Community, Justice, & Truth-Telling

We’re in a section of Deuteronomy that’s largely concerned with governing. That being so, we hear about: 

  • judges (16:18-20), 
  • how to handle difficult court cases (17:8-13), 
  • instruction concerning the king (17:14-20), 
  • care of the Levites (18:1-8), 
  • prophets (18:21-22), 
  • cities of refuge, and 
  • witnesses (19:15-21). 

In all this, it’s not hard to see a focus on those who were to lead Israel and the legal processes and standards they were to implement. Brueggemann reminds us that Israel is being given “a pattern of public order that manages public power in responsible ways in order to enhance community.”

In the section on witnesses, there are two important areas covered. The first has to do with the need for multiple witnesses (v. 15). No one is to be convicted on the basis of a single witness—two or three witnesses are called for.

It’s not difficult to see the wisdom in this. Witnesses weren’t infallible. A second witness offered confirmation and therefore provided searchers with more confidence in determining what actually occurred.  A third witness would add another layer as well as provide a way of ironing out any differences between the testimony of two witnesses. We experience all this every day whenever we have multiple people tell us about the same event and we’re almost always able to gain a deeper, fuller picture than if we were relying on just what a single person told us.

The better part of the witness instruction focuses on the problem of a false, “malicious” witness (v. 16-21). When there is a single witness pressing an accusation against someone, both the witness and the accused were to stand before the priests and judges. A “thorough” investigation was conducted and if it showed that the witness was testifying falsely with malice, then then they were to do to the witness what they would have done to the accused if they had been found guilty. The concluding two verses of this section make it clear that this is to serve as a deterrent. “Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (v. 21). The punishment of the individual was merited (after all, that was they wanted to happen to an innocent person), but it was also done for the preservation of the community. There would be no community without justice, and no justice without truth telling. 



Published by A Taste of Grace with Bruce Green

I grew up the among the cotton fields, red clay and aerospace industry of north Alabama. My wife and I are blessed with three adult children and five grandchildren.

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