Isaiah 51:12-52:12 (or finish at 53:12)
by Mark Huey
Shoftim concentrates on justice and what God required of the Ancient Israelites, as they enter into the Promised Land. Our absolutely righteous and just Creator was very concerned that His chosen people maintain justice, as they established a governing system in Canaan. For without righteous justice, God knows that any society will fail, due to the human proclivity toward evil inherited in the fallen nature.
Here in this parashah, Moses touches upon a wide variety of ordinances to help insure proper balance in Israel. These include the requirements for a judicial system, specific guidelines for a government led by a king or regent, inheritance for the priesthood, prohibitions against various forms of false worship, how to deal with true or false prophets, the establishment of cities of refuge, laws regarding boundaries, regulations for military warfare, and how to handle the discovery of a slain person in any tribal territory. God is very specific about these different areas of concern, because He recognized that conflict is inevitable and that people need rules in order to resolve it. By detailing these ordinances from God, Moses has given Israel some foundational guidelines for handling the different issues that will arise in the life of the nation.
We must be mindful that Ancient Israel did not get a pass on the inherent human nature that gravitates toward selfishness and corruption. This is one of the reasons that the Torah was communicated to Israel. Undoubtedly, down through the ages, many judicial codes or customs that have been established among many other societies, can trace their roots to some of these very texts. It is through adherence to many of these specific ordinances that have been incorporated into different national civil codes, through which different cultures and ethnic groups have been able to maintain various degrees of civility.
As the people of Israel prepared to enter into the Promised Land, Moses will no longer be the person to turn to for resolution of conflict as he did in the wilderness. As the different tribes inherit their specific territories, it will be incumbent upon each tribe to appoint judges to handle the levels of conflict that are inevitable in human affairs. As the teaching seen in Shoftim begins, Moses lists a number of commands and criteria for the people who are to be appointed by the various tribes to function as judges and officers to handle disputes between people. In this reading, Moses describes the criteria and attributes for a judicial system and the appointment of judges:
“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).
The first requirement is that the people select from among themselves judges and officers or magistrates, who do not distort or “pervert” (NIV, ATS) justice. Distorting justice perverts God’s intention for His people to be holy and prosper.
Years earlier, while in the desert sojourn, Moses was advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, to appoint judges to help with the workload of mediating disputes between the Israelites. In the following passage, some basic criteria are established for those who are chosen to be judges:
“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:13-24).
The three basic criteria that Jethro counseled Moses to discern in a judge are that these are: (1) to be individuals who fear God, (2) they are committed to truth, and (3) they are those who hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these are similar character traits that Moses now gives to the people of Israel in Shoftim, as they were to find judges who would preside over conflict in each of the cities that would be established in the new tribal territories.
The first attribute that a judge must have is a healthy fear of the Lord. In selecting judges, one must understand how “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Fear generates wisdom, which in turn gives one knowledge and understanding about who God is. Without fear of the Lord, one can become a kind of god unto himself, or at least some kind of potentate who can make rulings and decisions entirely unchecked. By fearing the Creator, one recognizes that His justice is absolutely perfect in all of its ways. The goal is then to attempt to emulate His perfect justice. By fearing the Lord, one will not distort justice or be partial toward the wealthy or the poor. This is told to us earlier in Exodus, because various temptations can have a tendency to pervert justice:
“You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:1-9).
In order for these things to be accomplished, the second attribute that a judge must have is to be a person of truth, and recognize that truth comes from the Word of God. By studying and applying the established principles of God’s Word, a judge will not rely upon his own standards, but rather the standards of the Holy One. The Psalmist describes it this way:
“He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth, to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:9-10).
In order to administer justice, one must know the truth that is embodied in the testimonies of the Almighty.
The third attribute that is required of a judge is that he hates dishonest gain. Moses elaborated, “and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:18). In this statement Moses indicated that even the wise and righteous will be blinded if they are bribed. The need to hate dishonest gain is of paramount importance.
The bottom line that we see in these Scriptures is that God requires His judges to exercise, to the best of their human ability, a justice that is a reflection of His perfect justice. By placing these criteria upon the judges selected for the different cities, Israel, or any subsequent society, has the best chance of administering justice in a fair and equitable manner.
As I reflected on these matters of justice and how the Lord desires His judges to not pervert justice, there is a passage that comes to mind in this week’s Torah reading which speaks to the ultimate justice that all people must contend with in their lifetime. This is the reality that eventually the Lord would send a future prophet whose words must be heeded. The Scripture declares,
“It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:19).
The words of the passage are of utmost importance to all who are seeking a relationship with the God of Israel. Consider them in their entirety:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
In this passage, Moses declared that God will send a prophet like him from among the people of Israel, whose words must be followed. It is from this passage that the ultimate justice for humanity is embodied. Moses says that a future prophet will make declarations that must be believed.
As Moses described this future prophet, it is categorically clear that the “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable” (Deuteronomy 18:19, NRSV). This future prophet will speak words from God, in His name, that must be complied with—or else God Himself will issue judgment.
The Apostles understood the significance of the future Prophet whose words must be heeded, or they would not be saved. After Shavuot or the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained to those gathered that Yeshua the Messiah was the Prophet who Moses testified about:
“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Yeshua, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed [Deuteronomy 18:19; Leviticus 23:29] to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. ‘It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [Genesis 22:18; 26:4]. For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways’” (Acts 3:18-26).
Peter declared that Yeshua is indeed the future Prophet whom Moses refers to in this week’s Torah portion. His words must be heeded! If they are not, then the Almighty will require it of all those who hear. What this means is specified by the words of Peter, as he stated, “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people” (NRSV). Peter makes it clear that failure to believe in the words of Yeshua will bring eternal damnation, and banishment from God’s presence. This is far more serious than what a human judge might decree. This has eternal significance.
When you take this to heart, and read and consider the words of Yeshua—recognizing that He is the future Prophet that Moses speaks of in Shoftim—you realize that the Messiah’s words must be believed or you will face eternal separation from the Holy One. Statements like the following must be believed:
“Yeshua said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Yeshua said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him’” (John 14:6-21).
Yeshua alone is the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through belief and faith in the shed blood of the Messiah. Other truthful words indicate that the Messiah via the Holy Spirit will take up residence in the hearts of His followers. We also see that Yeshua is in the Father and that He is in His followers. Those who truly know Him and love Him will embrace words like this.
According to the statements of Moses, the Lord will require His children to believe the words of this future Prophet. Do you believe Yeshua’s words? These are actually the required words of more than a prophet, but indeed, are the words of the very Son of God!
How seriously do you take the words of Moses? I suspect that if you are a committed Messianic Believer, probably reading through the Torah portions every week, that you take Moses’ Teaching very seriously. While many of you read the Torah portions so that you can have a foundation established in your heart and mind for understanding the remainder of Scripture, other Messianics read the Torah portions as the only part of the Bible that they think is important. Is this a problem? Other than the fact that there are key Biblical doctrines that are elaborated on elsewhere than the Pentateuch—it is a serious problem when it comes to understanding Yeshua. Only encountering the Torah, without encountering Yeshua, leaves one devoid of the reality of eternal life.
If one does not understand the work of Moses, one cannot understand the work of the Messiah. If one believes Moses, a further step must be taken to absolutely believe the Messiah. The Messiah’s words are the words that all people will be required to heed. As our Lord clearly declared,
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?’” (John 5:46-47).
For those without faith, it is impossible to believe His words. Yet, God requires belief in them. In all of this, God’s justice is perfected. May we all cling to the words of the Messiah, but most importantly, we must cling to Him, for in Him and Him alone we have eternal life!
 Deuteronomy 17:1-13.
 Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
 Deuteronomy 18:1-8.
 Deuteronomy 18:9-14.
 Deuteronomy 18:15-22.
 Deuteronomy 19:1-13.
 Deuteronomy 19:14-21.
 Deuteronomy 20:1-20.
 Deuteronomy 21:1-9.