Monday, February 16, 2009

Justice and Judges: Dt 16:18-20

"You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you." (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)
Justice is one of the primary responsibilities of government. Even before Israel had a King, they had Judges whose function was to adjudicate disputes and dispense justice. It is not enough for a government to form laws, or even to provide executives to enact and enforce those laws, it is also incumbent upon good governments to establish a system of justice where wrongs and harms can be examined and just remedies administered. This type of justice is what Noah Webster called "Distributed Justice".
"Distributed justice belongs to magistrates or rulers, and consists in distributing to every man that right or equity which the law and the principals of equity require; or in deciding controversies according to the laws and to principals of equity." (Noah Webster 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language)
This passage teaches us several things about distributed justice as it is to be exercised by good governments.

Justice should be accessible. "in all your towns" (Deuteronomy 16:18). Judges, officials, and courts of justice were to be established in each town in Israel. I believe, in part, that this was to ensure that justice would always be accessible and within reach of every citizen of Israel. It is important for governments to ensure that those who have ligament reason to petition for justice and redress should have ready access to the institutions and officials that are empowered to dispense such justice. When justice is unavailable, either because of distance or other unreasonable obstacles placed to bar people from presenting their cases, then justice is repressed.

Justice should be contextual. "appoint for yourself judges" (Deuteronomy 16:18). Judges were to be appointed from among the people they were to judge. This is important to ensure not only the proper dispensing of the remedies provided by law, but also for ensuring that equity is afforded and applied to all and in all situations. Noah Webster defines "Equity", as it relates to jurisprudence, as, "The correction or qualification of law, when too severe or defective; or the extension of the words of the law to causes not expressed, yet coming within the reason of the law." (Noah Webster 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language) Those best suited to apply the law to the lives, situations, and circumstances of those being judged are those who share the same life, situations, and circumstances.

Justice should be free. "you shall not take a bribe" (Deuteronomy 16:19). Justice is a corrective action that provide benefit to those whom have been wronged or harmed. The benefit of justice flows to the one petitioning the court and not to the one who presides over the court. When the judges or officials stand to benefit from their decisions, then justice is easily turned away. This is why God said, "You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just." (Exodus 23:8)

Justice should be blind. "you shall not be partial" (Deuteronomy 16:19). The Hebrew term here for "partial" means literally to "scrutinize or look intently at". The implication is that justice should not be based upon the outward appearance or state of a man. Justice should not favor the rich, the handsome, the powerful, or the strong. A person's deservedness of justice is not based on any of these factors, rather it is due to their intrinsic value as a person; as one made in the image of God.

David Robison

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