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God's 'Laws, Statutes and Judgments'

God's instructions to His people and their officials are usually summarized under the three broad categories of statutes, judgments and laws

When God organized the people of Israel into a nation under the Sinai Covenant, through the human leadership of Moses, He authorized an administrative system that included not only priests but also judges to keep them on the path of righteousness (Deuteronomy 1:16-17). These judges were to perform their assigned duties according to the laws, statutes and judgments that God would reveal to them, either directly (as with the Ten Commandments) or through His messengers.

Though a variety of terms are used in the Scriptures to describe God's instructions to His people and their officials, they usually are summarized under the three broad categories of "statutes and judgments and laws" (Leviticus 26:46, King James Version). These terms describe distinctions in the way God's instructions are viewed rather than their validity or importance. They all represent His will. All of them were to be respected and followed.

The Hebrew word translated "law" is torah. When used with the definite article (the law), it refers either to law in general or to some specific aspect of law. It often refers to the entire body of law that God gave to the people of Israel.

Torah also carries the broader meaning of "teachings," especially when used without the definite article. Sometimes, when used so broadly, the word even appears to imply the entire body of revealed instruction contained in the Old Testament scriptures.

The word "statutes" refers to a specific type of laws. As the English translation of the Hebrew words choq or chuqqah, the word "statute" refers to an authoritative enactment, decree or ordinance.

Biblical statutes may set appointed times, such as sacred festivals, define important customs and even establish the manner or procedure by which certain vital matters are to be handled. Because they reveal God's thinking and reflect His priorities, they are crucially instructive as divine guidelines for righteous behavior.

"Judgments" are decisions handed down by judges to explain, broaden or narrow the application of existing law. To ensure that human judges would have meaningful guidelines and precedents to follow in exercising their judicial responsibilities, God provides examples of how He judges in the Scriptures.

God's judgments illustrate how righteous decisions should be made according to the principles revealed in His laws and statutes. He instructs all judges who are responsible for making judgments not specifically covered in the Torah: "In controversy they shall stand as judges, and judge it according to My judgments. They shall keep My laws and My statutes . . ." (Ezekiel 44:24).

He also tells them: "You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:15).

Taken together, God's laws, statutes and judgments lay the foundation for a righteous society and the administrative procedures needed to govern it. They all contain principles that are applicable to all peoples and are broad enough to be adapted to new situations.

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