Appointing Judges and Officers
Moses’ fourth speech ended with Deut. 16:17, according to Ferrar Fenton. He entitles Moses’ fifth speech, “Local Government,” but on studying this speech, it is plain that Moses was setting forth the parameters of Kingdom Government itself. This includes both local and national government, for it deals with both the priests and the kings of Israel.
Moses begins his fifth speech by telling them how to establish local governments in their towns and tribal territories. Deut. 16:18 says,
18 You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
Forty years earlier, Moses had already organized the judges under him at the inspired suggestion of his father-in-law, Jethro. The story is told in Exodus 18,
13 And it came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening…. 17 And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”
Jethro suggested that Moses appoint wise men who were capable of judging the people, but retain for himself the position of an earthly Supreme Court Justice for the more difficult cases. Thus was born Israel’s first local government entrusted to elders who were appointed by Moses himself (Ex. 18:25). Their main function was to judge disputes and to keep a record of those court cases. The Hebrew word for “officer” is shoter, a writer, or record-keeper.
These elders also represented the people and spoke for them, as, for example in the next chapter, Ex. 19:7, 8,
7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.”
Thus, when the elders vowed obedience to God in establishing the Old Covenant, it did not require all of the people to make that vow, but only the elders who represented them. The elders made the vow, and Moses “brought back the words of the people to the Lord.” In other words, representative government was a practical innovation when dealing with a large population. More importantly, however, is the fact that Moses (a type of Christ) agreed with this, and God made no objection.
When Moses made his fifth trip up the Mount, beginning in Exodus 24:9, he took the seventy elders with him part of the way.
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire as clear as the sky itself. 11 Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they beheld God, and they ate and drank.
This is a remarkable account, especially when we take into account John 1:18,
18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
So how could the elders see God, and yet we read in John’s gospel that “no man has seen God at any time”? Well, later when Moses made his seventh trip up the Mount, we read that he desired to see God again, perhaps in a greater way, but his request was denied. God told him in Ex. 34:20, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” He was then put into a cleft of the rock was shown God’s achore, His “back,” that is, the afterglow of God’s glory.
We may surmise from this that the elders did not see God’s face earlier when the text reads, “they beheld God.” If Moses himself was so limited, then surely Moses’ account did not mean to imply that the elders had actually seen God face to face. In fact, the account gives no description of God Himself, but only “a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” If they had actually seen God, why would they write only of pavement? Surely this was a great spiritual experience, for they saw something—but it is not enough to contradict John 1:18.
Likewise, many people see God in visions, such as we read in Daniel 7:9, where He appeared to the prophet as the Ancient of Days sitting upon the fiery throne. But did Daniel actually see God? No, he saw only a vision of God. There is a difference.
Our main point is to show that the elders went up the Mount with Moses on his fifth trip. At that time, they represented the people, for they were the government of God upon the earth, appointed by Moses himself, the type of Christ. What does this teach us today about divine government on earth?
First, the only legitimate government in the Kingdom of God is by divine appointment. And yet Moses says in Deut. 16:18, “YOU shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers.” Why do we see a change forty years after the first appointment? If we consider Moses to be a type of Christ (as shown in Acts 3:22), then Moses’ direct appointment of the seventy is a direct parallel to Christ’s appointment of the seventy in His day. Luke 10:1 tells us,
1 Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
Here Christ was acting in accordance with Moses, who appointed the original seventy elders at the start of His earthly ministry. But both Moses and Christ left future appointments in the hands of the people. Thus, Paul also appointed elders in Acts 14:23,
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
It was the responsibility of the apostles to appoint elders, not of their own will, but according to the will of God. For this reason, they fasted and prayed, so that they might know for certain the ones that Christ Himself had appointed. The apostles then bore witness of Christ and ordained those elders. In the longer term, those elders were responsible to do as the apostles had done, appointing men of good report in each succeeding generation. This manner of appointing elders works as long as the leadership knows the mind of Christ. But when church leaders are appointed on the basis of other qualifications, such as personality, education, mere talent, or the ability to raise money, the system begins to break down accordingly.
There is also a deeper problem faced by all earthly governments. God rules, but who is to determine the will of God? God gave the law, but who shall interpret it on earth? God is the king, but which steward-king is called to rule in God’s throne?
When King Saul was appointed to rule Israel, his call was legitimate, but yet he was not of the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Judah had not yet reached its tenth generation since the sin of Judah in the affair with Tamar (Genesis 38), so God appointed a man of the tribe of Benjamin. His rule could not succeed, then, because Benjamin was not called to rule Israel (Gen. 49:10).
And yet the idea of having an earthly king would have worked, if Saul had considered himself to be a steward of the throne, rather than thinking he owned it. Samuel’s advice is given in 1 Sam. 12:20,
20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. … 25 But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away.”
In other words, the ideal form of government is to be ruled by God directly. But yet God always intended to give Israel a king, and so it was prophesied years in advance by Jacob in Gen. 49:10. The kings were first to come from Judah, but this was to change when “Shiloh” came. Then the power would be transferred from Judah to Joseph, as seen in Joseph’s dreams (Gen. 37:10), when all the brothers, including Judah, were to bow to Joseph.
The reign of the kings of Judah began with David, who was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). However, his son Solomon, and many subsequent kings after him, used the throne for their own self-interest and did not rule according to God’s laws. This is always the problem with human governments. It will remain a problem until the coming of “Shiloh,” a prophetic term for those who will rule and reign in the time of Christ’s second appearance.
Rule by Meritocracy
The old imperfect basis of the call to rule was by genealogy, but this will eventually give way to a kind of meritocracy. The overcomers will rule with Christ, and their calling will not be based upon genealogy, but upon their faithfulness to Christ and His laws. So Rev. 5:9 and 10 says,
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth.”
Because of Christ’s love, proven by His willingness to die for mankind, He was “worthy” to appoint rulers under Him. These are the Melchizedek order of king-priests, whose calling is not based upon their genealogy, either from David the king or from Aaron the priest. God has been separating to Himself a few from every generation throughout the past, preparing them to rule in the Age to come after the appearance of “Shiloh,” that is, Christ in His Joseph manifestation.
Meanwhile, however, we have had to endure human governments that are in rebellion against God and who enact laws that contradict the law of God. The kings of Judah became so corrupted in biblical days that God removed from them the stewardship of His throne and gave it to beast nations, beginning with Babylon. We have been ruled ever since that time by men with hearts of beasts.
In America we have a representative form of government, and the people elect their leaders according to the instruction of Moses: “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers.” Yet far too few of the appointed leaders know God, nor do they have the revelation of God’s law. Hence, regardless of the form of government, the people have been oppressed by the beast spirit.
Yet we have come to the end of their right to rule, and God is now requiring them to step down and to set the people free. We are nearing the time of the manifestation of the sons of God, when the overcomers will become apparent to all. The people will have little trouble discerning who God has appointed to rule, and then, when the people appoint their “judges and officers,” they will simply ratify those that Christ has already chosen.