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The Divine Court is both earthly and heavenly at the same time, yet the earliest decision (against Adam and Eve) was rendered from heaven alone in Gen. 3:17-19. We see the decision from heaven again when God covenanted with Noah (Gen. 9:9). This decision, based purely upon the promise of God, was a provision of the New Covenant. The same can be said of the promise to Abraham in Gen. 17:2-4,
2 I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. 3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
Whenever God gives His word, it is recorded in the official records of the Divine Court as Truth, making it a certainty, because it does not depend upon the will of man. It can also be said that God creates truth by His word, for He “calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17). Existence itself is the result of His word, and when it manifests in the earth as a double witness, then it is confirmed (Deut. 19:15).
It seems that the Divine Court was brought to the earth in the time of Moses. This was done through the counsel of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who noticed that judging disputes was overwhelming Moses. We read in Exodus 18:21-24,
21 Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you… 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
We see, then, how Moses himself was the first judge in the first Divine Court judging the disputes among the Israelites. This was too impractical for such a large body of people, so he created four lower courts and judges over tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. This was in addition to the so-called “avenger of blood” (kinsman redeemer) who was responsible to resolve disputes within each family unit.
Years later, Moses was replaced by the Sanhedrin, a group of 70 rabbis who served collectively in the place of Moses (Matt. 23:2).
Moses himself served as an earthly type of Supreme Court Justice until he was replaced by the Messiah Himself. John 5:27 says,
27 and He [God] gave Him [Jesus] authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.
By this arrangement, lower court judges could appeal to the court above them if they did not know the law of God well enough to judge a case properly. Such appeals might go all the way to Moses, who too had the right to ask God for a ruling from heaven, such as we see in the case of the Second Passover in Num. 9:8,
8 Moses therefore said to them, “Wait, and I will listen to what the Lord will command concerning you.”
This was how God established the Divine Court on earth as it is in heaven. This also shows how important it was for Christ to come to earth and be born as the Son of Man. Being both the Son of God and the Son of Man essentially merged heaven and earth. At the close of Jesus’ ministry, He said in Matt. 28:18, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
He set the pattern for all of the sons of God who were to come after Him. Essentially, the sons of God were to function as judges under Christ, even as judges were appointed by Moses. Hence, Paul asked in 1 Cor. 6:2, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Paul expected the Corinthian church to have qualified judges in their midst to judge disputes among the believers. In other words, these saints should not have to wait until the second coming of Christ to begin their practice of law.
It seems that the early churches did not comprehend the laws of God well enough to develop a biblical court system. When they finally established church courts some centuries later, most of the leaders had lost much of the revelation of the laws of God. As the church grew more powerful, it became more and more corrupt, and when the bishop of Rome claimed to sit in Moses’ seat to judge the people, it hardly resembled the Divine Court in Moses’ day—or even as it should have developed under Christ.
In fact, the Roman bishop claimed only spiritual (heavenly) authority to determine who was a true believer and who was a “heretic.” The earthly authority was left to the Roman emperors, who were responsible mainly to threaten “heretics” into accepting the creeds established by the Church Councils and to execute them if necessary.
Beliefs are matters of the heart and can be judged by God alone. Earthly courts are designed to judge sin against neighbors. Hence, if an earthly court finds that someone has a wrong belief, that case should be considered to be too difficult for an earthly court to judge, and it ought to be referred to the Supreme Court (originally to Moses, now to Christ). But to burn so-called heretics at the stake is not only excessive punishment, it also oversteps the boundaries of earthly judges.
This brings us to another question. What would God do when there is a breakdown of the divine order?
The original Supreme Court, where Moses inquired of God, was in the tabernacle where God sat upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. (See Exodus 33:8-11.) Heb. 4:16 refers to the mercy seat as “the throne of grace.” When the Israelites worshiped the golden calf in Exodus 32, Moses was led to move the tent with the Ark and set up the Divine Court “outside the camp.” Exodus 33:7 says,
7 Now Moses used to take [laqah] the tent and pitch it outside the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp.
This strange practice came with no explanation, other than it occurred after the golden calf incident. The NASB (above) translates laqah as “used to take,” implying that Moses had done so from the beginning, but the KJV more accurately renders it “Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp.” I can find no justification for the NASB’s translation.
Hence, I believe the KJV is correct and that after the golden calf incident, Moses moved the Divine Court outside the camp. The reason for this is seen more clearly in the New Testament, where we read in Heb. 13:10-14,
10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.
The author of Hebrews was referring primarily to the requirement in Exodus 29:14,
14 But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.
This prophesied of the location where Jesus, our great Sin Offering, was to be crucified—burned, as it were, by the fiery law, “outside the camp” (i.e., outside the gates of Jerusalem). The prophetic significance of this, as we are told, was that we too must “go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
This appeal is the main theme of the book of Hebrews, telling us that we must leave Judaism, its temple, and its Old Covenant practices, because “here” in Jerusalem, “we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”
In other words, the earthly Jerusalem had become corrupt, worshiping the golden calf once again, so we are to seek God outside the camp, even as Moses set up the tabernacle outside the camp after the people worshiped the golden calf. To follow these instructions, of course, would surely bring “reproach” to the people of God, for most of their friends and relatives thought that this new practice was heretical. Should they not continue to worship God within the camp at the temple? Most people assumed that God’s presence and throne was in the Most Holy Place of the temple, and that there was no other place where men should or could approach God.
But seeking God outside the camp was fully established even in the days of Moses. Later, when the church itself became corrupt, the same principle applied equally to the church. In order to seek God, many have had to go outside their denominational camps in order to find God.
There were three main courts that developed during biblical times. The judges that were appointed over each tribe in Exodus 18:21, 22 were the elders in Israel, as these were the recognized heads of the families from the beginning. They were the kinsmen redeemers as well, charged with the responsibility of judging internal family disputes or, if the dispute involved other families, each kinsman redeemer was essentially the lawyer for his family member.
For this reason, Num. 11:16, 17 says of the 70 elders,
16 The Lord therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.”
As a result, we read in Num. 11:25,
25 … And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.
These seventy were gathered to bear the burden of Moses, and so the same Spirit came upon them and “they prophesied.” This appears to have been a one-time phenomenon, but yet it was a very Pentecostal event. The purpose of this baptism of the Spirit was to equip the 70 elders with the mind of Christ, so that they would know how to judge properly. It is not enough to know the law; one must also have the spiritual discernment to apply it by the mind of Christ.
There were two elders who stood out in this story, which are mentioned in Num. 11:26-30,
26 But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. 27 So a young man ran and told Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, “Moses, my lord, restrain them.” 29 But Moses said to them, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all of the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” 30 Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel.
The implication is that the prophecies of Eldad and Medad were not a one-time event. Hence, there is no statement that “they did not do it again,” as we see with the others. It seems that Eldad and Medad became permanent prophets among the people.
Further, we see from the story that the 70 were filled with the Spirit outside the camp, where they were “stationed … around the tent” (Num. 11:24), while Eldad and Medad prophesied “in the camp.” So the messenger had to run outside the camp where the tent of meeting had been set up. After these things, “Moses returned to the camp.”
We are not told the nature of their prophecy, but the Hebrew word naba means “to bubble up, to pour forth words abundantly.” Years later, when Saul prophesied in 1 Sam. 18:10, the NASB renders the word “raved.”
10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved [naba] in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual, and a spear was in Saul’s hand.
I see no justification for this translation, but no doubt the translators were trying to distinguish true prophecy from false ravings. Yet the word is the same, and so the KJV correctly says that Saul “prophesied.” One wonders, however, if Saul, as well as Eldad and Medad, spoke in tongues as examples of Old Testament Pentecostals.
If each tribe provided six elders, then the actual number of elders would be 12 x 6, or 72 elders. Seventy would be a rounded off number. It may be that the seventy gathered with Moses outside the camp, while the remaining two, Eldad and Medad, were number 71 and 72. The text itself leaves room for interpretation. Years later, the Sanhedrin, which followed this pattern, numbered 70, not including the Nasi, or president of the Council.
“There were two classes of Rabbinite Jewish courts which were called Sanhedrin, the Great Sanhedrin and the Lesser Sanhedrin. A lesser Sanhedrin of 23 judges was appointed to sit as a tribunal in each city, but there was only supposed to be one Great Sanhedrin of 71 judges, which among other roles acted as the Supreme Court, taking appeals from cases which were decided by lesser courts. In general usage, the Sanhedrin without qualifier normally refers to the Great Sanhedrin, which was presided over by the Nasi, who functioned as its head or representing president, and was a member of the court; the Av Beit Din or the chief of the court, who was second to the nasi; and 69 general members.”
The number 72 is half of 144. The book of Revelation speaks of the 144,000, which, in my view, is directly related to the original 72 elders. It seems that in the Melchizedek priesthood, there are 144,000 men (Rev. 7:4) and 144,000 women, “who have not been defiled among (meta) women” (Rev. 14:1, 4) for a total of 288,000. The pattern for this number is seen in the kingdom of David, who had 288,000 in his army (1 Chron. 27:1-15) and 288 in his choir (1 Chron. 25:7).
The point is that the seventy elders in the time of Moses established the seeds of government for the Kingdom under Moses. This number necessarily grew as the population increased.
When the Levitical priesthood was disqualified for its rejection of Christ, it was replaced by the Melchizedek priesthood of overcomers, of whom we read in Rev. 20:6, “they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” These are both “kings and priests” (Rev. 5:10, KJV), as these offices are reunited in the end.
There were three courts in Jesus’ day, whose origins can be traced back to the time of Moses. As we have shown, the Sanhedrin originated with the seventy elders who functioned as a type of Supreme Court and sat in Moses’ seat. Their greatest handicap was that they were not filled with the Spirit, and so their rulings were not prophetic and did not necessarily reflect the mind of God.
The Sanhedrin was also known as “the Council” (Luke 23:50). The Hebrew word for “council” is sode. Psalm 89:7 speaks of “the Council of the holy ones.” Jer. 23:18 asks, “Who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word?” In other words, the members of the Council are those who “hear His word” and can therefore speak (prophesy) the mind of Christ.
So also Ezekiel 13:9 says,
9 So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people…
Although men may be recognized by men as part of “the Council,” this does not necessarily mean that they are qualified in the sight of God. Such was the case in Jesus’ day, and the same principle holds true today. There are a few cases where it is necessary to convene a Council meeting, especially in cases that affect national or international matters. I have found that Council meetings consist of people in agreement with God and the angels. Their main function is to discern the mind of God, to come into agreement with Him, and then to bring the will of heaven into the earth by declaring in earth what they have heard from heaven.
There was also the throne of grace, which was the mercy seat covering the Ark of the Covenant. In Jesus’ day, the Ark was no longer present in the temple, for Jeremiah had hidden it and probably took it with him when he sailed to Spain and Ireland with the daughters of King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the Babylonian captivity. In Jesus’ day, a stone marked the spot in the Most Holy Place where the Ark should have rested.
In his description of the Day of Atonement, Alfred Edersheim tells us,
“In the first temple the ark of God had stood there with the mercy-seat overshadowing it; above it, the visible presence of Jehovah in the cloud of the Shekinah, and on either side the outspread wings of the cherubim; and the high priest had placed the censer between the staves of the ark. But in the Temple of Herod there was neither Shechinah nor ark—all was empty; and the high priest rested his censer on a large stone, called the ‘foundation stone’.” (The Temple, p. 314)
In that we worship at a temple not made of material things but of “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5), we no longer require a physical temple in Jerusalem, nor even the Ark of the Covenant. We inquire of Jesus, the living Ark, not a piece of sacred—but dead—furniture. He is our Foundation Stone, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 3:11,
11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
The throne of grace on the mercy seat is also mentioned in James 2:13, saying,
13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs [katakauchaomai] over judgment.
This is a refence to the mercy seat which stood over the tablets of the law. The long Greek word means “to exult over, to be positioned over, take precedence.” Perhaps James was using a common expression in his day showing how the mercy of God took precedence over the judgment of the law.
Hence, Heb. 4:16 says,
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.
The throne of grace is equated with mercy and grace that is pictured in the mercy seat. We all have equal access to the throne of grace.
In Jesus’ day, there was a court situated outside the walls of Jerusalem in a priestly community called Bethphage (Matt. 21:1). This court was located outside the eastern gate at the base of the Mount of Olives, where a small community of priests resided. These priests oversaw the ashes of the red heifer and the cistern of water, by which men could be purified as they entered the city. It was also the place where Jesus was crucified after the sentence of the Sanhedrin was ratified by this court.
Even as the Sanhedrin had failed to receive the Holy Spirit, so also the priests at Bethphage failed to discern that Jesus had been falsely accused. The Divine Court outside the camp at Bethphage had been corrupted by the traditions of men. Nonetheless, it served as the third Divine Court according to the pattern of Moses in Exodus 33:7, and for this reason it was situated outside the gates of the city—or “outside the camp.”
Most of the cases that I have seen are decided in the Divine Court, by which I refer to this court that is set up outside the camp. Most of the time, as the biblical pattern shows, this is made up of those who function outside of the church system, although the pattern of Eldad and Medad suggest that those who remain in various church denominations may also participate. The main requirement is that they function under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
These are the three main divisions of the Divine Court, each having its own character and each dealing with different issues.