christine's bible study

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. Isa 40:8

deuteronomy 16:18-17:7, judging with just judgment

Read Deuteronomy 16:18-17:7 at Bible Gateway.

Previously: deuteronomy 16:18-18:22, honor your father and mother

(Please review the teaching tools of scripture, especially the Hebrew paragraph divisions and chiastic structures. The paragraphs marked by an “s” at their close are weak paragraphs, which indicate a change of facet but not a change of theme or topic. The paragraphs marked by a “p” at their close are strong paragraphs, which indicate the completion of a theme or topic. The paragraph divisions reveal the chiastic structures: narratives which zero in on the main point of the narrative at its center, like a bull’s eye at the center of a target. The main point is revealed, because the narrative elements before the main point (or central axis) are repeated after the central axis, in reverse order, while the central axis itself is not repeated.)

This section, Deu 16:18-17:7, is the first section explaining the fifth commandment, Honor your father and mother. (The fifth commandment is explained in Deu 16:18-18:22, and this is my summary of it.) These are the Hebrew paragraph divisions:

Deu 16:18-20 {s} Injustice is detestable to YHVH
Deu 16:21-22 {s} Idolatrous groves and pillars are detestable to YHVH
Deu 17:1 {s} Blemished sacrifices are detestable to YHVH
Deu 17:2-7 {p} Idolaters are detestable to YHVH

At first glance it seems we have left the topic of Honor God’s authority (honor your father and mother), and are back on You shall not worship idols.

But the first weak paragraph of the section is setting the stage: You shall appoint judges in all your gates (in all your cities), and they shall judge the people with just judgment. God as the ultimate authority has the responsibility to say, this is righteous, do it; this is wicked, do not do it. God has established consequences for wickedness in His word, and it is not because He enjoys meting out punishment. It is to discourage the practice of something that will harm self and others. To promote blessing, and prevent harm – we learned that is the purpose of delegated authority among men.

So judges are entrusted with delegated authority from God. Immediately when they are given their authority, they are given responsibilities and boundaries. As a delegated authority, they cannot do whatever they want. They must judge with just judgment – essentially, their largest responsibility is to agree with God on what is right and wrong, for He the author of justice, and all His judgments are just. They have boundaries: they may not twist justice; they may not favor the wealthy, famous, or powerful over the poor, downtrodden, or weak. They may not accept a gift in order to change their judgment.

But then the section seems to veer off topic and begins again with idolatry. The puzzle helps us to see, when we look at it more closely, that this strong paragraph teaching an overarching theme in fact forms a chiastic structure:

Deu 16:18-17:7 s+s+s+p
1a) Deu 16:18-20 s, Responsibilities and boundaries of judges;
1b) Deu 16:21-22 s, Idolatrous groves and pillars are detestable to YHVH;
central axis) Deu 17:1 s, The blemished sacrifice is detestable to YHVH;
2b) Deu 17:2-3, Idolatry is detestable to YHVH;
2a) Deu 17:40-7 p, Responsibilities and boundaries of judges.

The wielding of a judges’ authority and the execution of justice, is taught by example. The judge has the responsibility to agree with YHVH on what is right and wrong. Idolatry is detestable, even if the judge isn’t revolted by it, he has to accept that YHVH is and act accordingly (groves of trees, and pillars, we learned, were used by ancient peoples in the worship of the pagan gods; this is the culture and worldview surrounding Israel, which they were to be distinct from). The judge cannot be swayed from enacting justice, by his own personal feelings, influential people, bribes, or any other thing. The front side of the structure teaches us this.

The back side teaches us how a judge is to proceed when he hears of an injustice or a crime. He must 1) not only rely on hear say, but he must search and inquire diligently. The standards for determining truth must be implemented and followed to their full conclusion in every case. If witnesses are used, there is a standard for determining the truth of the witnesses. In matters of life and death, the judge cannot render judgment if there is only one witness. There must be more than one witness, and the witnesses must agree.

When the truth of the matter has been determined, then 2) the judge must implement the sentence called for by the crime (whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death, Deu 17:6). If truth has been followed to its full conclusion, justice still has not been served if the perpetrator does not receive the sentence for his crime.

Justice has a bad reputation as the opposite of mercy. But justice is the exercise of mercy. When a murderer receives the just sentence for his crime, future victims receive mercy and the opportunity to live in peace. Justice protects society from the increase of wickedness, which always harms the innocent and vulnerable (that is why it is wicked).

Continued: deuteronomy 17:8-13, national authority


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