Summary: How does a text written 3400 years ago apply to us today?
Here Comes the Judge
“It isn't fair!” How many times have we heard that, and not just from children? This world is full of lawsuits. Everyone is suing everyone else over all sorts of matters, some of which are quite trivial. Several years ago, a woman sued McDonalds because she spilled hot coffee on herself for millions of dollars. Although she initially won that case, it was thankfully reversed on appeals because the alleged damage far exceeded her loss. Common sense also dictates that one handle a cup of hot coffee with care. We all can cite many cases where we feel that the guilty went free because they could afford a good lawyer and we hear of the release of death row inmates who didn’t’ and whose innocence was proven later by DNA evidence. We are all increasingly concerned about the corruption of judges and justice.
The trouble is that the problems of society also find their way into churches. Disputes break out between Christians. Churches split over the most trivial differences. What does God think about this? Is this any way to reflect the goodness of God? Does the Bible shed light on this? I think it does indeed. We can see God’s concern for justice in the Book of Deuteronomy. Turn your Bibles to Deuteronomy 19. We will read verses 15 to 21.
Exposition of the Text
A. The Historical Setting
Deuteronomy was written a long time ago, well over three thousand years ago when the Children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses had spent forty years with them getting them ready in the wilderness where they were separated by the LORD from the corrupting influences of Egypt. They were getting ready to enter the Promised Land which at that time was extremely corrupt. God had ordered the complete removal of the inhabitants lest the leaven of the Canaanites corrupt Israel and cause them to stumble and fall.
B. The Contextual Setting
Deuteronomy is a complex legal document. It is more than stating laws. It is also a commentary on the laws. In other words, there is a spirit of the law behind the law. The regulations have a “why” aspect about them which is more than simply “Do this because I told you to.” The motivation to obey was based upon the LORD’s gracious redemption of Israel from Egypt. The Ten Commandments which are restated for Israel in Deuteronomy 4 start with: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” The proper response to God’s loving act of redemption was that of love. We should have heard these words of Deuteronomy before in chapter six: Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one LORD. And you shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and all of your might.” Everything which is stipulated in Deuteronomy is based upon these two pillars.
C. The Meaning of the Text
This morning’s text is about halfway through the book and deals with the establishment of justice. Justice is an important aspect of living in a free society. Without justice, there is no freedom. This Promised Land was not going to be heaven where there will no longer be disputes. There would be no need for law where everyone is fair and just. The LORD knew that there would be disputes and took meticulous care to see that they were fairly resolved. In particular, this passage deals with the truthfulness of accusations when a complaint was lodged against a brother. Safeguards were put in place to make sure that the innocent was not wrongly condemned.
The first of these was that it took more than one witness to establish the matter, and their testimony had to agree. If the testimony did not agree, the priests and judges had to determine the truth of the matter. By implication this means that priests and judges who stood in the place of the LORD had to be blameless in their conduct as well as thoroughly competent of judge a matter. If the courts could not be trusted, then everyone would take matters of justice into their own hands and anarchy would result. The Book of Judges serves as an all to horrible example of what happens when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
As a deterrent and to uphold the validity of the court, a false witness was to be severely punished. He or she would have to suffer the punishment that would have been inflicted upon the accused. This would act as a strong deterrent against frivolous as well as vengeful lawsuits. The LORD insisted that this kind of evil be purged from the land or else it would corrupt the entire society leading to its bondage and then destruction.