The appointment of our nation’s judges for the purpose of not only dispensing justice, but in fact identifying justice, is an immensely important matter in the life of our United States or any other country. The laws which a nation adopts and the manner in which those laws are applied constitute the very heart and soul of a nation. Our laws, along with the judges who administer those laws, identify who we are, what we stand for and the principles upon which we conduct our daily lives.
In our own nation we periodically debate any upcoming appointment of judges, especially those that will serve on the Supreme Court of our land. We realize that these men and women will preside over the most basic issues of life. The judges serving in our judicial system are not only at the center of the cultural war that is raging in our nation at this time, but in a very real sense are the generals in that war. Heated disputes over such issues as how to interpret the constitution, the sanctity of life; when life begins; the creation and use of life in reference to stem-cell research; homosexuality; private property rights; so-called privacy issues, same sex marriage, etc. indicate that a major shift has taken place in the moral foundation of our nation and our judges will to a large degree determine our nation’s moral direction from this point onward.
The appointment of the judges of our land has traditionally been based not only on the personal qualifications and experience of individuals, but also, and to an increasingly greater degree, on how they are expected to rule on the important moral issues of our day–the issues around which our nation is divided. Of course, one’s opinion of whether or not a particular judge qualifies is almost solely based on that judge’s perceived stand on those very issues. That is as it should be! Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16). All men, including judges, can themselves be judged on their actions, as those actions truly reveal what is in the heart.
In considering these matters it occurs to us that at one time in the distant past God Himself made several judicial appointments. Recall the 70 judges appointed to aid Moses in governing Israel? How about the book of Judges? Might there be some references within the context of those appointments to the standards that God required of His judges? What personal qualifications did they have to meet? What kind of decisions were they expected to hand down? What relevant issues were they forced to rule on? Upon what authority were they to base their decisions? It would do all those concerned with our present controversy a world of good to look back at those divinely appointed judgeships as providing a standard upon which to make judicial appointments today. It has always been the hope and prayer of every Christian that our nation’s leaders base their decisions and policies upon the principles of God’s word. The same hope and prayer ought to be applied to the matter of appointing judges over the legal and moral concerns of our country. The president and those who would approve judicial appointments must base their decisions on the divinely established standard of morality found is God’s word.
We begin in the Book of Exodus, chapter 18. Moses’ father – in – law, Jethro, described as “the priest of Midian,” came to visit Moses while Israel was encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. As he observed Moses serving as the only judge over the people, singularly handling all of their disputes and legal issues, he gave the following advice: “. . . you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds; rulers of fifties; and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you” (Ex 18:21,22).
Moses took the good advice of Jethro and appointed judges over the people. Notice again the qualifications of the men chosen to serve as judges: 1) able, i.e. qualified with the wisdom and ability necessary to sit in judgement over others; 2) Godfearing, 3) men of truth, and 4) haters of covetousness. Compare these qualities with the reputation of our nation’s lawyers, from whose ranks come most of our judges!
Within the same context, it is also noteworthy to point out that Moses himself is referred to as a judge over the people. There was no greater man of God in all the Old Testament than he (Deut 34:10).
The Book of Judges describes a time in Israel’s history that was characterized by lawlessness. The very last verse in the book sums it up well: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). The account describes 7 distinct cycles of Israel’s drifting away from the Lord. The cycles were characterized by a four-part sequence: 1) Israel’s departure from God; 2) God’s chastisement in permitting military defeat and subjugation; 3) Israel’s prayer and pleading for deliverance; and 4) God’s raising up a deliverer for the people. These deliverers, also known as judges, were unique individuals. The Hebrew word translated “judges” also means “rulers” “deliverers” or “saviors.” The word carries the idea of maintaining justice and settling disputes, but it is also used to mean “liberating: and “delivering.” First the judges deliver the people; then they rule and administer justice. Fourteen such judges arose in Israel including Samuel and Eli.
At least two times in the book of Judges (2:18; 6:14) it is pointed out that the Lord was with the judges as they lead Israel out of oppression. Gideon was told by God as he went out to defeat the Midianites, “Surely I will be with you.” The implication is that the judges must also be with the Lord in the sense of obeying his commands. Furthermore, the judges were to acknowledge the ultimate leadership of God in their exploits of deliverance. Following his victory, Gideon reminded the people “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you”(8:23). In spite of making a foolish vow, Jephthah followed through by stating “For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (11:35). In all fairness it must be pointed out that some of the judges had their weaknesses (Samson and Jephthah, for example). In these things they showed an obvious influence by the lawlessness of their generation. Nevertheless, the standards of God were still high and the leaders were expected to live up to those standards.
What a difference it would make if the judges of our generation could be depended upon as Godfearing men of truth and haters of covetousness. We need men in leadership positions who will look to God and his word to be the ultimate standard of truth and justice. Let us pray that such men will be appointed as judges over our land.