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Lawgiver

LAWGIVER

lo'-giv-er (mechoqeq; nomothetes):

There are two words, one Hebrew and one Greek, which are translated "lawgiver." The former occurs 7 times in the Old Testament, and in the King James Version in every case except Judges 5:14 is thus translated. In the Revised Version (British and American) it bears the translation "lawgiver" but twice (Deuteronomy 33:21; Isaiah 33:22), though in the other passages (Genesis 49:10; Numbers 21:18; Judges 5:14; Psalms 60:7; 108:8) this meaning is retained in the margin. The Greek word occurs in the New Testament but once (James 4:12), where it has a meaning that is almost the exact equivalent of the Hebrew word in Isaiah 33:22. In both passages God is declared to be the "lawgiver," and in the New Testament passage is so called because He has the power to rule and judge, to save and destroy. Man is denied the authority to judge because he is not the lawgiver. God is the lawgiver, and therefore possesses the right to pronounce judgment (compare Isa, supra). The word, however, implies more than mere legislative function; it also connotes the idea of ruling. Isaiah makes this very plain, since he adds to the statement that God is our judge and lawgiver the further declaration that He is also king. This meaning adheres in the very history of the word. It is based upon the monarchical conception in which the legislative, judicial and administrative functions are all vested in one person. In James the two terms "lawgiver and judge" express the idea of God's absolute sovereignty. The verb nomothetein occurs in Hebrews 7:11; 8:6, but it does not extend beyond the meaning "to enact laws."

The Hebrew word is restricted to poetic passages, and except in Isaiah 33:22 is applied to a tribal or kingly ruler. Moses is pre-eminently the lawgiver in Jewish and Christian circles, but it should be noted that in the Scriptures of neither is he given this title. The primary meaning of the verb from which mechoqeq is derived is "to cut," "to carve," and a derived meaning is "to ordain." The meaning of the participle mechoqeq is based upon this last. It means

(1) the symbol which expresses the lawmaker's authority, that is, the commander's staff; and

(2) the person who possesses the authority (Deuteronomy 33:21).

It has the first of these meanings in Numbers 21:18; Psalms 60:7; 108:8, and probably in Genesis 49:10, though here it may have the second meaning. The parallelism, however, seems to require an impersonal object to correspond to scepter, and so the reading of the text (The Revised Version) is to be preferred to that of the margin (Skinner, at the place). In Deuteronomy 33:21; Judges 5:14; Isaiah 33:22, it means the person who wielded the symbol of authority, that is the prescriber of laws. In a primitive community this would be a military commander. In Genesis 49:10 the "ruler's staff" is the symbol of kingly authority (Driver), and this verse consequently implies the supremacy of Judah which came in with the Davidic kingdom. This word contains no reference to the Messiah. In Numbers 21:18 there is an allusion to the custom of formally and symbolically opening fountains under the superintendence and at the instruction of the leader of the tribe. Such a custom seems to have been in vogue till comparatively modern times. Gray cites Budde in the New World for March, 1895, and Muir's Mohamet and Islam, 343 f. In Judges 5:14 the word means "military commander," as the context shows. This is the meaning also in Deuteronomy 33:21, where it is affirmed that Gad obtained a position worthy of its warlike character. Targum, Vulgate, Peshitta, and some moderns have seen here a reference to the grave of Moses, but Nebo was in Reuben and not in Gad.

W. C. Morro


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'LAWGIVER'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.