DEUTERONOMY 16:18-20, 17:14-20
18 You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. 19 You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
17:14 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me," 15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the LORD your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. 16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the LORD has said to you, "You must never return that way again." 17 And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.
In time Israel will be ruled by Judges and Kings. The most famous Biblical Judge will be a woman, Deborah. A judge is a ruler or a military leader who also presides over legal hearings. The most famous Kings of Israel will be David and his son, Solomon. We know what a king is. A king is a king. Need I say more?
In this Deuteronomy passage, the key features and hidden dangers of being a judge or a king is limned [Tom G., for you]. For both king and judge, doing justice is what is important. God loves justice because justice upholds the right -- the rights of people and the right ordering of lives within a nation. The opposite of justice does great harm. Injustice brings about destruction. Injustice, more than anything in a society, degrades people who are created in God's image and cheapens lives. Injustice is inspired by sin and perpetuated by the demonic.
Doing justice consistently is hard, especially in contexts where you are rewarded for injustice. Hence the above word about bribes. "A bribe blinds the eyes of the wise" -- as potently said in verse 19. A bribe is an illegitimate short-cut to an end. A bribe short-circuits justice. Ask FIFA, ask some nations around the world. Bribery -- its wholesale use -- destroys a nation's economy and its political life. A judge -- actually anyone in leadership -- needs to keep away from bribes and bribery's inherent dangers to corrupt the soul.
The passage about kings is heartbreaking if you know what happens to Israel, especially Israel under King Solomon. God warns Solomon about marrying many foreign wives, not so much because of "morality," but because of how Solomon will be led away from the worship of YHWH and toward the worship of foreign gods. Solomon's heart will become divided and hard. And where the king goes, so goes the nation. Money, sex, and power will corrupt without proper limits set on these things. In the end, these three will destroy Solomon and the nation of Israel. The antidote to such destructive power is God's word and humility. True of Israel's kings; true of us. May we stay true to God's word and live in humility.
Let's pray: Father God, as judges and kings were admonished to stay away from injustice, help us not to partner with unjust ways. Rather, help us to become a just people who love your word and live with godly humility. May you protect us from enticements and threats that seek to corrupt justice in our lives. Help us to live courageously, in your power. In Jesus' name, amen.