This was the form of Divine law which, under the dominion of God, as the Supreme Magistrate, directed the policy of the Jewish nation, and hence, was binding only on them, not on other peoples. The position of Yahweh, as the Supreme Ruler, was made legally binding by a formal election on the part of the national assembly (Exodus 19:3-8); and that there might be no question about the matter, after the death of Moses, Joshua, in accordance with instructions received by his great predecessor in the office of federal judge, in the public assembly caused the contract to be renewed in connection with most solemn exercises (Joshua 8:30-35). No legal contract was ever entered into with more formality and with a clearer understanding of the terms by the several parties than was the contract which made it binding on the Hebrews permanently to recognize Yahweh as the Supreme Ruler (Exodus 24:3-8). He was to be acknowledged as the Founder of the nation (Exodus 20:2); Sovereign, Ruler, and Judge (Exodus 20:2-6); and in these capacities was to be the object of love, reverential fear and worship, service, and absolute obedience. Flagrant disregard of their obligations to Him manifested in idolatry or blasphemy was regarded as high treason, and like high treason in all nations and history was punishable by death (Exodus 20:3-5,7; 22:20; Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 17:2-5). The will of Yahweh in critical cases was to be ascertained through special means (Numbers 9:8; Judges 1:1,2; 20:18,23,28; 1 Samuel 10:22).
The ruling official recognized by the Hebrews as a nation was the chief magistrate, but he stood as Yahweh's vicegerent, and therefore combined various authorities in his person. We must distinguish the functions of the chief magistrate (1) under the republic, (2) under the constitutional monarchy, and (3) under the senatorial oligarchy after the Babylonian captivity. Moses was the first chief magistrate under the republic; after him, Joshua, and the other judges. Under the constitutional monarchy, it was the king whose government was limited, for he was to be elected by the people; must be a native Hebrew; must not keep a large cavalry; must not support a harem; must not multiply riches; must be a defender of the national religion; must be guided by law, not whim; must be gracious and condescending to the people (Deuteronomy 17:15-20). After the Babylonian captivity, the senatorial oligarchy combined ecclesiastical and state authority, later sharing it with the Roman government.
See also SANHEDRIN.
Frank E. Hirsch
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