And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous (Ex. 23:8).
The context of this law is judgment rendered in a court. Judges are not to render false judgment in favor of a poor man (v. 3) or against him (v. 6). People are not to offer false witness in a court against a righteous person (v. 7). They are not to oppress a stranger (v. 9). Such corrupt judicial acts constitute oppression, which points to the source of oppression: a misuse of God’s authorized monopoly of justice, the courts. Oppression is therefore primarily judicial: either the court renders false judgment, or else it refuses to prosecute a righteous person’s cause. The court indulges in sins of commission or omission. It is supposed to uphold God’s mission: rendering righteous judgment, in time and eternity
By focusing on the secondary source of economic oppression, the free market, critics of capitalism have misled people. The free market is not the source of the problem, although the visible manifestations of oppression frequently are found in market transactions. The source of the problem is the misuse of a biblically legitimate monopoly, the court system, by oppressors who are allies of unscrupulous profit-seeking businessmen. Long-term economic monopolies are almost always the creation of civil governments.
Why do judges become allies of economic oppressors, thereby making possible continuing oppression? This verse tells us. The oppressors take a portion of their capital and “invest” it. They bribe a court officer to render unrighteous judgment, or to look the other way and refuse to prosecute unrighteous public behavior.
The power of the bribe is very great. This verse tells us that wise men are blinded and righteous men become perverse. The combination of monopolistic power and the wealth transmitted by the bribe is too great for good men to handle. We do not receive something for nothing, except by God’s grace. When the bribe is offered, it is not offered free of charge. It is not a gift; it is payment for services received or hoped for. But the services are corrupt. They corrupt the recipient, the court, and the society. When men believe that they can buy the judgment they prefer, they lose faith in the social order. The guardians of social order no longer guard in the name of God by means of His law. They sell judgment to the highest bidder.
Highest Bid Wins
The principle of “highest bid wins” is valid in the market. If this principle were not honored, then the auctions of the world could not function. Men have expectations of how resources are to be distributed in any social order. If the principle of private ownership is maintained by the civil authorities, then people know that they have the right to exclude others from access to their property. The civil government is expected to uphold legal boundaries. Only by offering higher and higher bids can others hope to gain access to the asset and the key legal right (immunity) associated with ownership, namely, the right to exclude. The principle of highest bid wins is inherent in any society that upholds the private property system. The rules of economic order are known in advance, and people can make economic plans for the future in terms of these judicial assumptions.
The difference between the operation of the free market and the court system is that God has granted a legal monopoly to church government and civil government. Civil government has been granted a geographical monopoly which is unique. It represents God to those within its geographical boundaries, an authority defined by constitutional law or custom. Thus, it is not governed by the principle of highest bid wins. To imagine that such a principle governs the courts is to imagine that God honors the same principle in His rendering of judgment. But God honors only His law. All men are judged by His law. He does not respect persons, including those who could offer him a higher bid. The basis of rewards in eternity is righteousness.
Highest Ethical Bid
Now, it might be argued that the principle of highest bid wins still operates in Gods courtroom of final judgment, in the sense that righteousness is the “coin of the realm,” and those who pay the most ethically receive the best rewards (I Cor. 3:13-15). But there is a fundamental difference. God measures the quality of one’s ethical performance in terms of the assets one has been given. The story of the widow’s mites informs us of this principle. Those rich people who gave much into the treasury did not give so much as the poor widow who cast in two small coins, for this was all she possessed. Jesus said, “For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:44). God can search the heart. He knows what we possess and what it has cost us to give up. A human court cannot search the heart in this way. The judges do not know; at best they can estimate. Thus, the principle of the tithe must govern monopolistic courts: each person under the jurisdiction of the monopolistic government pays the same percentage of his income. This way, the poor person knows that the system is fair. He will receive justice because he has paid as much–a known percentage of income–as the rich man. He is therefore entitled to the same honest judgment. Thus, taking a bribe corrupts the judicial system, for it introduces uncertainty into the court. The poor person never knows if he can trust the court because a rich man may pay a small percentage of his assets to a judge–an absolute amount that is far beyond the capability of the poor person to match.
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