Bible Book List
Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 18–22
Verses 18–22

Here is, I. Care taken for the due administration of justice among them, that controversies might be determined, matters in variance adjusted, the injured redressed, and the injurious punished. While they were encamped in the wilderness, they had judges and officers according to their numbers, rulers of thousands and hundreds, Exod. 18:25. When they came to Canaan, they must have them according to their towns and cities, in all their gates; for the courts of judgment sat in the gates. Now, 1. Here is a commission given to these inferior magistrates: “Judges to try and pass sentence, and officers to execute their sentences, shalt thou make thee.” However the persons were pitched upon, whether by the nomination of their sovereign or by the election of the people, the power were ordained of God, Rom. 13:1. And it was a great mercy to the people thus to have justice brought to their doors, that it might be more expeditious and less expensive, a blessing which we of this nation ought to be very thankful for. Pursuant to this law, besides the great sanhedrim that sat at the sanctuary, consisting of seventy elders and a president, there was in the larger cities, such as had in them above 120 families, a court of twenty-three judges, in the smaller cities a court of three judges. See this law revived by Jehoshaphat, 2 Chron. 19:5, 8. 2. Here is a command given to these magistrates to do justice in the execution of the trust reposed in them. Better not judge at all than not judge with just judgment, according to the direction of the law and the evidence of the fact. (1.) The judges are here cautioned not to do wrong to any (Deut. 16:19), nor to take any gifts, which would tempt them to do wrong. This law had been given before, Exod. 23:8. (2.) They are charged to do justice to all: “That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, Deut. 16:20. Adhere to the principles of justice, act by the rules of justice, countenance the demands of justice, imitate the patterns of justice, and pursue with resolution that which appears to be just. Justice, justice, shalt thou follow.” This is that which the magistrate is to have in his eye, on this he must be intent, and to this all personal regards must be sacrificed, to do right to all and wrong to none.

II. Care taken for the preventing of all conformity to the idolatrous customs of the heathen, Deut. 16:21, 22. They must not only not join with the idolaters in their worships, not visit their groves, nor bow before the images which they had set up, but, 1. They must not plant a grove, nor so much as a tree, near God’s altar lest they should make it look like the altars of the false gods. They made groves the places of their worship either to make it secret (but that which is true and good desires the light rather), or to make it solemn, but the worship of the true God has enough in itself to make it so and needs not the advantage of such a circumstance. 2. They must not set up any image, statue, or pillar, to the honour of God, for it is a thing which the Lord hates; nothing belies or reproaches him more, or tends more to corrupt and debauch the minds of men, than representing and worshipping by an image that God who is an infinite and eternal Spirit.