If there arise a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke…
The government among the Israelites was first by an eldership elected on the representative principle. Thus in Genesis 1:7 we find at the funeral of Jacob "all the elders of the land of Egypt." Again, when Moses came from Midian to emancipate his brethren, he was directed to consult "the elders of Israel," who were to go in with him before Pharaoh (Exodus 3:16, 18). After the Exodus, the priests were appointed as the ministers of religion; and with these were associated the elders selected to the number of seventy from those already in office, and to whom God gave his Spirit (Numbers 11:16, etc.). When the people settled in Canaan, they were directed to elect judges for judgment. This was the distribution and development of the eldership. And in case of any special difficulty, the aggrieved parties were to repair to the place of the central altar, and there lay the matter before the priests and the judge. It follows that the priests had co-ordinate ruling power with the elders or judges, that they were rulers and officiating ministers besides. And here we have to notice -
I. THESE CHURCH OFFICERS EXERCISED THEIR AUTHORITY UNDER GOD AS KING. The Church was a theocracy, and God was regarded as ever present with his officers and people. The same is true in the Church still. It is a theocracy; an ever-present Jesus still presides even where two or three are met together for the purposes of Church government (Matthew 18:20).
II. THE PRIESTS AND THE JUDGE ARE TO SHOW THE PARTIES THE DIVINE LAW ON THE SUBJECT. The decision is to be expository of existing law, not a decision on the ground of expediency. Now this necessarily follows from the Kingship of God. His will must be paramount. His officers simply try to find out his will. A national parliament may manufacture laws; but Church officers take their laws from the inspired Statute-book. It is exposition of Divine Law that the ruler in God's Church is really concerned with.
III. THE CHURCH OFFICERS REQUIRED IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE FROM THE PEOPLE TO THEIR INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S WILL. In a rude age this was needful, implicit obedience such as we require from children. But when we reach the corresponding part of the New Testament economy, the exhortation is, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The right of private judgment is admitted, and regulates the obedience. Just as when children grow to manhood, the implicit obedience demanded gives place to persuasion and the appeal to conscience.
IV. PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL EXPRESSED BY THE PRIEST AND JUDGE WAS PUNISHED WITH DEATH. This was disobedience in its generic form, and came under the penalty of death, just as in Eden. The aggrieved parties had appealed for light to God's officer; he was to be their Arbitrator, and they contracted to abide by his decision. Disobedience under such circumstances would overthrow the order both of Church and State. Hence the death penalty. Presumptuous disregard of Divine commandments is not now less heinous than it was then, though it may escape for the time being such a terrible penalty. The judgment of God is only postponed. Should the presumption continue, the penalty will come at last with compound interest.
V. THE PATIENT STUDY OF GOD'S WORD IS SURELY A DUTY WHEN PRESUMPTUOUS DISREGARD OF GOD'S WILL IS SO HEINOUS A SIN. It should be our supreme desire to know what God would have us to do. This can only be known through systematic and patient study of the holy oracles. The priest with the Urim and Thummim is not now available. We must content ourselves with a quieter way. The Book is given instead of the oracle, and we are directed to consult it for ourselves. Approaching it in a patient, obedient spirit, we shall find it unlocking many a mystery to us, and affording us the light we need. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;
WEB: If there arises a matter too hard for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within your gates; then you shall arise, and go up to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose;