Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Righteous Judges in Deuteronomy

"Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly" (Deuteronomy 16:18).

Literally, Deuteronomy 16:18 commands that judges be set up in every “gate.” The gate controlled access to the city allowing some people in and banishing others. It was at the gates where the elders sat to render judgment. Thus, when we read references to “gates” in the Bible, very frequently the term refers to the law-court.

God, through Moses, told the people from God that judges were to judge impartially and not accept bribes (Deuteronomy 16:19). Some translations render this a “gift.” A bribe was given to influence the judge; gifts were given to create an atmosphere of influence over a judge. Judges had to reject both. No one was immune from the influence of gifts; Moses said that even a wise man would be affected.

In verse 21, Moses forbade building altars and worship sites to false gods. Why was this commandment put here? Because pagan nations settled legal matters by consulting witches, reading entrails, and examining the stars. In Israel, judgment was to be according to the Word of God alone. The use of mediums was forbidden.

Moses continued to discuss the court system in 17:2–7. He set up an exemplary case and told them how to conduct justice. Under the Mosaic law, if an Israelite broke his vow to worship God alone and openly worshipped other gods, he was to be put to death. Moses said that no one was to be brought to trial based merely on rumor. There must be a thorough investigation and at least two, preferably three, witnesses. Later, Moses said that a man bringing a false charge was to be punished with exactly the punishment he sought for his victim. Thus, to charge someone falsely with a capital crime was itself a capital offense (Deuteronomy 19:16–21). By means of these stipulations, God guarded the innocent from slander and from false charges.

Finally, Moses said that if a case was too hard it could be appealed. But if after all appeals were exhausted and a person refused to hear the court and showed contempt for God’s legal system, that person may be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:8–13). The sinner was given many chances to repent, but if he went too far, evil was “purged” from the land.

These laws in Deuteronomy show us what things should bring about church discipline today. Does your church have a scriptural understanding of how church discipline is to be conducted? Are you familiar with its procedures? In this passage, what does God say our attitude should be toward the elders of the church when they are forced to render painful judgments?