the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
is in Scripture taken for that essential perfection in God, whereby he is infinitely righteous and just, both in himself and in all his proceedings with his creatures, Psalms 89:14 . That political virtue which renders to every man his due; and is first, distributive, which concerns princes, magistrates, &c, Job 29:14; secondly, communicative, which concerns all persons in their dealings one with another, Genesis 18:19 .
JUSTICE, ADMINISTRATION OF. According to the Mosaic law, there were to be judges in all the cities, whose duty it was likewise to exercise judicial authority in the neighbouring villages; but weighty causes and appeals went up to the supreme judge or ruler of the commonwealth, and, in case of a failure here, to the high priest, Deuteronomy 17:8-9 . In the time of the monarchy, weighty causes and appeals went up, of course, to the king, who, in very difficult cases, seems to have consulted the high priest, as is customary at the present day among the Persians and Ottomans. The judicial establishment was reorganized after the captivity, and two classes of judges, the inferior and superior, were appointed, Ezra 7:25 . The more difficult cases, nevertheless, and appeals, were either brought before the ruler of the state, called פחה , or before the high priest; until, in the age of the Maccabees, a supreme, judicial tribunal was instituted, which is first mentioned under Hyrcanus II. This tribunal is not to be confounded with the seventy-two counsellors, who were appointed to assist Moses in the civil administration of the government, but who never filled the office of judges. See .
Josephus states, that in every city there was a tribunal of seven judges, with two Levites as apparitors, and that it was a Mosaic institution. That there existed such an institution in his time, there is no reason to doubt; but he probably erred in referring its origin to so early a period as the days of Moses. ( See κρισις , or the judgment, Matthew 5:22 . The Talmudists mention a tribunal of twenty-three judges, and another of three judges; but Josephus is silent in respect to them. The courts of twenty-three judges were the same with the synagogue tribunals, mentioned in John 16:2; which merely tried questions of a religious nature, and sentenced to no other punishment than "forty stripes save one," 2 Corinthians 11:24 . The court of three judges was merely a session of referees, which was allowed to the Jews by the Roman laws; for the Talmudists themselves, in describing this court, go on to observe, that one judge was chosen by the accuser, another by the accused, and a third by the two parties conjunctly; which shows at once the nature of the tribunal.. ) This tribunal, which decided causes of less moment, is denominated in the New Testament,
The time at which courts were held, and causes were brought before them for trial, was in the morning, Jeremiah 21:12; Psalms 101:8 . According to the Talmudists, it was not lawful to try causes of a capital nature in the night; and it was equally unlawful to examine a cause, pass sentence, and put it in execution on the same day. The last particular was very strenuously insisted on. It is worthy of remark, that all of these practices, which were observed in other trials, were neglected in the tumultuous trial of Jesus, Matthew 26:57; John 18:13-18 . The places for judicial trials were in very ancient times the gates of cities, which were well adapted to this purpose. ( See . ) Originally, trials were every where very summary, excepting in Egypt; where the accuser committed the charge to writing, the accused replied in writing, the accuser repeated the charge, and the accused answered again, &c, Job 14:17 . It was customary in Egypt for the judge to have the code of laws placed before him, a practice which still prevails in the east. Moses interdicted, in the most express and decided manner, gifts or bribes, which were intended to corrupt the judges, Exodus 22:20-21; Exodus 23:1-9; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 24:14-15 . Moses also, by legal precautions, prevented capital punishments, and corporal punishments, which were not capital, from being extended, as was done in other nations, both to parents and their children, and thus involving the innocent and the guilty in that misery which was justly due only to the latter, Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 24:16; Daniel 6:24 .
The ceremonies which were observed in conducting a judicial trial, were as follows:
1. The accuser and the accused both made their appearance before the judge or judges, Deuteronomy xxv, l, who sat with legs crossed upon the floor, which was furnished for their accommodation with carpet and cushions. A secretary was present, at least in more modern times, who wrote down the sentence, and, indeed, every thing in relation to the trial; for instance, the articles of agreement that might be entered into previous to the commencement of the judicial proceedings, Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 32:1-14 . The Jews assert that there were two secretaries, the one being seated to the right of the judge, who wrote the sentence of not guilty, the other to the left, who wrote the sentence of condemnation, Matthew 25:33-46 . That an apparitor or beadle was present, is apparent from other sources.
2. The accuser was denominated in Hebrew שתן , or the adversary, Zechariah 3:1-3; Psalms 109:6 . The judge or judges were seated, but both of the parties implicated stood up, the accuser standing to the right hand of the accused: the latter, at least after the captivity, when the cause was one of great consequence, appeared with hair dishevelled, and in a garment of mourning.
3. The witnesses were sworn, and, in capital cases, the parties concerned, 1 Samuel 14:37-40; Matthew 26:63 . In order to establish the charges alleged, two witnesses were necessary, and, including the accuser, three. The witnesses were examined separately, but the person accused had the liberty to be present when their testimony was given in, Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:1-15; Matthew 26:59 . Proofs might be brought from other sources; for instance, from written contracts, or from papers in evidence of any thing purchased or sold, of which there were commonly taken two copies, the one to be sealed, the other to be left open, as was customary in the time of Jerom, Jeremiah 32:10-13 .
4. The parties sometimes, as may be inferred from Proverbs 18:18 , made use of the lot in determining the points of difficulty between them, but not without a mutual agreement. The sacred lot of Urim and Thummim was anciently resorted to, in order to detect the guilty, Joshua 7:14-24; 1 Samuel 14; but the determination of a case of right or wrong in this way was not commanded by Moses.
5. The sentence, very soon after the completion of the examination, was pronounced; and the criminal, without any delay, even if the offence were a capital one, was hastened away to the place of punishment, Joshua 7:22 , &c; 1 Samuel 22:18; 1 Kings 2:23 .
A few additional remarks will cast some light upon some passages of Scripture: the station of the accused was in an eminent place in the court, that the people might see them, and hear what was alleged against them, and the proofs of it, together with the defence made by the criminals. This explains the reason of the remark by the Evangelist Matthew, concerning the posture of our Lord at his trial: "Jesus stood before the governor;" and that, in a mock trial, many ages before the birth of Christ, in which some attention was also paid to public forms, Naboth was set on high among the people, 1 Kings 21:9 . The accusers and the witnesses also stood, unless they were allowed to sit by the indulgence of the judges, when they stated the accusation, or gave their testimony. To this custom of the accusers rising from their seats, when called by the court to read the indictment, our Lord alludes in his answer to the scribes and Pharisees, who expressed a wish to see him perform some miracle: "The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it,"
Matthew 12:42 . According to this rule, which seems to have been invariably observed, the Jews who accused the Apostle Paul at the bar of Festus the Roman governor, "stood round about," while they stated the crimes which they had to lay to his charge, Acts 25:7 . They were compelled to stand as well as the prisoner, by the established usage of the courts of justice, in the east. The Romans often put criminals to the question, or endeavoured to extort a confession from them by torture. Agreeably to this cruel and unjust custom, "the chief captain commanded Paul to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging," Acts 22:24 . It was usual, especially among the Romans, when a man was charged with a capital crime, and during his arraignment, to let down his hair, suffer his beard to grow long, to wear filthy, ragged garments, and appear in a very dirty and sordid habit; on account of which they were called sordidati. When the person accused was brought into court to be tried, even his near relations, friends, and acquaintances, before the court voted, appeared with dishevelled hair, and clothed with garments foul and out of fashion, weeping, crying, and deprecating punishment. The accused sometimes appeared before the judges clothed in black, and his head covered with dust. In allusion to this ancient custom, the Prophet Zechariah represents Joshua, the high priest, when he appeared before the Lord, and Satan stood at his right hand to accuse him, as clothed with filthy garments, Zechariah 3:3 . After the cause was carefully examined, and all parties impartially heard, the public crier, by command of the presiding magistrate, ordered the judges to bring in their verdict. The most ancient way of giving sentence, was by white and black sea shells, or pebbles. This custom has been mentioned by Ovid in these lines:—
Mos erat antiquis, niveis atrisque lapillis, His damnare reos, illis absolvere culpa.
"It was a custom among the ancients, to give their votes by white or black stones; with these they condemned the guilty, with those acquitted the innocent." In allusion to this ancient custom, our Lord promises to give the spiritual conqueror "a white stone," Revelation 2:17; the white stone of absolution or approbation. When sentence of condemnation was pronounced, if the case was capital, the witnesses put their hands on the head of the criminal, and said, "Thy blood be upon thine own head." To this custom the Jews alluded, when they cried out at the trial of Christ, "His blood be on us and on our children." Then was the malefactor led to execution, and none were allowed openly to lament his misfortune. His hands were secured with cords, and his feet with fetters; a custom which furnished David with an affecting allusion, in his lamentation over the dust of Abner: "Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put in fetters," 2 Samuel 3:34; that is, he was put treacherously to death, without form of justice.
2. Executions in the east are often very prompt and arbitrary, when resulting from royal authority. In many cases the suspicion is no sooner entertained, or the cause of offence given, than the fatal order is issued; the messenger of death hurries to the unsuspecting victim, shows his warrant, and executes his orders that instant in silence and solitude. Instances of this kind are continually occurring in the Turkish and Persian histories. When the enemies of a great man among the Turks have gained influence enough over the prince to procure a warrant for his death, a capidgi, the name of the officer who executes these orders, is sent to him, who shows him the order he has received to carry back his head; the other takes the warrant of the grand seignior, kisses it, puts it on his head in token of respect, and then, having performed his ablutions and said his prayers, freely resigns his life. The capidgi, having strangled him, cuts off his head, and brings it to Constantinople. The grand seignior's order is implicitly obeyed; the servants of the victim never attempt to hinder the executioner, although these capidgis come very often with few or no attendants. It appears from the writings of Chardin, that the nobility and grandees of Persia are put to death in a manner equally silent, hasty, and unobstructed. Such executions were not uncommon among the Jews under the government of their kings. Solomon sent Benaiah as his capidgi, or executioner, to put Adonijah, a prince of his own family, to death; and Joab, the commander-in-chief of the forces in the reign of his father. A capidgi likewise beheaded John the Baptist in prison, and carried his head to the court of Herod. To such silent and hasty executioners the royal preacher seems to refer in that proverb, "The wrath of a king is as messengers of death; but a wise man will pacify it," Proverbs 16:14 : his displeasure exposes the unhappy offender to immediate death, and may fill the unsuspecting bosom with terror and dismay, like the appearance of a capidgi; but by wise and prudent conduct a man may sometimes escape the danger. From the dreadful promptitude with which Benaiah executed the commands of Solomon on Adonijah and Joab, it may be concluded that the executioner of the court was as little ceremonious, and the ancient Jews, under their kings, nearly as passive, as the Turks or Persians. The Prophet Elisha is the only person on the inspired record who ventured to resist the bloody mandate of the sovereign; the incident is recorded in these terms: "But Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a man from before him; but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, See how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? Look ye, when the messenger cometh, shut the door and hold him fast at the door; is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?" 2 Kings 6:32 . But if such mandates had not been too common among the Jews, and in general submitted to without resistance, Jehoram had scarcely ventured to despatch a single messenger to take away the life of so eminent a person as Elisha.
Criminals were at other times executed in public; and then commonly without the city. To such executions without the gate, the Psalmist undoubtedly refers in this complaint: "The dead bodies of thy saints have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven; the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth; their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them," Psalms 79:2-3 . The last clause admits of two senses:
1. There was no friend or relation left to bury them.
2. None were allowed to perform this last office.
The despotism of eastern princes often proceeds to a degree of extravagance which is apt to fill the mind with astonishment and horror. It has been thought, from time immemorial, highly criminal to bury those who had lost their lives by the hand of an executioner, without permission. In Morocco, no person dares to bury the body of a malefactor without an order from the emperor; and Windus, who visited that country, speaking of a man who was sawn in two, informs us, that his body must have remained to be eaten by the dogs if the emperor had not pardoned him; an extravagant custom to pardon a man after he is dead; but unless he does so, no person dares bury the body. To such a degree of savage barbarity it is probable the enemies of God's people carried their opposition, that no person dared to bury the dead bodies of their innocent victims.
In ancient times, persons of the highest rank and station were employed to execute the sentence of the law. They had not then, as we have at present, public executioners; but the prince laid his commands on any of his courtiers whom he chose, and probably selected the person for whom he had the greatest favour. Gideon commanded Jether, his eldest son, to execute his sentence on the kings of Midian; the king of Israel ordered the foot-men who stood around him, and who were probably a chosen body of soldiers for the defence of his person, to put to death the priests of the Lord; and when they refused, Doeg, an Edomite, one of his principal officers. Long after the days of Saul, the reigning monarch commanded Benaiah, the chief captain of his armies, to perform that duty. Sometimes the chief magistrate executed the sentence of the law with his own hands; for when Jether shrunk from the duty which his father required, Gideon, at that time the supreme magistrate in Israel, did not hesitate to do it himself. In these times such a command would be reckoned equally barbarous and unbecoming; but the ideas which were entertained in those primitive ages of honour and propriety, were in many respects extremely different from ours. In Homer, the exasperated Ulysses commanded his son Telemachus to put to death the suitors of Penelope, which was immediately done. The custom of employing persons of high rank to execute the sentence of the law, is still retained in the principality of Senaar, where the public executioner is one of the principal nobility; and, by virtue of his office, resides in the royal palace.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Justice'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​j/justice.html. 1831-2.