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©Michael Player

Chapter 16:18-17:13 (ESV)

Posted on March 06, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 16:18-17:13 (ESV) - “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

“You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the LORD your God that you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar, which the LORD your God hates.

“You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.

“If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

“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. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left. The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the LORD your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear and not act presumptuously again.

Question to consider: Why do you think Moses established local councils to administer justice in the land?

The world believes that people are basically good and that their bad deeds are the result of a legacy of ignorance passed down from previous generations. Because of this, they believe that people can be redeemed through a proper education and a social safety net that keeps people from committing crimes due to their ignorance and poverty. Modern experts will add to this idea that most of the world has been oppressed by those in power and so their actions and circumstances are the result of systemic problems that cause unequal outcomes due to generations of bigotry. 

Moses, however, understood people to be inherently sinful creatures who rebel against the word of God and wish to live by their own moral code. Thus he instituted local ruling bodies who would settle disputes and enforce laws. His view of justice was that it should be impartial, and he would have rejected this notion of judging people based on their income level or circumstances. Everyone was to love the LORD their God by knowing and living according to the Law and teaching their children to do the same.

The reason for multiple judges in a town was to keep one another accountable. Today, justice seems to show partiality to the poor and disenfranchised. At the time of Moses, the temptation was to tip the scales of justice for the wealthy and powerful who could use their money to pervert justice through bribery. Having multiple judges made it significantly harder for people to get away with this. In addition to this panel of judges which would eventually be called the Sanhedrin (the Hebrew word for assembly or council), there needed to be multiple witnesses to a crime to determine guilt. This would keep people from being able to pervert justice with false testimony.

Should the path of justice be hindered within the local governing body, Moses declared that the Levites serving in the place God would choose would serve as the final authority. “The place that the LORD your God will choose” was of course Jerusalem, but we have to remember that this was before Israel had entered the land so Moses only understood that God would choose for Himself a place for the tabernacle to rest. Eventually, the tabernacle itself would be replaced by a temple built with stone which the people believed would be permanent.

We live in a society that values freedom of religion as a fundamental right. The problem that arises for us is that all religions seem to contradict one another in values and practices, and so there is a constant battle for power in order to establish the “perfect” set of laws, even among those who profess to have no religion at all. Ancient Israel was ruled by God, and the judges and priests were considered the wisest and most respected among the people, for they were the ones who were experts in the Law. Because of this, how one worshiped was every bit as important as how one carried out justice and so anyone who would introduce strange worship practices was to be purged from the land. 


Lord, keep this nation under Your care.  Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth.  Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders to contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare and to serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen. (a prayer from R. Lee Hagen)