Deuteronomy 16–18 & 26 Judges, Kings, Priests & Ordinary People


As Moses continued to train the new generation for life in the Promised Land, he not only instructed them about their past history and their obligations in worship as we’ve studied in earlier chapters, but he also described to them the type of government God wanted them to form. When their ancestors were in Egypt, the Jews had minimal organization involving only elders (Ex. 3:18; 4:29–31); and during the wilderness journey, Moses had tribal leaders who assisted him in solving the problems the people brought them (18:13ff). Each tribe in Israel also had a leader (Num. 1:5–16; 7:10–83), and there were seventy elders who assisted Moses in the spiritual oversight of the nation (11:10ff).

This basic organization was adequate to govern a nomadic people following a gifted leader, but it wouldn’t serve the nation’s needs once they moved into the Promised Land. We have to remember that once they entered the Promised Land, Moses would no longer be with them to give them messages directly from the mouth of God. Also, each tribe would be assigned their own portion of the land and three tribes, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh would be located on the east side of the Jordan River. The next few chapters outline God’s idea of leadership and a government that, when followed, would give the Israelites the kind of life God intended them to have.

Picking up at Deuteronomy 16:16 the text focuses on competent judges. Moses mentions two types of legal professionals—judges and officers. These leaders were probably appointed by a male, land-owning citizen of the local community. The word used for “officers” in the King James Version means, “writers, or secretaries.” These men probably kept records and genealogies for the judges and also provided advice and counsel for more difficult decisions.

The term “gates” is an interesting one as we commonly think of a gate being a hinged, swinging device that gives access to a fenced area. In the Ancient Middle East, however, gates were more than that. In fact, the area of the cities’ gate may have included a small anteroom. This is where the judges and officers would hear cases. This area was like a civic center or city hall is today.

Regarding the choosing of judges, John Maxwell wrote, “Leadership may be defined in terms of what we are (character) and what we do (action). A leader’s action will reflect his or her character. Therefore, it is of great importance that the leader be right (with God) so he or she can do right. When right action is rooted in right character, the fruit will be right results.”[1]

Chapter seventeen gives the new generation laws regarding justice and the courts. This section, much like Exodus 21–23 is meant to give instructions to the judges about administering justice for the new nation. So much of western law is based on the Israelite system of dispensing justice.

When we read the text, we can note that everyone was held to be innocent unless proved otherwise. No one’s character was put at the mercy of any one uncorroborated witness (v. 6). Those who reported a crime were responsible for following their words with action (v. 7). The people were to cooperate in “putting away evil” whenever it had been proved to exist (v. 7). There was provision for appeal in higher courts (v. 8–13).

Moses then, in a prophetic move, gives directions to the people pertaining to kings. God looked forward and realized the pressure would be too much on these people and, in time, they would demand a king like the neighboring nations.

God sets several laws down for the future king. These laws involve the misuse of power, money, and status. Unfortunately, every king in Israel’s history broke one or more of these laws while in office.

He also makes a point that the king should “write for himself,” the word of God. Pastor Jon Courson wrote, “The first act the king was to perform upon taking the throne was not to go to an inaugural ball, throw a party for his donors, or watch a parade in his honor. God declared that first thing a king was to do was to make a copy of the Law. Why? Because in writing down every line, every word, the Law would be embedded in the king’s mind.”[2]

Chapter eighteen outlines some laws about priests and prophets. Moses retraces what he’s taught about the Levites’ inheritance and reminds the new generation that priests can receive offerings of firstfruits. It seems vitally important to Moses that the Levites and priests, charged with ministering, were taken care of by the people. It isn’t enough for a nation to have gifted and godly leaders; it must also have godly citizens who obey the law of the Lord.

This section of teaching would not be complete without jumping over to chapter twenty-six because leaders need obedient and committed people if they are going to accomplish the mission they’ve been given to do.

Moses begins this chapter by reminding the new generation, once again, that God is their helper and strength. Several times in the first fifteen verses Moses points to God as the source of all of Israel’s blessings. The chapter ends with the people proclaiming two things: The Lord to be their God and second, they will walk in His ways and His statutes. Then, God proclaims Israel to be His special people. In essence, Israel’s obedience to God would manifest itself in a blessed reward from God as His people.


  1. It is important to realize our responsibility to keep the church pure today. There are several New Testament scriptures that speak to church discipline and give procedures for us to follow when we feel we’ve been wronged. Matthew 18 is an example.
  2. Stewardship doesn’t mean that we give God a part and then use the rest as we please. Pastor Warren Wiersbe wrote, “True stewardship means that we give God what belongs to Him as an acknowledgment that all that we have is His. We then use all that is left wisely for His glory. To bring the Lord 10 percent and then waste the 90 percent that remains is not stewardship. It’s foolishness.”[3]
  3. When God blesses us we should not forget to praise Him. The enemy will continually steal our joy through the door of an ungrateful heart. Our attitude toward God should find exuberant praise for what he’s done and what he will do in our lives.
  4. Do what God’s called you to do, TODAY. Educator and scholar Dr. Simon DeVries wrote, “His revelation is now. He is very alive and present. Israel must respond one way or another, because the voice of God is near. The word they must obey is not far off in the heavens or belonging to remote antiquity. Therefore, do not defer your choice to still another ‘today’!”[4]


[1]Maxwell, John C., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Deuteronomy. Vol. 5. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1987.

[2]Courson, Jon. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis-Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

[3]Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Equipped. “Be” Commentary Series. Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999.

[4]Dr. DeVries quoted by Duane L. Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary, Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), 19.


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