17 Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s . . .
Here’s another example of where, in my judgement at least, the King James Version of the Bible is superior in expression to more modern translations.
In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks with the Lord about setting up a kind of judiciary for the Israelites as they are about to embark on the last phase of their journey into the Promised Land. The nation has apparently grown in number during the 40 years of wandering and now it is too much for Moses alone to tend to the hearing and settlement of the disputes that inevitably arose among the people. God gives Moses some managerial advice that would sound right at home in a modern corporate seminar: delegate! Find men who are able and experienced and give them authority to hear disputes. The verse suggests that the system implemented is hierarchical, like that we see today in American jurisprudence. (This is no accident: of course the structure of western judicial systems is born here. Our court system is, finally, descended from Moses.) Some judges will be in charge of 50, some 100 and some 1000. There are layers of courts.
From there, the Lord gives instruction and encouragement to the men who will take up these new judicial posts. As the NIV renders it:
Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgement belongs to God.
The King James renders the verse:
Ye shall not respect persons in judgement; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of any man; for the judgement is God’s . . .
I’ll admit that “Do not show partiality in judging” is clearer to me than “Ye shall not respect persons in judgement,” but compare these two phrases: “do not be afraid of any man” versus “ye shall not be afraid of the face of any man.”
I was a federal prosecutor for 34 years and the best years of my career were spent hauling public officials into court on corruption charges. These were powerful men. They had not only official powers, but that informal and more sinister power that comes with being the “boss” of a long-established, corrupt political organization whose fortunes and status are dependent on the boss staying out of jail and retaining power.
I first got to know these corrupt officials in an almost academic way. I read reports about them. I interviewed people who knew them. There were stool pigeons who had once worked for the boss but who had gotten into trouble and turned on him to shorten their own jail time. There were enemies of the boss, some of whom were probably just as corrupt as the target, who had completed with him for power and patronage in this district or that and who were champing at the bit to dump on their rival. I subpoenaed and studied bank records, looking for suspicious cash deposits or outlays. I looked at credit card bills, tax and travel records.
In one sense, I knew these men very well before I ever charged them; before I ever met them in court.
But something happened when I actually saw them face to face. After the arrest, when the defendant first made his initial appearance, where the question of bail would be addressed, I would look, often for the first time, into the face of the man I had charged. And there was something fearful about that. Not that any of them were glaring at me or trying to stare me down. It was something other than that. Having the flesh-and-blood person before me stuck me in the gut; raised the hair on the back of my neck. The fight now was joined and the stakes were high. Everything that had gone before seemed theoretical now.
It seems to me that this is what the King James gets just right. This translation describes the dynamic to me just the way I felt it in life. The idea is that the judges newly commissioned are being told not to fear the face-to-face confrontation with those whom they are called on to judge.
And there is a reason for that. The fight, the battle, the dispute, is not personal to the judges and if they act correctly, the judgement they render is God’s judgement, not their own. I think the King James is better on this point, too. The NIV renders “for judgment belongs to God,” which strikes me as a bit contradictory. If judgement – here in the generic or abstract – belongs to God, then what in the heck are you – a mere human judge – doing meting it out? The King James makes the matter a little more particular and surely better, saying “the judgement is God’s.”
That is, the judgement in this very matter – the judgement, rendered under the authority granted to the human judge – is God’s judgement.