“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
The old fairy tales used to end, “and they lived happily ever after.” They were fairy tales. There are always going to be conflicts because even the best humans tend to want things their way. Recognizing that, God made plans to deal with the conflicts. They were to choose Judges and officers to judge what was right and fair in different situations.
Those judges were to be entirely fair in their Judgments. They were not to base their decisions on some private agenda or popular idealogy according to Exodus 23:2. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:” That an idea has popular support does not make it right or good. One of the problems in the United States is that we now pick leaders and judges for their ideology rather than for their character. The result is perversion of justice by both Liberal and Conservative.
They were not to favor one side over the other. Even the most innocuous of gifts tend to distort our recognition of right and wrong and those in authority should not accept any gifts to avoid being influenced or giving the appearance of having been. It is also easy to favor a person with more prestige or popularity, in the belief that such people would not be involved or do things that are not right. They are human and just as susceptible as anyone else.
It is also easy to feel sorry for one who has had difficulties and favor him. Exodus 23:3 states, “Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause.” Other things that have happened to a person have no bearing on what is right in such a case. It was argued that a young driver should be charged with causing a major accident because he had insurance that would pay for it and the first two drivers to crash did not have insurance. It was not his fault they had no insurance, and he should not be required to pay for their carelessness.
Verse twenty states, “That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Any decision which is unfair to either side is unjust, and God said that their lives and inheritance in the land depended on real justice.
Maintaining a Proper Respect for God
“Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee. Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth.” (Deuteronomy 16:21-22)
No trees were to be planted near an altar to God to prevent focusing on the trees rather than God. No kind of image, either sculpture or picture was to be set up to attract our attention. It is easy to judge the Catholic church for their statues of Mary and various saints, but it really isn’t any different than the church with pictures of “Heroes of the Faith” hanging in their auditorium.
“Thou shalt not sacrifice unto the LORD thy God any bullock, or sheep, wherein is blemish, or any evilfavouredness: for that is an abomination unto the LORD thy God.” (Deuteronomy 17:1)
Giving God less than our best indicates disrespect to him. If better was available it should be given. He doesn’t demand perfection, but he does demand our respect. Malachi 1:11-14 declares, “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.”
When we don’t take God’s worship seriously, it isn’t long before we don’t take God seriously either.
“If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and inquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.” (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)
Accusations of idolatry and false doctrine were to be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. If it was found to be true, they were to be taken out and executed to prevent the spread of their doctrine and practice. In the new testament, we are not commanded to physically execute them, but to separate ourselves from them. Titus 3:10-11 commands, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” While we have a responsibility to make them aware of their wrong teaching, we cannot force them to change. Romans 16:17-18 instructs, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
Their goal is to mislead, and we are to avoid them to make it clear that we are not associated with them. II Thessalonians 3:14-15 advises, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” The goal is not to destroy him but to convince him to change.
The Standard of Proof
“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.” Deuteronomy 17:6-7)
A sentence of death could not be executed on the basis of one witness. It is too easy for a witness to make a mistake in identification or misinterpreting what they saw. Many modern miscarriages of justice are the result of judgment based on testimony of a single witness. To further ensure that the witnesses were sure, they were to initiate the punishment, They were not to be shielded from the effects of their testimony.
The Appeal Process
“If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall show thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee: According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.” (Deuteronomy 17:8-11)
No set of laws can cover every possible situation, and attempts to write such a set usually create confusion and frustration resulting in further problems. Situations which were not readily resolved according to the law were to be brought to the priests and Levites whose Job it was to know the law fully and to maintain a personal relationship with God. When necessary, God would also designate a judge to restore the nation and maintain a proper relationship to God. The priest’s duties precluded his leaving the tabernacle to lead in battle or concentrate on political situations.
“And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.” (Deuteronomy 17:12-13)
A person who refused to do what was right was to be executed even when the crime itself didn’t warrant such a punishment. The goal was to prevent an attitude of disrespect for God’s law. God gave a similar standard in Matthew 18:15-17 for the church. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”
As I Corinthians 5:6-8 makes clear, permissiveness encourages others to do the same thing on the presumption nothing will be done. “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”