Deuteronomy: A Covenant of Justice

Returning to our continuing study of the book of Deuteronomy, we discover a bump in the road in the flow of the book. Picking up at the end of chapter 16, we enter an intersection of the civil and religious law of the people of Israel.

Scripture and summary

Deuteronomy 16:18-20

Righteous judgment is enshrined in the law of Israel. Israel is directed to “appoint judges” at every level. This method of governing places authority at the lowest level. Israel is to have a common law for all those who abide within its borders and judges dedicated to upholding justice and the rule of law.

Deuteronomy 16:21-17:7

This law, in a modern and pluralistic society seems to be highly intolerant, but in the context of the nature of the covenant in the ancient world it is very direct and completely proper. Yahweh will not share what is due to him with another. The establishment of a rival cult threatens the unity and the justice of a society. The high expectations of God, both in regard to himself and his creatures, are threatened by rivals. Such behavior was to be considered treason and dealt with swiftly and justly, but not recklessly.

Deuteronomy 17:8-13

There is a recognition that a local judge may run into difficulty in handling a case. In case of such an instance may arise a supreme court is to be constituted with its decisions being immediately implemented.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

Even the king is not above the law, but is to reign according to the law.


In a society that denies the reality of an absolute morality, God’s commands for justice, moreover what he declares to be just seems strange or even unconscionable. This, of course, is because man sees himself as the arbiter of what is good and evil not as a creature who is subject to his Creator. This is most clearly seen in a culture that has no qualms about infanticide but cannot bring itself to end the life of a convicted murderer. Such is a culture under judgment and it will tear itself apart unless God brings them to repentance.

God’s justice is based upon his perfection and his holiness. Corrupt judges undermine true justice. God cannot be swayed by a bribe, and those who would claim to be for justice are agreeing to take God’s standard and apply it. Justice, as a representation and extension of God’s character, must not be subverted or abused, else it bring about the wrath of God as an insult to his character.

Truth is God’s nature and justice should seek to uncover truth to expose the world to the glory of God in honor and thanks to him.


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