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After telling Israel to appoint judges and writers, or recorders, Moses tells us the kind of judges that they were to elect.
18 … they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
To distort justice means to stretch or bend justice. The Hebrew word for distort is natah, which is used also to “bend” a bow. We often use this metaphor in English and see it often on television crime shows, where even the “good” lawyers or police will bend the law in order to entrap “criminals.” Such programs are teaching the public that it is a good thing to bend the law if it serves a good purpose. But God does not approve of this. One cannot sin that grace may abound, nor is it a righteous deed to bend the law in the name of justice.
Neither is a judge to be partial in his judgment. More is said of this in Exodus 23:1-9, where a judge was not to be swayed by popular opinion (vs. 2), or by a guilty man’s poverty (vs. 3), or to refuse to take up the cause of the oppressed (vs. 4-6), or take a bribe (vs. 8), or oppress aliens (non-Israelites) by refusing them equal justice (vs. 9).
The judges were to judge according to God’s law and to represent God on the earth in dispensing this judgment according to His heart and mind. In fact, we read of God’s justice and character in a previous speech in Deuteronomy 10:17-19,
17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. 18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. 19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
In other words, the judges were to put on the mind of Christ and to judge the people as God would judge them. God does not show partiality, so neither should the judges. God takes no bribes, so neither should the judges. God “shows His love for the alien,” and hence the judges ought to do the same. God has no double standards in His law. The law applies to all men equally, for God is not schizophrenic.
Many people mistakenly believe that the law was meant for Israelites or Jews only. Such thinking makes God partial. Many Dispensationalists of the past century put Jews in a separate category and elevated them as “chosen” above others. Many even went so far as to say that Jews are saved by following the law, while “gentiles” are saved by faith in Christ. Such thinking destroys the entire basis of the law, for it does not represent the mind of God as seen in Jesus Christ.
When Jesus ministered on earth, He often angered the scribes and astounded the disciples by His impartial treatment of aliens. Peter was even more astounded by this revelation in Acts 10, as he himself testified in verses 34 and 35,
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, 35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.
Though Peter himself made this testimony, he did not write of it in his epistles, perhaps because it was still such a volatile issue in his day. Peter’s reluctance is seen in Galatians 2:11-14, when Paul confronted Peter’s hypocrisy in this matter. We are instead indebted to Luke, who recorded Peter’s early revelation and testimony in order to undermine the credibility of the Judaizers who objected to Paul’s gospel and his mission to the nations.
This entire question of impartiality brings up the question of the “chosen people.” What does it mean to be chosen? Does this establish partiality in the law? In my view, there is indeed a chosen people, but if we define this in a way that establishes partiality, then we have misunderstood the mind of God. To be chosen is to be called by God and empowered to do a particular mission. We see many prophets chosen by God to preach the word. Their callings were exclusive in the sense that not everyone was called to be a prophet. We see Moses called to lead Israel, and when Korah questioned Moses’ calling, God showed His displeasure in Numbers 16.
The term “chosen” is explained in the New Testament under the term “elect” or “election,” such as we see in Romans 11:5-7. There Paul limits the elect to just 7,000 out of the entire nation of Israel. Israel was called as a whole, but only a remnant of them were actually “chosen,” Paul says. Their chosen status was proven by their faith, not by their genealogy. Paul says in verse 7 that “those who were chosen obtained it [the promise], and the rest were hardened.”
In other words, Korah, a Levite, was not chosen to rule. Neither were Dathan and Abiram, sons of Reuben, who joined Korah in objecting to Moses’ leadership. They could not appeal to their genealogical descent from Abraham or from Jacob-Israel as grounds for being “chosen,” for their status was revealed by their lack of faith and their “hardened,” unrepentant condition. God has always looked for faith. He did not change His definition of “chosen” under the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant the Holy Spirit corrected the misconceptions that the people believed after being taught the traditions of men for so many years.
Paul’s point in Romans 11 was to show that faith was an impartial requirement for all men to come into a covenant relationship with God through Christ. It does no one any good to have good genes if they have no faith, for good genes will not place any man in a covenant relationship with God. Their genes (and citizenship in Israel) merely put them in an advantageous location where the word of God could be found. That in itself gave them a tremendous advantage, but in no way did it assure them of a personal relationship with God. Their genealogy and citizenship among the tribes could not serve as a faith substitute.
Ultimately, the genealogical promise to Abraham was the promise that the Messiah would come from his lineage, particularly through his grandson Judah, and more particularly through Judah’s descendant, King David. All others of that lineage were not chosen to bring forth the Messiah.
In that sense, lineage had an exclusive promise. But once again we see that this promise was based upon faith, not upon genealogy alone, for even David’s seven brothers were excluded from that promise. As individuals, however, we are all chosen if we are Christ’s children and sons of God. But because Christ died childless, we must raise up seed unto our elder brother as the law commands in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Christ is conceived in you by the Holy Spirit, and that holy seed within you is not only the real YOU, but is also Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). You are, as it were, the biological mother of that holy child, but you are raising up seed unto your elder Brother, Jesus Christ, and so by law the child is His.
If the law had been taught to the church properly over the past centuries, they would have known this. This understanding may then have prevented misunderstanding the basis and nature of being “chosen.” The law of impartiality would have prevented men from thinking that God favored a certain lineage above others (apart from the lineage that would lead to the birth of Jesus Christ Himself). Understanding the law of impartiality would have prevented men from enslaving others and enriching themselves at the expense of others.
In other words, not understanding the law of impartiality has caused the church as a whole to put men into bondage, thinking that the principle of Jubilee applied only to them in a partial manner. Hence, the church did not reflect the mind of Christ, and few were able to manifest the character of Christ to the world. Evangelism was greatly hindered, and so the church often adopted the principle of conversion by conquest and by slavery. This, I believe, God found abhorrent.
Deuteronomy 16:20 says, “Justice and only justice, you shall pursue.” The Hebrew text reads tsedeq tsedeq, “justice, justice,” or perfect justice you shall pursue. Without impartiality, such perfect justice is not possible. The judges were to condemn the guilty and acquit (give grace to) the innocent. Grace is built into true justice, for it means favor and refers to the favorable ruling given to the innocent party.
But what about mercy? What about forgiveness? These are not the prerogative of the judges. The right to show mercy is given to the victim, not the judge. The right to forgive all or part of the debt is given only to the victim. The judge is admonished to seek perfect justice. After that, the victim can use his discretion and be led by the Spirit to forgive or to hold the sinner accountable. If truly led by the Spirit, the victim will discern the mind of Christ in every matter, for there would be times when a sinner (like a child) should be held accountable in order to train him in righteousness. At other times, the sinner ought to be forgiven entirely. God gives this discretion to the victim of crime, not to the judge.