Judging the Heart?
”Who made you judge?” Have you ever heard that question? About yourself? I have. And usually it makes everyone feel uncomfortable, especially me! But the questioner himself or herself is really trying to be the judge as well.
The HCSB reading for today is Numbers 33-36. One passage leaped from the page in answer to that question. Note its seeming contrast to Matthew 7:1–2
[Jesus said:] “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged…”
Many take this to mean that we cannot judge at all. But Jesus spends the rest of Matthew 7 telling the people how to judge appropriately (actions and words, not the heart), especially 7:16-20.
But then, in Numbers 35:22-25 Yahweh tells Moses:
“But if anyone suddenly pushes a person without hostility or throws any object at him without malicious intent or without looking drops a stone that could kill a person and he dies, but he was not his enemy and wasn’t trying to harm him, the assembly is to judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood according to these ordinances. The assembly is to protect the one who kills someone from the hand of the avenger of blood. Then the assembly will return him to the city of refuge he fled to, and he must live there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” (HCSB)
So, in those cases, the people are to judge the heart (“without malicious intent”) not just the action.
It might give us a moment to pause and reflect on how that judging is to be done. I suggest that the judging is done with an attitude of humility and grace. In other words, rather than see a disconnect between Numbers 35 and Matthew 7, we see them as presenting the same issue with the same intended result.
Judging Whose Heart?
If judging means looking at the heart, then as I examine my own heart, how well do I stack up to be in this judging position? Am I a person who acts quickly, ready to judge and condemn? Is that reflecting my own heart rather than the heart of the one who has hurt me? Am I reading into the other person my own judgment?
Jesus said: “So you’ll recognize them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:20). And if I examine my own heart, what kind of fruit am I demonstrating? Will others recognize my fruit? Yes, indeed. So the judging of Numbers 35 is not a frivolous, insignificant judging, but a life changing, even life-saving kind of judging. That is why God established the cities of refuge for the saving of life.
The One Who Judges the Heart
In John’s Gospel we read some important words that Jesus spoke:
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18 NAS)
This demonstrates that God’s gracious will is not to judge but to save. In fact, everyone stands judged already because of sin. Jesus comes to save. And beyond that, Jesus said:
“Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” (7:24 HCSB)
So, it appears that we have much to learn about judging and even more to grow in grace before we start assigning ourselves as judge (and jury). “Righteous judgment” means that we reflect God’s judgment, rather than taking it into our own hands. And that is a challenge. But it is one filled with grace, mercy, and hope, for the one being judged and the one judging. The people of Israel in Numbers 35 (and following generations) carried a heavy burden because judging was not a personal prerogative but a reflection of God’s righteous judgment.
Jesus judged all people at the cross; He died for the sins of everyone, taking the judgment and condemnation that we deserved. But now He delivers that verdict of “righteous” to us in His Word, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper. We do not stay judged and condemned. Rather Jesus took our judgment upon Himself. And therefore, we are freed from judgment on the last day.
So, do we live as people who have been judged “not guilty” and willing to declare that to others? Or do we want to stand in judgment over others, and even above Jesus Himself and His judgment?
Judge for yourself what is right! God’s righteous judgment is clear: “Not guilty! You are saved!” (in Numbers 35 and throughout the Bible).