Deuteronomy 1:16-18

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Deuteronomy 1:16
  • Deuteronomy 1:17
  • Deuteronomy 1:18

The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.

Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).

Deuteronomy mainly consists of messages from Moses to the second generation of Israelites, in contemplation of their imminent entry into the Promised Land. God judged the first generation of Israelites who were delivered from Egypt for covenant violation by preventing them from entering the Promised Land. God led them to the edge of the Promised Land and told them to conquer it. The Israelites refused, saying God had led them there to die. God then judged that generation by decreeing that the Israelites fate would be as they had spoken: every numbered person twenty years and older will die in the wilderness.

Now all those decreed to die in the wilderness are dead. God prepares the second generation to enter the land by exhorting them. Deuteronomy is the record of that exhortation.

Deuteronomy begins with Moses reiterating God’s covenant, or agreement, with the people of Israel. Moses identifies each party in this covenant. He recounts the Israelites’ experiences in order to encourage them to press on to conquer the Promised Land. He reviews Israel’s history since the departure from Mount Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai), where they were given the Law, to Kadesh-barnea, at the border of the Promised Land. He reminds the Israelites of God’s command to leave Horeb.

Moses had appointed wise and respected men chosen by the people as leaders because the Israelites had become numerous. He called the judges to conduct their legal procedures with equity, knowing that every judgment belongs to the LORD. At Kadesh-barnea, he commanded the Israelites to go up and occupy the Promised Land. But due to lack of trust in the LORD, the Israelites rebelled against the command to conquer the land of Canaan.

Moses reminds the people that he called upon the judges to conduct their legal procedures with equity, knowing that every judgment belongs to the LORD.

After the appointment of the leaders and officers (vv. 9-15), Moses turned his attention to the judges and their role as they sought to administer social justice in the land. He commanded them to hear the cases between their fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. Moses exhorted the judges to pronounce a just verdict in every case, whether it involves their Israelites brothers or between Israelites and aliens. People who reside in a foreign land are called “aliens” or “strangers.” Such people, who may have fled their homeland for political or economic reasons, do not usually enjoy the same privileges as the citizens. They are usually the ones who suffer from social injustice. But every human is precious in God’s sight. So, God exhorts the judges to not show partiality in their judgments.

A clear example of an alien would be the situation of the Israelites in Egypt and their affliction by the Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8-22). Therefore, the mention of the word alien by Moses here serves to remind the Israelites of the time when they themselves lived as aliens in Egypt and the various persecutions they endured (Exodus 22:21). Such a reminder should have motivated the judges to show love for aliens who lived among them, and to treat them equally under the law.

True to human nature, in every society, there is always a tendency to show favoritism to those who are highly regarded or well known. In other words, knowing the social status of a person can potentially influence the decision of a judge. That is why Moses emphatically told the judges not to show partiality in judgment, an expression that could literally be translated “do not regard faces in judgment” or “never regard faces in judgment.” The judge should treat the small and great alike.

Moreover,Moses told the judges not to fear man, regardless of his position in the social hierarchy. The reason is because judgment belongs to God, the absolute sovereign judge and the one who deserves to be feared above all. Finally, Moses set up a check on justice. An opportunity to appeal. He told the judges that if there was a case that seemed to be too difficult for them to handle, they could always appeal to him and he would hear it. In short, Moses wanted justice to be administered in God’s ways in order that it might be done as unto the LORD.

Moses’ reminder of all these things is laying the foundation for Israel to govern themselves. This will be instituting something new in the world. Israel will not be like other nations, who all have a king. God intends for the people of Israel to serve one another in obedience to His law. He also wants them to show love and care to one another.

Biblical Text:

16 “Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. 17 ‘You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. 18 “I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.”

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