Divine Judgment and Traditions: Part 3
Feb 15, 2007
It is a basic principle, shown by a study of biblical law, that if for any reason justice is not done, or cannot be done, the victim has the right to appeal to God's Supreme Court for justice.
There might be a case where earthly judges are corrupt or ungodly and do not dispense true justice. This is most often the case when the judge must follow laws that man has created but which go against the divine law. But there are times also where the evidence is lacking, or when a jury simply renders a wrong verdict.
Whatever the case, the victim has the lawful choice of either forgiving the wrong or of appealing to the Divine Court.
This right was foreshadowed in Deut. 1:16, 17, where Moses said,
" (16) And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. (17) You shall not show partiality to persons in judgment; but you shall hear the little guy as well as the great man; you shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's; and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it to me, and I will hear it."
In Numbers 15:33 the judges did not know how to handle the case of the man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath, so they took it to Moses to obtain a ruling from the Divine Court. The same occurred in Num. 9:6 in the case of the men who had touched a dead body just before the Passover celebration. They were supposed to keep the Passover, but they were prevented from doing so, because they were unclean. Since there was no clear law to deal with that problem, they needed a Divine Court ruling on it.
Today, when we are confronted by such "gray areas," we are to be led by the Spirit, even as Moses was led by the Spirit in his day.
One of the more prominent examples of the Divine Court rulings is found in Numbers 5. If a man became jealous, believing that his wife was having an affair, but was unable to prove it for lack of evidence, he had the option of taking her to the priest who was called as a judge.
The priest was to write the charges down, along with the penalties (Num. 5:23), take some holy water in an earthen vessel, take some dust from the floor of the tabernacle, and put it in the water. He then poured water over the book to blot out the charges. Then he was to make her take an oath before God, swearing that she was innocent. She was then to drink the water (5:28). If she were guilty, she would become childless; if innocent, nothing adverse would happen to her. Her husband, then, was commanded to forgive and presume her to be innocent.
This type of trial was perverted during the Middle Ages and called "Trial by Ordeal." Men would burn people at the stake, thinking that if they were innocent, God would intervene and quench the fire. Or they would weight a man down, tie his hands, and throw him into the river, saying, "If he floats, he is innocent."
Such "Trial by Ordeal" presumed guilt and forced God to intervene to prove his innocence. The biblical trial, however, presumed innocence and forced God to intervene in the case of guilt. Thus, a woman drinking the water mixed with a little dust would not normally be hurt; but if God intervened, then she was shown to be guilty.
America's founders recognized the importance of this biblical law and established the principle that all men are innocent unless proven guilty.
In John 8 the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, asking Him to judge her. They knew, of course, that the Roman government had reserved to themselves the right to condemn anyone to death, but yet they wanted Jesus to condemn her, based upon the law found in Deut. 22:24. This law mandated the death penalty when a married or betrothed woman had committed adultery.
Obviously, Jesus was unable to render such a judgment, because of the Roman government's prohibition. So it was a case where, if she were truly guilty, it would not have been possible to render a just verdict. Secondly, it was obvious to Him that the witnesses had been bought and purchased and that she was being used to trap Jesus and get Him into trouble with the Romans.
With such biases, Jesus knew that this woman could not receive a fair trial, for she was already presumed to be guilty. So instead of judging her by the law of Deut. 22:24, as they demanded, He referred her case to the Divine Court. Not having a book on hand, he stooped to the ground and began to write the charges and the penalty on the ground, even as the judge was supposed to do in Numbers 5:23.
When the scribes and Pharisees realized what He was doing, they knew they had been defeated once again. In His appeal to the Divine Court, the witnesses became afraid and left the scene one by one. They knew that God saw their hearts, and they knew that when a case is appealed to God, God judges ALL PARTIES including the witnesses. He reviews the entire case, not just the accused.
By the time Jesus finished writing the charges on the ground, all the witnesses were gone. John 8:10, 11 says,
" (10) When Jesus had lifted up Himself and saw none but the woman, He said unto her, 'Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?' (11) She said, 'No man, Lord.' And Jesus said unto her, 'Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more'."
The law in Deut. 19:15 says that no one can be convicted of any sin except there be two or three witnesses.
"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sin, in any sin that he sins; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established."
Without witnesses against the woman caught in adultery, there was no case. Jesus could not condemn her, even if He had wanted to do so. But this is a good example of how Jesus used the law to bring mercy and grace, rather than condemnation. This should always be our goal in studying the law.
Years ago, when I was young and understood the law just well enough to be dangerous, I found myself falsely accused and convicted by Christian brethren. I appealed to the Divine Court for justice. That is when I discovered that God would judge me first and the others later. Of course, it all worked together for good, because God's judgments corrected me in some important areas of my life.
But I also learned to be careful about appealing for Divine Justice. There are times when it might be better to forgive and to appeal for mercy for all parties involved. Our knowledge of the full situation is always limited, and we never know how God will render His judgments.
The tribes of Israel wanted to bring judgment upon the tribe of Benjamin in the story found in Judges 19-21. Their cause was just, but they found that God first judged them before judging Benjamin. All of them were guilty of doing what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
And so God told them to go into battle against Benjamin, but in the first two battles, the Israelites lost. Only in the third battle did God give victory to Israel. The tribe of Benjamin was nearly destroyed. Then the others repented and realized that perhaps they should have asked for mercy, rather than judgment (Judges 21:6).
Too often we think we are righteous enough to demand justice, only to find ourselves being the first to be divinely judged. Going before the Divine Court is not something that a person should do lightly. It is more serious than most people realize. Yet it is important to know and understand this aspect of Bible law.
This is the final part of a series titled "Divine Judgment and Traditions." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones