Judges applying his law is God’s ideal government. God has provided the law. All that is needed is judges to apply it to the various cases that arise in a modern society. The system of law and judges was introduced by Moses and it worked effectively. It has never been set aside or replaced with something better. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all
people, this system can function even better, as the wisdom of judges
We often think that judging ceased at the end of the book of judges, but that is not true. Judges continued their work right through the Old Testament period. Moses was the first judge. He appointed other judges to serve with him. These judges continued into Joshua’s time. He was followed by the period of the judges. Samuel marked the transition to a new type of judge, who specialized in judging and did not get involved in military leadership.Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life.
From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also judged Israel (1 Sam 7:15-17).
The role of the judges did not disappear when the kings became permanent military leaders. David was a very successful military leader, but he did not always show good judgment. In David’s time, six thousand Levites were set aside to be "officials and judges" (1 Chron 23:3-5). Kenaniah the Izharite and his sons were also assigned duties as judges over Israel during David’s reign (1 Chron 26:29). Judges are also mentioned during the reign of Solomon Israel (2 Chron 1:2). Jehoshaphat appointed judges in the land when he was king (2 Chron
Even after the exile, God raised up wise judges for Israel.
And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates—all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them (Ezra
Kings came and went and prophets were missing for long periods of time, but God ensured thatIsraelalways had judges to interpret the law. There is not evidence that the ministry of the judge has been abolished. Part of our hope for the future is that God will restore wise judges to administer his law.
I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counsellors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City (Is 1:26).
When righteous judges are restored, we will experience the city of righteousness and the faithfulness.
The best judges were raised up by God. Moses was called by God when watching the sheep in Midian. Samuel was called to this task when he was a young boy, or when his Mother dedicated him to the Lord’s
Once Israel had taken a king, judges tended to be appointed by the kings. King Jehosohophat was noted for appointing judges (2 Chron 19:4). This is not ideal as kings are a suboptimal option anyway. A judge that
is appointed by a king will be loyal to the king. They will have difficulty deciding fairly between the king and
After the return from Israel, Ezra the priest appointed judges to administer justice. This was not a normal situation either, as the system was being restored.
the ideal situation, judges will not need to be appointed. They
will emerge as wise people in their local communities. They will become
judges when people start going to them to for guidance in dealing with
difficult situations. The title judge will be recognition of what they
are already doing.
Moses and Judges
The first judges in Israel were not appointed. Once Moses was established as a prophet,
responsibility for hearing all cases fell to him. He was challenged by his father-in-law Jethro, who could see that Moses would become exhausted this huge responsibility. Moses needed a wake up call because he had missed God’s purpose
and plan for judges(Ex 18).
The Bible is very precise about what Moses did.
So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as
commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal
officials (Deut 1:15).
Moses organised the nation into an army structure with units of tens, hundreds and thousands, based on family and tribal affiliations. This military style organisation was essential, while the nation was marching to the promised land. He took wise and respected tribal leaders and made the commanders over the tens, hundreds and thousands. The word commander is a military term.
The word for official means scribe or magistrate. The people went to
these people to settle their disputes, because they were the wisest people in their families and
tribes. They were already recognised as judges when, Moses
appointed them to be military leaders.
They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves (Ex 18:26).
These earliest judges functioned within a tribal environment. They would start off as leaders in their families and sub-tribes. The wisest of these local leaders would become judges. The best judges would rise to be appeal judges for their entire tribe.
The important innovation that Moses made was to introduce performance standards to role of judging.
And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. (Deut 1:16-17).
Judges are acting for God, the perfect judge (Jud 11:27), so they must demonstrate wisdom and integrity. They must not be motivated by the fear of men. This standard gave the people the freedom to take their cases to the judges with the greatest wisdom. If a judge made a bad decision, they could appeal to a judge with greater reputation for wisdom. This standard ensured that the best judges would be recognised and widely used.
People will always go to judges that they trust. Judges that made good decision will get more cases to decide. If people do not like the decision that a judge has made, they will be able to appeal to another judge to hear their case. If a judge is constantly having
their decisions overturned by another judge, people will stop going to them and they will become a judge in name only.
Character of Judges
Good judges must have good character. They will be impartial and honest. Moses challenged the judges that he recognised.
Judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it (Deut 1:16,17).
Justice must be totally impartial. Judges should decide on the merits of the case, ignoring the status of those making the claims. Foreigners and refugees should be able to obtain judgement without any bias towards them.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly (Lev 19:15).
Judges must not favour people who are important. On the other hand, they must not favour the poor. This is a temptation for judges in the modern world.
Judges must not accept bribes.
Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you (Deut 16:19,20).
He told them, "Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery" (2 Chron 19:6-7).
Judges must always remember that they are not judging for themselves, but are acting on behalf of God. They should fear the Lord and judge carefully.
Love the Law
Good judges will know and love God’s law.
I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:163-165)
A judge should praise the wisdom of Gods law seven times a day. Love of the law will prevent many mistakes.
Ezra was told to appoint judges “who know the laws of your God” (Ezra 7:25). He was also instructed to teach those who do not know them. Christian theologians will have a role in teaching judges about the meaning of the
Modern day judges are trained academically. They learn about legal interpretation and the principle of precedence. These things are really important, but they know very little about God’s law. This is a recipe for
Unfortunately, very few Christians love the law. Most misinterpret Psalm 119 as a command to love the scriptures. This is a distortion. The entire psalm is devoted to the wonder of the law. Our refusal to love the law might be one reason we lack wisdom about government.
Anointed by the Spirit
Good judges will be anointed with the Holy Spirit of God. Israel tended to be dependent on a few heroic judges. Only a few people were filled with the Spirit, so not many had the capacity to be good judges. Jesus was the perfect judge, because he was full of the Holy Spirit and carried a Spirit of wisdom and counsel.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD –
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
To function effectively, human judges also need to be full of the same Spirit. We need judges who have the spirit of wisdom and understanding.
For the LORD is our judge,
The LORD is our lawgiver,
The LORD is our king;
It is he who will save us (Isaiah 33:22).
When human judges make good decisions they are acting for Jesus, just as godly pastors are acting for the good shepherd. We do expect Jesus to return to care for his sheep, because he is able to work through human shepherds by the power of the Spirit. In the same way, he does not have to return to bring justice, because he can work through anointed judges.
When anointed judges apply God’s law in the power of the spirit, peace will return to the
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Is 11:6-9).
God’s system of government is good judges filled with his Spirit and applying his law.
This will bring great blessing to earth.
The Judges Task
Judges will deal with cases that are brought before them. There are four aspects to their work.
- The judges will thoroughly investigate the case collecting all the information that is relevant.
The judges must make a thorough investigation (Deut 19:18).
If necessary they will visit the scene of the crime and make observations and measurements (Deut 21:2).
- The judges will listen to all the relevant witnesses.
A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).
- The judges will arrive at a verdict (Ex 18:22)
the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty (Deut 25:1).
Their verdict will acquit those who are innocent and condemn those who are guilty.
- The judges will decide on a penalty for the guilty person.
they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment (Deut 17:9 NKJV).
They will determine what penalty is required by the scriptures. This is an important aspect of justice. The penalties for crime must be those prescribed by God and not driven by a desire for revenge.
Judges will not generally operate on their own (Deut 19:18; 25:1). Several judges will hear serious cases to reduce the risk the bias that one judge might bring. There is safety in numbers.
A key principle in the Law is that a person can only be convicted of a crime on the evidence of at least two independent witnesses.
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).
This prevents one person making false charges against another. There must be another person to corroborate their evidence. For serious crimes there must be at least three witnesses. A person can only be convicted if there is strong evidence from three people who actually witnessed the crime. Hearsay is not sufficient. The requirement for two or three witnesses imposes a high standard for convicting a person of a crime.
An additional principle is that the witnesses must not have committed the crime with which they are charging the accused. This is what happened to the “woman taken in adultery”. The men accusing her, turned and walked away, because they knew they were guilty of the same sin (John 8:3-11). I suspect that a group of men would find it hard to enter a house to catch a woman in the act of adultery and then make her stand in front of them, without falling into lust along the way. Lust was the same as adultery to Jesus (Matt 5:28). Lust is not a crime, because it is hidden in the
mind where witnesses cannot see, but it is sufficient to disqualify a witness to
Protecting the Innocent
The requirement for multiple witnesses will ensure that only the guilty are convicted. The main requirement is that innocent people are not convicted. The price of this principle is that many criminals will sometimes “get away” with their crimes. This is not a problem for Christians, as we know that their escape from justice will only be temporary. They will have to face the perfect judge at the final judgement, where God has a record of every crime they have ever
For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10).
Final justice is sure and certain. Criminals, who escape the punishment of judges in this age, because there are no independent witnesses to their crime, will receive perfect justice when they stand before God.
If a judge uses his power in a malicious way, people will stop taking cases to him, and his power will disappear. Having multiple judges is the best protection against unrestrained judicial power.
As the Kingdom of God expands, the need for judges should diminish. Paul’s statement about justice is quite
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church. I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers (1 Cor 6:1-5)?
Christians should take any legal disputes with Christians to judges raised up in the Church. As the wisdom of the Christian judges is recognised, unbelievers will start to bring their disputes to them as well.
When Christians have disputes with unbelievers, they will mostly “turn the other cheek” or settle before they get to
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well (Matt 5:39,40).
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison (Matt 5:25).
Christians will only need judges in rare situations, so they will not have much use for the worldly system of justice. As more and more people become Christians, the worlds judicial system will become redundant. Eventually most of the legal disputes will be handled by Christian judges. The worlds system will wither away and die as the Kingdom of God expands.