There are some who feel that Deut 17.8-13 gives the Rabbis authority to make and decide law, and we as Torah-based believers in Yeshua should follow their rulings. They will point to Matt 23.1-2 as their “proof text” but is that correct? In Matt 23, Yeshua is talking to the Pharisees from Beit Shammai and they were hypocrites. The “seat of Moses” is the Great Sanhedrin and members of Beit Shammai dominated that body, in some cases by force (“seated themselves”). But, who says the Rabbis are these judges of Deut 17.9?
Exo 18.22 gives the hierarchy of judgment, with a person at the top getting an answer to tough cases directly from the Lord. How does a priest do it? By consulting the Urim v’ Tummim (Num 27.15-23). Eventually, the Urim V’ Tummim disappeared (Neh 7.65; Hos 3.4) so the judge would consult a true prophet of God, or the judge was a prophet like Samuel. That’s why if a person did not listen to the ruling he was put to death (Deut 17.12). This is not the system of the Sanhedrin of Yeshua’s day, or the system that is in place now. The Rabbis have invented this system. They even teach that they do not need to listen to “heaven” (Talmud, Bava Metzia 59).
However, before we get incensed over that idea, Replacement Theology Christianity has done the same thing with what they call “Apostolic Authority” or “Pastoral Authority” and of course the ever popular, “I am being led by the Spirit.” Where do Christians get the idea that the Torah has been “done away with?” They get it from a false interpretation of some verses by Paul, a Torah observant Jew. For more information on this, go to the teachings, “Paul was Torah Observant”, “The Torah and Paul” and “The Real Paul” on this website. They also get it from the false teaching that Israel has been replaced by the “church.” From there they get the idea that the Torah (Tanak) has been replaced by the “New Testament” and that God has given their church leaders the power to “make new laws.” They do not realize that the “Brit Chadasha (New Covenant) is found in the Torah (Deut 29.1) and the Torah will be written on our hearts by God (Jer 31.33). The word “new” actually means “renewed” and it is renewed by the fact that Yeshua died and his blood ratified this covenant (Luke 22.20).
Nowhere does it say that we are to follow the Rabbis or church leaders, especially if what they say contradicts written Scripture. Some Torah-based ministries teach that the Oral Law should be followed by believers in Yeshua, using Matt 23.1-2 as their proof. But is that what these verses are saying?
Matt 23.1-39 is talking about a group of Pharisees from the House (Beit) of Shammai. They were leading the people into many false interpretations of the Scriptures and contended with the other main group of Pharisees called the House (Beit) of Hillel. There are over 300 differences recorded between these two groups. Yeshua is speaking against Beit Shammai in Matt 23, not all Pharisees. The contention with the houses of Shammai and Hillel was so bad that members of a coalition of the Zealot party, the Sadducees and some Pharisees from Beit Shammai killed some members of Beit Hillel before they could vote over passing or rejecting the 18 Edicts in 20 B.C. The 18 Edicts were written to restrict intercourse between Jews and non-Jews in just about every aspect of life. These edicts were not from God but favored by the Zealots, Sadducees and Beit Shammai because they did not like non-Jews, especially Romans. These edicts can be seen at times in the Gospels and Epistles (Matt 8.8; Acts 11.1-3) and they were the major problem in the Book of Galatians.
Yeshua refers to this incident in Matt 23.29-32. Josephus uses many of the same terms Yeshua uses to describe the House of Shammai in Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 11, Paragraph 1. You cannot use Matt 23.1-2 as a proof that we should be following the Oral Law as believers in Yeshua. For more detailed information on Yeshua and Beit Shammai, we refer you to our teachings called “The Pharisees, Sadducees and Yeshua” and “The Sanhedrin, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai” on this website.
Our next function or position is called a “Shoterim” meaning “Officer” in Deut 16.18. These were officials and seen as “staff” of the judges and the courts. They would help maintain proper legal procedure and they must know the Torah (which is true for all positions and functions). They kept order, worked as a scribe or teacher, and they must be a learned person in the Torah. He was seen as a servant of the courts and an enforcer of proper order and decorum.
Next we have the function or position of the “Melek” or ‘King” (Deut 17.14-20). This was an optional position because the Lord was already king. The Torah does not mandate a certain political system, but if Israel desired to have a king to rule over them, they were free to have one (v 14-15). However, that king would need to subject himself to God and his Torah and rule within what has been prescribed there. In 1 Sam 8.6, we learn that Israel wanted a king. Why was this demand wrong? It was because of the timing and because the people weren’t ready for a king yet. Much of the land was not under their control and remained unconquered.
But in another sense, they were rejecting the Lord as king, and his Torah. Whether there was a king or judge, it was really the Torah that guided them. Kings and judges were just “tools” in the hands of Yehovah. Asking for a king was not wrong because we have just read in the Torah about the provision for a king. However, the king was to provide a political back-drop for social order and to maintain the peace. The Prophets and Judges were responsible for the spiritual, moral and legal guidance of the people. Their mistake was asking for a king based on what the other nations were doing which were based on a court system of common law where the king dominates, not the Torah-based system with judges and prophets.
In Part 16 we will pick up here. We will begin to talk about how the Lord would judge other nations by giving them a bad king, then we will pick up a concept related to the king and idolatry, and then we will look at a debate between the a Rabbi and a Messianic Jew related to our subject of kings and judges.