Study Notes

Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20


After slowing down to review the seven annual holidays on the Mosaic calendar, we're getting back up to speed as we cover the rest of Deuteronomy chapter sixteen and all of seventeen tonight. We pick up in verse 18...

16:18-20 Righteous Justice

God's law said that the people were to appoint judges and officers who would judge with righteous judgment. Anyone who served in law enforcement or the judicial system were to judge with righteous judgment. Three things are specifically listed as being unrighteous:

Don't distort justice - the word "distort" is the Hebrew word "naw-TAW," which means "to stretch out." It is not righteous to stretch out justice. Today, our "justice" system takes years and often decades to put a criminal to death for committing horrible crimes. With appeal after appeal, the lawyers of criminals stretch out justice in the United States as a regular practice.

Don't show partiality. It is part of our human nature to allow friendship or respect or preconceived notions to influence our view of an issue. But if we are called to execute justice, we must look at the situation uninfluenced by such things. Young Pastor Timothy was told that if any of the elders in his church was found to be continuing in sin they should be rebuked in the presence of all (1Tim 5:19-20). In that situation, it would be easy for Timothy to say, "We've served in ministry together. We're good friends. He's a respected member of the community. He probably didn't do it."

We can think that we've got good reason to be partial towards one person or another, however, the Proverb says,

Prov. 28:21 To show partiality is not good, because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.

You can think, "Oh, a business professional like him would never murder his wife. A man with such a happy home life would never have committed that terrible crime. But any man is able to commit any sin given the proper provocation.

Bribery is also listed as being unrighteous in judgment. Men who pursue wealth and rewards over justice should have no place in law enforcement or the judicial system.

16:21-22 No Asherah Next To The Altar

The Israelites were forbidden from placing an Asherah pole next to the altar of the Lord. An Asherah was an image (1Ki 15:13) made from wood (Judg. 6:26) which people used in their worship of other gods.

But the Lord won't share the stage with anyone or anything else. He absolutely forbade the worship of other gods.

Now, it is important to know that it's not just a matter of forsaking the Lord. Many people place things in their life next to God and think it'll be okay. But you don't have to forsake the Lord to bring forth His anger - just make some additions. That's what King Solomon did:

1Kings 11:4-8 For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.

Notice that Solomon didn't entirely walk away from the Lord. He simply added the other gods. Many people justify this sort of behavior, but God specifically forbids it because He is jealous (Deut. 6:14-15). That's why we've got to choose - the Lord alone or not. Elijah rebuked the people of Israel, saying...

1Kings 18:21 ..."How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him..."

We need to make a decision - is it going to be the Lord, or this other thing in my life? Is Jesus going to get my full heart, or will I remove it from Him entirely?

17:1 Unblemished Sacrifices

The sacrifices offered to the Lord had to be unblemished, without defect. As the Lord said in Leviticus,

Lev. 22:20-21 "Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be accepted for you. When a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or for a freewill offering, of the herd or of the flock, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it."

Defective offerings would not be accepted because they were detestable to the Lord. This was to demonstrate His absolute holiness and standard of perfection.

When Jesus Christ was crucified, He was the only One who could die for our sins, because He was the only one without the defect of sin. Peter said that we were redeemed with...

1Pet. 1:19 ...precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

This means that He...

Heb. 9:14 ...offered Himself without blemish to God...

If you came to God and tried to say that anyone else had been sacrificed for your sins, it would be rejected by God, for the sacrifice would be blemished and defective.

17:2-5 Death For Evil

The Law of God specified the death penalty for anyone who served other gods. This included serving the sun, moon, or stars.

17:6-7 Witnesses

Knowing how fallible man is, one witness was not sufficient to put someone to death. It is always possible that one witness is mistaken, has a grudge, or is being partial. It greatly increases the odds of accuracy when you hear from two or three witnesses.

Notice too that the first ones to strike out against the criminal were the ones who had witnessed against him. I believe that one of the reasons for this was to prevent many people from bearing false witness.

Often, there are people who want to trash me behind my back, spreading lies, exaggerations, and bad stories about me. But when confronted face to face, they run like cockroaches from the light.

Someone who has no problem repeating a lie when there are no consequences would have to think twice when they were called on the carpet to deal the death blow.

I believe that this is the Law to which Jesus was referring when He challenged the scribes and Pharisees,

John 8:7 ..."He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

17:8-13 The Priest Is The Highest Judge

There were times when a court case was too difficult to decide what crime to convict the person for. In that case, the judges were to go and speak to the High Priest at the temple. The High Priest would then decide what the verdict and terms of punishment should be.

That is certainly a far cry from our justice system today. In today's system, a priest or pastor can't even get a place on a jury. To make matters worse, when any of God's law is referred to in a court case, it is grounds for throwing it out.

Just south of us, down in Brighton, Colorado, this was proven this May. A man named Robert Harlan forced a woman off the road, murdered her, and then shot and paralyzed a woman who came to her aid. He was found guilty, and the jury gave him the death penalty. Unfortunately, in deciding this, it was reported that the consulted a Bible passage in Leviticus:

Lev. 24:20-21 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death.

When Judge John J. Vigil discovered this, he threw out the death sentence, saying that using the Bible meant that the death penalty was imposed in an unconstitutional manner. He said, "Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding."

Not Listening To The Priest

Interestingly, the Law says that to be so presumptuous as to not listen to the priest meant the death penalty for that judge as well. Judge John J. Vigil will one day stand before the Judge of the Universe and have to answer for his presumption.

17:14-20 When You Want A King

God's will was that Israel not have a king over them. He wanted to appoint godly men that would listen to Him and lead the people. People like Moses, Joshua, and Gideon. At one point, the Israelites...

Judg. 8:22-23 ...said to Gideon, "Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son's son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." But Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you."

But the time came during the days of the prophet Samuel that the Israelites looked around at the countries which surrounded them and said,

1Sam. 8:5 ..."Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations."

God knew this day would come, when they rebelled against His plan. So in preparation for their rebellion, He gave them standards for this king they wanted. Of course they neglected the standards as well.

In spite of their neglect, we should examine what the standards are, because each of us have areas of authority in our lives, and would greatly benefit by applying these principles.

The King's Requirements

1) Don't multiply horses. We have a tendency to glory in what we have attained and accomplished.

Psa. 20:7 Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.

2) Don't return to Egypt - going back to the world, even for power or security. No matter what your reasons are for going back to the world, it all boils down to disobedience. Stephen said,

Acts 7:39 "Our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt"

3) Don't multiply wives or money - don't follow after the desires of the flesh.

1Tim. 6:9-10 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

4) Write a copy of the Law and read it every day - know the Word, stick to the Word.

Psa. 119:9-11 How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.

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