Local judges applying his law is God’s ideal government.
God has provided perfect law. Our challenge
is to apply it to the various situations that arise in modern society.
The best people to do this task will be wise and godly judges. Good
judges are all that we need in addition to the law.
The system of law and judges was introduced by Moses and it worked
effectively. It has never been set aside or replaced with anything
better. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people, the system
should function even better as the judges are anointed with the gift of
Christians often assume that judging ceased at the end of the book of
Judges, but that is not true. Judges existed right through the Old
Testament period. The role of the judge did not disappear when the kings
became permanent military leaders. 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
19:4,5). 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 7:25).
Kings came and went and prophets were missing for long periods of
time, but God ensured that Israel always had judges to interpret the
law. The ministry of the judge was never 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 faithfulness.
The best judges were raised up by God. 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 a citizen.
After the return from Israel, Ezra the priest appointed judges to
administer justice. This was not a normal situation either. Religious
leaders should not take responsibility for appointing judges.
In the ideal situation, judges will not need to be appointed. They
will emerge in their local communities, as people start going to them to
for guidance about difficult disputes. When a person’s wisdom is
widely recognised, other people may start referring to them as a judge.
The title is just recognition of what they are already doing (for more
on this topic see Emerging Judges).
Moses and Judges
The first judges in Israel were not appointed. At first the people
started took all their disputes to Moses, because they had misunderstood
his calling. God established Moses as a prophet, He spoke the law
through Moses, because his prophetic calling made him skilled at hearing
the voice of God. Part of this prophetic calling was to teach the
meaning of the law to the people, but God did not appoint Moses to the
role of the judge.
The people assumed that the person who had received the law would be
the best person to settle disputes. Moses made the same mistake and
assumed that God wanted appointed him to be a judge, as well as a
prophet and military leader. The truth was that God had not appointed
him to be a judge.
Moses needed a wake up call because he had misunderstood God’s plan
for judges. The challenge came from his father-in-law (Ex 18). Jethro
was a Midianite, so he did not understand the scope of Moses’ calling,
but he could see that something was dreadfully wrong. Moses was becoming
exhausted by the huge responsibility of hearing every dispute for the
entire nation. Exhaustion is often a sign that a person has taken on a
ministry that God has not given them. Jethro did not understand this
principle, but he could see the symptoms, so he challenged his Moses.
The Bible is very precise about what Moses did in response to this
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).
The word commander is a military term. 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 towards the promised land. He
took wise and respected tribal leaders and made the commanders over the
tens, hundreds and thousands.
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. The people 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
Moses gave these judges a challenge and freed them to get on with the
task of judging. This approach worked, because God has put the judges in
place. They were effective judges once they were allowed to do the job.
If Moses had appointed the judges, their freedom would have been
These earliest judges functioned in a tribal environment. They would
start off as leaders in their families and sub-tribes. The wisest of
local leaders would become judges. The best would rise to be appeal
judges for their entire tribe.
The same principle should apply in modern societies. Wise people
should rise up in their local communities as their wisdom in resolving
disputes is recognised. When their wisdom is acknowledged throughout a
broader community, they have become a judge. Judge are not appointed,
they are honoured.
The important innovation that Moses made was to introduce performance
standards to role of judging. This standard gave the people the freedom
to take their cases to the judges with the greatest wisdom. This
standard ensured that the best judges would be recognised and widely
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 lose their role as judge.
Character of Judges
Good judges will have good character. They will be impartial and
honest. Moses challenged the judges with the following words.
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. Good judges will 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 against 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 either. This is still a temptation for
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).
Good judges must remember that they are not judging for themselves,
but are acting on behalf of God. They should fear the Lord and judge
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.
Modern day judges are trained academically. They learn about legal
interpretation and the principle of precedence. These things are
important, but they know very little about God’s law. This is a recipe
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 wise judges.
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. Not many people were
filled with the Spirit, so only a few 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.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:2-4)
To function effectively, human judges also need to be full of the
same Spirit. We need judges who have the spirit of wisdom and
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, as he can work through anointed judges.
When anointed judges apply God’s law in the power of the spirit,
peace will return to the earth.
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. It will bring great blessing to earth.
When King Solomon’s settled the dispute over a live baby between
two prostitutes, he showed the benefit of the gift of wisdom.
When all Israel heard the verdict (mishpat) the king had given, they
held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to
administer justice (mishpat) (1 Kings 3:28).
The gift of wisdom is essential for administering justice.
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
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 God’s law is that a person can only be
convicted of a crime on the evidence of at least two independent
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 any 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 naked in front of them, without falling into lust along the way.
Lust was the same as adultery according to Jesus moral standard (Matt
5:28). However, lust is not a crime, because it is hidden from witnesses
in the human mind, but it is sufficient to disqualify a witness to
The requirement for several witnesses will drive most relationship
sins underground. Convicting a person of a crime committed in private
will be almost impossible, as there will be no independent witnesses.
Most of the people present when a crime is committed in private will
have been participating in the crime, so they are not allowable
Unless a crime is committed in public, it is unlikely that there will
be three independent witnesses required for a conviction. Most people
who choose to commit a sin like adultery will also make sure they only
act in private, so there are no witnesses to testify against them. If
they are wise and keep these aspects of their lives private, judges will
not be able to touch them. This law will be to push illegal sexual
activity out of public view into private places where it belongs. The
rest of the society will be shielded from it.
Protecting the Innocent
The requirement for multiple witnesses will ensure that only the
guilty are convicted. God’s law gives priority to ensuring that
innocent people are not convicted. The price of this principle is that
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 that 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).
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.
For tough cases, an appeal judge might invite other widely respected
judges to hear the case with him. This will improve the quality of his
decision and strengthen the sense of justice. A case decided by several
wise judges would be more likely to be accepted.
For really difficult cases judges might call in people with spiritual
discernment or prophetic insight.
If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to
judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place
the LORD your God will choose. Go to the priests, who are Levites, and
to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they
will give you the verdict (Deut 17:8,9).
Following the work of the cross, there are no priests or Levites as
such, but every society should have men and women of God with the “gift
of discernment” or “wisdom of God to administer justice” who can
assist judges with good advice.
God is our final judge. Any mistakes that are made by human judges on
earth will eventually corrected when we stand before the perfect judge
at the end of the age. This is the ultimate court of appeal. All
mistakes will be corrected by this supreme court.
An important aspect of voluntary justice is that either party to a
decision made by a local judge is free to appeal their case to another
judge, if they think the decision is unfair. An appeal would normally be
taken by the loser of a case. The winner of case would often agree to an
appeal, if the judge had been unable to make a decsion that is obviouly
correct. If the winner is confident that their case is just, they would
be willing to go to appeal in order to put it beyond the shadow of
An appeal would need to have reasonable grounds to get consideration
by a good judge. If the decision was obviously correct, no wise judge
would be willing to hear an appeal. The best judges would want to
protect their reputation, so they would avoid frivolous cases. This
would prevent people from shopping around to find a judge who would give
them the decision they wanted.
The appeal process will expose unwise judges. If people do not like
the decision that a judge has made, they will appeal to another judge to
hear their case. If a judge is constantly having decisions overturned by
another judge, people will stop going to them and they will cease to be
The initial appeal would be to another judge in the same town. The
advantage of multiple judges is that there would be other judges who
could re-hear the case. For serious issues, an appeal could be made to a
judge in a larger city, who might be experienced at dealing with this
type of case.
If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide
and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault
and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you,
then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will
choose. (Deut 17:8).
Good judges would not make decisions that undermined justice, because
this would damage their reputation. People who may have experienced
injustice would be able to appeal to wise judges. People who are just
unwilling to submit to justice would not get their cases heard.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul affirms this system of government
by excellent judges applying God’s law. He supported this system by
urging all people to freely submit to excellent judges.
Submission to excellent judges means less skilled judges admitting
their mistakes and correcting them, when a more skilled judge points out
an error in a decision. As the system of judges develops, some of the
better judges will specialise in hearing appeals. Often several judges
may hear the appeal together.
Some judges might specialise in particular aspects. A local judge
might never get to deal with a complicated insurance case. Judges who
understand a particular apect of law might begin to specialise in that
Appealing to Moses
After Moses received the law, he acted as judge for all the people.
Once he understood his mistake, he released local judges to be judges.
They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult
cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided
themselves. (Exodus 18:25-27).
The local judges decided all the cases that were brought before them.
However the harder cases were appealed up to Moses. These appeals had an
educative effect. By watching his decisions, the judges would learn how
to decide cases in the future.
Moses was able to act as the highest court of appeal, because God had
given the law through him, so he understood it best. No one was
appointed to that role after he died. What would happen is that some
judges would get a reputation for understanding the law and making wise
decisions. People wanting justice wanting start appealing their case to
the best judges. Appeal judges would be raised up by their reputation
for good decisions.
Prophets and Judges
The prophets will have a role in exposing decisions that are unjust.
Micah challenged the judges of Jerusalem for accepting bribes.
Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her
prophets tell fortunes for money (Mic 3:11).
Jeremiah warned the judges for decisions that protect evil people and resisting
How can you say, "We are wise, for we have the law of the
LORD," when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it
falsely? The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and
trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what kind of
wisdom do they have?
From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and
priests alike, all practice deceit. Are they ashamed of their loathsome
conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to
blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down
when they are punished, says the LORD (Jer 8:8-12).
As the Kingdom of God expands, the need for judges should diminish.
When Christians have disputes with unbelievers, they will mostly “turn
the other cheek” or settle before they get to court.
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
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 should only use judges as a last resort after all other
possibilities for reconciliation are exhausted. Going to court is a
failure of love.
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been
completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather
be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this
to your brothers (1 Cor 6:7-8).
As more and more people become Christians, the role of judges will
diminish. If every member of a society is a Christian, judges would be
Under God’s law, judges do not have power to enforce their
verdicts. Their authority is limited to declaring a verdict and
specifying just restitution. Sometimes the guilty person will be
convicted by the Holy Spirit and agree to make the required restitution.
More often the family or community of the convicted person will pressure
them into accepting the judge’s verdict and paying the specified
penalty. The local people will exert this pressure, because they want
justice to prevail in their community. They will realise that in the
next case, they might be the victim and want justice to be enforced in
their favour. If the social pressure on the criminal is strong, the only
way to avoid paying restitution might be to leave their community.
However, that would also have a high cost.
Judges have is a moral authority that is given to them by their
community. This moral authority is given in two ways. It comes when
parties to a dispute submit a case to a judge. It is multiplied when the
local community honours the judge, by pressuring the parties to the
dispute to accept the verdict.
Reasonable actions by members of a local community to enforce a
judicial verdict will be immune from prosecution. For example, a
neighbour or employer who assists with the return of stolen goods would
not be charged with theft, even though they have taken something that
does not belong to them. A wise judge would not consider a charge of
theft against a person seizing stolen goods from thief, because they
would risk losing their reputation for wisdom, if they undermined
justice, by supporting the thief.
Sometimes leaders of the community might enforce the restitution. If
a group of elders and their friends arrived at the door of the thief’s
house, the thief would be hard pressed not to make restitution. If they
refused the leaders requests, they would be ostracised by the rest of
the community until they did pay what was owed. If they wanted to
continue participating in their community, they would have not choice to
give in and pay restitution.
Busy judges might employee people assist with enforcing their
decisions. These people would need to be wise and sensible and have a
high level of respect in their community. They have had experience at
getting repayment of debts without using force. If this person became
careless and gets into trouble, the judge would stop using them, and
find another person who is more sensible and careful.
That authority of judge is similar to that of an elder in a church.
They both have authority while people choose to submit to them. If
people who have submitted to an elder or a judge lose confidence in
their wisdom, they can walk away. Once they walk, the judge or elder are
powerless to do anything, so their authority is gone.