This week’s parasha is entitled Shof’tim which means “Judges”. It takes us from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9. Moses was instructed to choose men to be judges and officers in every town that Adonai their God had given Israel. These men were to always be fair in judging, so that controversies might be settled, injustices made right, the injured compensated, and the guilty punished.
These judges must not show favoritism to anyone, and they must not take bribe money to influence their decisions. Goodness and fairness must be at the heart of these judges; they must be just at all times. This ultimately points to Messiah, the One who will judge the heavens and the earth in truth and righteousness.
Chapter 16 concludes with a strict ruling against setting up any sort of idolatrous tree or stone pillar next to the altar of the Lord. There was to be no worship of the false goddess Asherah. The Lord God, the King of Israel, will have no other gods before Him.
Not only was setting up idols considered detestable, but chapter 17 tells us that so was any disrespectful or irreverent service toward Adonai; such as the sacrificing of any animal that had a blemish or defect.
Moses also enacted severe punishment for those who would seduce anyone into idolatry. He also declares what was to be done to those who were so seduced. Idolatry was expressly forbidden, and those convicted of it were to be put to death by stoning, provided there were at least two witnesses.
The judges and priests, operating with the authority of the Spirit of God, constituted a supreme tribunal to which difficult cases were to be brought, and whose judgment was to be final. Early in Israel’s history, some priests actually doubled as local judges.
Anticipating Israel’s eventual demand for a king, in chapter 17 Moses gave strict guidelines for the selection and conduct of kings. Israel’s king was to have certain qualifications.
First, he had to be chosen by God. Adonai, through His prophet Samuel, chose Saul, and then David. Through His prophet Nathan, Adonai would later choose Solomon. This way the people could be sure that God would place no one on the throne whom He had not gifted to be king. Therefore, if a king failed, his failure would not be due to his lack of ability, but a deficiency in his moral life.
The second requirement was that the king must be an Israeli. There could be no conflict of interests or loyalties on the throne of Israel.
The most important obligation for the king was to grow in the knowledge of the Word of God, and to maintain a personal relationship with Him. The King was to write out his own copy of the Torah, using the official copy provided by the priests. He also would be expected to read it regularly, and take it to heart. His study of the Law would not only help him rule the people justly, but would also reveal to the king the heart and character of God.
Chapter 18 addresses the rights of the Priests and Levites. The tribe of Levi received no land inheritance (Adonai declared that He was their portion), but the Israelis were to provide well for them. This chapter also addresses the wickedness of divination and sorcery and those who practice these abominations. Such offenders, along with false prophets, were to be put to death.
In chapter 19, Moses instructs the nation to set aside three more cities of refuge within the Land, in accord with God’s original instructions. If a man was slain, the duty of avenging him would fall as a sacred obligation upon his nearest relative. To this day, the distinction between premeditated murder and unintentional manslaughter is often not made, and men are sometimes killed in revenge for what was purely an accident.
To prevent such a thing where possible, and to provide for the proper administration of justice, these cities were instituted. Highways were to be maintained upon which the manslayer might have an unobstructed course to the city gate.
Note in the previous chapters the focus was on serving God, now in chapter 20 Moses presses the duties of righteousness that must exist between man and man. This chapter repeats the sixth, eighth and ninth commandments, “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not bear false witness.”
Also in this chapter, men who were newly married, or in other significant transitions in their lives, were exempt from military service, as were those who were fearful – lest their lack of courage demoralize the other soldiers.
Nations outside of Canaan but within the larger territory promised to Abraham, were to be offered servanthood if they would declare peace with Israel. Otherwise, every adult male among them was to be slain. But of the people groups living within Canaan, not even women and children were to be spared. God knew, and history would prove, that failure to completely destroy those wicked nations would result in His people committing the very same abominations.
Finally, when a murder was unsolved, the town nearest where the victim was found was to sacrifice a young heifer as an atonement for the murder, so that the land would not become defiled.
Let me share a few closing thoughts: Several aspects of parasha Shoftim are fulfilled in the person of Messiah Yeshua. The first is that He will be the ultimate Judge of the living and the dead, and His judgment will be just. Likewise, He is our great High Priest and source of whom we should run, where we will find safety, shelter and salvation. And of course Yeshua is our soon-coming King who will sit on the Throne of David, and rule over all the earth in righteousness. May He come soon, and may our lives testify that we are believers of this.