiality, His justice. The Bible repeatedly affirms that God is fair. He is no “respecter of persons” (Romans 2:11; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17; Acts 10:34-35). Humans can always count on God to do the right thing. He would never mistreat anyone, favor one person above another, or conduct Himself in a way that would show Him to be unfair. God possesses the quality of fairness to a perfect degree. He is infinite in the attribute of justice. Hence, in all of His actions throughout human history, He has conducted Himself with complete integrity. No one can sustain a charge of unfairness against God.

Consider Adam and Eve. God spoke His Word to them (Genesis 2:16-17). When they violated His instructions, they were expelled permanently from the garden. Question: did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Consider Cain. Was God unfair to him? Did God show partiality toward Abel in accepting Abel’s sacrifice and rejecting Cain’s? Certainly not! God gave the same instructions to both boys. Cain chose to deviate from those instructions. Notice carefully God’s question posed to Cain: “If you do right, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). That question demonstrates that a standard of right and wrong existed to which Cain and Abel were amenable. Cain had the same opportunity as Abel to do right. God was as willing to accept and approve Cain as He was Abel—if Cain would conform to the standard of right. God’s rejection of Cain was not arbitrary or capricious. It was due solely to the fact that Cain’s own “deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). He then further violated God’s will by murdering his own brother and was subsequently cursed and made a fugitive and a vagabond on the Earth (Genesis 4:11-12). Question: did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Consider the people of Noah’s day. The Earth’s population numbered, perhaps, in the billions. Yet mankind became so alienated from God that human wickedness was great and “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). God warned the population to repent through the preaching of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). He apparently delayed retribution for over a century (Genesis 6:3). Twice the Scriptures refer to this delay in terms of the longsuffering of God (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:9). He literally “waited” (1 Peter 3:20). But the day came when that delay was terminated. God brought upon this planet a global deluge that completely flooded the entire Earth. “He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth” (Genesis 8:23). Billions of people were drowned! Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Genesis 19, when not even 10 righteous people could be found in Sodom, God rained brimstone and fire down upon the cities of the plain. The cities were so thoroughly devastated, so completely exterminated, their precise location is still in dispute. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In the early chapters of Exodus, God sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand the release of the Israelites. He brought one cataclysmic plague after another upon the population: blood, frogs, lice, flies, animal disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death. He ultimately drowned the Egyptian army in the sea, their bodies washing onto the seashore (Exodus 14:30). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Exodus 32, when Moses delayed his return from Mt. Sinai, the people partied and indulged in pagan revelry. When Moses arrived in the camp, he ordered the formation of an execution detail composed of Levites who strapped on swords and began executing Israelites—about 3000 that day. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Leviticus 10, two nephews of Moses made an adjustment when they presented an offering of incense. God sent fire down out of the atmosphere and burned those two boys to death. His explanation—“By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Justice in Numbers

The book of Numbers is an uncanny parallel to the circumstances that Christians face today. We can learn a great deal about ourselves and about who God is if we will pour over its contents. In Numbers chapter 11, the people complained, and thereby elicited the anger of the Lord who caused fire to burn among them, consuming some. When the people became sick and tired of manna, yielded to intense craving and whining, and insisted on a supplement to their diet, they were guilty of despising the Lord (11:20). God inundated them with fresh meat and then struck them with a great plague (11:33). The resulting graveyard was designated “Kibroth Hattaavah”—graves of craving. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

When Miriam and Aaron disapproved of Moses’ marriage and so challenged his authority (12:1-2), the anger of the Lord was aroused (12:9). He struck Miriam with leprosy and subjected her to public humiliation for seven days. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

When the reconnaissance team returned from investigating Palestinian land conditions for over a month, 10 of them issued a “bad report”—though factually accurate (13:32). The nation bought their viewpoint, gave up on their divinely designated objective, and made plans to return to Egypt (14:4). God threatened to destroy the whole bunch (14:12)—the second time that He threatened to start over (Exodus 32:10). They were guilty of murmuring” (14:27; 1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14; 1 Peter 4:9) and “gathering against God” (14:35). Due to the pleading of Moses, He relented and allowed them to live, but subjected them to 40 years of aimless desert meandering until the entire adult population died off. The innocent children had to bear the brunt of the ensuing hardships due to the disobedience of their parents and grandparents. Ten of the 12 spies died by plague (14:37). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Numbers chapter 16, Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 popular leaders of the congregation conspired together to enhance their standing and their authority. Notice that these men would not have been coincidentally in agreement. They had to have engaged in collusion. Their motivation? The same that always characterizes those who try to sway a congregation in the wrong direction: pride, selfish ambition, a desire for power, control, and prestige. Moses reacted by demonstrating strong spiritual leadership abilities (16:4-14). He manifested humility (16:4), courage to confront (16:5,12), a willingness to draw a line (16:6-7,16-17; Exodus 32:26), and the ability to teach and reason with people (16:8-10). But Moses was human like all of God’s leaders, and he experienced a gamut of feelings and emotions: loneliness, insecurity, anger and a sense of hurt, rejection, and resentment (16:15).

Those with whom he had to contend were guilty of “gathering against the Lord” (16:11). Notice the logic of the rebellious: a cocky attitude (16:12), a misrepresentation of the past (16:13a), a misrepresentation of the future (16:13b), jealousy and being guilty of the very motive attributed to others (16:13c), and blaming the leaders for the failures of the people (16:14). Depending upon how charismatic and persuasive such men are, they sometimes are capable of swaying large numbers of people to their side. Korah was sufficiently slick and conniving that he managed to convince the entire congregation (16:19).

For the third time in the book of Numbers, God threatened to destroy the congregation (16:21)! But Moses demonstrated yet another leadership quality: concern for the wayward (16:22). The fervent prayer of the righteous can sway God. So God instructed Moses to tell the congregation to get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Here, again, we see, even in the midst of God’s fury and His judgment, Gospel and grace. The instruction “get away” was Gospel, i.e., good news! God was offering the people survival and escape from their sin!

You remember the outcome. The ground began vibrating and fracturing. The ground split apart underneath the tents of the three ringleaders of the rebellion and swallowed them and theirs up, and the ground closed over them. The population began running and screaming in all directions. God then sent fire down out of the atmosphere and burned to death the 250 leaders. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Incredibly, the very next day, the entire congregation began griping and complaining against Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths that occurred the previous day. It is so easy in the midst of congregational turmoil to place erroneous blame and to fail to see who is defending the right and who is wrong. But there are no excuses. God expects each of us to exercise sufficient spiritual sense and perception to sort out the truth and to side with the ones who are promoting what is right (John 7:24). On this occasion, God issued His fourth threat to exterminate the entire congregation (16:45). That divine wrath resulted in the immediate spread of plague among the population. Before Moses could scramble and implement atonement procedures, 14,700 people died! Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In chapter 20, the congregation again gathered together against Moses and Aaron. The reason? Their comfort level was being challenged (20:3-5). Observe that how we handle our daily stresses and irritations is a measure of our spiritual stamina. Physical discomfort tests self-control, patience/endurance, and ultimately, faith itself. On this occasion, Moses allowed the constant carping of the people to get to him. He allowed himself to be goaded into sin: anger, distrust, and disobedience, perhaps even a tinge of self-glorifying pride (20:9-11)—which was out of character for him (12:3). He struck the rock though God had told him to speak to it. God reacted with the words, “you did not believe Me” (20:12). He also said Moses failed to hallow Him (20:12; 27:14; cf. Leviticus 10:3). Though Moses worked with God to bring the people out of Egypt, and though he had now survived 38 years of desert wandering, enduring both the hardships of desert life as well as the incessant rebellion of his countrymen, both Moses and his brother were banned from entering into the Promised Land. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In chapter 21, the people became discouraged. They again verbalized their dissatisfaction by speaking against God and against Moses. They even referred to the manna with which God had graciously sustained their lives for nearly four decades as “worthless bread” (21:5). So, God sent in among the people poisonous, venomous snakes whose burning bite was lethal. The text says, “many of the people of Israel died” (21:6). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Numbers 25, the people finally arrive at their last stop before Canaan (Joshua 2:1). The people were suckered into participating in false religious practice which included illicit sexual activity. Once again, in an ever-occurring pattern, “the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (25:3). God instructed Moses to perform a public execution of the offending leaders by hanging them out in the Sun (25:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). This action was designed to avert God’s wrath (Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:29). While this event was transpiring, one Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into his tent for sexual purposes. The grandnephew of Moses, Phinehas, followed the couple into the tent and with one thrust of a spear impaled the pair. Here was a man who, without any thought for his own safety or the unpleasantness of the task, demonstrated a courageous, alert, and vigilant spirit (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). Here was a man who did not care to hash out the situation with endless discussions and multiple meetings. He assessed the situation quickly and was willing to stand up and act. Here is the kind of leadership which the church so desperately needs today.

One must surely stand in wonder at God’s own assessment of the action of Phinehas (25:11-13). God mentioned three things about him. First, Phinehas was responsible for turning back God’s wrath from the entire nation. We ought to sit up and pay attention. When godly, courageous action is taken against members of the church who are conducting themselves sinfully, those actions are dispelling the wrath of God! Second, Phinehas was zealous with God’s zeal. Can you imagine that? Here is God declaring that this mere man, this frail, imperfect human being, was in possession of a quality, a trait, that God Himself possesses! God was saying, “Phinehas is just like Me. Phinehas understands me. Phinehas possesses the same righteous regard for truth and good that I possess. Phinehas is permeated by the same jealous, zealous, intense desire for right that I have.” Wow! If only you and I can muster the gumption to be like that!

Third, God also declared that Phinehas was responsible for protecting the nation from His consuming fury by making atonement for them. Listen carefully: when courageous, godly members of the local congregation have the guts, the stamina, and the spiritual insight to rise up and fight against sinister forces that are operating within the congregation, they are helping to save that congregation! We ought to show them gratitude and respect. We sure ought not to vilify them, or believe false rumors and gossip about them, or accuse them of “challenging the authority of the elders.” Despite the valiant, righteous action of Phinehas, 24,000 people still died by plague that day. The census of the nation that followed this incident showed that 1.2 million people had died in the desert wandering. 1.2 million people! Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In Numbers 32, Moses delivered a tremendous speech of warning to the Transjordanic Tribes in view of the fact that their tribal land assignments would entail a geographical separation from the rest of the nation. Among other admonitions, he reminded them of those moments in the past when the people conducted themselves in such a way that the Lord’s anger was aroused against them (32:10). He stated that, in fact, their behavior that was responsible for arousing the Lord’s anger resulted in the elimination of an entire generation (32:13). He declared that further disobedience would only increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel (32:14). If necessary, God would eliminate yet another generation if they failed to follow Him (32:15). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

The Pentateuch is literally filled with incidents and occurrences that propel us to contemplate the righteousness of God. Beyond the Pentateuch, be reminded of a few additional incidents. You remember Elijah’s great confrontation with the priests and prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). After demonstrating in stunning fashion the reality of the one true God, the people suddenly “got off the fence” and sided with the correct viewpoint. Where they were silent and noncommittal before, now they were loudly declaring, “The Lord, He is God!” Do you remember what Elijah then required of the people? He told them to seize the prophets of Baal, take them down to the Brook Kishon, and execute them. They did—850 men were slaughtered. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

God continued to bear with His people even though they constantly and continually flaunted His will. But do you remember that after enduring the 10 northern tribes for just over two centuries, He brought upon them the fearsome force and cruelty of the Assyrian Empire? They were devastated and deported into Assyrian captivity. Listen to the inspired comment of the author of Kings: “Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah alone” (2 Kings 17:18). Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Judah lasted nearly four centuries. But the vast majority of the population of this southern tribal unit likewise lived life contrary to the will of God. God finally had His fill and brought the might of the Babylonian Empire against them. Those who were not killed outright were deported into foreign slavery for 70 years. Listen again to the inspired observation of the writer of Kings: “And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight” (2 Kings 17:20). Notice that God rejected “all the descendants of Israel.” We’re talking about God’s people—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! God lowered the boom on them and subjected them to untold miseries! Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

Does God change His attitude when we come to the New Testament? Ask the first church of Christ on the planet. The church of Christ in Jerusalem had a dilemma to face in caring for the physical needs of their members. Local Christians had the opportunity to liquidate some of their assets in order to care for fellow Christians who were away from their homes. A husband and wife decided to participate in the project by selling a piece of property they owned. They decided not to give the entire sum that resulted from the sale, which was certainly their choice. But they decided to tell the apostles that they were contributing the entire sale price. Peter accused Ananias of allowing Satan to fill his heart to lie. Peter said, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). Observe: when you lie to your fellowman, you are lying to God! Ananias fell down dead on the spot. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

About three hours later, the wife of Ananias came in, unaware of what had transpired with her husband. Peter asked her directly if she sold the land for the amount that her husband claimed. She confirmed her husband’s lie. Peter said very simply, “Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out” (Acts 5:9). She, too, dropped dead on the spot. Did the Judge of all the Earth do right?

God has not changed. We live at a time in which attitudes in and out of the church are flippant regarding the wrath of God. The liberal element in the church has bought into the notion that Christians are in the “grip of grace,” God is a “party God,” and He is just going to pretty much accept everyone. “He loves us too much to send us to hell.” Even in otherwise conscientious churches, people will connive, scheme, and lie, apparently oblivious to the fact that God is observing everything they do and say. Will the Judge of all the Earth do right? Absolutely! God cannot overlook and brush aside these flagrant infractions of His will. He cannot do it—and still be God! The righteousness of God, the justice of God, cannot overlook unresolved sin. God can be counted on to be consistent in His view of and treatment of sin.

The book of Romans demonstrates how God has made it possible for humans to be forgiven of trespasses in order to avert the wrath of God. They must obey the gospel plan of salvation and then live the Christian life faithfully. In order for the wrath of God to be satisfied so that they do not suffer the ultimate penalty for sin (i.e., eternal death in hell), a person must hear the Gospel, believe it, repent of sins, confess Christ with the mouth, and be immersed in water with the understanding that the blood of Christ is contacted in baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Peter 3:21). All individuals who fail to comply with this simple plan of salvation will be rejected at the Judgment and, most assuredly, the Judge of all the Earth will be doing right when He enacts that eternal rejection.

Christians may get to thinking that they can willfully violate God’s rules and that God will show them more leniency or overlook their actions because of who they are. Christians—even preachers and elders—may say and do things that are evil and wicked. Christians will tell outright lies. How can this be? How can they fail to see themselves as every bit as guilty as the alien sinner who lies without compunction? Can they be acceptable to God in that condition—or will the Judge of all the Earth do right?

In order to continue to receive the benefits of the propitiation afforded by Jesus Christ, we must ever strive to remain pure in our heart and motives. We must continually reaffirm by our words and our actions that we will correct our mistakes and repent when we slip (Acts 8:22). When we find we have been drawn into sin, we must not puff up and entrench ourselves in pride and self-interest. Instead, we must humble ourselves and get our thinking straight. There is no alternative. The character and nature of God are unalterable. He is just. He expects us to so conduct ourselves—especially elders (Titus 1:8). He is impartial and fair. We can count on Him to treat us right. Let us thank Him, praise Him, and magnify Him for being the Judge of all the Earth Who will always do right!


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