Further Thoughts on Judging

Leaders judging

Yesterday I posted about Numbers 35 and the role of judging in the life of God’s people (Who made you judge?). That is not the end of the story, however. Today’s reading included Deuteronomy 1, the farewell address by Moses. As he prepares the Israelites to move into the promised land, which he will not do but Joshua will, Moses includes directions for them to appoint rulers for various sized groups. Part of that instruction provides further insight for those who will judge issues in Israel.

Deuteronomy 1:9–18

9   “I said to you at that time: I can’t bear the responsibility for you on my own. 10 The LORD your God has so multiplied you that today you are as numerous as the stars of the sky. 11 May Yahweh, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand times more, and bless you as He promised you.  12 But how can I bear your troubles, burdens, and disputes by myself? 13 Appoint for yourselves wise, understanding, and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will make them your leaders.

14 “You replied to me, ‘What you propose to do is good.’

15 “So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and respected men, and set them over you as leaders: officials for thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and officers for your tribes. 16 I commanded your judges at that time: Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge rightly between a man and his brother or a foreign resident. 17 Do not show partiality when deciding a case; listen to small and great alike. Do not be intimidated by anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too difficult for you, and I will hear it. 18 At that time I commanded you about all the things you were to do.

Importance of Character

In 1:13 Moses identifies the characteristics that these new leaders should have: “wise, understanding, and respected.” In other words, these leaders cannot be just anybody in their midst. They must have demonstrated character qualities that will make them qualified for this critical work—leading and judging.

Those characteristics then result in actions that reflect the appropriate judgments that need to be made:

“judge rightly” (צֶ֔דֶק)

“do not show partiality”

“do not be intimidated”

For the leader to “judge rightly” means that the righteousness (צֶ֔דֶק) of God is critical. Negatively, that serves as a standard for judging, up to the righteous standard God had given them (i.e. the 10 commandments). But positively that serves as a reminder that God’s righteousness is most clearly seen in mercy, forgiveness, restoration, etc. (think cities of refuge).

We live in a world that seems paved with partiality. Friends, family, people of power or money seem to have an automatic “in” with someone in authority. Yet God, through Moses, sets the standard: “partiality” (or favoritism) is not a criteria for a leader/judge. Paul advises the same when writing to Timothy:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.  (1 Timothy 5:21 NAS)

In today’s environment the last criteria for judgment is needed: “do not be intimidated.” The goal of a bully or terrorist is the same: to intimidate someone or nation to do exactly as demanded or face consequences. For the people of God (Israel in the OT, the Church in the NT) such intimidation is not to be found.

Whose judgment?

Then Moses provides the basis for all of this activity of judging: “for judgment belongs to God.” While the appointed leaders will carry out aspects of judging for individuals and groups, the bottom line is that they are reflecting and representing God’s judgment.

So, now going back to Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus said: “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged.” Judging means you are put in the place of God’s judgment. The judgment needs to follow the same guidelines that Moses gave: “judge rightly”; “do not show partiality”; “do not be intimidated.” Thus, the care with which Jesus elaborates on judging in Matthew 7 reflects God’s very own concern that judgment be as He Himself would do.

And that suggests that the key aspect of the one who judges rightly is: found in the Son’s words “All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29 HCSB). If you judge, then reflect the character of the One who judges rightly, namely Jesus Christ.


Who made you judge?

Judging the Heart?

”Who made you judge?” Have you ever heard that question? About yourself? I have. And usually it makes everyone feel uncomfortable, especially me! But the questioner himself or herself is really trying to be the judge as well.

The HCSB reading for today is Numbers 33-36. One passage leaped from the page in answer to that question. Note its seeming contrast to Matthew 7:1–2

[Jesus said:] “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged…”

Many take this to mean that we cannot judge at all. But Jesus spends the rest of Matthew 7 telling the people how to judge appropriately (actions and words, not the heart), especially 7:16-20.

But then, in Numbers 35:22-25 Yahweh tells Moses:

“But if anyone suddenly pushes a person without hostility or throws any object at him without malicious intent or without looking drops a stone that could kill a person and he dies, but he was not his enemy and wasn’t trying to harm him, the assembly is to judge between the slayer and the avenger of blood according to these ordinances. The assembly is to protect the one who kills someone from the hand of the avenger of blood. Then the assembly will return him to the city of refuge he fled to, and he must live there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.” (HCSB)

So, in those cases, the people are to judge the heart (“without malicious intent”) not just the action.

It might give us a moment to pause and reflect on how that judging is to be done. I suggest that the judging is done with an attitude of humility and grace. In other words, rather than see a disconnect between Numbers 35 and Matthew 7, we see them as presenting the same issue with the same intended result.

Judging Whose Heart?

If judging means looking at the heart, then as I examine my own heart, how well do I stack up to be in this judging position? Am I a person who acts quickly, ready to judge and condemn? Is that reflecting my own heart rather than the heart of the one who has hurt me? Am I reading into the other person my own judgment?

Jesus said: “So you’ll recognize them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:20). And if I examine my own heart, what kind of fruit am I demonstrating? Will others recognize my fruit? Yes, indeed. So the judging of Numbers 35 is not a frivolous, insignificant judging, but a life changing, even life-saving kind of judging. That is why God established the cities of refuge for the saving of life.

The One Who Judges the Heart

In John’s Gospel we read some important words that Jesus spoke:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18 NAS)

This demonstrates that God’s gracious will is not to judge but to save. In fact, everyone stands judged already because of sin. Jesus comes to save. And beyond that, Jesus said:

“Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” (7:24 HCSB)

So, it appears that we have much to learn about judging and even more to grow in grace before we start assigning ourselves as judge (and jury). “Righteous judgment” means that we reflect God’s judgment, rather than taking it into our own hands. And that is a challenge. But it is one filled with grace, mercy, and hope, for the one being judged and the one judging. The people of Israel in Numbers 35 (and following generations) carried a heavy burden because judging was not a personal prerogative but a reflection of God’s righteous judgment.

Jesus judged all people at the cross; He died for the sins of everyone, taking the judgment and condemnation that we deserved. But now He delivers that verdict of “righteous” to us in His Word, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper. We do not stay judged and condemned. Rather Jesus took our judgment upon Himself. And therefore, we are freed from judgment on the last day.

So, do we live as people who have been judged “not guilty” and willing to declare that  to others? Or do we want to stand in judgment over others, and even above Jesus Himself and His judgment?

Judge for yourself what is right! God’s righteous judgment is clear: “Not guilty! You are saved!” (in Numbers 35 and throughout the Bible).

Balaam, son of Beor

Do you ever read something several times over many years, but forget? Yeah, I do, too. As I am reading my way through the HCSB translation (via the Reading God’s Story: A Chronological Daily Bible) I found myself in this position.ReadGodsStory

We first meet Balaam in Numbers 22-24. He is the man God uses to speak to Balak, king of Moab. Balak had sent messengers to Balaam to have him curse Israel.

God spoke to Balaam and instructed him on exactly what to do and say—“don’t go with the men, do not curse these people, they are blessed” (22:12) With this first invite from Balak, Balaam obeyed God and did not go with the men. But Balak sent messengers again, and Balaam goes. But the result was a mixed signal.

The Angel of the LORD blocked Balaam and even used the donkey to get his attention. In the end Balaam delivered the message God intended.

“Then Balaam got up and went back home, and Balak also went on his way” (Numbers 24:25). End of story —not!

Today I was reading the sequel. The Midianites were troubling Israel again. So, we read:

The LORD spoke to Moses, “Execute vengeance for the Israelites against the Midianites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” (Numbers 31:1-2)

They waged war against Midian, as the LORD had commanded Moses, and killed every male. Along with the others slain by them, they killed the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (Numbers 31:7-8 HCSB)

So, despite being used by God to send a message to Balak, Balaam did not change his ways. He continued his life with the Midianites, as an enemy of God’s people. And the people, Israel, were still blessed by God as He told Balaam originally.

Interesting that I had forgotten about his death, even after having read the Bible many times over the past 50 years.

Comment on GW translation

I often will compare translations at some critical spots. In Numbers 31:2 I think the HCSB does well as a translation. So I compared that with God’s Word (GW):

“Get even with the Midianites for what they did to the Israelites. After that you will join your ancestors ˻in death˼.” (GW)

I generally like GW, but in this case “Get even” sounds too much like a personal grudge, settling the score, almost a personal vendetta. Vengeance on the other hand often reflects God’s justice being executed on people for sin. I think the difference is important, especially in this context.

HCSB — Self-Denial

In my devotional reading recently I have noticed an unusual rendering in Leviticus and Numbers. The reading was jarring because I couldn’t remember that phrase.

Lev 16:29   “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.

Lev 16:31 It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial; it is a permanent statute.

Lev 23:27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly and practice self-denial; you are to present a fire offering to the LORD.

Lev 23:29 If any person does not practice self-denial on this particular day, he must be cut off from his people.

Lev 23:32 It will be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you must practice self-denial. You are to observe your Sabbath from the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening.”

Num 29:7   “You are to hold a sacred assembly on the tenth day of this seventh month and practice self-denial; you must not do any work.

fn (in each case): “Practice self-denial” Traditionally, fasting, abstinence from sex, and refraining from personal grooming

The Hebrew phrase is תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם . The Greek LXX translates it ταπεινώσατε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν, and both have traditionally been translated as “humble your souls.”

Acceptable Translation?

I am wrestling with whether the HCSB is an acceptable translation in this instance. Is it readable English? Yes. Is it faithful to the text? This is where I hesitate.

The Hebrew word, ענה, is in the Piel, which is often translated “afflict” or “be humilated.” In these cases, the affliction is done on/to the person, i.e. your nephesh, or “your soul.” This suggests that the sense of the Hebrew (and LXX) phrase is that it is an inner aspect of the person, obviously assisted by God. NAS  catches that understanding, even woodenly, literalistically “humble your souls.” HCSB translation (“practice self-denial”) seems to focus on the activities associated with that rather than the inner aspect of the heart. ProudToBeHumble

Checking other translations notice the subtle change that several provide, as does HCSB:

ESV: you shall afflict yourselves

NIV 2011: you must deny yourselves

NLT: you must deny yourselves

GW: must humble themselves

NET: you must humble yourselves

NET footnote adds:

Heb “you shall humble your souls.” The verb “to humble” here refers to various forms of self-denial, including but not limited to fasting (cf. Ps 35:13 and Isa 58:3, 10). The Mishnah (m. Yoma 8:1) lists abstentions from food and drink, bathing, using oil as an unguent to moisten the skin, wearing leather sandals, and sexual intercourse (cf. 2 Sam 12:16–17, 20; see the remarks in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:1054; B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 109; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 242).

The references to Psalm 35 and Isaiah 58 have the added note about fasting in the text. While the Mishnah is helpful at times, we have to remember the limitations:

The Mishnah reflects debates between 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE by the group of rabbinic sages known as the Tannaim. The Mishnah teaches the oral traditions by example, presenting actual cases being brought to judgment, usually along with the debate on the matter and the judgment that was given by a wise and notable rabbi (from Wikipedia, yes, I know a quick reference overview is what I needed)

Thus, the Mishnah may not help us translate the Old Testament texts, because the focus is on outward behavior and judging of that behavior. That is reading back into the Hebrew text. Interestingly, the LXX translation of the Penteteuch in mid 3rd century BCE does not favor the Mishnah direction.

Given this, it seems that HCSB, and closely followed by NIV and NLT change the focus to outward behavior rather than a heart issue.

New Testament Use

Moving into the New Testament, the Greek word focuses on the inner aspect of the word, ταπεινός. Perhaps the most famous use from the following passage:

Matthew 11:29

NA-28 ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφ᾿ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ⸋ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ⸌, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν·

HCSB: All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.

Note also that in James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, (quoting Proverbs 3:34) each of the translations above use the word “humble.”

NA-27: ὅτι °[ὁ] θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν

HCSB: God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

NAS: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

ESV: for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

NIV 2011: because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

NLT: for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”

GW: because God opposes the arrogant but favors the humble.

NET:  because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

At this point, I am not convinced that the HCSB translation of תְּעַנּ֣וּ אֶת־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֗ם, “practice self-denial” is the best translation. In fact, it seems to miss some connections with the LXX and certainly in the NT.



Exposing Wounds

Exposing wounds can be a good thing. Rather, exposing wounds is a good thing. 

Growing up I lived in a house that was heated by a wood furnace, stoking it each night to get through the long winter nights of Minnesota. Instead of fancy regulators, the vents had a simple spike like handle that we could move up and down to open or close the vent.

When I was about 10 I was standing leaning against the wall, over the vent getting a little heat. But I slipped against the wall, and my arm caught on the vent handle. Yep, it sliced open a gash on my arm, just below the elbow. The cut was deep and about 2-3 inches long.

Interestingly it didn’t hurt. But it was a little unnerving to see my muscle start to slip out of my arm. We lived in the country (no quick trip to town) and there was no such thing as 911 calls. Intead my mother gently took my arm and began stuffing the muscle (and everything else around it) back into my arm. She then covered the wound with a long piece of gauze and taped it into place.

Her handiwork did the job. No infection, no fuss. But she exposed the wound regularly to help it heal. Now 54 years later, the scar is still there, but it has never caused a problem. High school wrestling, Navy flight school, nothing. Exposing the wound helped heal the wound.

But what if?

What if the wound isn’t so easily identified? What if instead of a physical wound, it is an emotional, mental, or spiritual wound?

Experiences and words carry great impact, positively and negatively. Words— harsh, demanding, unforgiving, attacking, words can stay with a person for days, weeks, years, decades. Words may have been spoken in anger then quickly forgotten. But the receiving end of that anger does not quickly fade.

I am realizing how significant some of the things I heard still stay with me. In one sense, the words are wounding all over again. As I hear someone speak angry words today, I find myself reeling. Am I hearing and responding to these fresh words? Or am I responding to words spoken 20, 30, 50, 60 years ago? Words that bring back emotional and spiritual wounds that I had thought were behind me.

Exposing Wounds

Now, I am changing the role of the words, so that “exposing” is the noun, and “wounds” becomes the verb.

That is, as I remember words I heard and now hear fresh, what about the words I have said in other relationships? Now if I respond in defense of a wound 40 years ago, am I in the process then wounding this person in the present? And am I wounding myself all over again? Then I beat myself up for the wounding I am doing. Is there any way out of this?

At times it seems that the healing of the wounds has been effective. I can move on. But then, some angry words, retaliation by someone, deceit, manipulation … the wound is exposed, and needs healing.

Healing the wound

In Luke 10, the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus reveals himself as indeed the Good Samaritan, the outsider who acts perfectly as the neighbor. He fulfills all that the Samaritan has done—and more. We read,

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)

The word “compassion” (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) is used only in reference to Jesus or God. Here the compassion of the Samaritan moves him to come, and “bandage up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them.” That is what I need! Bandaging up the wounds of my heart. Bandaging that will not leak out in infection and spread to others, but bandaging that will heal. Notice, too, that the Samaritan continued his healing work, “he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

Exposing the wounds happens unexpectedly—for me. And then I need the true healing, that only Jesus can give. And I need it often. Yes, the words of Scripture, the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament, and the words of a Christian friend who speaks God’s truth, especially the forgiving, restoring word of Jesus. Not to expose the wound, that’s already been done. But to bring healing of the wound.

The deeper the wound, the deeper the healing. Only Jesus can do that. He has. And he does.

One year—GW and HCSB

It has been a year since we converted to using GW and HCSB for our worship readings. Initially we alternated every month, but about six months ago I switched to using one translation for three months.

Observations on GW

The general consensus is that GW is an excellent oral reading translation. Most of the time that worked well for me when preaching. The times that brought up the difference between GW and most other translations involved words such as “God’s approval” instead of “righteousness.” In one case I used the HCSB translation for Romans 3. Aside from that, GW is a good choice for our congregation. This Sunday we begin the second year of the Narrative Lectionary, which means that this fall, the preaching text is the Old Testament readings. GW works well as a translation the Old Testament and will be used this fall.

Thinline GW
Thinline GW

For Bible study, we have a few people who use GW (plus, ESV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, HCSB). This has been helpful in Bible classes because often the users of GW will ask, “But this says…” That allows us to dig further and for the participants to see that it is not always a case of “this translation is accurate” and then judge all others by that. Rather, I remind them each translation is helping the read to better grasp what the original language text says. In a few cases we have found that GW does better than any other. (See Dave Brunn. One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? IVP Academic, 2013 for more. Soon I will be posting a follow up review of his book.)

I tend to use NAS for several reasons: 1) I have used NAS since 1978, and so my memorization of Scripture has been with that translation. 2) My method of study and recall includes knowing where on the page something occurs. That is, if I work with a specific passage, and it is on the left-hand page, ⅔ of the way down, then that becomes part of my visual recall and memory pattern. 3) The edition of NAS I use is single column (which I much prefer) and it has cross references in the outside margin. This allows a larger font size for the text and references. The size of print is critical, and I have been very disappointed with recent study Bibles that offer notes and references in sizes that are impossible to read. This is specially important in a teaching environment where I want to quickly glance at something.

For my own personal reading, I began reading GW for daily devotions. For 30+ years my primary devotional Bible was also NAS. I have used a few other translations for short periods of time, but always came back to NAS. This time I maintained my reading in GW for six months. With GW, I discovered that it was an inviting translation for devotional reading. Many people begin reading and do well for 2-3 weeks or perhaps longer. But then the person finds some barrier to continuing, whether habit, translation choice, schedule conflicts, etc. But using GW for this devotional time was refreshing. I didn’t run into the challenge of drifting away from daily reading. The style made it easier. But I think the single column layout and the indentation patterns used in the poetic sections encouraged reading, and reading for understanding.

General Observations on HCSB

For the most part, HCSB has served us well for worship readings. We just finished last week the summer schedule where it was the translation. But we ran into the opposite side of the issue with translating that was the case with GW. For one Sunday the reading was 1 John 2:1-2. I substituted GW for HCSB. Notice which word is the problem for an oral reading:

HCSB Ultrathin Bible, Black/Gray Duotone Simulated Leather
HCSB Ultrathin Bible, Black/Gray Duotone Simulated Leather

My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 HCSB)

My dear children, I’m writing this to you so that you will not sin. Yet, if anyone does sin, we have Jesus Christ, who has God’s full approval. He speaks on our behalf when we come into the presence of the Father. He is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1–2 GW)

So the choice was: In 2:1 do we use HCSB where it uses “propitiation” or GW which uses ” the payment for our sins”? In 2:2, do we use GW which has “who has God’s full approval” rather than “the Righteous One” (HCSB)? That is the trade off in this use of translations.

But overall, HCSB worked well for worship.

In Bible study, I have been carrying the HCSB as well as NAS (of course, my Greek NT). At times I will use HCSB (obviously, in preparing the session, I have already checked it out) because the rendering of a passage will be useful in teaching the class. Only one regular Bible study participant uses HCSB.

For personal reading, I began using HCSB when we moved into the summer schedule. I had just received a copy of the HCSB Chronological Bible, which became my reading Bible. The challenge was seven weeks of travel during the summer, and the size of this Bible was prohibitive. I would take the HCSB Ultrathin Bible on my trips. For the summer then I managed to read Genesis–Leviticus, plus Job, plus the sermon prep texts.

I have grown to like the HCSB, but it has been an uneasy relationship. Some critical passages are very well done (i.e. John 20:23). At the same time I encountered the frustration of alternate use of LORD and Yahweh in the same passage, and throughout the readings. One example is Leviticus 22:26–33

26 The LORD spoke to Moses: 27 “When an ox, sheep, or goat is born, it must remain with its mother for seven days; from the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a gift, a fire offering to the LORD. 28 But you are not to slaughter an animal from the herd or flock on the same day as its young. 29 When you sacrifice a thank offering to the LORD, sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. 30 It is to be eaten on the same day. Do not let any of it remain until morning; I am Yahweh.

31 “You are to keep My commands and do them; I am Yahweh. 32 You must not profane My holy name; I must be treated as holy among the Israelites. I am Yahweh who sets you apart, 33 the One who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh.”

Notice that in vs. 26, LORD speaks to Moses, and refers to himself as LORD in vs. 27 and 29. But then ends the statement in vs. 29, HCSB has “I am Yahweh.” And then in vss. 31-33 the reference is to Yahweh throughout. But the question is for the reader and hearer is: Do I understand that LORD and Yahweh refer to the same entity, with identical connotations and denotations? Not hardly. So, my urging to the HCSB translation team is to use Yahweh consistently in translation.

It has been an interesting year. I have grown to appreciate both translations. And Brunn’s book (One Bible, Many Versions) has been a helpful tool in working through the “accuracy” arguments about translations.