Just as in its religious worship the Israelitish nation was to show itself to be the holy nation of Jehovah, so was it in its political relations also. This thought forms the link between the laws already given and those which follow. Civil order - that indispensable condition of the stability and prosperity of nations and states - rests upon a conscientious maintenance of right by means of a well-ordered judicial constitution and an impartial administration of justice. - For the purpose of settling the disputes of the people, Moses had already provided them with judges at Sinai, and had given the judges themselves the necessary instructions for the fulfilment of their duties (Ex 18). This arrangement might suffice as long as the people were united in one camp and had Moses for a leader, who could lay before God any difficult cases that were brought to him, and give an absolute decision with divine authority. But for future times, when Israel would no longer possess a prophet and mediator like Moses, and after the conquest of Canaan would live scattered about in the towns and villages of the whole land, certain modifications and supplementary additions were necessary to adapt this judicial constitution to the altered circumstances of the people. Moses anticipates this want in the following provisions, in which he first of all commands the appointment of judges and officials in every town, and gives certain precise injunctions as to their judicial proceedings (Deut 16:18-17:7); and secondly, appoints a higher judicial court at the place of the sanctuary for the more difficult cases (Deu 17:8-13); and thirdly, gives them a law for the future with reference to the choice of a king (Deu 16:14-20).
Appointment and Instruction of the Judges. - Deu 16:18. “Judges and officers thou shalt appoint thee in all thy gates (place, see at Exo 20:10), which Jehovah thy God shall give thee, according to thy tribes.” The nation is addressed as a whole, and directed to appoint for itself judges and officers, i.e., to choose them, and have them appointed by its rulers, just as was done at Sinai, where the people chose the judges, and Moses inducted into office the persons so chosen (cf. Deu 1:12-18). That the same course was to be adopted in future, is evident from the expression, “throughout thy tribes,” i.e., according to thy tribes, which points back to Deu 1:13. Election by majorities was unknown to the Mosaic law. The shoterim, officers (lit., writers, see at Exo 5:6), who were associated with the judges, according to Deu 1:15, even under the previous arrangement, were not merely messengers and servants of the courts, but secretaries and advisers of the judges, who derived their title from the fact that they had to draw up and keep the genealogical lists, and who are mentioned as already existing in Egypt as overseers of the people and of their work (see at Exo 5:6; and for the different opinions concerning their official position, see Selden, de Synedriis, i. pp. 342-3). The new features, which Moses introduces here, consist simply in the fact that every place was to have its own judges and officers, whereas hitherto they had only been appointed for the larger and smaller divisions of the nation, according to their genealogical organization. Moses lays down no rule as to the number of judges and shoterim to be appointed in each place, because this would depend upon the number of the inhabitants; and the existing arrangement of judges over tens, hundreds, etc. (Exo 18:21), would still furnish the necessary standard. The statements made by Josephus and the Rabbins with regard to the number of judges in each place are contradictory, or at all events are founded upon the circumstances of much later times (see my Archäologie, ii. pp. 257-8). - These judges were to judge the people with just judgment. The admonition in Deu 16:19 corresponds to the instructions in Exo 23:6 and Exo 23:8. “Respect persons:” as in Deu 1:17. To this there is added, in Deu 16:20, an emphatic admonition to strive zealously to maintain justice. The repetition of the word justice is emphatic: justice, and nothing but justice, as in Gen 14:10, etc. But in order to give the people and the judges appointed by them a brief practical admonition, as to the things they were more especially to observe in their administration of justice, Moses notices by way of example a few crimes that were deserving of punishment (Deu 16:21, Deu 16:22, and Deu 17:1), and then proceeds in Deu 17:2-7 to describe more fully the judicial proceedings in the case of idolaters.