18.Judges and officers shalt thou make. I have placed this passage among the Supplements of the Fifth Commandment, for, if it pleases God that judges should be appointed for ruling the people, it follows that their laws and edicts should be obeyed; and thus the parental authority extends also to them. But, in order that the people may more readily submit themselves to judges, God reminds them that the human race could not otherwise be preserved. Public utility, therefore, renders the authority of magistrates pleasant and agreeable, though it would else be hateful. But, although it be not conceded to all to elect their judges, because God honored His chosen people with this prerogative, still he here recommends in general a regular government, since He signifies that human society cannot hold together unless the lawful rulers have authority to execute justice. Whether, then, magistrates are appointed by the suffrages of the people, or imposed in any other way, let us learn that they are the necessary ministers of God, to confine all men under the yoke of the laws. The latter passage, which I have annexed from Deu_7:0, refers to the same thing, viz., that even in war discipline is necessary, lest all things should be thrown into confusion. Now, if it pleases God that certain superior officers should have the command, it follows that they must be obeyed; for it would be ridiculous to appoint governors, if it were lawful to despise them with impunity. When, therefore, God sets military commanders over the people, He enforces the duty of humble submission.
Judges and officers shalt thou make – Judges, שפטים shophetim, among the Hebrews, were probably the same as our magistrates or justices of the peace. Officers, שטרים shoterim, seem to have been the same as our inquest sergeants, beadles, etc., whose office it was to go into the houses, shops, etc., and examine weights, measures, and the civil conduct of the people. When they found any thing amiss, they brought the person offending before the magistrate, and he was punished by the officer on the spot. They seem also to have acted as heralds in the army, Deu_20:5. See also Rab. Maimon in Sanhedrin. In China, for all minor offenses, the person when found guilty is punished on the spot, in the presence of the magistrate or mandarin of justice.
Keil and Delitzsch
Appointment and Instruction of the Judges. – Deu_16:18. “Judges and officers thou shalt appoint thee in all thy gates (place, see at Exo_20:10), which Jehovah thy God shall give thee, according to thy tribes.” The nation is addressed as a whole, and directed to appoint for itself judges and officers, i.e., to choose them, and have them appointed by its rulers, just as was done at Sinai, where the people chose the judges, and Moses inducted into office the persons so chosen (cf. Deu_1:12-18). That the same course was to be adopted in future, is evident from the expression, “throughout thy tribes,” i.e., according to thy tribes, which points back to Deu_1:13. Election by majorities was unknown to the Mosaic law. The shoterim, officers (lit., writers, see at Exo_5:6), who were associated with the judges, according to Deu_1:15, even under the previous arrangement, were not merely messengers and servants of the courts, but secretaries and advisers of the judges, who derived their title from the fact that they had to draw up and keep the genealogical lists, and who are mentioned as already existing in Egypt as overseers of the people and of their work (see at Exo_5:6; and for the different opinions concerning their official position, see Selden, de Synedriis, i. pp. 342-3). The new features, which Moses introduces here, consist simply in the fact that every place was to have its own judges and officers, whereas hitherto they had only been appointed for the larger and smaller divisions of the nation, according to their genealogical organization. Moses lays down no rule as to the number of judges and shoterim to be appointed in each place, because this would depend upon the number of the inhabitants; and the existing arrangement of judges over tens, hundreds, etc. (Exo_18:21), would still furnish the necessary standard. The statements made by Josephus and the Rabbins with regard to the number of judges in each place are contradictory, or at all events are founded upon the circumstances of much later times (see my Archäologie, ii. pp. 257-8). – These judges were to judge the people with just judgment. The admonition in Deu_16:19 corresponds to the instructions in Exo_23:6 and Exo_23:8. “Respect persons:” as in Deu_1:17. To this there is added, in Deu_16:20, an emphatic admonition to strive zealously to maintain justice. The repetition of the word justice is emphatic: justice, and nothing but justice, as in Gen_14:10, etc. But in order to give the people and the judges appointed by them a brief practical admonition, as to the things they were more especially to observe in their administration of justice, Moses notices by way of example a few crimes that were deserving of punishment (Deu_16:21, Deu_16:22, and Deu_17:1), and then proceeds in Deu_17:2-7 to describe more fully the judicial proceedings in the case of idolaters.
Magistrates, (magistros,) “masters;” people learned in the law, who may assist the judges with their counsel in any emergency. Hebrew shotrim, “officers, heralds, lictors,” &c., chap. i. 15. (Haydock) — Bonfrere (in Exodus xviii. 25,) thinks that these were the judges set over each tribe, or else the assessors of the judges. (Menochius) — The Rabbins mention three tribunals of the Jews: 1. The Sanhedrim, consisting of seventy judges, with a prince at the head of them; 2. the twenty-three judges, who resided in considerable cities; 3. the tribunal of three judges, who administered justice in the villages, which had not above 120 inhabitants. But Josephus ([Antiquities?] iv. last chapter.) only mentions, that Moses established in each city seven judges, who had each two officers of the tribe of Levi. — Gates, where the judges sat.
Vers. 18-20. Moses had at an earlier period appointed judges to settle disputes among the people, and had given instructions to them for the discharge of their duty. (Ex 18; Deu_1:12-18) Whilst the people were in the wilderness, united as one body and under the leadership of Moses, this arrangement was sufficient; but a more extended arrangement would be required when they came to be settled in Canaan and dispersed in towns and villages over the whole land. In prospect of this, Moses here enacts that judges and officers were to be appointed by the people in all their gates, in all their places of residence, which the Lord should give them.
Judges and officers. The “officers” (shoterim, writers) associated with the judges both in the earlier arrangements and in that which was to succeed were secretaries and clerks of court, and acted also as assessors and advisers of the judges. No instruction is given as to the number of judges and officers, or as to the mode of appointing them; nor was this necessary. The former would be determined by the size and population of the place where they were appointed, and the latter would, as a matter of course, follow the method instituted by Moses in the earlier arrangement. (see Deu_1:13-15; Exo_18:21-26)
Vers. 18-21. Model judges.
I JUDGES OCCUPY A HIGH AND RESPONSIBLE POSITION.
1. They are necessary. They require to be set up “in all thy gates… throughout thy tribes.
2. They represent God. (Deu_1:17) They are called “gods”. (Psa_82:1) They are clothed with a portion of God”s authority. (Rom_13:1)
1. They are set to uphold the sacred interests of justice.
2. They may, by wresting judgment, or by hasty and wrong decisions, inflict irremediable injury on the innocent.
3. The right discharge of their functions conduces in the highest degree to the stability, happiness, and material prosperity of society.
II JUDGES ARE REQUIRED TO EXECUTE JUST JUDGMENT.
1. They are not to be swayed by private partialities political, social, ecclesiastical.
2. They are not to make distinctions between rich and poor, i.e. “respect persons.
3. They are not to accept bribes.
4. They are, as administrators of a justice which is impersonal, to judge in every case according to absolute right. J.O.
Vers. 18-20. Impartial judges.
We have here the election of judges or magistrates laid down as a duty. In the election they are to secure impartial and incorruptible men. A bribe is not to be thought of by the judges nor are they to respect persons. And here let us notice
I THAT ALL JUDGMENT AMONG MEN IS THE FORESHADOWING OF A DIVINE JUDGMENT AT THE LAST. We live under a moral Governor who has not yet delivered final judgment upon his creatures. That final review of life is naturally expected from the imperfect justice of the world. Men in their judgments can at best only approximate to what will be the Divine decision.
II GOD DEMANDS IMPARTIAL JUDGES FROM HIS PEOPLE BECAUSE HE IS THE IMPARTIAL JUDGE HIMSELF. The impartiality of God”s administration will be vindicated at last. All seeming violations of the principle will be exhibited in their true light. For instance, God”s plan of salvation is the very essence of impartiality, since it proposes to save men without regard to any personal consideration, as a matter of free grace alone. Whosoever takes exception to this is taking exception to the Divine impartiality.
Again, in providence we shall doubtless find that, by a series of compensations and of drawbacks, each person”s lot in life is impartially and graciously ordered. The favorites of fortune” find some drop of bitterness in their cup, and the sweetness is more apparent than real.
III MEN NEED NOT TRY TO BRIBE GOD, HOWEVER THEY MAY SUCCEED WITH MEN. For although this may seem a strong way of putting it, it is nevertheless the attempt that sinners thoughtlessly make. For instance, when an anxious soul thinks that a certain amount of conviction of sin, a certain amount of penitence, a certain amount of frames and feelings, will secure acceptance and peace, he is proposing to bribe God. It is as if an insane person tried to corrupt a judge on the bench by the present of a bundle of rags our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” God will take no bribe. He will accept no man”s person. Unless we give up the idea of personal claim and personal fitness for his reception of us, we cannot be accepted.
IV WE MAY EXPECT AN IMPARTIAL JUDGMENT AT THE LAST. It is Jesus who is to sit on the throne when the appeal cases from the injustice of earth to the justice of heaven are heard. He knows our cases so thoroughly that he cannot, as he would not, err. All wrongs shall then be righted; all unfair advantage taken shall then be condemned. “Behold, the judge standeth at the door” Let us see to it that we learn of him impartiality, and men shall regard us as truly Godlike in our dealings with them! R.M.E.
Vers. 18-22. The administration of justice.
True religion is related to true morality as the parent is related to the child. God cares as much that right dispositions should prevail between man and man as between man and God. By an eternal decree, religion and morality have been conjoined, and no man can put them asunder. He that loves God will love his brother also.
I THE ADMINISTRATION OF SOCIAL JUSTICE IS ENTRUSTED TO IMPERFECT MEN. The laws of the Jews were framed in heaven, and were conveyed to men by the mediation of angels, but the administration and execution of these laws were imposed on men selected from among themselves. What men cannot do God will do for them; what men can do for themselves, God requires them to accomplish. This administration of Divine Law by men was a magnificent training for higher once. In the best sense, God desires that men “should be as gods.” By handling the affairs of justice, they would best grow in the understanding of the Divine government.
II EVERY TOWN WAS A TYPE OF THE WHOLE KINGDOM. Magistrates were to be appointed in every community, who should be kings in their sphere of jurisdiction. Such magistrates were the people”s choice, and thus they were initiated into the art of self-government. Justice well administered in every town would secure the order and well-being of the nation. The burden of governing the whole nation would thus be reduced to a thousand infinitesimal burdens each one easily to be borne. Duty well done in every individual sphere would make the world happy and prosperous.
III THE SACRED INTERESTS OF JUSTICE OUTWEIGH ALL PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS. Gifts from friends are not to be despised; but if they have the feeblest tendency to weaken our sense of right or to bring discredit on public justice, they must be declined. If a man accepts the office of a ruler, he must be prepared to forego many private advantages and pleasures. He is the steward of public interests the servant of justice. He is no longer his own master. Personal friendships must be forgotten in the judicial court. No regard must be had to any other interest save the interest of righteousness. One thing the magistrate must do, and one only; he must be the mouthpiece of eternal righteousness. He may err, but he must be honest. Simple integrity of purpose is the chief qualification to rule. He who candidly desires to do right will be guided by an unerring hand.
IV THE CAUSE OF PUBLIC JUSTICE IS SERVED BY PUBLICITY. The administration of justice was to be in the gate in the place of public concourse. From the free conflict of public opinion sparks of truth will be elicited. So weak and vacillating is ofttimes human purpose, that the blaze of mortal eyes is needed to keep that purpose steadfast. This mode of administering justice had also a deterrent influence on the immature and the vile; it educated the public conscience.
V JUSTICE HONESTLY ADMINISTERED SECURES NATIONAL PROSPERITY. It is the lesson of universal history that official injustice loosens all the bonds of society, and brings a kingdom into utter ruin. Men will patiently tolerate many abuses of power, but the public abuse of justice quickly brings deadly retribution. On the other hand, an honest and prompt administration of righteous law is the seed of order, content, and mutual confidence. It gives a sense of security; it fosters patriotism; it develops courage; it brings the smile and benediction of God. D.
20.That which is altogether just By an emphatic repetition God inculcates that judges should study equity with inflexible constancy; nor is this done without cause, for nothing is more likely to happen than that men’s minds should be clouded by favor or hatred. Besides there are so many quibbles whereby justice is perverted, that, unless judges are very cautious in watching against deception, they will often find themselves ensnared.
That which is altogether just; literally, justice, justice. The repetition of the word is for the sake of emphasis, as in Gen_14:10, “pits, pits,” equal to full of pits.
A kind of theft is here condemned which is severely punished by the laws of Rome; for that every one’s property may be secure, it is necessary that the land-marks set up for the division of fields should remain untouched, as if they were sacred. He who fraudulently removes a landmark is already convicted by this very act, because he disturbs the lawful owner in his quiet possession of the land; whilst he who advances further the boundaries of his own land to his neighbor’s loss, doubles the crime by the deceptive concealment of his theft. Whence also we gather that not only are those thieves, who actually carry away their neighbor’s property, who take his money out of his chest, or who pillage his cellars and granaries, but also those who unjustly possess themselves of his land.
Landmarks, either which divided the tribes, or the inheritance of individuals. The former were strictly kept up till after the captivity. Those who removed the latter were to be scourged for theft, and again for disobeying this law. (Selden, Jur. vi. 3.) Josephus ([Antiquities?] iv. 8) understands that encroachments on the territories of others, which give rise to many wars, are hereby prohibited. (Calmet) — So are likewise innovations in religion. The Romans had a superstitious veneration for these landmarks, which they adored under the name of the god Terminus, (Haydock) crowning them with flowers, and offering cakes and sacrifices to them. Spargitur et cœso communis Terminus agno. (Ovid, Fast.) — They punished the crime of removing them either with death, banishment, or a fine.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old have set in thine inheritance — The state of Palestine in regard to enclosures is very much the same now as it has always been. Though gardens and vineyards are surrounded by dry-stone walls or hedges of prickly pear, the boundaries of arable fields are marked by nothing but by a little trench, a small cairn, or a single erect stone, placed at certain intervals. It is manifest that a dishonest person could easily fill the gutter with earth, or remove these stones a few feet without much risk of detection and so enlarge his own field by a stealthy encroachment on his neighbor’s. This law, then, was made to prevent such trespasses.
Vers. 15-21. To secure against injury to life or property through inadequate or false attestation, it is enacted that more than one witness must appear before anything can be established; and that, should a witness be found on trial to have testified falsely against his neighbor, he was to be punished by having done to him what he thought to have done to his neighbor. (cf. Deu_17:6; Num_35:30)
The rule in Deu_17:6, regarding accusations of idolatry, is here extended to accusations of every kind before a court of justice; a single witness was not to be admitted as sufficient to convict a man of any offence, either civil or criminal.
Vers. 15-21. Bulwark against perjury.
tongue is an unruly member, and cannot easily be restrained.” Private slander is base enough, but its basest utterance is when, in the sacred halls of justice, it swears away a man”s reputation or his life. It is doubtful if a deed so black is done in hell.
I PERJURY IS SO COMMON AS TO NECESSITATE A PUBLIC STIGMA ON HUMANITY. “One witness shall not rise up against a man.” If every man had been known as truthful, the testimony of one witness on any accusation would be ample. The narration of one eye-witness or earwitness ought to be enough. For a truthful man would always speak within the limits of truth, and would promptly express his doubt, if certainty could not be reached. But the common experience of humanity has been that the bulk of men will prevaricate and conceal the truth, even under the solemn sanction of an oath. Hence it has been found wise to condemn no man judicially, unless more than one witness can be found. Cumulative evidence is required to obtain a valid sentence. This can be interpreted in no other way than a public testimony to the depravity of man. The prisoner obtains the benefit.
II PERJURY IS A CRIME, TO BE TRIED IN THE HIGHEST COURT OF THE REALM. The accused and the accuser in such a case shall “stand before the Lord.” This is not so much a sin against man as a sin against God. The sacred person of Truth has been publicly violated, and the wisest and holiest in the land are commissioned by God to be the judges. As often as we violate the truth, we insult the God of truth, and stand before God for judgment. Hence it is of the first importance that we cultivate truthfulness in our thoughts and in our speech.
III IN PROPORTION TO THE GRAVITY OF THE CHARGE SHOULD BE THE THOROUGHNESS OF THE SCRUTINY. Although we may expect to know the will of God in any particular ease by laying our own minds open to the action of God”s Spirit, we are still bound to pursue the most diligent and thorough inquiry. God rewards, not the indolent, but the patient searcher after truth. He that does the truth will discover the truth. “God helps those who help themselves.
IV INTENDED MISCHIEF IS TREATED AS ACTUAL CRIME. The character and quality of a deed depend upon the moral intention. Whether the intention becomes an overt act will often depend upon outward opportunity and circumstance. But God sees the incipient motive and purpose; in his court, judgment passes upon the offender. Human courts are to be, as far as possible, copies of the court of heaven. Hence the perjured witness, who seeks to visit judicial penalties upon the head of the innocent, is himself as guilty as if his base project had succeeded. “Into the pit which he had digged for another he shall fall himself.” The gallows which Haman prepared for Mordecai, served for his own doom. This is God”s law of retribution.
V THE END SOUGHT IN THIS JUDICIAL EXECUTION IS THE PUBLIC GOOD. The sacrifice of one life is intended to bring advantage to the many. The moral effect is most precious, viz. regard for righteousness public abstinence from crime. Every man should be filled with this patriotic sentiment the higher virtue of the nation. We may do good in our circle, either intensively on the minds of a few, or extensively on the minds of the many. In doing good to others we do good to ourselves. “We are members one of another. D.
16.If a false witness rise up against any man. Because the fear of God does not so prevail in all men, as that they should voluntarily abstain from the love of slander, God here appoints the punishment to be inflicted for perjury: for political laws are enacted against the ungodly and disobedient, in order that those who despise God’s judgment should be brought before the tribunal of men. Although perjury is not here ordained to be tried before the judges, unless there should be an accuser, who should complain that he had been unjustly injured by false-witness, still reason dictates, that if any man have been condemned to death by false-witnesses, the judges should not hesitate to make an official inquiry into the matter. Yet, inasmuch as men are generally disposed to assert their own innocence, God has deemed it sufficient to put the case, that if any complaint should be lodged, the judges should diligently investigate it, and if the crime be proved, should inflict the punishment of retaliation (talionis.) Whence it appears that false-witnesses and murderers stand in the same light before God. By commanding that the inquiry should be made not only by the judges, but also by the priests, as if God Himself were present, He shews that He requires unusual diligence to be used; because a secret crime is not easily detected without the most anxious care.
The Punishment of a False Witness. – To secure life and property against false accusations, Moses lays down the law in Deu_19:15, that one witness only was not “to rise up against any one with reference to any crime or sin, with every sin that one commits” (i.e., to appear before a court of justice, or be accepted as sufficient), but everything was to be established upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. The rule laid down in Deu_17:6 and Num_35:30 for capital crimes, is raised hereby into a law of general application (see at Num_35:30). קוּם (in Deu_19:15), to stand, i.e., to acquire legal force. – But as it was not always possible to bring forward two or three witnesses, and the statement of one witness could not well be disregarded, in Deu_19:16-18 Moses refers accusations of this kind to the higher tribunal at the sanctuary for investigation and decision, and appoints the same punishment for a false witness, which would have fallen upon the person accused, if he had been convicted of the crime with which he was charged. סָרָה בֹּו לַעֲנֹות, “to testify against his departure,” sc., from the law of God, not merely falling away into idolatry (Deu_13:6), but any kind of crime, as we may gather from Deu_19:19, which would be visited with capital punishment.
Keil and Delitzsch
The two men between whom the dispute lay, the accused and the witness, were to come before Jehovah, viz., before the priests and judges who should be in those days – namely, at the place of the sanctuary, where Jehovah dwelt among His people (cf. Deu_17:9), and not before the local courts, as Knobel supposes. These judges were to investigate the case most thoroughly (cf. Deu_13:15); and if the witness had spoken lies, they were to do to him as he thought to do to his brother. The words from “behold” to “his brother” are parenthetical circumstantial clauses: “And, behold, is the witness a false witness, has he spoken a lie against his brother? Ye shall do,” etc. זָמַם, generally to meditate evil. On Deu_19:20, see Deu_13:12.
Thought. The verb here used ( means generally to meditate, to have in mind, to purpose; but it frequently has the subaudition of meditating evil. (cf. Psa_31:3-7 Psa_37:12; Pro_30:32, etc.)
Things. This is the design of penal laws, to render justice to the innocent, and to prevent the spreading of a contagious evil, by cutting off the hopes of impunity. (Grotius, Jur. ii. 10. 9.) — “I would cause the criminal’s throat to be cut, says Seneca, (de Ira ii.) with the same countenance and mind as I kill serpents and venomous animals.”
Divers weights – אבן ואבן eben vaaben, a stone and a stone, because the weights were anciently made of stone, and some had two sets of stones, a light and a heavy. With the latter they bought their wares, by the former they sold them. In our own country this was once a common case; smooth, round, or oval stones were generally chosen by the simple country people for selling their wares, especially such as were sold in pounds and half pounds. And hence the term a stone weight, which is still in use, though lead or iron be the matter that is used as a counterpoise: but the name itself shows us that a stone of a certain weight was the material formerly used as a weight. See the notes on Lev_19:35, Lev_19:36.
Keil and Delitzsch
The duty of integrity in trade is once more enforced in Deu_25:13-16 (as in Lev_19:35-36). “Stone and stone,” i.e., two kinds of stones for weighing (cf. Psa_12:3), viz., large ones for buying and small ones for selling. On the promise in Deu_25:15, see Deu_4:26; Deu_5:16; Deu_25:16, as in Deu_22:5; Deu_18:12, etc. In the concluding words, Deu_25:16, “all that do unrighteously,” Moses sums up all breaches of the law.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Thou shalt not have … divers weights — Weights were anciently made of stone and are frequently used still by Eastern shopkeepers and traders, who take them out of the bag and put them in the balance. The man who is not cheated by the trader and his bag of divers weights must be blessed with more acuteness than most of his fellows [Roberts]. (Compare Pro_16:11; Pro_20:10).
cf. Deu_22:5 Deu_23:12 All that do unrighteously; equivalent to all that transgress any law.