Deuteronomy 16:18-20 – Officers & Judges


Deuteronomy 16:18-20


The Israelites were to appoint judges and the equivalent of police officers or court bailiffs in each of their towns to ensure justice.


Each settlement with a gate was to have a committee of judges that could dispense justice, decide between individuals, and adjudicate innocence and guilt. Additionally, each settlement was to appoint officers that would enforce the judgments of the judges.  

The author of Deuteronomy is a keen observer of human behavior and knows that with power comes the temptation to abuse that power. The text insists that the judges and officers should not give into such temptations to pervert justice, to “recognize faces” – to play favorites or to harass “the usual suspects” – or to accept bribes to falsely acquit or falsely condemn. All these temptations, like bribes, shut the eyes of the wise and distort God’s words of righteousness. 

A favorite reading in Jewish communities proclaims: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof! (“Justice [only] justice you shall pursue.” Instead of power, appeasement, revenge, riches, or popularity, court officials were to follow passionately after justice, even when it was difficult to find. Justice must be pursued, especially by those judges and officers appointed to provide it for the community.