Lord, Send Someone Else
“Please, Lord, send someone else.”
These are the words of Moses after God miraculously appeared to him in the burning bush, spoke to him and called him to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, and gave him three miraculous signs to confirm that it indeed was God who sent Moses to perform this task and was with him. God’s people, the Israelites, had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years and were crying out to Him because of their suffering and oppression. God heard their cries, was going to rescue them from slavery, and would bring them into the Promised Land because of His faithfulness to His covenant with Abraham. He saw the plight and exploitation of His people and was responding in love and justice. Moses was God’s chosen servant to proclaim these things to the Israelites and to Pharaoh, and to perform mighty acts in the power of God to show that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God. Moses had all of his questions answered, He was given miraculous signs to confirm God’s power and presence, and was assured that the great I AM was sending him, and yet he still replied, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”
It is easy for us to chastise Moses’ fear, unfaithfulness, and lack of trust in God as disconnected readers. But as I look at our current cultural context, the need for justice, and examine my own selfish and sinful heart, I get it.
The Tendency to Shirk Responsibility
The ongoing issues of racism and injustice in our country have been brought to the forefront of news and conversation yet again with the recent murder of George Floyd. People are passionately posting on social media, flooding city streets in protest, and advocating for justice and systemic change in America—and these are all good things! For Christians, we know that the pursuit of justice never ends in this fallen world where people will constantly use and abuse others for their own gain. We know that justice is a thoroughly biblical concept that is rooted in God’s character and revealed in His acts in history. We know that those of us who have placed saving faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect work on the cross have been the beneficiaries of God’s justice as His wrath against sin was poured out on His Son and fully satisfied, and He has justified (declared righteous) those who trust in Christ alone, proving His justice and righteousness (Rom 3:23-26). We know that we are called to imitate and reflect His justice in the world, caring and advocating for the most vulnerable among us. But we also know that pursuing justice for others requires intentionality and sacrifice. We feel how enticing it is to stay silent in the face of injustice so as to not inconvenience ourselves or disrupt the status quo. We want justice to occur, but without it impacting our lives. So, we, along with Moses, say, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”
The next verse in Exodus says that “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” (Ex 4:14). God is recruiting Moses to be his mouth, hands, and feet of justice to those suffering oppression, assuring him beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will be with Moses every step of the way. And Moses says to the holy God of the universe that that is too large a task for him. Better recruit someone else.
We can probably relate.
Justice in the Bible
God has always been a God of justice, and the Exodus is the hallmark example in the Old Testament of God’s justice. Justice in the Bible is viewed in two ways: retributive and restorative justice. Retributive justice is punishing those who do wrong by the righteous, holy standard that comes from God. Restorative justice is ensuring that everyone in a community receives care, support, and fair treatment so that they have the opportunity to flourish. And these are both derived from God’s character. Because God is perfectly holy, He must judge and punish sin and wickedness. Because He is lovingly just, He pursues those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable to advocate and provide for them, to right all wrongs, and to straighten out what has been made crooked by sin. Most of the time when the Bible speaks of justice it is speaking of restorative justice.
And the Bible shows that God has a special heart for what is known as “the quartet of the vulnerable”: the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the immigrant. These were the people in society who were most often disconnected from the people and the resources they needed to flourish. And they were the people who were easiest to exploit and take advantage of. Thus, they were the ones in most need of restorative justice so they could live their lives without worrying for their safety or that someone would take advantage of them. And God was sure to give it to them.
Psalm 146:7-9 says that the Lord is the one “who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” This is what it looks like when God comes in and enacts restorative justice for the vulnerable, as well as retributive justice for the wicked.
This type of restorative justice is motivated by love, mercy, and humility. Love for all people who are made in God’s image and are inherently deserving of dignity, value, worth, and respect. Mercy that sees other people’s difficult circumstances and takes it upon oneself to alleviate their suffering. And humility that thinks more about others and treats them as more important than oneself. For the person motivated in this way, this means that other people’s problems now become your problems, and you work to alleviate their suffering and restore them. This is the consistent cry of the prophets. “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?” (Micah 6:8)
And this is what God is planning on doing in setting the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt. He sees that they are sojourners (those living temporarily in a place not their home) in the land of Egypt, and are suffering oppression and injustice as slaves at the hands of the Egyptians (which was based on ethnicity. Ex. 1:9-10: “He [the new king in Egypt] said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and powerful than we are. Come, let’s deal shrewdly with them; otherwise they will multiply further, and when war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country.”). God is motivated by love, humility, and mercy to make Israel’s problems His problems, and is going to enact justice by setting them free from bondage and judging the wicked Egyptians. He indeed judges Egypt with the 10 plagues and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, and brings Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea, out of the land of Egypt, and eventually to the Promised Land. And He wants to use Moses to do this.
Being People of Justice
Moses, of course, does agree to lead God’s people out of Egypt. And God also recruits Aaron to speak for Moses and to help him. God enacts justice for His people, but does so through the leadership of Moses. After leading them out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai where God gives Moses the 10 Commandments and establishes His covenant with Him and all of Israel, God gives them laws concerning how they should act now as God’s covenanted people who have received such love, grace, mercy, and justice from Him. These include not denying justice to the poor (Ex. 23:6) and not exploiting or oppressing the sojourner “because you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). It only makes sense for those who have benefited from the justice of God to enact justice for others. Moses led the charge in pursuing God’s justice for His people, and now all of Israel is called to be a just people because their God is a just God.
Initially, Moses recognized the need for justice for the Israelites while they were in slavery, he just did not want to be the one to answer God’s call to pursue justice and lead the charge on that. We know he desired justice because he recognized injustice when he witnessed an Egyptian task master beating his fellow Hebrew (Ex. 2:11-12), but went about pursuing justice in the wrong way by taking it upon himself to exact sinful vengeance on the Egyptian by killing him. Yet out of fear he did not want to lead this just cause of being used by God to set His people free. He asked God to send someone else. But God knew what He was doing in calling Moses to pursue justice, and He knows what He’s doing in calling each Christian today to pursue justice.
As I have been overwhelmed and burdened by the sin, brokenness, and injustice in our world in light of recent events in our country, I have recognized the need to pursue justice for those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable. The need to open my mouth to speak up for, and defend the rights of, those in need (Prov. 31:8-9). And I have also seen that my sinful and selfish flesh wants justice to happen, but at the hands of someone else. I want someone else to do what God in Christ has called me, and all believers in Christ’s church, to do, because of what it might cost me. But understanding what the Bible says about justice requires that I move beyond my beliefs to action.
Good Theology Leads to Right Action
If the church is to obey and reflect God by pursuing justice for those in need, we must do more than just have good theology. This applies to the issues of racism and injustice in our country. It is insufficient to merely say, “racism is sinful” or “the only cure for racism is Jesus.” These are both profoundly true! But biblical justice has always involved right action informed by right beliefs. God did not merely say that what the Egyptians were doing was wrong, but acted on behalf of the Israelites to justly right this wrong. Unfortunately, many Christians feel content to have “good” theology in the areas of racism and injustice, and not want to take any action steps. And if they do take action steps, it is more akin to Moses’ “send someone else.”
This is evidenced by how quick Christians are to outsource the call to pursue love and justice for all people by only giving to charities and voting. We don’t want to burden ourself with the difficult and sacrificial work of making other’s problems our own so they can flourish, so we send someone else to do it. And please hear me: giving financially to gospel centered organizations and ministries, and engaging this country’s political system to put men and women in place who will advocate for those needing justice and work to establish just laws are good endeavors. But, for the Christian, they are incomplete on their own. If these are the only things Christians are doing, they can be viewed as “sending someone else” to do the work of justice that we don’t want to dirty our hands with. Many of us are comfortable with things just they way they are, but recognize that justice needs to be done. So we fund and vote for others to do what God has called us to do. But all of God’s people are commanded to “do justice” (Micah 6:8).
Love Demands Justice
Loving our neighbor as we love ourself (Mark 12:31) requires we pursue justice for them. If we claim to love them and yet do not care, support, and advocate for them to fully flourish, then our love is a sham. And if we are to focus on being this type of neighbor, and recognize that our neighbor is the next person we encounter with needs we can meet (i.e. the parable of the Good Samaritan), then we see that we cannot outsource justice to someone else and claim to obey God’s word. Reflecting God’s justice that we see in the Exodus and the Bible, we make other’s problems our problems. We should support and encourage others to also pursue justice (i.e. give charitably and vote), but only in addition to our personal pursuit of it for the people God has placed in our lives. Pursuing love and justice for our neighbor can extend around the world through the work of others, but it must begin in our neighborhoods, our churches, and our cities.
A Just Church
This starts in the church. All people will know we are Jesus’ disciples if we have love for one another (Jn. 13:35). Paul’s famous excursus on love in 1 Corinthians 13 is in the context of pursuing unity in the Body of Christ. We are a new people through faith in Jesus, so we must pursue love and justice for our brothers and sisters in Christ as those who have mutually benefitted from the same gospel. So, in thinking about this, do you know the people in your church? Do you know their needs? Are there those who are poor, disadvantaged, or vulnerable in some way that you can meet their needs? Are there people different than you based on ethnicity, gender, age, socio-economic status, etc. that you could talk with and better know how to love and care for them? Are there people you avoid because loving them would require too much time, intentionality, and sacrifice? How can you better love your neighbor at your church?
The church should be leading the way in pursuing justice for all because we know the God of justice. This applies to all those in need, but can be specifically applied to issues of racial injustice. There is absolutely no place in the church for racism or racial injustice. It must be called out and worked against, as we endeavor to be thoroughly anti-racist. If the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down (Eph. 2:14), and we are a chosen race (1 Pet. 2:9) made up of every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9), then our local churches should reflect that in theology, word, and deed.
And as God’s people we pursue love and justice for all people because all people are made in God’s image and we are called to love everyone as our neighbor. The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to pursue justice for the poor, orphan, widow, immigrant, and everyone who has needs we can meet so that they have every opportunity to flourish, and they catch a glimpse of what Jesus is like as His people reflect His love and justice well in the world. These are inherent fruits of the gospel that should be born by all disciples and churches. And as we meet the needs of people we can tell them of the only One who can meet our deepest abiding needs far beyond food, shelter, and clothing.
Justice Because of Jesus
And we do this because we have been the beneficiaries of God’s love and justice. We were all rebels against God’s will, ways, and worship outside of Christ. God would have been entirely just to destroy us for our sin because of His holiness. But He didn’t. He lovingly and graciously pursued us in Christ Jesus. We were just like the Israelites in Egypt: enslaved (to sin) and incapable of changing our bleak circumstances or setting ourselves free. We needed God to recognize our vulnerable state and make our problems His problems so we could be cared for and fully flourish. And He did this by sending Jesus on our behalf. His retributive justice was done in that the punishment that we all deserve for our sins was poured out on Christ at the cross, and His restorative justice was done as we were forgiven, saved, freed, and blessed with every spiritual blessing. He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). And the motivation for all of this was His great love for us. It only makes sense for those who have received so much from God because of His love and justice to extend the same love and justice to the poor, vulnerable, and needy the same way God has done for us. And the good news of Jesus says that when we inevitably fall short of pursuing justice perfectly, we are still loved and accepted by the just God who has justified us in Christ.
So, if you are like me, you may desire this type of biblical justice for all, yet want it to happen at the hands of others and not your own because of the sacrifices it requires. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is too powerful and compelling to leave us comfortable in all the ways that we want while sending out others to do the difficult gospel work that we are called to do, but may not want to do. This requires acting on our good theology by pursing justice for the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, clothing the naked, raising up those who are bowed down by the cares of life, providing for the poor, upholding the most vulnerable among us, and speaking up for those without a voice in society.
Like the prophet Isaiah who was tasked with calling out the sin, injustice, and covenantal unfaithfulness of God’s people, people may disagree with us, not like us, and not listen to us for speaking up about injustice and pursuing biblical justice. But that does not mean that we are to be silent or disobey. We don’t abdicate our God given role and responsibility to pursue justice to others, saying “please, Lord, send someone else.” Regardless of the sacrifices entailed, and the responses of others, we say along with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me.”
-By Kevin Tapscott