WHY YOU NEED THE QUALITIES AND QUALIFICATIONS OF A JUDGE By R. Herbert
“… do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)
Ask most Christians to think about the qualities the Bible lists that Christian leaders should have and the majority will likely think of the apostle Paul’s instructions regarding the qualifications for elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9) and deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). But are those the only relevant qualities that most Christians should try to emulate in terms of Christian leadership? They are certainly valuable qualities to which we should all aspire, but sometimes we may think only of these elder-deacon qualities and miss an important lesson in scripture.
Not all will be elders or deacons in their Christian lives, but Paul’s words to the Corinthians, quoted above, show that all Christians are called to eventually judge in the Kingdom of God (Daniel 7:22). Not only that, but given the high calling of judging that we do have, Paul stresses that we should be able to judge small matters in this life, in our families and perhaps work and other contexts.
So we should all have an interest in the qualities God says are to be those of the judge, and for that we must turn to the Old Testament. In the first chapter of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the Israelites of how their system of judges was set up:
“At that time I said to you, ‘You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone … how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.’ So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you …’” (Deuteronomy 1:9-15).
These men were to be the judges of Israel and the first thing we notice, of course, is that they were to be “wise, understanding and respected.” Each of these qualities is of the greatest importance for any judge. Wisdom is obviously needed, and understanding, as is the need to be “respected” though the Hebrew is literally “known among your tribes” meaning a person whose deeds and character are known. These initial qualifications are not too different from some of the qualifications given for elders and deacons in the New Testament, but Moses continued with pointers specific to the role of judging:
“And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).
Fairness, lack of prejudice, impartiality and not being afraid of anyone are all qualities specifically needed in judicial situations and these are the qualities Moses gives as being foundational for serving as a judge.
More qualities for proper judging are found at other points in the Pentateuch and two are of particular interest in reinforcing and developing the basic qualifications. Exodus 16 tells how Moses’ father-in- law, Jethro, first suggested to Moses the idea of appointing judges:
“ … select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 16:21).
Here, we find three positive qualities clearly listed. Judges must: fear God, be trustworthy, and hate “dishonest gain.” in Deuteronomy 16 we find what might at first seem to be a different list:
“Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone …” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
If we look closely, this second list is actually not essentially different from the first one in Exodus, except that it is negatively stated. Once again, the clear stress is on three factors. In order to judge fairly, judges are to: not pervert justice, not show partiality, not accept bribes. This, Deuteronomy says, is following “justice and justice alone” (vs.20).
It is immediately obvious that the last quality in Deuteronomy – not accepting bribes – agrees directly with what is said in Exodus regarding hating “dishonest gain.” The second quality in Deuteronomy, not showing partiality, can relate directly to what Exodus mentions as being “trustworthy” in judging. The first quality in Deuteronomy, not to pervert justice, is translated from the Hebrew la-thate meaning not to twist or to turn aside. While this may not seem to immediately parallel Exodus’ principle of “fearing God,” the two can be seen to be related in the sense that the judges were to follow all God’s commands regarding justice and not twist it in any way.
But whether we see the qualities for righteous judges listed in Exodus 16 and Deuteronomy 16 as being essentially the same (only worded positively or negatively) or different, we have only a few principles – all of which are of great importance. The direct relevance to us, as Christians, in thinking about these principles is to meditate on each of them and to think how they might apply in modern situations – especially in everyday life circumstances we may face as opposed to formal legal proceedings.
We may have to “think outside the box” to realize how these basic principles apply, but they do apply in countless ways in our own lives. If we are in a supervisory role, for example, do we show partiality at work in giving more consideration to someone for promotion with whom we like to talk sports (or whatever?) rather than the person who has earned the promotion through harder work? Or do we go easier on the person we like who has problems at work? At home, can we be “bribed” by our children’s artfully staged good behavior in one area to overlook something in another area of behavior (if we can be “bribed” or manipulated in any way our children will find it!). The applications of the basic principles of right judging must be thought through in each person’s individual circumstances, but it is only as we do so – that we learn to judge rightly in the small things of life – that we learn and qualify to judge much greater things.