Shoftim – “Judges”

This week our parasha is Shoftim, which mean “Judges”, and covers Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9. Parasha Shoftim teaches us the importance of justice, and how if we claim to love the Lord, we need to love justice as well.

Our parasha picks up towards the end of Deuteronomy 16 with the need to have judges in every town. These judges should have no favoritism and should only care about correctly judging our people. As we read in verses 19-20: “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Unlike America where our justice is based on centuries of human courts, Israel was to be governed based on the only true source of justice, the Lord. Our God is a God of justice, He desires for everyone to be treated fairly. The Torah teaches that in court cases everyone should be held accountable, regardless of their power or prestige. Perhaps a lesson we need to remember today. It is a serious sin when justice is thwarted because of a person’s reputation, power, or bribery.

Chapter 17 contains rules on how we should choose a king. When we desired a king like the other nations, we were commanded to only allow a king the Lord chose to rule. He would be from our people and should not build up horses, a symbol of human power, especially from Egypt. He should also not gather obscene amounts of money or women. Interestingly, the king was also commanded to write and study his own copy of the Law. He was told to study God’s Word every day so he would rule well. God’s word would also keep him humble as he reflected on the Lord. Unfortunately, through the history of our people we see kings who disobey each of these rules and the disaster that it brings. This eventually leads to the kingdom splitting after the reign of Solomon.

Chapter 18 reminds us that the Levites were to have no land, but that the Lord was their portion. We are also not to engage in divination and other sinful occult practices like the nations around us, who sacrificed their children in fire. When it was necessary for the Lord to communicate His will, He would raise up prophets to do so.

While many people today are quick to claim the title of Prophet, it is not something to be taken lightly. The Torah teaches that any prophet who gives a prophecy that does not come true or is shown not to be from the Lord is to be killed.

Chapter 19 discusses setting up cities of refuge where those who are accused of capital crimes can live safely while they wait trial. We are also told that only on the strength of two or more witnesses can a person be convicted of a crime.

Our parasha concludes with chapters 20 and part of 21 which contain commandments for how warfare is to be conducted.

Parasha Shoftim covers a variety of different subjects, but the idea of justice is a major theme. But how do we know what justice is? Today, many determine justice based on feelings and what certain groups of people think. But this is a flawed foundation for justice. It is only through God’s Word that justice has a true foundation. It is good for leaders like kings to spend time studying Scripture, so that they can rule fairly and rightly. Our founding fathers also understood this truth and based our countries constitution and system of law on biblical principles and values of justice like those found in Shoftim. As John Adams once wrote, “The Bible contains the most profound Philosophy, the most perfect Morality, and the most refined Policy, that ever was conceived upon earth.” If we genuinely want to have a society governed by justice, we must begin with the word of God.

Shoftim also reminds us that as fallen human beings, things like bribery and other sinful human practices will pervert the way we execute and understand justice. Our default condition is to not treat people fairly and create second-class citizens in our justice system. This happens in nations under communism and other countries as well.

In our own nation we can also see how justice is thwarted and bribery allows people to escape judgment, at least in this life. Justice, doing the right thing, is something that God is very concerned with and so we need to be as well. We cannot outwardly claim to follow the Lord and not care about how justice is executed.

I am reminded of Isaiah 1, where our people offered sacrifices to the Lord and celebrated the holidays, but the Lord refused to accept their sacrifices. This was because while outwardly they professed to care about the Lord and His will, in their hearts they really did not. Their hypocrisy was shown in the way they perverted justice and the Lord demanded they change their ways.

We read in Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” These words should be the desire of all Believers. We must demand justice be executed rightly in our society. In our democracy we can discuss important issues concerning justice and advocate for biblical truths from God’s Word to a dark society around us. We also need to care about injustice, to plead the cases of those who are most vulnerable and will be ignored by a sinfully selfish system. As Believers we do not speak based on human feelings or the culture around us, but on the timeless truths of the Word of God.

It is my prayer this morning that the Lord enable us to seek justice, only justice. May each of us stand up for what is right according to Scripture, even if the majority says it is wrong.