Justice or Jealousy: Serving God or Myself?
Justice—it’s a word we attach to everything from court rulings and foreign policy to healthcare and education. But what happens when justice becomes painfully personal?
For so long I thought of justice as a concept outside my walls, a cause I could give myself and my time toward. I never considered how justice relates to my relationships until lately.
Last week I found myself heated over two different situations. I wanted nothing more than to speak my mind bluntly on both issues. But circumstances prevented conversation, so I sent an email, shut my mouth, and tried to move on.
The day after both incidents, I stumbled into 1 Samuel 21–22. The terrible scene left me angry over injustice once again. But my scathing thoughts were soon silenced by a little self-reflection.
Tucked within these chapters we find two men faced with a decision. One is a priest named Ahimelech, the other a king named Saul. The priest takes his turn first and demonstrates a beautiful expression of mercy.
David arrives at Ahimelech’s doorstep a wanted man. King Saul places a hit on his head, and he won’t rest until his former son-in-law-now-turned-enemy is dead. So David hides at Nob, lies to Ahimelech about his missions, and asks for bread.
In a grand sweep of grace, Ahimelech offers David and his men loaves from God’s sacred table. He strengthens David for the next leg of his secretive journey. And his mercy—though contrary to the Law—receives commendation from Jesus (Matthew 12).
A few verses later, King Saul takes his turn on the judgment seat. But there is no mercy to be found. Ahimelech is brought before the king after being ratted out by a worthless man. And though Ahimelech denies any knowledge of David’s escape mission, Saul demands justice.
His new worthless warrior, Doeg the Edomite, devotes the priest, his family, and his city to destruction. The irony of the scene is painful as Saul makes up his own justice. He refused to destroy the Amalikites (1 Samuel 15), but now he has no problem devoting an entire Israeli village to destruction.
Neither Ahimelech nor Saul adhered to the letter of the Law. But look again at Jesus’ teaching. Jesus commended Ahimelech’s unlawfulness and cleared his disciples’ Sabbath-breaking because God “desires mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:1–8). Ahimelech acted out of the spirit of the Law, not the letter, and his radical act is recorded as a reminder of God’s heart. Ahimelech was just in the most righteous sense of the word.
Saul, on the other hand, used justice as a veil for his jealous scheme. There was no mercy on his mind, only contempt toward the young man who would inherit his kingdom. He did whatever was necessary—acting out the harshest sentence for treason—to satisfy his greedy passion. And though he kept the letter, his missed the spirit, and plunged further into self-absorption.
As I reflect upon Saul’s jealousy and Ahimelech’s justice, I’m reminded of my own situations. These men illustrate that the measure of our mercy reflects the matter of our heart. Are we striving to serve God? Or are we satisfying our own selfishness?
Last week I huffed and puffed about a professional situation I considered unjust. I couldn’t let it go until I sent an email sharing my opinion on the matter. But the next morning, I realized there was nothing inappropriate about my situation. The problem? I wanted my colleague’s role, and I allowed jealousy to eat away at me.
Maybe next time I’ll start with my own heart. God honors our adherence to the spirit not just the letter of the law. And when we strive to serve Him, not our selfish agendas, I believe justice will be accomplished. And other people might see God’s mercy manifested through us. Will you join me?