Fox Byte 5775 #48: Shoftim (Judges)
What does it take to remove a head of state? This question concerns situations in which a nation finds cause to remove a leader before the established time. A survey of history informs us that such circumstances usually involve war and upheaval. The incumbent, whether a king or a prime minister, is not inclined to surrender power, and therefore must be compelled to give it up, often on pain of death. In consideration of this state of human affairs, the Founding Fathers of the United States established a procedure by which presidents might be impeached, or removed from office. The product of their deliberations appears in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
And that is all they have to say on the matter – which is why jurists for nearly 230 years have debated exactly what they meant.
The Founders certainly understood the seriousness of the question. They had just gone through a lengthy and painful process of removing King George III as head of state over the American colonies by the extreme measure of extricating the colonies from the king’s domain and establishing a separate sovereign nation. Their attempts at less drastic measures had not sufficed, leaving them no option but the usual method of war and upheaval. That is why they sought to limit the power of the president, providing a method of removal by legislative and judicial means. The grounds for removal would have to be well established, which is why the Constitution specifies the obvious transgressions of treason and bribery. But what exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”? This is where it gets interesting, and frustrating to those who desire to remove an incompetent, unpopular, or abusive president.
The Founders sought not only to prevent abuse of power in the Office of the President, but also to protect the dignity of the office and ensure continuity of government. Succeeding generations have understood this, which is why only three presidents have been the subject of impeachment proceedings. President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote on articles of impeachment for his abuse of power. Had he not done so, it is likely he would have been the only president ever removed from office. Congress did impeach Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on charges stemming from their obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, but acquitted both men – not because the charges were unfounded, but because of the political motivations behind the impeachment proceedings. Under such circumstances, their removal would have brought immense harm to the Office of the President and its foundation in the organic law of the United States.
One might wish that the Founding Fathers had been more specific in the standards they expected of people holding high office. Then again, how much more specific did they need to be in a Christian culture based on the rule of law derived from the Bible? Their understanding of God’s requirements for public leaders shaped their creation of the Government of the United States, leading them to do as YHVH did: provide just enough detail to establish wise government under the principles of justice and mercy.
YHVH’s principles of government appear in Shoftim (Judges, Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9), the Torah portion where we find the “nuts and bolts” of how to run Israeli society. The root of this society is YHVH Himself, the One and only God. Throughout this portion He reminds the people that they are to worship Him alone, and only in the way He specifies, and that they are to remove every vestige of worship of false gods which the people of Canaan have practiced (Deuteronomy 16:21-22, 17:2-7, 18:9-14). These reminders punctuate the instructions for establishing four distinct offices: judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 17:8-13), kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), priests (Deuteronomy 18:1-8), and prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). They also serve as the backdrop for instructions on due process of law (Deuteronomy 19:1-21, 21:1-9) and on how to go to war (Deuteronomy 20:1-20).
Consider what YHVH says about 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 NASB)
These instructions seem simple enough. The judges are to be honest and interested only in pursuing justice according to YHVH’s standard of righteousness – the standard He ‘explains through Moses, with commentary from the prophets and apostles. Anyone who begins at Torah will arrive at YHVH’s standard, and there is no other standard which the people of YHVH should be following. This is where we get into conflict with Christian teaching. If, as some in the church claim, the Torah (or Law) has been abolished by the work of Jesus Christ, then by what standard are we to measure righteousness? How are we to know the way to act? This is precisely what the Apostle Paul addresses in his stinging rebuke to the assembly (church) in Corinth:
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? (I Corinthians 6:1-6 NASB)
What exactly did Paul teach the Corinthians when he lived among them for a year and a half (Acts 18:1-11)? Did he impart some wisdom he had dreamed up under a supposed revelation from God? Or did he do according to the judgment of James, Yeshua’s brother, at the Council of Jerusalem, instructing these believers from among the Gentiles according to Moses (Acts 15:19-21)? Most assuredly he taught them from the Torah and the prophets, if we may believe Paul’s own testimony before Jewish and Roman officials (Acts 21:17-24, 22:3, 24:14-16; 25:6-12, 26:4-8,19-23, 28:17-23). We conclude, therefore, that these instructions YHVH gave to Moses still apply to His people to this day, whether they are Jews or Christians.
With that understanding, we can go back through the Apostolic Writings (New Testament) and see where these standards had application in the lives of Yeshua and His disciples. See, for example, the Torah principles in this teaching by Yeshua:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-18 NASB)
It is easy to make too much – or too little – of that last phrase in this passage. There is no guesswork involved, nor should there be presumption on the part of a believer in assuming Yeshua is imparting some extraordinary supernatural authority. When He says, “whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven”, He means that if we are acting according to the standards articulated in the Word of God, then we will be in agreement with our Father in Heaven, and therefore our judgments will be right. Since Yeshua makes direct reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 in His statement about confirming facts by two or three witnesses, we may conclude that He bases this entire teaching on Torah principles. In fact, the procedure He explains is an example of the due process of law which YHVH intends the judges of Israel to follow. Every matter must receive thorough investigation, and must be confirmed by credible evidence (two or three witnesses, meaning not only human testimony, but other types of evidence that can establish a matter). Every accused person must have opportunity to face his or her accuser and offer a defense, and if found guilty must have opportunity to repent and make restitution. If there is no repentance, then the penalty becomes progressively more severe, to the point of death (in cases considered by duly constituted legal authority) or exclusion from the community (if the matter is contained within the local assembly of believers).
Does this sound mysterious, arcane, or outdated? I would hope not. It is the basis of the Rule of Law in the United States and other Western nations. What may seem outdated, though, are the requirements for Israel’s kings:
When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,” you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You shall never again return that way.” He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:14-20 NASB)
Actually, this is not so strange when we consider that every country has requirements for heads of state. Who would want a foreigner as president or prime minister? And who would want an irresponsible, profligate person in office – which is one way of understanding that requirement about not multiplying wives! As for “returning to Egypt”, it is unwise for any country to become so dependent on another that it loses its independence. For God’s people, however, it is even more important. Notice that His instructions do not prohibit Israel from establishing a monarchy. Clearly it is His intent for them to do so since He explains that He Himself will designate the king. However, He wants to make sure this king is a man after His own heart, one who loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might. That is why YHVH specifies that the king will write a copy of the Torah for himself and study it every day. This is a higher standard than what He requires of all His people; we are to discuss the Word of the Lord daily at every opportunity (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but the king is to know the Word backward and forward so that he can govern according to God’s standards.
Much of the history of ancient Israel illustrates what happens as God’s leaders disregard His instructions to varying degrees. The book of Judges tells us of those men and women placed in positions of national prominence in the centuries after the nation took shape in the Promised Land. Some, like Deborah and Gideon, made concerted efforts to follows YHVH’s commandments, which brought great success to the nation and personal blessing to their households. Some, like Samson and Jephthah, regarded the commandments of the Lord lightly, and suffered severe consequences that rendered their careers less effective than they should have been. The most severe consequences came to the house and lineage of Eli, a man who served not only as judge of Israel, but as High Priest. In that duel capacity he had the task of carrying out justice with righteous judgments, and ensuring the people learned the difference between the holy and the common, or profane. Sadly, he failed at both tasks. Scripture indicts Eli for the extreme corruption of his two sons (who were also priests), and for his unwillingness to put an end to their illegal and immoral practices (I Samuel 2:12-17, 22-36). Because of this, the Lord rendered judgment on Eli by slaying his sons, bringing his life to a premature accidental end, and removing his descendants from the hereditary priesthood. It took over a century to bring that judgment to pass, but it was finally complete in the days of King Solomon (I Samuel 4:1-18; I Kings 2:26-27).
The Lord enforced His standards with the kings of Israel as well. None of them were perfect, but only a few stand out as truly righteous. Oddly enough, Solomon, the wisest and richest of them all, turned out to be one of the most egregious violators of God’s requirements for kings. It is well known that he had hundreds of wives and concubines, but Scripture also tells us how he made an alliance with Egypt, taking Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife and buying his chariots and horses from Egypt. Whether he wrote a copy of the Torah for himself is unclear, but even if he did, in his later years it seemed to have less of an influence on him than his foreign wives (I Kings 3:1-5, 10:26-29, 11:1-13). In fact, when we review the record of all the kings of Israel and of Judah, only two stand out as truly righteous: David, the man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:13-14; Acts 13:22), and Josiah, one of the last descendants of David to reign as king. Interestingly, only Josiah among all the monarchs earned this glowing epitaph:
Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. (II Kings 23:25 NASB)
This should be familiar to us. Yeshua identified loving the Lord with all our being as the greatest commandment in the entire Law (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). David loved the Lord, but in several instances fell short in his obedience. Josiah obeyed the Lord, but perhaps his love of YHVH was not as great as David’s. Their examples are instructive to this day, and we would do well to imitate them. Better yet, we should combine their examples in daily living out our love for our Creator by obeying His commandments. That is what His prophets tell us. In fact, that is what He established as the standard for His prophets:
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. But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” You may say in your heart, “How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-22 NASB)
This passage is considered Messianic, meaning it is God’s promise to send His Anointed One as His ultimate messenger. Of course, all the genuine prophets of YHVH fit this description, but there are four who stand out as potential fulfillment of this promise. The first three are Elijah and the two men who came in the spirit of Elijah: Elisha and John the Baptist. Elijah’s task was to turn the people of the Kingdom of Israel back to YHVH, and those who followed him accomplished the same task (I Kings 18:21, 19:15-18; II Kings 2:9-10; Malachi 4:4-6; Matthew 11:11-15; Luke 1:13-17). The fourth is Yeshua of Nazareth. Of the four, only one is considered Messiah by much of the world, but ironically not for the reasons YHVH specified. For centuries Christians have accepted Yeshua’s Messiahship simply because of the signs and wonders He performed, disregarding something even more important: the fact that a true prophet of YHVH is to adhere to the Law (Torah), not teaching anything different from what Moses taught (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Signs, wonders, words of knowledge, and other miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit often accompany genuine prophets, giving credibility to their message, but these same manifestations also accompany false prophets. How are the people of God to distinguish between the two? By two witnesses, of course, just as the Torah instructs. First, the words of these prophets must come true. If they do, then the prophet may indeed be genuine. However, since Satan can counterfeit signs and wonders, the second witness is essential: the signs and wonders mean nothing if the prophet’s message contradicts the commandments of the Lord.
What does this mean for God’s people in this modern age? We have no shortage of prophets, so it is wise that we test them and see if they meet YHVH’s criteria. Do they present signs, wonders, and accurate prophecies? Then they may indeed be God’s messengers. But do they then teach God’s people not to observe His Sabbath as a sign of His covenant with them (Exodus 31:12-17)? Do they disregard the Feasts, or Appointed Times, the Lord has established as perpetual statutes for His people to observe (Leviticus 23:1-44)? Do they speak against haughtiness, lying, murder, and other abominations (Proverbs 6:16-19), but permit God’s people to eat the things He has declared to be abominations (Leviticus 11:9-23)? If these things are so, then God’s people have no need to fear or heed such prophets. To put it another way, if the prophet does not follow Torah, then pay no attention to him or her.
These are easy things to say, but hard things to consider, and even more difficult to live out. Yet consider the bigger picture: the Creator God of all the Universe is building a people and a nation that reflects His Holy self. This people is to be so righteous, so wise, so loving, so merciful, so kind, so perfect as to be exactly right for God Himself to take as His Bride. They cannot work their way into this favored status; it is not something earned, but something conferred by the grace of the Living God, and accepted by the faith of those who desire to enter into fellowship with Him. We get a glimpse of this in the Torah’s instructions on going to war.
When you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. He shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” The officers also shall speak to the people, saying, “Who is the man that has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would dedicate it. Who is the man that has planted a vineyard and has not begun to use its fruit? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would begin to use its fruit. And who is the man that is engaged to a woman and has not married her? Let him depart and return to his house, otherwise he might die in the battle and another man would marry her.” Then the officers shall speak further to the people and say, “Who is the man that is afraid and fainthearted? Let him depart and return to his house, so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.” When the officers have finished speaking to the people, they shall appoint commanders of armies at the head of the people. (Deuteronomy 20:2-9 NASB)
Notice the special exceptions: men who have built houses, but not lived in them; planted vineyards, but not eaten of their fruit; or become engaged to a woman, but have not yet married her. Each of them may depart, free from battle for a time. When we wonder why it has taken so long for YHVH to avenge Himself on His enemies and bring ultimate judgment to this world, perhaps this military instruction explains why. What we know about Messiah is that He is preparing a place for us (in a sense, building a house) (John 14:1-3), that He is the Vine and we are the branches in the vineyard His Father has planted (Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 21:33-44; John 15:4-6), and that He is the Bridegroom of His people (Matthew 9:14-15, 25:1-13; Mark 2:18-20; Luke 5:33-35; Revelation 19:7-8). The reason Messiah came the first time was to call out, redeem, and set on the path to righteousness this people He will claim as His Bride. That is the task of the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. Upon His return He will marry His Bride, live with Her, and share with her the fruits of His vineyard: the earth. Once He has done this, then He will be ready to deal with His enemies in the earth’s final war. Thus, if anyone wonders why there is to be a Millennial Kingdom of Messiah, followed by one last effort by Satan to deceive the nations, this is the reason.
But what of that last category of exceptions to battle – the fainthearted? That would be for us. Anyone who is not willing to go through the training process to become the Bride of the Living God should be free to depart in peace. Sadly, that is the only peace they will enjoy, unless they return and take their place in the ranks. That is the meaning of repentance. It is not just turning from something wrong we have been doing, but turning to the right that YHVH designed for us and wants us to do. It is a matter of faith, of course. We cannot see the outcome, but we step into this process with faith that the One Who called us will accomplish His Word. Our faith is made complete by action, starting with the simple (but sometimes tedious) process of learning what His Word actually says so that we may live it out. And that is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote:
Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31 NASB)