Shoftim – “Judges”

This week’s Torah portion is entitled, Shoftim, which means “Judges.”  It covers Deuteronomy, chapters 16:18 through 21:9.  This passage discusses the structure of authority in ancient Israel.  That structure was composed of 4 key elements:  Judge, King, Priest and Prophet.

The first of the 4 that is mentioned is the judge, towards the end of Chapter 16.  The key for judges is to be impartial and to be objective when handing down justice.  It takes integrity and character to truly hand down impartial justice and not worry about negative consequences to yourself.  And, when justice is truly impartial, it reaches all levels of society, because justice operates across the total economic spectrum.

The role of the king is explained in Chapter 17:14 – 20.  In a prophecy of what was to come, Moses tells the people that at some point in time after entering the Promised Land, the people will request that a king be placed over them like all the other nations.  And, this is exactly what happened when Saul became first king of Israel.  The king was to be chosen by God, and not by the people.  The king was not to multiply possessions for himself, possessions like horses, silver or gold and wives because things like these would turn his heart away from God.  We have a very specific example of a king’s heart being turned away from the Lord with the example of Solomon and his many wives (1 Kings, Chapter 11).

Next, we have the role of the priest, Chapter 18:1 – 14.  Since the Levites had no land inheiritance of their own, they needed to be supplied by the people for the service they provided to the Lord.  The meat, grain and wine portions that were to be provided for the priests are explained in verses 3 and 4.  Verse 5 tells us the role of the Levites:  “…to stand and serve in the name of the Lord forever.”  We also see from this passage that once entering the Promised Land, there would be Levites who would live and serve in towns away from Jerusalem, where the Temple would later be built.  However, if a Levite felt a calling to move and serve in Jerusalem, he should be allowed to do that and receive portions equal to the other Levites who were serving there as well.  In this section, there is also a very strong prohibition against imitating any of the religious beliefs of the people of Canaan.

Next, we read about the role of the prophet, Chapter 18:15 – 22.  In this section, we have an amazing prophecy about the Messiah.  In verse 15, Moses says:  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, and you shall listen to him.”  This is the only section in the entire Torah where Moses identifies himself as a prophet.  And, in the next verse, Moses reminds the people about what happened at Mount Horeb (which is also called Mount Sinai), when they assembled before God.  You can review this in Exodus, Chapters 19 and 20.

In time, all of Israel came to recognize that the passage in Deuteronomy where Moses speaks about a coming prophet referred specifically to the coming of the Messiah.  There are several references in the New Testament to this passage.  After Jesus fed the 5,000, we have this reference in John, Chapter 6, verse 14:  When therefore the people saw the sign which He (Yeshua) had performed, they said, “This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  And, in Acts, Chapter 3:22, Peter, referring to Jesus, says:  “Moses said, ‘The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your bretheren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you.”  The symbolism of Moses and Aaron at Mount Horeb, combined with the passage in Deuteronomy 18 is another prophecy of the Messiah, which is then again referred to in the New Testament, specifically in terms of Yeshua.

Regarding the role of the prophet, which is also in this passage, prophets needed to speak the words that God put in their mouths.  They should not speak on their own behalf, but speak what the Lord had told them to say.  If the prophet spoke and the event did not come true, it would be known that this was not a message from God.

In summary:

When authority is based on God’s Word, it has the powerful ability to focus everyone on the direction that God provides.  Are you considering the meaning in God’s Word and that direction for your own life on a daily basis?

Second, we can see that doing what is right is needed at all levels of society.  This applies to everyone one of us, no matter what position we hold in society.  We need to think about what is right, instead of what is best for ourselves.  If we can focus on this area, I believe it will help us in our walk with The Lord.

Finally, we have two major prophecies in this portion that, when taken together, give us a clearer picture of our Messiah.

Throughout Israel’s history, there were many kings, but no matter how great the king, he was still only a man, with flaws.  Even the greatest kings, David and Solomon struggled in their role.  This evidence is a reminder that God selected His Son to be the true and just King and to save us through His sacrifice on the Cross.

The other prophecy has to do with Moses speaking about a future prophet and having the events of Mount Sinai mentioned in the same passage in Deuteronomy, Chapter 18.  Moses, the prophet, and Aaron, the future high priest, go up the mountain to speak with God and stand in the gap between God and the people just as Yeshua intercedes for us now.

In conclusion, these two prophecies, which came true, give us a picture of our just and righteous Messiah:  He is the true Judge, King, Prophet and our true High Priest.  We need to submit ourselves under His authority and allow Him to lead in our lives.