The Biblical Justice System (Jethro’s Advice)

If you are just joining us, we are counting the days from the biblical feast of First Fruits (the day most Christians know as Easter) to the central feast in the Bible, Shavuot (aka Pentecost).  The premise is that these 50 days, these seven complete weeks, these seven Shabbats, are meant to teach us the Way of Yah.  The Way is about learning to obey, it’s a path to ultimate healing and restoration.  It’s about worship and intimacy.  Despite these blessings on the Way, it’s easy to short-cut to the finish-line thus condensing Shavuot down to merely “the giving of the law” or “the sending of the Holy Spirit”.  When we look back at Exodus 15-22, the original “YHWH 101” course he put his newly redeemed people through, it’s much easier to see the crucial foundation being laid.   Shavuot is not simply one event back then, and a separate event in Acts 2.  I’ve numbered each day’s study, so if you’re joining us mid-journey, feel free to cram in the prior 28 lessons and catch up.  

The setting of these next 7 days is Exodus 18, but the physical locale may still be Rephidim, the place we’ve been camped for the last two weeks. The text in Exodus 18:5 says we are camped at “the mountain of God”, but next week (in Exodus 19:2) is when we finally leave Rephidim and get to the base of Sinai.  This would make sense, since the CENTER event, in Hebrew thinking, is often as or more important than the beginning or ending events. If we’ve been camped here for the center three weeks of Shavuot, then the banner lifted last week on this high hill (aka this “mountain of God”) truly was the heart-of-hearts of Shavuot. And Shavuot, being the CENTER feast of the seven feasts, would be therefore be central to the heart of Yah.  Boiled down, the center message is “He will heal us if we will only just listen, obey, and praise Him as a united community.”  Pesach (the starting Feast in the spring) is about how to join this community, Sukkot (the finale in the fall) is about living forever in this community.  This week’s central lesson focuses on the nature of this community. 

As always, its best to get out a Bible and read the entire chapter for yourself—especially this time, as we are devoting this entire week to Exodus Chapter 18.  Here’s the summary: Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, joins the literally millions of Hebrews (and the mixed-multitude learning to become Hebrews) that followed Moses out of Egypt. While he is amazed and impressed that his son-in-law seems to have been a key player in a world-changing miracle, he also offers important advice to an overwhelmed Moses. Jethro advises setting up a system of elders that looks a lot like our modern justice system; Local magistrates will handle small matters, but if need be, controversies can escalate all the way up to Moses as the Justice of The Supreme Court.   Moses has sole access to Yah, and serves as a mediator between Him and Israel.

However, this is not a top-down authoritarian theocracy where chieftains or priests CONTROL the people religiously. The people come to their elders IF a matter needs to be decided, and the people accept the ruling because the system is rooted in of the fear of Yah. If the question or concern is unique, there is a built-in appeal process. The dispute is to be initiated by the people, not jackbooted religious police. The prerequisite for a seat as a judge in this system is detailed in Exodus 18:21. “Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe…” Moses and these Elders are not just spit-balling worldly wisdom, they are “making known the statutes of God, and His Torah.” (vs 16)  

Confusingly, the advice here is to take men from “all the people”, but we learn later in Deuteronomy 21:5 that it specifically means the sons of Levi (Moses’ family) that run this Holy court system.  We often see the eternal concepts and principles being taught on The Way painted with a broad-brush, but after the Covenant at Shavuot more details are added to make them applicable.  

Baby steps.  The Way is made up of baby steps.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul underscores this same system as valid, timeless, and applicable. “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to court before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but a brother goes to [a worldly] court, against brother—and before unbelievers!? To have lawsuits at all with another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourself wrong and defraud even your own brothers! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, no idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 

See?  What Jethro said. 

Here’s Messiah on the sermon on the mount, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says “you fool!” will be liable to burning in Gehenna”. [Well then, so much for Twitter] “So if you are offering a gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go—first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” 

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Then Peter came up and said to him, “Master, how often will my bother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Messiah said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” 

Messiah is trying to restore the spirit and purpose of what Jethro proposes to Moses in Exodus 18. 

The progression we’ve seen on The Way shows gradually increasing authority.  First Yah shares authority with Moses, then Moses shares with Aaron, then Aaron shares with Hur.  The authority was then shared with with 70 elders, and now here in Exodus 18, it’s shared with an entire community of folks who understand the Torah and are able to assist in making legally binding right-rulings.  The rulings are right, because they are made with forgiveness and mercy in mind, while also including justice for the wrongdoer and restitution for the wronged.  

This Torah-based system of righteous judgement is mirrored in Messiah’s ministry.  Yeshua shares authority with Peter, James, and John, then the rest of the intimate disciples, next with the seventy-two others (Luke 10), and eventually with 3,000 on the day of Shavuot itself.  In Acts 15, we see James sitting in as supreme court justice—carefully deliberating and seeking council from brothers, but still guided by primarily by the Torah given to Moses. This authority continues to snowball to the 144,000 in revelation, and then to all of Resurrected Israel as we rule and reign with Messiah through the Millennial Kingdom!   For this final 1,000 years Jethro’s advice will continue to influence the entire earth, since the nations will still need a justice system, and Israel will provide it.  Remember that Moses, Aaron, and every righteous Levite who has ever lived will be also be resurrected and living in this kingdom with us.

The system, like I said before, is more like the judicial branch – – not the legislative branch. There is no authority to make new Torah, nor is there authority granted to erase any. This Torah comes directly Yah, and only through Moses.  The elders are only to wisely, and without bias, disseminate this truth, not to add nor subtract from it.  The Kings of Israel have this command especially for them.  Deuteronomy 17:18“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests”.  Not even Messiah claims to have to have the authority to undo Moses—despite how “church leaders” have misconstrued his words.  

This system also isn’t designed to funnel tithe-money up the chain of command, nor ensure that the parking-lot is paved, nor that the children’s church is staffed—it’s not even to make sure the widows and orphans are fed and clothed.  This structure is meant to insure true Shalom (peace that surpasses all understanding) within the body. Jethro says as much in verse 23, “If you do this, God will direct you, and you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go their place in Shalom.”  

As the writer of Hebrews 12:12 says, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight the paths for your feet, so that what is lame my not be out of joint, but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see Messiah—see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of YHWH—that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  

Sounds like someone whose been studying The Way to Shavuot. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at clues planted in the text of Exodus Chapter 18 that show us that we are indeed destined to be the Bride of Messiah, and our destination at Sinai and Shavuot will be part of our marriage covenant. 

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