portion Shoftim Deuteronomy
Shoftim is Hebrew for “judges.” Here is the title in context: Judges and officers you will put for yourself in all your gates that YHVH your Elohim is giving to you for your tribes; and they will judge the people with righteous judgment. (Deu 16:18
Moses is still in the second of his three discourses that comprise the
Book of Deuteronomy. His focus is on
civil law. There need to be judges
and the equivalent of police officers; judges must be honest and avoid bribes.
And there should be equal justice for all.
Do not make cultic worship pillars in our dedicated worship site.
Idolaters should be stoned to death, but only after a trial and upon the
word of two or three credible witnesses who will also be the first to cast the
stones. If there are criminal cases
that are too difficult for the local judges to handle, then bring the cases to
the Levitical priests. Moses assumes
that the people will want a king in the Promised Land.
In that case, there will be limits on the king’s power (both in the
military – the number of horses, and in the number of wives).
The king will also write his own copy of the Torah.
The Levitical priests, in fact, all Levites, will be supported by the
people’s offerings, as they do not have a portion of the Promised Land.
Once again, the people are told to avoid the abominable cult practices of
the pagans in the Promised Land (i.e., no child sacrifice and no soothsayers).
There will be legitimate prophets in the future to be followed and false
prophets to be avoided. The command
to create the six cities of refuge is reiterated (these are for people who
commit involuntary manslaughter to protect them from the avengers of blood).
On the other hand, murderers are not to be given sanctuary in them.
Moving a neighbor’s landmarks is unacceptable.
Witnesses who pervert justice are to be punished.
Do not be afraid to face larger armies than ours.
However, certain men are exempt from service, at least temporarily (e.g,
those who are engaged but not yet married, etc.).
When taking over a city, offer peace.
If the citizens accept, then they can be kept as vassals, otherwise, lay
siege and take spoils of war. However,
if the city is within the Promised Land, destroy the native population and their
gods, but save their trees. If a
corpse is found in the Promised Land and no one knows who killed him, go to the
closest city and break the neck of one of their heifers.