International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
juj (shopheT; New Testament dikastes, krites): In the early patriarchal times the heads of families and the elders of the tribes were the judges (compare Genesis 38:24), and their authority was based on custom. In the wilderness Moses alone was the judge until Jethro suggested a scheme of devolution. On his advice Moses divided the people into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and over each group a wise and good man was set as a judge. Thereafter only the most important cases were brought before Moses (Exodus 18:13-26 Deuteronomy 1:9-17). This arrangement ceased to be practicable when the children of Israel settled down in Canaan. Although David took counsel with the heads of thousands and hundreds (1 Chronicles 13:1), it need not be assumed that this was a continuation of the plan adopted by Moses. Probably the local courts were not organized till the time of David. In the days of the Judges justice was ministered by those who had risen by wisdom or valor to that rank (Judges 4:5). An organized circuit court was established by Samuel, who judged cases himself, and also made his sons judges (1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 8:1). After the monarchy was instituted, the king tried all cases, when requested to do so by the wronged person, in the palace gate (1 Kings 7:7 Proverbs 20:8). There was no public prosecutor (2 Samuel 14:4; 2 Samuel 15:2-6 1 Chronicles 18:14 1 Kings 3:16 2 Kings 15:5). Under David and Solomon there were probably local courts (1 Chronicles 23:4; 1 Chronicles 26:29). Jehoshaphat organized a high court of justice (2 Chronicles 19:8). The prophets often complain bitterly that the purity of justice is corrupted by bribery and false witness (Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23; Isaiah 10:1 Amos 5:12; Amos 6:12 Micah 3:11; Micah 7:3 Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 18:5). Even kings sometimes pronounced unjust sentences, especially in criminal cases (1 Samuel 22:6-19 1 Kings 22:26 2 Kings 21:16 Jeremiah 36:26). An evil king could also bend local courts to do his will, as may be gathered from the case of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-13).