Shoftim: Justice, Justice.
Updated: Jan 19
Solomon and His Torah
We’re going to start this week with my favorite Midrash which is derived from the words of Shoftim.
It’s a Midrash about Solomon and how he did some things he shouldn’t have done (i.e. the minor details of the 700 or so wives). The Midrash seeks to answer the question “what the heck was Solomon thinking?” Now, whilst the Midrash is based on the fact that Solomon strayed from God, and whilst it quotes the verses of Shoftim, the Midrash itself doesn’t really have much historicity in and of itself; or at least any historicity that can be directly verified with regard to Solomon. That said, when it comes to the historical nature of Midrash one must remember that they remain historical in the sense that they were shared in the time of the Second Temple period. These stories formed part of the cognitive environment for the people who lived then. So, whilst the Midrash might not be historically true of Solomon, the Midrash has historical weight in that it existed and was shared in the time of Yeshua.
Our Midrash is inspired by the verses;
Deuteronomy 17:15–19 (NKJV)
15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’ 17 Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself.
18 “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. 19 And 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 and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes
The Midrash begins and informs us that Solomon, as per the above verses, set about writing his own copy of the Torah. This became awkward for Solomon when he came to the verse which says of the king ‘neither shall he multiply wives for himself...’ Apparently, Solomon saw this command and noted that the reasoning for the command was so that the King’s heart would not ‘turn away’ from God. Solomon then got to reasoning and he thought the point of the command ‘to not multiply wives’ existed only to prevent him from losing his loyalty to God. Solomon reasoned and told himself, ‘I will not turn away from God, therefore it is permissible for me to multiply wives’. (The sages teach us that herein is the danger of trying to rationalize God’s commandments as a means to avoid fulfilling them.)
So Solomon finds himself writing out his Torah Scroll and he sits looking at that part of the verse which states ‘he shall not multiply wives...’.
The Midrash says that Solomon came to the word ‘yirbeh’, which is the word for ‘multiply’ (as in to ‘multiply’ wives) and that he dropped the letter yud which is at the front of the word yirbeh (which was meant to be spelled yud, resh, het, hey).
Dropping this one letter had a profound effect on the meaning of the sentence. Without the yud not only did the meaning of the words slightly change but also the tense of the verse changed. It becomes;
He multiplied wives for himself, and his heart will not turn away.
It becomes a sort of positive commandment whereby the King is able to multiply wives for himself whilst also not been turned away from God. As we know from the Bible, this is not what happened.
But the Midrash continues and here you have to remember that it’s a lesson taught via story as was the way in Hebraic culture. The Midrash goes on to say;
At that time, the yod of the word yirbeh went up on high and prostrated itself before God and said; ‘Master of the Universe! Hast thou not said that no letter shall ever be abolished from the Torah? Behold, Solomon has now arisen and abolished one. Who knows? Today he has abolished one letter; tomorrow he will abolish another until the whole Torah will be nullified.
Before I get to God’s response I want to stress just how full on changing a little bit of Torah can be. You’ve seen it so far with Solomon and his Torah Scroll, but here’s another example.
Take the word ‘hallelujah’. Halleluyah has the letter Hey in it (ה). Hey is a small little line away from been a Het (ח). If one should mistakenly join the stroke on the left side of the letter hey to the top sideways stroke it becomes het. It’s a simple mistake to make but when you change the hey to a het in the word ‘Halleluyah’ it becomes something like ‘Hileuluyah’.
Halleluyah is ‘praise God’ as you know. Hileuluyah means something like ‘desecrate God’. The two phrases are only one small stoke away from each other in the Hebrew language.
These small strokes in the words of Hebrew are called ‘jots’ and ‘tittles’. It’s like dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s; that sort of thing.
So our little yod is important as are the jots and tittles.
Back to the Midrash. God looks at the yod and He begins to respond and He says;
Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away....
And I’m going to have to leave you there in suspense. I can be painful like that. For profound like reasons I will reserve God’s full response to the yod until the end of our Torah Portion. You’ll just have to read your way there. Don’t worry; it will do you some good.
The Judicial System
Our portion begins with;
Deuteronomy 16:18 (NKJV)
18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates...
This verse is the call for Israel to establish a judiciary system where an ordered system of judges administer justice as per the Torah. In fact, there were 4 classes of ‘human authorities’ that were involved in this. They were the judges, kings, priests and prophets. These people likely originated from the clan elders and the already existing leaders within Israel. Notably, as with basically the whole Torah, the commandment here is directed to all of Israel who were apparently involved in the appointment of judges. Again in the Torah, God is transparent and whilst people have their roles and responsibilities God made all of Israel responsible for the dispensation of justice.
The actual system itself that was established in the land isn’t neatly spelled out for us. At any rate the legal system within Israel looked like this;
• Local courts (beit dins) which were later associated with the synagogues. These consisted of 3 judges.
The beit din is referenced by Yeshua here;
Matthew 18:15–20 (The Scriptures)
15 “And if your brother sins against you, go and reprove him, between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
16 “But if he does not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word might be established.’
17 “And if he refuses to hear them, say it to the assembly. And if he refuses even to hear the assembly, let him be to you like a gentile and a tax collector.
18 “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be having been bound in heaven, and whatever you loosen on earth shall be having been loosened in heaven.
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning any matter that they ask, it shall be done for them by My Father in the heavens.
20 “For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there I am in their midst.”
It well worth noting that the context for ‘where two or three are gathered in my name...’ is a legal context where judges are gathered to make a decision within the confines of acceptability (i.e. the Torah). This verse has been abused by people who think they can simply gather 2 to 3 at a time and that this somehow gives them greater authority. This tends to get abused in the context of spiritual warfare where people, praying against unclean spirits, think that strength in numbers alone allows them to ‘bind’ and/or ‘loose’ spiritual powers. A significant misunderstanding is the fact that ‘binding’ and ‘loosening’ in the New Testament has nothing to do with spiritual warfare. These terms were legal terms used commonly (and throughout the whole Talmud and rabbinic sources) for rendering legal decisions. To ‘loose’ something was to permit something; to ‘bind’ something was to forbid something.
Simples, but yes, when you gather in the Messiah’s name He is with you, and yes, people can engage in ‘kosher’ spiritual warfare. I’m not saying these things are bad, I’m saying people are abusing the text and misapplying it to things that are not relevant. Billy getting together with his mate Joey and Bob, who all agree on something, cannot claim to have some sort of God given authority (as the verse seems to be understood).
• District courts called ‘small sanhedrins’ which consisted of 23 members.
I don’t think there’s any direct Old Testament rationale for the small sanhedrin but that was nonetheless part of the judicial system (which I think is fine).
• The ‘Great Sanhedrin’ which belonged in Jerusalem and consisted of 71 members.
The idea for 71 originates from the book of Numbers and corresponds to Moses residing over the 70 elders;
Numbers 11:16 (NKJV)
The Seventy Elders
16 So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you.
As is demonstrated from the Torah Portion ‘Shoftim’ matters of judgment could be handled at the local level however ‘if a matter arises which is too hard’ (Deut 17:8) then it can be managed up to the Great Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin, as per Deut 17:9, consisted of levites, priests and judges. It doesn’t appear clear if Levites or Priests could sit on local courts however I believe they did (and can’t think of anywhere where this would have been prohibited). The Sanhedrin was led by a ‘prince’ corresponding to the role of Moses.
There are a few things I’d like to say about this ‘court system’.
Firstly, it’s perfectly kosher. God wanted a system of judges that included a local court and a sort of ‘supreme court’ in Jerusalem. This is part of God’s permanent Torah.
Christians have a narrow minded and negative view of the Sanhedrin given that it was corrupt at the time of the Second Temple. In the New Testament, Rome ruled, Greece had conquered hundreds of years before and hellenisation was very much alive and well. People bought the office of High Priest. They bid on it each year. The elite class called the ‘Sadducees’ sided with Rome and took upon the Roman way of life including all its vices; so too did many of the people. In light of this the Sanhedrin was not what God intended. The point though is that the system itself is perfectly kosher and leadership, actual human leadership, is part of God’s will.
Secondly; yes, these laws are where the Jews derive their authority for the Oral Law. In essence, this is actually not a bad thing. Having a system of leaders who pass judgment inclusive of how people keep Torah is fine. God forbid we have a little bit of order and uniformity.
I can hear the objections now and let’s not waste our time ranting about tradition, tradition, tradition. Some of it is perfectly ok; some of it isn’t. If you rant about the Talmud being the devil’s book and have no idea what a Midrash is then please shush a little. Jewish texts are vast and rooted in some very good and kosher things (though not all good!).
Should you keep the Talmud then given that it derives from this God given system of leadership? Probably not. It’s complicated and has writings compiled from various differing periods of time. You and I (I’m assuming) haven’t grown up Jewish and submitting to men who are a couple thousand years into denying the Messiah doesn’t sound too appealing. Be understanding though of people that do incorporate Jewish practice into how they live because some of it Jesus himself did. Rambling about how evil it all is might not be in your best interest if you fail to realise the nuance of Jewish culture and its worth in understanding your New Testament. Be respectful of Jewish leadership and their interpretations that have been passed down for the last few thousand years. Simply screaming ‘tradition!’ and mis-quoting the New Testament doesn’t help.
Thirdly, the apostles lived within this system. They sought to establish leadership and judges within the new community of believers who were turning to follow Yeshua. Yeshua himself sought to implement judges and leadership within Israel. We see this in his words to Peter.
Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Yeshua is here instilling Peter and the apostles with authority to judge (and teach etc. etc.). Remember, to bind and to lose is legal language. Later, Yeshua talks about the 12 apostles sitting on thrones to judge Israel and He even draws on the image of the Sanhedrin when he selects the 70, instills them with authority, and sends them out before him (Luke 10).
Further, in the book of Acts there are multiple references to elders and it appears that there was a centralised council led by James the brother of Jesus. This council recognised the leadership of the apostles. (See Acts 11, 15, 20, 21 for examples).
There is also mention of elders and leadership elsewhere in the New Testament (see 1 Peter 5:1-4 & James 5:13-15). Also, throughout Paul’s ministry he sought to appoint elders and leadership within the congregations he was establishing (see 1 Timothy 5:17-19. 1 Timothy 3, Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
The Lamp and The Donkey
As an interesting little aside, Paul rebukes Corinth for submitting itself to a court system outside of the community of believers.
Paul says this;
1 Corinthians 6:1–6 (NKJV)
Do Not Sue the Brethren
6 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
Back in the day, it was very much taboo for Jewish people to submit themselves to secular courts. Torah was the standard of law and secular courts were not recognised.
The difference between secular and religious courts is highlighted in a story in the Talmud (Shabbat 116a-b) where Rabban Gamliel and his sister Imma Shalom sought to discredit a local secular court in Yavneh, Israel.
Here me out, this is a pretty interesting bit of history.
The backdrop to the story is that a local gentile of good standing had started to serve on the local secular court. Due to his good reputation religious Jews sought him out for judgment which Gamliel disapproved of.
Gamliel and Imma shalom hatched a plan to expose the judge and they tempted him with bribes (which are forbidden).
To begin, Imma Shalom bought the judge a fine golden lamp. Days later, she approached the judge and stated that her Father had died and that she wanted to receive a share from her Father’s estate (which due to him having sons was not permitted in Torah). The judge ruled in her favor and awarded her a share in her Father’s estate. Gamliel, at the time, objected pointing out that daughters do not inherit where a man’s sons are alive.
The judge replied saying, ‘since the day you people have been exiled from your land The Law of Moses has been superseded and a new book has been written which says ‘a son and a daughter inherit equally’.
The ‘new book’ is a reference to the gospel.
Gamliel, the Rabbi, knew the Gospel and he knew that there was no verse in the Gospel which stated that sons and daughters inherit equally.
The next day, Gamliel bought the judge a gift, a Luvian donkey (an expensive donkey). Later, the judge reconvened the case and Gamliel said ‘go down to the end of the book wherein it is written, “I come not to subtract from the Law of Moses”. And in the Law of Moses, it is written, “where there is a son, a daughter does not inherit”’.
The judge then ruled in Gamliel’s favour and returned the land he had given to Imma Shalom back to Gamliel her brother. Imma Shalom objected mind you and quoted the earlier verse from the Gospel of Matthew which says ‘let your light shine forth like a lamp’, referencing the expensive lamp she had bought the judge earlier. Gamliel replied to his sister ‘a donkey has come and kicked over your lamp’ and through the judge changing decisions, and through his acceptance of the bribes, Gamliel demonstrated that secular courts cannot be trusted over the authority of Torah.
I know there are no ‘Torah Courts’ for us to handle our legal business; however we too can strive and fulfill the commandment by establishing leadership and elders within our own communities. Whilst acknowledging ‘kosher’ authority is the point of the Midrash you might have noticed the great irony within it. Gamliel, in demonstrating the authority of Torah, correctly quoted and applied the words of Jesus where he said, in Matthew 5, that the He came not to ‘subtract’ from the Torah (amazingly this is in the Talmud…). The secular judge, as the world does today, misunderstood and misapplied the words of our Master, Yeshua.
Jesus and Judgement
There’s actually a lot that Yeshua agrees with when it comes to ‘Shoftim’ (actually all of it…).
I want to work my way through a few things connecting Shoftim to the New Testament which I
hope will help you see our Master in a correct light.
Our first verse is;
Deuteronomy 16:18 (The Scriptures)
18 “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which YHWH your Elohim is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous right-ruling.
This verse is speaking on a national level. The sages however make this command awfully personal. How? Well, where the verse says ‘appoint judges and officers within all your gates’, the word for ‘your’ is actually rendered in the singular. Rather than ‘your gates’, plural, it can be understand as ‘your gates’, singular. Implying your own personal and individual gates. It’s a little awkward, but the word ‘your’ is really ‘you’, as in you, singularly and personally, you.
So, you, singular/individual human, appoint judges within your (singular) gates.
That’s what’s going on under the surface with this command.
In Jewish thinking, ‘the gates’ is understood as an idiom for your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.
In the work Siftei Kohen (which yes, is a book written by a Rabbi), it explains;
The human body is a city with seven gates—seven portals to the outside world: the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and the mouth.
Understanding this, the command to set a judge and sheriff over ‘your’ (individual) gates, takes on a whole new dimension.
The Siftei Kohen continues;
Here, too, it is incumbent upon us to place internal “judges” to discriminate and regulate what should be admitted and what should be kept out, and “officers” to enforce the judges’ decisions . . .
So the Torah here is commanding each person within Israel to judge and to filter what we allow our eyes to see and our ears to hear etc.
We are responsible then for our own individual choices; for what music we like, for what television we view, and for the things that we allow into our bodies, hearts and minds.
This dimension of Torah is understood from the first verse of ‘Shoftim’. It is the cultural context for Yeshua’s words who isn’t teaching something new when He says;
Matthew 5:28 (NKJV)
28 I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
This one always gets quoted;
Matthew 7:1–5 (The Scriptures)
“Do not judge, lest you be judged.
2 “For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. And with the same measure you use, it shall be measured to you.
3 “And why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye?
4 “Or how is it that you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the splinter out of your eye,’ and see, a plank is in your own eye?
5 “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you shall see clearly to remove the splinter out of your brother’s eye.
Well, a little context here also helps to understand Yeshua’s words. In this case, you just need to read His earlier words in Matthew 5;
Matthew 5:25–26 (The Scriptures)
25 “Be well-minded with your opponent, promptly, while you are on the way with him, lest your opponent deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
26 “Truly, I say to you, you shall by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
It’s important because in Matthew 5 Yeshua completely validates the system of judges and officers etc. He is essentially telling people though that it’s better to sort your disputes out between yourselves rather than face the judge who will ‘surely make you pay’.
Yeshua’s words then in Matthew 7 cannot be seen as Him invalidating the Torah and judgement etc. It’s Yeshua commenting at an individual level and telling people to judge each other favorably. If you don’t, and you treat people harshly, then you too will be dealt with in such a way.
This individual verse communal concept is vital to understanding what Yeshua is getting at.
Here again, Yeshua is talking at an individual level;
Matthew 5:38–39 (NKJV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
It’s like saying, if someone slaps you, don’t bash them; turn the other cheek (that’s the Jason HRM interpretation for you). If you truly can’t settle a matter outside of court then go to the judges.
It is not justice if a judge ‘turned the other cheek’. That’s corruption and injustice. For you though, turn the other cheek, don’t make things worse; don’t be a vigilante etc. etc.
Our Torah Portion says this;
Deuteronomy 17:6–7 (The Scriptures)
6 “At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall he that is to die be put to death. He is not put to death by the mouth of one witness.
7 “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and the hand of all the people last. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
This verse, and in fact the whole of Shoftim, is vital to understanding the incident with the adulterous woman and Yeshua’s words when He says;
John 8:7 (The Scriptures)
7 But as they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
If people knew Shoftim, they would see just about everything that is wrong with the episode in John 8 and the conduct of the men who brought the adulteress to Yeshua.
Firstly; no judges present, secondly; no witnesses and thirdly; the witnesses in a legal case that included the death penalty had to participate in the stoning. The stoning also included the judges and the officials.
On this, the Midrash to Shoftim says;
‘the officer must as beyond reproach as the judge; that his own deeds should make him worthy of applying the staff and the lash to others, that the man administering punishment should never himself merit punishment.’
Basically, the people rendering punishment had to be without sin. How could you possibly punish someone, for say adultery, when you yourself have committed that same act?
This is the meaning behind ‘He who is without sin among you, cast the first stone at her’. It is perfectly and completely in line with the Torah.
Yeshua taught the Torah. He did not change it, He did not oppose it.
In fact, Yeshua is the Messiah and as the prophet ‘like Moses’ who was prophesied of in Deuteronomy 18 He, like Moses, had to teach and be perfectly in line with the Torah. As such, Messiah has to be the perfect Judge (a role He will fulfill completely in ‘coming 2.0’).
Messiah is the Judge of the living and the dead;
Acts 10:42 (NKJV)
42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
Paul taught that God;
Acts 17:31 (NKJV)
31 has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
And Messiah will judge as per the prophet’s words;
Isaiah 11:3–4 (NKJV)
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Micah 4:3 (NKJV)
3 He shall judge between many peoples,
And rebuke strong nations afar off..
Perhaps, for this reason Paul warns us saying;
2 Corinthians 5:10 (NKJV)
10 ...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
Messiah is our ‘Righteous Judge’ (2 Timothy 4:8).
JUSTICE, JUSTICE YOU SHALL PURSUE.
Here, we come to the most important verse of our Torah Portion, Deuteronomy 16:20. My NKJV renders it;
Deuteronomy 16:20 (NKJV)
20 You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
But really, it says ‘justice, justice you shall pursue...’
Given that justice is the execution of Torah, it’s fair to say that our Messiah will seek justice as our King and Righteous Judge.
I thought it fitting to study the word ‘justice’ seeing as it is here repeated twice and is one of the most important commandments for all people.
Justice in Hebrew is ‘tsedek’, or ‘tsedeka’, and can be translated as ‘righteousness’ as it is in ‘The Scriptures’;
Deuteronomy 16:20 (The Scriptures)
20 “Follow righteousness, righteousness alone, so that you live and inherit the land which YHWH your Elohim is giving you.
Justice is righteous and to be righteous is to strive for justice.
As you know, neither justice nor righteousness exist outside of Torah which defines both concepts.
Interestingly enough, tsedek is considered to be a legal term reflecting the covenental relationship that Israel has with YHWH. Scholars say that righteousness and justice is the ‘expectation’ of God upon Israel and that it must conform to God’s Law. Scholars also say that ‘tsedek’ is a relationship word used between people and God to describe their mutual acts of loyalty to one another.
I suppose it’s a simple point that I’m making but really, in order to ‘seek justice’ one must live and strive to live by God’s ways.
Yeshua, Yeshua you shall pursue
Justice and righteousness are not just things we seek in the court system and in our daily lives. Seeking these is really the search for Messiah.
Isaiah 51:1 (NKJV)
51 “Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness,
You who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug.
Isaiah 51:4–5 (NKJV)
4 “Listen to Me, My people;
And give ear to Me, O My nation:
For law will proceed from Me,
And I will make My justice rest
As a light of the peoples.
5 My righteousness is near,
My salvation has gone forth,
And My arms will judge the peoples;
The coastlands will wait upon Me,
And on My arm they will trust.
Given that righteousness is identified with God and His Messiah, we can rightly understand the verse as ‘Yeshua, Yeshua you shall pursue...’
He is the embodiment of justice and if you walk with him you walk the path of the just.
Back to Solomon…
We left our opening midrash and I know by now that the suspense must be killing you.
Well our yod is still there, prostrated before the Lord having protested Solomon’s action of removing him from the Torah. I said that God looked upon the yod and started to speak saying;
‘Solomon and a thousand like him will pass away...’
God continues by saying;
‘but the smallest (jot) and tittle will not be erased from you.
Matthew 5:18 (NKJV)
18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
I’ll finish with this.
Messiah will judge and account for all things ‘till all is fulfilled’.
Justice, justice He will pursue.