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 priests, in association with a judge or judges (Deuteronomy 19:17), constituted a supreme tribunal to which difficult causes were carried, and whose judgment was to be final. The priest had naturally a place in this supreme court:
1. As representing God in the theocracy.
2. As a member of the distinctively learned class of the nation.
3. As one whose special office it was to teach and interpret the Law of God (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Ezekiel 44:24; Malachi 2:7). The differentiation of functions in society has long since taken learning in the law out of the hands of the clergy, but we may remark -
I. THAT SPIRITUAL AND CIVIL FUNCTIONARIES MAY RENDER EACH OTHER IMPORTANT ASSISTANCE. The spheres of civil and spiritual jurisdiction are indeed distinct. Yet as the lawyer and judge, with their legal expertness, their knowledge of forms, and their experience in sifting evidence, are often of the greatest service in processes purely ecclesiastical, so, on the other hand, the best of them stand in need of that higher direction and enlightenment of the conscience from God's Word, which it is the business of a body of spiritual teachers to supply. The ministers of religion have a function:
1. In upholding the Law of God as the supreme standard of right.
2. In furnishing general enlightenment to the conscience.
3. In reminding judges, the highest of them, of their duties and responsibilities before God as set "for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:14).
II. THAT LAWS BASED ON GOD'S WORD HAVE ATTACHING TO THEM A DIVINE AS WELL AS A HUMAN AUTHORITY. The duty of the priest was not to invent laws, but to interpret the existing Law of God. To it all cases of right had ultimately to be appealed. God's Law, as exhibiting the unalterable principles of right, underlies human law and gives to it authority. Whatever may happen in courts on earth, no decision will stand in the court of heaven which that Law is found to condemn. Laws e.g. which invade rights of conscience, which (as in slave-holding countries) place the life of one man at the mercy of another, which are favorable to illicit relations of the sexes, which make light of divorce, which bear unequally on different classes of the community, which prop up abuses, etc., may be submitted to, but cannot be justified. Where, on the contrary, the law of a land is in essential harmony with the principles of righteousness, obedience to it becomes a duty of religion. He who sets it at naught strives with God not less than with man, is "as they which strive with the priest," and does "presumptuously" (cf. Hosea 4:4). - J.O.
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;