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.
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.
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.