Judges in the Community
Justice by the Scriptures - an Overview
by: Tim Kelley
May 31, 2014
Human beings have many needs. The other day I was asked if I believed that Adam, before Eve was “built” from his body parts, was complete. Being that he was created in the image of God, My answer to that is “yes – he was complete”, but does being complete allow a person to experience all the feelings and emotions of God? No it doesn’t. There are feelings, emotions, and needs that a person cannot discover or feel outside of a marriage, a family, or a community.
An example of this is love. Love is not something a person can experience by himself. Love implies an outgoing concern, and you can’t express an outgoing concern without there being another person for whom you can be concerned. In order to express love, a person must be a part of a community, and one of the smallest forms of community is a family.
Another example is that of justice, or better yet – injustice. A person who is always alone – never comes in contact with another person – cannot experience injustice. No one can do you wrong if there is no one else! Yet when two people interact, there is always the chance of one person feeling slighted or being treated unjustly by the other person.
Children learn about the feelings of injustice at a very early age – especially if they have siblings. For example – two children – let’s call them Joe and Judy – are playing in the sandbox. Joe steps out to pick up another truck and accidently trips while getting back into the sandbox, knocking down the sand castle Judy’s been building. Judy retaliates by throwing sand in Joe’s face. When Mom comes out to see what all the commotion’s about, Judy jumps up yelling “Joe knocked down my sand castle … on purpose!” Mom, instead of sitting the children down to get all the facts, makes a quick judgment and sends Joe to his room as punishment. Though Joe may not have the words to express it, he now feels that he’s been dealt a huge injustice.
As families grow and populations increase, there are more opportunities for problems between people. The resolution of these problems often requires the input of a judge. Unfortunately, judges are humans too, and sometimes their judgment is right, and sometimes it’s wrong. Our goal as believers is to learn the skills that will lead to justice.
God is very concerned about justice. It’s one of the hallmarks of His kingdom. One reason why YHVH chose Abraham as the progenitor of His people is because of his proclivity toward justice. In explaining why it was important for Abraham to know God’s plans and intents, God said –
KJV Genesis 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
The Bible is filled with information about justice and judging. In fact, much of the Bible reads as if you were in the middle of a courtroom, hearing the attorneys make their cases and the judges deliberating their decisions. As we come to recognize these parts of scripture, we gain a better understanding of what YHVH is saying as well as learn the “mechanics” of our salvation.
Today I’m giving the first of a 3-part series on Judgment and Judging. In this first part is entitled “Justice by the Scriptures” and it’s going to be an overview of Biblical justice. In Part 2 we’ll discuss “How to Judge”, and finally we’ll discuss “How to Choose Judges”. In today’s study we’ll:
- See why we need judges
- See that for us to learn to judge is important to YHVH
- Discover the Hebrew behind the concept of judgment
So – why do we need judges, or better yet – why does any family, group, or community need judges? Simply stated – it’s because men do not have the heart of God. According to the scriptures -
NKJ Jeremiah 17:9 " The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Our “heart” – which according to the scripture is the center of emotional-intellectual and moral activity – does not always lead us to make the best decision in regards to our interaction with others. Thus we often make decisions that are not in the best interest of ourselves or the community. As a result – innocent people get hurt.
As a remedy for our inherent social shortcomings, God instructed His people to establish judges, and like I said earlier, He’s provided a wealth of information on how they (and we) were and are to judge one another. In fact, the book of Proverbs was written pretty much for that purpose. Notice Solomon’s introduction -
KJV Proverbs 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; 2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; 3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity1 …
As an indication of how important judgment and justice is to God, let’s notice His instructions pertaining to the establishment of judges. In the book of Deuteronomy, as Moses is rehearsing the events that lead up to Israel being prepared to cross into the Promised Land, he did not start out talking about the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, or even the building of the Tabernacle. Instead, he started by talking about the establishment of judges.2
Later he instructed them that one of their highest priorities once they crossed the Jordan was to establish a system of judges –
ESV Deuteronomy 16:18 "You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
Further down in history, at the end of Judah’s Babylonian captivity, as Ezra the priest was leading a contingent of the Jewish people back into the Land, he was instructed by the king to –
ESV Ezra 7:25 … appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach.
And when Messiah returns at the end of days, one of His first priorities will again be the re-establishment of the system of judges –
ESV Isaiah 1:26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city."
Notice that Jerusalem would not be called the “city of righteousness” until after the system of judges is once again established.
Most of us were brought up being taught that we should avoid “judging our neighbor” – that judgment is something left to God. But the scriptures indicates otherwise, stating that we should “run after” justice. Going back to Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy, he continues –
ESV Deuteronomy 16:19-2019 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
The word “follow” in that passage is the Hebrew word “radaph” ( רָדַף– Strong's 7291), and it has as one of its principle meanings the idea of pursuing, chasing, or running after. It’s like you’re making it a top priority to discover the truth and bring justice to a matter. We can understand why that should be the case – especially if we’re the victim of someone’s injustice. If someone has harmed us in some way, we don’t want to wait months or years for it to be made right . . . we want justice and we want it now!
The idea of Hebrew justice is rooted in two Hebrew words: “azan” and “tsadaq” – “hearing” and “righteousness”. A good understanding of these words will help us better understand Biblical justice. Let’s explore these words for a moment, starting with the word “azan”.
Azan ( אָזַן– Strong’s 238) means “to hear” and it’s the root of two somewhat related words – “ozen” (אֹזֶן - Strong’s 241) and “mozen” (מֹאזֵן – Strong’s 3976). The first word – “ozen” means “ear” or “hearing”, and the second word – “mozen” means “scales” or “balances”. We can see the connection between these words when we remember that the balancing mechanism of our human bodies is the inner ear. Our inner ear, along with our eyes, is what lets us know which way is up or down, or if we’re turning or not. A balance is also a tool that’s used to weigh out items we purchase. Years ago I would go to a lumber yard to buy nails and the clerk would put a one pound weight in one side of the balance and then fill the other side with nails until the pointer indicated the scale was balanced.
In regards to justice, balances serve two purposes. First – the overall goal of a justice system is to bring things back into balance so as to restore the relationship. If a person has been wronged, things are out of balance. Here’s an example –
We have two farmers who are neighbors – Farmer PitDigger and Farmer OxOwner. Farmer PitDigger digs a pit in which he plans to store grain, but while the pit is empty he fails to put a fence around it. Farmer OxOwner’s has an ox that likes to more around when he grazes, and one evening the ox falls into that pit and dies. Farmer OxOwner has now sustained a loss and according to scripture 3, Farmer PitDigger is responsible because he failed to cover or fence in his pit, thus he has harmed Farmer OxOwner and the balance they once had is now tipped in favor of Farmer PitDigger. In order to bring things back into balance, Farmer PitDigger must pay Farmer OxOwner the value of the ox. Once this has been done, balance has been restored, justice has been served, and the two parties should be able to restore their relationship. This is the basis for the Bible’s somewhat confusing legal jargon –
NKJ Deuteronomy 19:21 "… life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
- which is simply legalese for getting things back in balance.
The other purpose of balance is to weigh out the evidence. We’ve all seen the somewhat universal sign of justice. It’s a blindfolded woman with a balance in her left hand and a sword in her right. In the image, the balance represents the weight of evidence. In today’s justice system much of the evidence is material evidence – things that can be seen, touched, or heard. It would include things like pictures, fingerprints, and DNA evidence. But to the ancient Hebrew culture, the evidence was oftentimes the testimony of witnesses – something tht had to be heard. The Hebrews were supposed to hear both sides of an issue before making a judgment, thus the requirement for two and sometimes three witnesses.
ESV Deuteronomy 19:15 "A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
So “ozen” implies hearing and balancing the testimony and ultimately bringing balance to the damaged relationship.
The other Hebrew word in which justice is rooted is the word “tsedeq” ( צֶדֶק– Strong’s 6664). We’re quite familiar with this word being the root word for “righteousness”, but what does righteousness mean? Strong’s defines it as “to be just, be righteous”. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary definition begins with “purity of heart and rectitude of life”."4 These are somewhat abstract meanings, and unfortunately the scriptural text does not provide us with a direct “concrete” meaning either 5. Never-the-less, a more clear meaning of “tsadaq” can be found by seeing what it’s compared to in scripture.
“Tsedeq” is often paired with the Hebrew word “yashar” ( יָשָׁר- Strong’s 3477) or it’s root word “yashar” ( יָשַׁר - Strong’s 3474) in passages such as -
KJV Job 8:6 If thou wert pure and upright (yashar); surely now he would awake for thee, and make the habitation of thy righteousness (tsedeq) prosperous.
ESV Psalm 94:14-1514 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; 15 for justice will return to the righteous (tsedeq), and all the upright (yashar) in heart will follow it.
ESV Psalm 11:7 For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous (tsedeq) deeds; the upright (yashar) shall behold his face.
ESV Proverbs 16:1313 Righteous (tsedeq) lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right (yashar).
In each of these passages the “righteous” person is also a “yashar” person. The word “yashar” means “strait”, “correct”, level”. It implies a path that is strait as in this passage in Jeremiah which speaks of the future return of Israel to the land -
NKJ Jeremiah 31:9 They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, In a straight (yashar) way in which they shall not stumble; For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.
So righteousness implies walking a strait path, and as we’ve seen before, that strait path is the Torah.
ESV Proverbs 4:26-2726 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.
ESV Isaiah 30:18-2118 Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him … 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
ESV Matthew 7:13 "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
NKJ Isaiah 2:3 Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways (derek), And we shall walk in His paths (orach)." For out of Zion shall go forth the law (torah), And the word (dabar) of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Thus to judge “righteously” means to judge by the strait path of Torah – God’s law and instructions.. Just as our courts make judgments based on the “law of the land”, all Godly judgment is based on the Torah. Thus “righteous judgments” are judgments made based on the Torah. “Righteous” judgment is much different than today’s legal system which is based on “case law”. In “righteous” judgment, each judgment is based on a fresh interpretation of the statute (within the Torah) whereas in “case law” the judgment is based on a previous use of the statute (precedent). The problem with “case law” is that if the original precedent is based on a bad interpretation of the statute, all subsequent judgments will be based on the same faulty precedent.
Therefore justice is based on hearing and balancing testimony and comparing it with the law – specifically the Torah. Two passages that help illustrate that point include -
NKJ Leviticus 19:36 'You shall have honest (tsedeq) scales (mozen), honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin . . .
NKJ Psalm 17:1 … Hear a just (tsedeq) cause, O LORD, Attend to my cry; Give ear (ozen) to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.
YHVH is the epitome of a righteous judge. He hears our prayer and makes intercession for us, is righteous and never changes. Thankfully – He will be our ultimate judge. But until then it’s important that we learn how to properly judge … and to properly judge one another. Our lives are a training ground for the role we will play in the Messianic Kingdom. It will be our job to eventually judge the gentiles and the world. In fact, according to Paul, we are to judge angels.
ESV 1 Corinthians 6:1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
Thus now is the time to learn to judge righteously. Now is the time to learn to judge others as YHVH will judge us. As we continue in this series, we’ll see what the scripture has to say about righteous judgment.
1 Equity = “meyshar” ( מֵישָׁר – 4339) evenness, uprightness, straightness, level ;
2 Deut. 1:9-18;
3 Exodus 21:33;
4 Ungers’ Bible Dictionary;
5 Jeff Benner;