Law, Order, Judges, and Police in the Bible

Posted by on May 8, 2022

Civil order in a society rests upon a righteous judicial system of judges established by a constitution, and an impartial administration of justice established by competent police that ensures respect to the laws.

The political system with elections and rule by majority, as we call it today “democracy”, was unknown to the Torah. Even the first king of Israel, Shaul, was not elected by the people but chosen by YHVH Elohim.

But today there is “democracy” and the separation between the executive and judicial branches of the government, and even separation of the government from the Creator.

From a Biblical perspective, the judicial and executive branches of the government is mandated as opposed to the “mob justice”. Deuteronomy mandates for establishing courts of judges and police, as well as carrying out unbiased justice not influenced by the other two branches of the government: the king and the priests.

The Greek democracy

“Democracy” is the Greek word δημοκρατία, demokratia, from demos meaning “people” and kratos “rule”. Hence, democracy means rule of the [majority of] people. Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation (i.e., direct democracy of Switzerland), or to choose governing officials to do so (representative democracy). Since democracy has come from ancient Greece, it is deeply grounded in the Greek philosophy and belief in the human intellect.

Democracy, as a political system ruled by the people, either directly or through elected representatives, applies its doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group.

As such a state under the direct or representative rule of its people, democracy is nothing less than man’s law above the Law of the Most High, wherein the rule of the majority contains no guarantee of the rights of minorities.

In democracy, there is no law superior to that of the state, as very often the lawgiver and government see themselves above the law, which in its extreme appears in the form of dictatorship and tyranny.

The Greek model of democracy thus has one hereditary weakness: the tyranny of the majority or totalitarian democracy. On the other hand, there is a tyranny of the minority, which has been taking more and more space and influence in the governing of the public affairs. While the tyranny of the majority is called democracy, the tyranny of the minority is called terrorism.

Contrary to the common belief, democracy, and especially the western type of democracy, is not the answer to the problems in the world. As Winston Churchill formulated it: “Democracy is not the best thing mankind has invented, but there is no better”. In fact, there is something much better than democracy. This type of society we are longing for, and it will come and will not tarry.

There is no directive from the Torah to follow the majority or even worse the mob. Just as there is no directive from the Torah to establish democracy. Moreover, there is no word in Hebrew for “democracy”.

In the Scripture, in contrast to democracy, prophets were mandated to challenge the authority of the king if he acted against the Torah. Individuals were even empowered to disobey illegal or immoral laws of the governing [man-made] authority, as we have explained in the article When a King Can Be Disobeyed – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

For this alone, the covenant at Sinai deserves to be seen as the single greatest step in the long road to a free society—free of injustice, unrighteousness, violence, murders, and wars.

The founder of the first judicial system

The founder of the first judicial system is not Mosheh, the law giver, but his father-in-law Yithro. Yithro saw how Mosheh was occupied from morning until evening in judging the people, who brought all their disputes to him, that he might settle them according to the laws YHVH Elohim.

The people came to Mosheh to seek or inquire justice of Elohim in cases of dispute. By judging or deciding the cases brought before him, Mosheh  made known to the people the ordinances and laws of the Torah of YHVH.

But Yithro disapproved this practice of distributing justice as exhausting, wearing out, both for Mosheh and the people; the work was too great for him to continue to sustain such a burden alone.

Yithro advised him to appoint judges from the people for the smaller matters in dispute, and only the more difficult cases, which really needed Mosheh’s attention, would be brought to him. And when these matters were too great for Mosheh, he might would lay them before YHVH Elohim for guidance, as indeed there were such cases.

So did Mosheh. He appointed judges, well-known men from the heads of the tribes (Deu 1:13), who feared Elohim, men of truth, hating unfair gain, instructing them to administer justice with impartiality and without respect of persons. And he place them over the people to be rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and rulers of tens. Thus, the burden to judge over the people was made lighter for himself, for the judges bore the burden with him (see also Deu 1:12-18).

We should not think that the total number of judges is based on the census lest we come with a too great number of 600 judges over thousands, 6000 over hundreds, 12,000 over fifties, and 60,000 over tens, in all 78,600 judges. And if we add the law enforcement officers to them, the total number of judges and officers would indeed so great that Israel would have turned into a “police state”.

In fact, the contrary may rather be inferred in Mosheh words that, according to Deu 1:15, the judges were to be chosen out of the heads of the tribes, not out of the total number of people, i.e. per capita, so that the number of judges must have been smaller than that of the heads.

Judges and police in the Bible

Sanhedrin of judges and the law-enforcement police in the Bible

Sanhedrin of judges and the law-enforcement police in the Bible

The Torah of YHVH is not about how to go heaven, but about law, justice, and order here on the earth. Improving the system of administering justice was the first step towards entering the Promised Land.

The word for “state” in Hebrew is medina, as in Medina Israel, the State of Israel. It is based on the word for judgement, דִּין din. A derivative of this word is דַּיָּן dayan, a judge or advocate. 

For the purpose of settling the disputes of the people, Mosheh had already provided the people with judges at Sinai and had given the judges the necessary instructions for the fulfilment of their duties (Exodus 18).

But in Deuteronomy (Deu 1:12-18), when the nation was about to enter the Land, Mosheh addressed and directed the people to elect for themselves judges and officers, just as it was done at Sinai, where he appointed the judges.

In his opening of his last address to the nation, Mosheh referred to the increase of the people in Egypt (Deu 1:10-11). They had arrived there being only seventy persons, but by the time they left Egypt they numbered over 600,000  men suitable for military service.

As of the time in Deuteronomy, however, the people were so numerous that by some estimates they were between two and a half and three million. Or, as Mosheh called them: “as numerous as the stars of the heavens”.

But by saying, “Yehovah your Elohim has multiplied you” (literally, “made you great”), Mosheh might have implied that he was not only referring to quantitative increase in Israel but to the qualitative increase, as they had developed into a powerful nation. Such a powerful nation, Mosheh realized, would need well established judicial and enforcement system.

Therefore, the reason for appointing judges is that for future times, when Israel would no longer possess a prophet and mediator like himself, the people would live scattered in the cities, and judges would be indeed necessary. We read,

Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which Yehovah your Elohim is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous judgement. Do not distort judgement. Do not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. (Deu 16:18-19)

The Torah wrote “You shall appoint judges (shoftim) within your [city] gates” according to their tribes thus implying that this law applies to each tribe individually. The reason the Torah writes “all” is to tell that every single city in the land of Israel must have its own court of law.

But although Israel constituted twelve tribes this does not mean that there should be twelve provinces each having its own set of laws and judiciary, as in many countries today where there is both Federal and Provincial Law, but Israel is to be one country under one Law, the Torah of YHVH.

Needlessly to say, these judges were to be appointed on the basis of their knowledge of the laws of YHVH. For this reason it is said, “they shall judge the people with righteous judgment”. 

While the inclusion of judges in the overall judicial system does not come as a surprise, the Torah also wrote “and officers” to be appointed in the same manner. Who were these “officers” Mosheh instructed the people to appoint along with the judges?

The Hebrew word for “officer” is שֹׁטֵר shoter. It comes from an unused root probably meaning to write, but by analogy or implication it means an official superintendent, magistrate, or overseer. Hence, in the contexts where this word has been used in the Bible, shotrim (plural) means nothing less than “law enforcement officers”, i.e., police.

In other words, shotrim are those who were to ensure that the judges’ decisions were carried out according to the laws in the Torah, namely, shotrim were policemen appointed to enforce the laws when needed. They had the authority to enforce the laws of the Torah challenging everything: from fraudulent weights and measures on the market to murder cases.

But this verse also explicitly teaches that if someone is found guilty of crime, he or she should, as an image of the Creator, be treated with dignity and judged in a court, according to the Torah, and not be left to the will of the mob.

The judicial system in the Bible

According to the Talmud (the Oral Law), the judicial system is divided into three levels: a court comprising 71 judges, known as Sanhedrin, courts comprising twenty-three judges, and courts comprising only three judges. The courts of three judges were instituted for communities numbering fewer than 120. The sages have said in Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:6 that a court cannot have fewer than three judges in order to prevent a tie vote.

But the sages also teach that even YHVH Himself does not make judicial decisions alone, although He does seal the decree all by Himself. They teach that there is a Heavenly Council or Heavenly Court, where these decisions are taken, as it is said,

Elohim stands in the congregation of El; He judges in the midst of the elohim*. (Psa 82:1)

JPS translation has “judges” for *elohim. Those elohim are in authority to judge as they are Elohim’s delegates and the bearers of His image, and therefore as His representatives are also called elohim, i.e., “mighty ones”. Elohim, who had delegated this exercise of power upon these subordinate elohim, “judges”, sits in judgement in their midst. In Psa 82:6, these elohim are called “the sons of the Most High”, but in Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 it is clear that they are His messengers (angels).            

And if YHVH Elohim Himself does not make decisions unilaterally but in the heavenly court, and there cannot be less than three judges in the earthly court, then the presence of one judge in the court of law (as in some countries today) is unacceptable, according to the judicial standards of the Torah.

It was thus intended to be in order to prevent corruption, when it is said, “do not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise [judge]”. The reason being is that once a judge has received a bribe he can no longer be neutral and objective in his judgements, because the judge cannot bring incriminating arguments against the bribe giver.

But it will be improper to say that the commandment to appoint judges and officers in Deu 16:18-19 is only concerning the proper functioning of the judicial system but also concerning all those who by failing to appoint the proper judges and officers contribute to unfair judgements, i.e., those who have elected the corrupted judge.

When the law enforcement officers are established, the judicial system is in effect and the rulings of the judges is enforced. So, if there are no law-enforcers, the rulings of the judges are unable to be enforced, there is no point in making such rulings, and the law to appoint judges is of no avail.

According to the Torah, the shotrim were not merely “bailiffs”, i.e., servants of the courts, or “police officers” patrolling the streets, but advisers of the judges in their duty to apply the Torah to the daily life. Thus, the judges and law enforcers needed each other. If there is police without judges, there is no reason for having judges, and law enforcers are merely a uncontrolled “militia”; and a judicial system without a law enforcement is futile.

With all things considered, we may liken shoftim with shotrim seeing that their functions depend on each another, and so do their titles.

When decision is made in heaven

If an earthly appointed judge makes his decision on the basis of the Torah, he merely declares a decision already made in heaven, as the laws in the Torah are heavenly given decrees. And the opposite is also true: any decision of a judge not based on the Torah would overturn the judgment already made in heaven. We read the words of Yeshua the Messiah,

Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mat 18:18 KJV)

Regrettably, this translation, like most others, is easy to read nonetheless inaccurate. This verse and also Mat 16:19 are misunderstood to say that the Church has been given the unprecedented authority to judge whatever it sees fit, as the Church indeed judged and annulled the Torah. But we should not err and conclude from the KJV translation that someone had been given the exclusive authority to invalidate the Torah of YHVH, as we have explained this in the article Has the Messiah Abolished the Law of God? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

With that said, the Hebrew grammar and language of Matthew 18:18 (Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995) suggest something quite different. The Hebrew text says that whatever we bind on earth has already been bound in heaven, and whatever we loose on earth has already been loosed in heaven, if it has been done according to Torah.

In other words, the Messiah has said that if we act in accordance with the Torah, whatever we have done is already approved, because it has met the standards of righteousness in heaven.

Therefore, in the light of the words of the Messiah, we have the warning in Deuteronomy to appoint or elect only righteous and competent judges and law enforcers, who will bind om earth what has already been bound in heaven. And if we fail to do so we will be an accessory to perversion of justice, when it occurs, and our acts will not be bound in heaven.

Does it matter whom we elect?

When we elect a politician for office, we enter into a covenant or in an agreement with him: we have authorized him to do whatever he has promised to do. So, does it matter whom we elect?

We should recall the words of the apostle who warned us about the danger of electing unrighteous officials. We read the verse that has been unfairly overlooked,

… who, though they know the righteousness of Elohim, that those who practice such deserve death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them(Rom 1:32)

Shaul is truly clear in his warning that those of faith who know the righteousness of Elohim expressed in the Torah, though they know that those who legalize abominations deserve death, not only do the same abominations but also approve (elect) of those who practice them.

The apostle thus makes the point that the voters are equally responsible with the elected politicians for giving their approval (vote) to those who practice what deserve death previously expound in Rom 1:20-31: idol worshiping, falsehood, degrading passions and lust of homosexuality, unrighteousness, whoring, wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder (of unborn babies), fighting (against the righteousness), deceit, slanderers, haters, devisers of evil, disobedience to parents.

The intelligent reader will understand that the Sovereign of the universe is indeed putting everyone in a position to choose (without middle ground) to do good or to do evil.

Knowledge known to only a few will die out. If you feel blessed by these teachings of Time of Reckoning Ministry, help spread the word!

May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!