Deuteronomy 17:8
If a case is too difficult for you to judge, whether the controversy within your gates is regarding bloodshed, lawsuits, or assaults, you must go up to the place the LORD your God will choose.
Criminal ProcedureJ. Orr Deuteronomy 17:4-8
High Court of AppealD. Davies Deuteronomy 17:8-13
The Priest and the JudgeJ. Orr Deuteronomy 17:8-13
The Ruling -Power of the Priests in the Jewish ChurchR.M. Edgar Deuteronomy 17:8-13

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.

He shall read therein.
The Holy Scripture is, as Austin saith, a golden epistle sent to us from God. This is to be read diligently. "Ignorance" of Scripture is "the mother of" error, not "devotion." "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29). We are commanded to "search the Scriptures" (John 5:39). The Greek word signifies to search as for a vein of silver. How diligently doth a child read over his father's will and testament, and a citizen peruse his charter! With the like diligence should we read God's Word, which is our Magna Charta for heaven. It is a mercy the Bible is not prohibited. Trajan, the emperor, forbade the Jews to read in the book of the law. But there is no danger of touching this tree of Holy Scriptures; if we do not eat of this tree of knowledge we shall surely die.


1. Remove the love of every sin. The body cannot thrive in a fever; nor can the soul under the feverish heat of lust.

2. Take heed of the thorns which will choke the Word read. A covetous man is a pluralist; he hath such diversity of secular employments, that he can scarce find time to read; or if he doth, what solecisms doth he commit in reading! While his eye is upon the Bible, his heart is upon the world; it is not the writings of the apostles he is so much taken with, as the writings in his account book. Is this man likely to profit? You may as soon extract oils and syrups out of a flint, as he any real benefit out of Scripture.

3. Take heed of jesting with Scripture. This is playing with fire.

II. PREPARE YOUR HEARTS TO THE READING OF THE WORD. The heart is an instrument that needs putting in tune. This preparation to reading consists in two things —

1. In summoning our thoughts together to attend that solemn work we are going about. The thoughts are stragglers; therefore rally them together.

2. In purging out those unclean affections which do indispose us to reading. Many come rashly to the reading of the Word; and no wonder, if they come without preparation, that they go away without profit.

III. READ THE SCRIPTURE WITH REVERENCE. Think every line you read God is speaking to you. When Ehud told Eglon he had a message to him from God, he arose from his throne (Judges 3:20). The Word written is a message to us from Jehovah; with what veneration should we receive it!

IV. READ THE BOOKS OF SCRIPTURE IN ORDER. Though occurrences may sometimes divert our method, yet for a constant course it is best to observe an order in reading. Order is a help to memory: we do not begin to read a friend's letter in the middle.

V. GET A RIGHT UNDERSTANDING OF SCRIPTURE (Psalm 119:73). If the Word shoot above our head, it can never hit our heart.

VI. READ THE WORD WITH SERIOUSNESS. Well may we be serious if we consider the importance of those truths which are bound up in this sacred volume. "It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life" (chap. Deuteronomy 32:47). If a letter were to be broken open and read, wherein a man's whole estate were concerned, how serious would he be in reading of it! In the Scripture our salvation is concerned; it treats of the love of Christ, a serious subject (Titus 3:4).

VII. LABOUR TO REMEMBER WHAT YOU READ. The memory should be like the chest in the ark, where the law was put. Some can better remember a piece of news than a line of Scripture; their memories are like those ponds where the frogs live, but the fish die.

VIII. MEDITATE UPON WHAT YOU READ. Meditation is the bellows of the affections: "While I was musing the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3). The reason we come away so cold from reading the Word is, because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.

IX. COME TO THE READING OF SCRIPTURE WITH HUMBLE HEARTS. An arrogant person disdains the counsels of the Word, and hates the reproofs; is he likely to profit? "God giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). The most eminent saints have been but of low stature in their own eyes; like the sun in the zenith, they showed least when they were at the highest.

X. GIVE CREDENCE TO THE WORD WRITTEN. Believe it to be of God; see the name of God in every line. The Romans, that they might gain credit to their laws, reported that they were inspired by the gods at Rome. Believe the Scripture to be "Divinely inspired." Whence should the Scripture come, if not from God?

1. Sinners could not be the authors of Scripture. Would they indite such holy lines? or inveigh so fiercely against those sins which they love?

2. Saints could not be the authors of Scripture. How could it stand with their sanctity to counterfeit God's name, and put "Thus saith the Lord" to a book of their own devising?

3. Angels could not be the authors of Scripture. What angel in heaven durst personate God, and say, "I am the Lord"? Believe the pedigree of Scripture to be sacred, and to come from the "Father of lights."

XI. HIGHLY PRIZE THE SCRIPTURES (Psalm 119:72). St. Gregory calls the Bible "the heart and soul of God." It is the library of the Holy Ghost. It is the compass by which the rudder of our wheel is to be steered; it is the field in which Christ, the Pearl of price, is hid; it is a rock of diamonds; it is a sacred "eye-salve"; it mends their eyes that look upon it; it is a spiritual optic-glass in which the glory of God is resplendent; it is the "universal medicine" for the soul.

XII. GET AN ARDENT LOVE TO THE WORD. Prizing relates to judgment, love to the affections. "Consider how I love Thy precepts" (Psalm 119:159; Romans 7:22). He is likely to grow rich who delights in his trade; "a lover of learning will be a scholar." St. Austin tells us, before his conversion he took no pleasure in the Scriptures, but afterwards they were his "chaste delights."


1. Willing to know the whole counsel of God.

2. Desirous of being made better by it.

XIV. LEARN TO APPLY SCRIPTURE. Take every word as spoken to yourselves.

XV. OBSERVE THE PRECEPTIVE PART OF THE WORD, AS WELL AS THE PERMISSIVE. Such as east their eye upon the promise, with a neglect of the command, are not edified by Scripture; they look more after comfort than duty. The body may be swelled with wind as well as flesh: a man may be filled with false comfort, as well as that which is genuine and real.

XVI. LET YOUR THOUGHTS DWELL UPON THE MOST MATERIAL PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE. The bee fastens on those flowers where she may suck most sweetness. Though the whole contexture of Scripture is excellent, yet some parts of it may have a greater emphasis, and be more quick and pungent.

XVII. COMPARE YOURSELVES WITH THE WORD. See how the Scripture and your hearts agree, how your dial goes with this sun. Are your hearts, as it were, a transcript of Scripture? Is the Word copied out into your hearts?

XVIII. TAKE SPECIAL NOTICE OF THOSE SCRIPTURES WHICH SPEAK TO YOUR PARTICULAR CASE. Were a consumptive person to read Galen or Hippocrates, he would chiefly observe what they writ about a consumption. Great regard is to be had to those paragraphs of Scripture which are most apposite to one's present case. I shall instance only in three cases —

1. Affliction.

2. Desertion.

3. Sin.

XIX. TAKE SPECIAL NOTICE OF THE EXAMPLES IN SCRIPTURE. Make the examples of others living sermons to you.

1. Observe the examples of God's judgments upon sinners. They have been hanged up in chains in terrorem.

2. Observe the examples of God's mercy to saints. Jeremy, was preserved in the dungeon, the three children in the furnace, Daniel in the lions den. These examples are props to faith, spurs to holiness.


XXI. SET UPON THE PRACTICE OF WHAT YOU READ. "I have done Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:166). A student in physic doth not satisfy himself to read over a system or body of physic, but he falls upon practising physic: the life-blood of religion lies in the practical part. So, in the text: "He shall read" in the book of the law "all the days of his life; that he may learn to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them." Christians should be walking Bibles.

XXII. MAKE USE OF CHRIST'S PROPHETICAL OFFICE. He is "the Lion" of the tribe of Judah," to whom it is given "to open the book" of God, "and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5). Christ doth so teach as He doth quicken.

XXIII. TREAD OFTEN UPON THE THRESHOLD OF THE SANCTUARY. Ministers are God's interpreters; it is their work to expound dark places of Scripture. We read of "pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers" (Judges 7:16). Ministers are "earthen" pitchers (2 Corinthians 4:7). But these pitchers have lamps within them, to light souls in the dark.

XXIV. PRAY THAT GOD WILL MAKE YOU PROFIT. "I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit" (Isaiah 48:17). Make David's prayer: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Psalm 119:18). Pray to God to take off the veil on the Scripture, that you may understand it; and the veil on your heart, that you may believe it. Pray that God will not only give you His Word as a rule of holiness, but His grace as a principle of holiness. I shall conclude all with two corollaries —

1. Content not yourselves with the bare reading of Scripture, but labour to find some spiritual increment and profit. Get the Word transcribed into your hearts: "The law of his God is in his heart" (Psalm 37:31). Never leave till you are assimilated into the Word. Such as profit by reading of the Book of God are the best Christians alive; they answer God's cost, they credit religion, they save their souls.

2. You who have profited by reading the Holy Scriptures, adore God's distinguishing grace.

(T. Watson, M. A.).

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