Sunday, March 25, 2007

Testimonies, Statutes, and Judgments: Dt 4:44-45

"Now this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel. These are the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which Moses spoke to the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 4:44-45 NKJV)

When I first started studying the Book of Deuteronomy, I tended to skim over some of the terms used in the scripture and, as in the scripture above, tended to think of them as equivalent terms, but as I studied these terms more deeply I began to see that they each spoke of something distinct and different. There are many places in the scriptures where God refers to Testimonies, Statutes, and Judgments, here is a brief definition of those terms along with how they apply to us today, especially in regards to civil government.

Testimonies: This term applies most specifically to the Ten Commandments. Speaking of the arc that Moses was to construct to hold the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, God said, "You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony , I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel." (Exodus 25:21-22) Notice that God explicitly refers to the Ten Commandments as the "testimony" and the arc as the "arc of the testimony". The Ten Commandments represented the fundamental agreement, or contract, between God and the nation of Israel. This contract was the fundamental agreement upon which the nation of Israel was established. The Ten Commandments were more than a collection of statutes, they were more than just another set of laws, they were the fundamental principals upon which the nation was founded and upon which the nation would continue to prosper. Testimonies have their modern day equivalence in constitutional law. Every nation is built upon certain founding principals and, as for the United States of America and many other nations, these principals are codified in their constitution. Constitutional law exists at a higher place than statutory law in that it deals with the common governing principals and beliefs that gave birth to a nation. It is upon constitutional law that all others statutes are built and founded.

Statutes: This term applies to a written set of laws. Statutes go beyond "common law" in that they are a formal codification of regulations, obligations, and decrees to be observed by the citizenry. Upon founding the nation of Israel, God did not leave it to judges to decide for themselves what should be legal and illegal, rather He laid out an extensive list of statutes that each citizen of the nation of Israel was to obey. The right and authority to establish a written set of laws is a fundamental right of all governments and it is a fundamental obligation of every citizen to obey such laws. "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." (Romans 13:1-2)

Judgments: This term refers to the judicial action and punishments taken upon those who do not obey the testimonies and statues. It is one thing to make stealing legal, but it is another thing to specify what should happen to someone who steals. God not only established for Israel the laws they were to obey but also the judicial action to be taken when those laws were broken. The right to trial, the rules of evidence, and the sentencing of punishments were not left to the discretion of judges but rather specified ahead of time by the Lord. It is the authority of nations to, not only establish their laws and statutes, but also to specify and execute punishment upon those who break their laws. "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." (Romans 13:3-4) However, it is also incumbent upon a nation to protect the rights of individuals during the judicial process. Judgments not only specify the consequences for the offender but also regulate the state as to how it conducts its judicial process and the right of the individual during that process.

David Robison

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