Saturday, January 26, 2008

History of Government (6) - Judges

Moses brought about another important innovation in government. He established a system of honest judges to apply God’s law. Previously all disputes had been settled by tribal leaders.

In the wilderness, responsibility for hearing all cases fell to Moses, as he was the wisest leader. He was challenged by his father-in-law Jethro, who could see that Moses would be exhausted, if he continued with this huge responsibility. Moses needed a wake up call because he had missed God’s purpose (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 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 then took wise and respected tribal leaders and made the commanders over the tens, hundreds and thousands. The word commander is a military term.

These military commanders were the wisest people in their families and tribes, so they also served as 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 (Ex 18:26).
The important innovation that Moses made was to introduce performance standards for 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, 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.

The 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.

This aspect of God’s government has never been revoked. The heart of godly government is wise judges applying God’s law.

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