Jehoshaphat, having done what he could to make his people good, is here providing, if possible, to keep them so by the influence of a settled magistracy. He had sent preachers among them, to instruct them (2 Chron. 17:7-9), and that provision did well; but now he saw it further requisite to send judges among them, to see the laws put in execution, and to be a terror to evil-doers. It is probable that there were judges up and down the country before, but either they neglected their business or the people slighted them, so that the end of the institution was not answered; and therefore it was necessary it should be new-modelled, new men employed, and a new charge given them. That is it which is here done.
I. He erected inferior courts of justice in the several cities of the kingdom, 2 Chron. 19:5. The judges of these courts were to keep the people in the worship of God, to punish the violations of the law, and to decide controversies between man and man. Here is the charge he gave them (2 Chron. 19:6), in which we have,
1. The means he prescribes to them for the keeping of them closely to their duty; and these are two:—(1.) Great caution and circumspection: Take heed what you do, 2 Chron. 19:6. And again, “Take heed and do it, 2 Chron. 19:7. Mind your business; take heed of making any mistakes; be afraid of misunderstanding any point of law, or the matter of fact.” Judges, of all men, have need to be cautious, because so much depends upon the correctness of their judgment. (2.) Great piety and religion: “Let the fear of God be upon you, and that will be a restraint upon you to keep you from doing wrong (Neh. 5:15; Gen. 42:18) and an engagement to you to be active in doing the duty of your place.” Let destruction from God be a terror to them, as Job speaks (Job 31:23), and then they will be a terror to none but evil-doers.
2. The motives he would have them consider, to engage them to faithfulness. These are three, all taken from God:—(1.) That from him they had their commission; his ministers they were. The powers that be are ordained by him and for him: “You judge not for man, but for the Lord; your business is to glorify him, and serve the interests of his kingdom among men.” (2.) That his eye was upon them: “He is with you in the judgment, to take notice what you do and call you to an account if you do amiss.” (3.) That he is the great example of justice to all magistrates: There is no iniquity with him, no bribery, nor respect of persons. Magistrates are called gods, and therefore must endeavour to resemble him.
II. He erected a supreme court at Jerusalem, which was advised with, and appealed to, in all the difficult causes that occurred in the inferior courts, and which gave judgment upon demurrers (to speak in the language of our own law), special verdicts, and writs of error. This court sat in Jerusalem; for there were set the thrones of judgment: there they would be under the inspection of the king himself. Observe,
1. The causes cognizable in this court; and they were of two kinds, as with us:—(1.) Pleas of the crown, called here the judgment of the Lord, because the law of God was the law of the realm. All criminals were charged with the breach of some part of his law and were said to offend against his peace, his crown and dignity. (2.) Common pleas, between party and party, called here controversies (2 Chron. 19:8) and causes of their brethren (2 Chron. 19:10), differences between blood and blood (this refers to Deut. 17:8), between the blood of the person slain and the blood of the man-slayer. Since the revolt of the ten tribes all the cities of refuge, except Hebron, belonged to the kingdom of Israel; and therefore, we may suppose, the courts of the temple, or the horns of the altar, were chiefly used as sanctuaries in that case, and hence the trial of homicides was reserved for the court at Jerusalem. If the inferior judges did not agree about the sense of any law or commandment, any statute or judgment, this court must determine the controversy.
2. The judges of this court were some of the Levites and priests that were most learned in the law, eminent for wisdom, and of approved integrity, and some of the chief of the fathers of Israel, peers of the realm, as I may call them, or persons of age and experience, that had been men of business, who would be the most competent judges of matters of fact, as the priests and Levites were of the sense of the law.
3. The two chiefs, or presidents, of this court. Amariah, the high priest, was to preside in ecclesiastical causes, to direct the court and be the mouth of it, or perhaps to be last consulted in cases which the judges themselves doubted of. Zebadiah, the prime-minister of that state, was to preside in all civil causes, 2 Chron. 19:11. Thus there are diversities of gifts and operations, but all from the same Spirit, and for the good of the body. Some best understand the matters of the Lord, others the king’s matters; neither can say to the other, I have no need of thee, for God’s Israel has need of both; and, as every one has received the gift, so let him minister the same. Blessed be God both for magistrates and ministers, scribes and statesmen, men of books and men of business.
4. The inferior officers of the court. “Some of the Levites (such as had not abilities to qualify them for judges) shall be officers before you,” 2 Chron. 19:11. They were to bring causes into the court, and to see the sentence of the judges executed. And these hands and feet were as necessary in their places as the eyes and heads (the judges) in theirs.
5. The charge which the king gave them. (1.) They must see to it that they acted from a good principle; they must do all in the fear of the Lord, setting him always before them, and then they would act faithfully, conscientiously, and with a perfect upright heart, 2 Chron. 19:9. (2.) They must make it their great and constant care to prevent sin, to warn the people that they trespass not against the Lord, inspire them with a dread of sin, not only as hurtful to themselves and the public peace, but as an offence to God, and that which would bring wrath upon the people if they committed it and upon the magistrates if they did not punish it. “This do, and you shall not trespass;” this implies that those who have power in their hands contract the guilt of sin themselves if they do not use their power for the preventing and restraining of sin in others. “You trespass if you do not keep them from trespassing.” (3.) They must act with resolution. “Deal courageously, and fear not the face of man; be bold and daring in the discharge of your duty, and, whoever is against you, God will protect you: The Lord shall be with the good.” Wherever he finds a good man, a good magistrate, he will be found a good God.