Sounds like: reeve.
From the earliest moments of civilization, we have brought trials against each other in the name of justice. It is an aspect of community that can be both healthy and damaging.
We are mesmerized by judicial cases, hoping to see justice served… But there’s also a little adrenalin rush in getting a court-side seat to view the wicked and the lost. We love reading about trials, and watching movies and tv shows about gritty legal cases and scandalous courtroom conclusions.
One of my favourite novels revealed the overwhelming injustice of the so-called justice system. In Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris, the hunchback, Quasimodo, was deaf. At his trial the appointed judge was equally deaf. As a result the courtroom conversation between the Quasimodo and the judge was pure confusion, contempt, and comedy at the expense of both the judge and the accused. The whole trial was a massive mockery, a perversion and distortion of justice, which turned quickly, and shamefully, into injustice.
Quasimodo, who was actually innocent of the crime he was accused of, was sentenced with public flogging and an extra hour on the pillory where people jeered and threw rocks at him. During his public humiliation, he cried out for a drink. His only comfort came at the hands of Esmerelda who offered him water to quench his thirst. This is not the only instance in the novel where Quasimodo was presented as a Christ-like archetypal character. I suggest you read the book to discover the rest.
The Bible has an awful lot to say about justice, and we can find many examples of legal trials and judgements. One Hebrew word, riv, carried a fair amount of weight when it came to legal jargon in the Bible. It meant strife or a dispute between two parties… it also indicated a case or cause, and a plea or pleading. Here’s the first time the word was presented in the Bible:
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of YHWH. Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife [riv] between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife [m’rivah] between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.”
Interesting that wealth was the first cause of strife between two parties. Abram dealt with the issue swiftly and wisely by suggesting that they separate their herds and go in different directions. Lot chose the valley of the Jordan and Abram went towards the land of Canaan.
A Case Against…
Without quick interference, strife between two parties usually would result in a case being brought against one side or the other. When Moses led the Hebrew people through the desert, the Hebrew people brought a case against him:
There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with [brought a case against: wai-yarev] Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before YHWH! Why then have you brought YHWH’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us into this wretched place?”
To contend for, or against, was to bring a case for, or against, someone. Gideon destroyed the pagan sacred places of the people they were furious. They brought a case forward to support their god, Baal; they spoke to Gideon’s father and demanded Gideon’s life:
When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. They said to one another, “Who did this thing?” And when they searched about and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.”
Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.”
But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend [te-rivun] for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead [yariv] for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend [yarev] for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.”
Therefore on that day he [Joash] named him [Gideon] Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend [yarev] against him,” because he had torn down his altar.
Joash was very clever, essentially saying: If your god really is a god he can plead for himself. Don’t insult him by pleading for him. As a god, he can take judgement into his own hands.
Of course Baal had no such power, but YHWH did. The musician Asaph, from David’s court, sang the following:
Arise, O God, and plead Your own cause [rivah riveka]; remember how the foolish man reproaches You all day long. Do not forget the voice of Your adversaries, the uproar of those who rise against You which ascends continually.
Unlike Baal, YHWH didn’t need anyone to plead His case for Him, He could look after Himself.
Hannah reflected, in her song, that those who brought a case against YHWH would not fare well:
1 Samuel 2:10 (end of Hannah’s song)
contend with bring a case against [m-rivaw] YHWH will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens, YHWH will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king, and will exalt the horn of His anointed.”
What kind of person brings a case against his Maker? It’s the same kind of people who bring a case against His Son. In Isaiah 50 the Messianic Suffering Servant spoke these words:
He who vindicates Me is near; who will contend [yariv] with Me? Let us stand up to each other; who has a case against Me? Let him draw near to Me. Behold, the Lord YHWH helps Me; who is he who condemns Me?
Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them. Who is among you that fears YHWH, that obeys the voice of His Servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of YHWH and rely on his God.
God doesn’t need us to plead for Him, but we need to trust and rely on Him!
Plead My Case
Over and over people called on God to plead their case:
Psalm 43:1-3 (See also Psalm 119:154)
Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case [w-rivah rivi] against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength; why have You rejected me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling places.
Who would not want God to be their lawyer?! David often turned to God to defend his case:
David: Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me; nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously. For they do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land. They opened their mouth wide against me; they said, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!”
You have seen it, O YHWH, do not keep silent; O Lord, do not be far from me. Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right and to my cause [l-rivi], my God and my Lord. Judge me, O YHWH my God, according to Your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me.
David understood that justice was YHWH’s, and his own vindication was in His hands. David had an easy opportunity to kill his enemy Saul, but he would not do it. Instead he faced Saul and said the following:
1 Samuel 24:12-15
“May YHWH judge between you and me, and may YHWH avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you.’ After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? YHWH therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause [w-yarev et rivi] and deliver me from your hand.”
David recognized that it was wrong to take YHWH’s role into his own hands. He was aware that God meant it when He said, ‘Vengeance is mine’ (Deuteronomy 32:35). Killing Saul was not God’s plan for David.
There are so many who want vengeance for themselves, but they adhere to the concept of a higher, Godly, justice. At the same time, having a God who deals out punishment makes them uncomfortable. And so they believe that there is a God, but they accuse Him of apathy, emotional distance, lacking in compassion, and even cruelty. In response they reject God, and try to live life by their own means. Instead of worshipping God, they put their faith in human made things:
YHWH: “But where are your gods which you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah. Why do you
contend with bring a case against [tarivu] Me? You have all transgressed against Me,” declares YHWH.
YHWH has a Case Against His People
We really have no reasonable argument against God. We are messy, complicated, walking disaster most of the time… and we’ve cursed ourselves, not the other way around. Our case against our Creator is selfish and short-sighted, but YHWH certainly has a very valid case against us!
Listen to the word of YHWH, O sons of Israel, for YHWH has a case [ki riv YHWH] against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea disappear.
But to our great benefit, we have a compassionate, forgiving God:
For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
For I will not contend (against you) [ariv] forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart.
I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” says YHWH, “and I will heal him.”
We have often brought our case against God. But even with all our accusations and whining, and petty complaints, He still forgives us. Not only does He forgive us, but He actually goes on and defends us!
If someone sued you, would you forgive them and then defend them in court?! You maybe would forgive, but would you become a champion for their cause?
This was exactly what God did, and what He continues to do. We treat Him horribly, accuse Him of many things, and then ask forgiveness. And He says, “okay”, but He does more than that. Anyone who accuses us, His children, He lovingly defends:
“‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonoured; those who
contend with bring a case against you [riveka] will be as nothing and will perish.
After this opening statement in God’s Courtroom, He turned to the the accusers of His people and presented His argument:
“Present your case [riv’kem],” YHWH says. Bring forward your strong arguments,” the King of Jacob says. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming; declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.
Behold, you are of no account, and your work amounts to nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.
This plays out as a really clever defensive argument: If you’re going to behave like god, prove that you are one. Predict the future… explain the past… do something, good or evil, that causes us to be in awe. What’s that? You can’t? Well, then you have no power here and your arguments are worth nothing.
YHWH is a God of justice! He defends those in need… and He redeems them:
Lamentations 3:35-40, 55-58
To deprive a man of justice in the presence of the Most High, to defraud a man in his lawsuit [b-rivow]— of these things the Lord does not approve.
Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to YHWH…
…I called on Your name, O YHWH, out of the lowest pit. You have heard my voice, “Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.” You drew near when I called on You; You said, “Do not fear!” O Lord, You have pleaded my soul’s cause [rav’ta Adonai riveh nafshi] ; You have redeemed my life.
YHWH is your Lawyer
How fortunate are we to have YHWH as our defence lawyer! Jeremiah considered Him as his champion defender:
For I have heard the whispering of many, “Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!” All my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say: “Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him.”
But YHWH is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.
Yet, O YHWH of hosts, You who test the righteous, who see the mind and the heart; let me see Your vengeance on them; for to You I have set forth my cause [et rivi]. Sing to YHWH, praise YHWH! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers.
Our persecutors will not prevail because YHWH defends and delivers His people. This was the message that God’s people needed to hear when they were invaded, and taken captive, by the Babylonians:
Thus says YHWH of hosts, “The sons of Israel are oppressed, and the sons of Judah as well; and all who took them captive have held them fast, they have refused to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong, YHWH of hosts is His name; He will vigorously plead their case [yariv et rivam] so that He may bring rest to the earth, but turmoil to the inhabitants of Babylon.”
With YHWH pleading the case of His people, Babylon would meet a terrible end:
Therefore thus says YHWH, “Behold, I am going to plead your case [rav et rivek] and exact full vengeance for you; and I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry. Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants.”
Plead for the Less Fortunate
God doesn’t just take on the big clients (all the Children of God), He also defends the poorest of clients. And He doesn’t wait to be asked, YHWH seeks them out and pleads their case:
Do not rob the poor because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for YHWH will plead their case [yariv rivam] and take the life of those who rob them.
Do not move the ancient boundary or go into the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case [hu yariv et rivam] against you.
Redemption from YHWH is free to all who follow Him, but we are to be His reflection on this planet, and so we are also called to defend the needy:
Isaiah 1:16-17, 23
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead [rivu] for the widow.”…
…Your rulers are rebels and companions of thieves; everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea [w-riv] come before them.
In our culture, today, there is a great emphasis on rewards and financial success. It takes us back to the very first strife in the Bible… too much wealth brought dissidence between people. Today it seems as if the wealthy get wealthier, and the greedy get what they want, all at the expense of those less fortunate.
Jeremiah made this argument to God:
Righteous are You, O YHWH, that I would plead my case [ariv] with You; indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?
You have planted them, they have also taken root; They grow, they have even produced fruit. You are near to their lips but far from their mind. But You know me, O YHWH; You see me; and You examine my heart’s attitude toward You. Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter and set them apart for a day of carnage!
The prophet Habakkuk also made a similar argument:
The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw: “How long, O YHWH, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife [riv] exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.
Here was YHWH’s response to Habakkuk:
“Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— you would not believe if you were told.”
Judge, Lawyer, Messiah
God promised justice to His people. They were sinners. They disobeyed God in the Garden and they cursed themselves. They were guilty and God was their Judge:
Hear now what YHWH is saying, “Arise, plead your case [riv] before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Listen, you mountains, to the indictment of YHWH [et riv YHWH], and you enduring foundations of the earth, because YHWH has a case [ki riv YHWH] against His people; even with Israel He will dispute.”
But just as He was their Judge, He was also their defence Lawyer:
But as for me, I will watch expectantly for YHWH; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, YHWH is a light for me. I will bear the indignation of YHWH because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case [yariv rivi] and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, and I will see His righteousness.
In one of His parables, Yeshua presented God as a righteous judge and a swift deliverer of justice:
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Would Yeshua find faith on earth… in some people, yes, but lawyers did not fare so well.
Yeshua undoubtedly placed very high expectations on lawyers. They were supposed to defend the needy, but in their greed they only profited themselves. After Yeshua blasted the Pharisees for their disregard of justice, one of the lawyers was quick to respond:
Luke 11:45-46, 52
One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers…
…Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”
These lawyers were hindering God’s mission. They were barriers to the kingdom. Yeshua was the opposite of these lawyers. They weighed people down with burdens; He lifted the burdens from the backs of people. These lawyers wouldn’t walk a mile in their client’s shoes, but Yeshua lived out the burdens of others, walking alongside them as a friend. He was poor and marginalized; He had no house or fetching possessions of His own… but He brought the Kingdom to His friends, with a compassionate and generous heart.
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “‘You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
In God’s Courtroom it is love that has the highest honour. All of our actions, as human beings, should be weighed and measured in love:
Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
If love is the fulfillment of the law, then what kind of trial did Yeshua receive from those who claimed to be Godly men? Where was the love in this court?
Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. But Peter was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome.
Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, so that they might put Him to death. They did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’”
The high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do You not answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?”
They answered, “He deserves death!”
Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, “Prophesy to us, You Messiah; who is the one who hit You?”
And so Yeshua, who was guilty of nothing, died for all of us who are guilty of everything. We have been defended, acquitted and redeemed.
Behold, YHWH has proclaimed to the end of the earth, say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your Salvation comes; behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of YHWH.”
Let us bring our case to the world, and let us lovingly defend the Good News that Yeshua suffered for. He is our Redeemer and Defender, and despite our great guilt, we have been pronounced innocent. That’s the kind of Love God has for His children. His judgement is parental, and compassionate, wholly forgiving, and entirely rewarding.
Next week: Chosen