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Imperfect Justice

Written by Gary North on December 5, 2015

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee (Ex. 18:21-22).

The Bible is not a perfectionist document. While it lays down a standard of perfection — a standard met only by Jesus Christ — it nonetheless acknowledges in its very law code that men’s institutions and laws must be understood as fallible, limited, and tainted with sin. As this passage amply demonstrates, the Bible is hostile to the humanist’s quest for perfect justice on earth.

Under Moses’ direct rule, God’s revelation was instantly available in any given case. Yet there was insufficient time for Moses to hear every case of legal dispute in the land. Perfect justice was limited by time and space; men had to come to Moses’ tent and stand in (presumably) long lines. The quest for perfect justice was eating up countless man-hours of potential human labor.

Jethro warned Moses that the people, as well as Moses himself, were wearing away (vs. 18). He recommended the establishment of a legal hierarchy, thereby taking advantage of the principle of the division of labor. He could reserve time to hear the cases that were too difficult for his subordinates — “every great matter” (22) – and in doing so would redeem his allotted time more wisely by exercising leadership in other areas of Hebrew life besides the courtroom. Furthermore, this system would permit more rapid resolutions of disputes.

There was no express revelation from God to Moses concerning the establishment of such a legal bureaucracy. It was an ad hoc decision based on informed common sense. Acknowledging the principle of scar- city in the realm of time, Jethro came to an obvious conclusion. Yet this conclusion involved the acceptance of a fundamental principle: even in the historically unique circumstance of men’s access to perfect justice, it is preferable in the vast majority of cases to obtain speedy justice rather than perfect justice.

(for the rest of my article, click the link.)

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