juj (shopheT; New Testament dikastes, krites): In the early patriarchal times the heads of families and the elders of the tribes were the judges (compare Ge 38:24), and their authority was based on custom. In the wilderness Moses alone was the judge until Jethro suggested a scheme of devolution. On his advice Moses divided the people into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and over each group a wise and good man was set as a judge. Thereafter only the most important cases were brought before Moses (Ex 18:13-26; De 1:9-17). This arrangement ceased to be practicable when the children of Israel settled down in Canaan. Although David took counsel with the heads of thousands and hundreds (1Ch 13:1), it need not be assumed that this was a continuation of the plan adopted by Moses. Probably the local courts were not organized till the time of David. In the days of the Judges justice was ministered by those who had risen by wisdom or valor to that rank (Jg 4:5). An organized circuit court was established by Samuel, who judged cases himself, and also made his sons judges (1Sa 7:16; 8:1). After the monarchy was instituted, the king tried all cases, when requested to do so by the wronged person, in the palace gate (1Ki 7:7; Pr 20:8). There was no public prosecutor (2Sa 14:4; 15:2-6; 1Ch 18:14; 1Ki 3:16; 2Ki 15:5). Under David and Solomon there were probably local courts (1Ch 23:4; 26:29). Jehoshaphat organized a high court of justice (2Ch 19:8). The prophets often complain bitterly that the purity of justice is corrupted by bribery and false witness (Isa 1:23; 5:23; 10:1; Am 5:12; 6:12; Mic 3:11; 7:3; Pr 6:19; 12:17; 18:5). Even kings sometimes pronounced unjust sentences, especially in criminal cases (1Sa 22:6-19; 1Ki 22:26; 2Ki 21:16; Jer 36:26). An evil king could also bend local courts to do his will, as may be gathered from the case of Naboth's vineyard (1Ki 21:1-13).
The first duty of a judge was to execute absolute justice, showing the same impartiality to rich and poor, to Jew and foreigner. He was forbidden to accept bribes or to wrest the judgment of the poor (Ex 23:6-8; De 16:19). He must not let himself be swayed by popular opinion, or unduly favor the poor (Ex 23:2-3).
The court was open to the public (Ex 18:13; Ru 4:1-2). Each party presented his view of the case to the judge (De 1:16; 25:1). Possibly the accused appeared in court clad in mourning (Zec 3:3). The accuser stood on the right hand of the accused (Zec 3:1; Ps 109:6). Sentence was pronounced after the hearing of the case, and the judgment carried out (Jos 7:24-25). The only evidence considered by the court was that given by the witnesses. In criminal cases, not less than two witnesses were necessary (De 19:15; Nu 35:30; De 17:6; compare Mt 18:16; 2Co 13:1; 1Ti 5:19). In cases other than criminal the oath (see OATH) was applied (Ex 22:11; compare Heb 6:16). The lot was sometimes appealed to (Jos 7:14-18), especially in private disputes (Pr 18:18), but this was exceptional. When the law was not quite definite, recourse was had to the Divine oracle (Le 24:12; Nu 15:34).