Last week, we considered the first of what should be the major concerns of a society that will be properly governed, namely, the administration of justice.
Today, we want to consider the second major concern of society, namely, the execution of justice against the idolatry and false worship (Deut. 17:2-7). The Israelites were a theocracy, that is, a government that acknowledged God as the Supreme Ruler, a society that was based upon the commandments of God Himself. God had already given His people both the civil and religious laws that were to govern them as a nation. But among all the laws given by God, there was one supreme commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).
When this commandment is broken, the execution of justice is to be carried out. A person has violated and dishonored the Lord God Himself (Jehovah, Yahweh), the only living and true God. Moses declared this fact: a person who commits false worship does evil, violates God's covenant (Deut. 17:2). The Israelites had entered a covenant with God, just as every believer down through the generations enters a covenant with God. If a person will believe and obey God, God will save him and give him an inheritance in the promised land of God (Exodus 19:4-6).
The Israelites had promised to follow God, to obey Him and keep His commandments. God had saved them from Egypt, from the slavery of this world; therefore, the Israelites professed to be followers of God. By professing God, they committed themselves to obey God, to keep His commandments. Moses declared the terrible evil of false worship and idolatry (Deut. 17:3). The person who turns to false worship actually turns away from God to worship other gods. He looks for help or guidance from such things as the sun, moon, or stars of the sky. He seeks to know the future, his destiny and fate through such things as the zodiac, astrology, and the occult. A terrible evil—depending upon such things—trusting such things instead of trusting God! This is a terrible breach of the first commandment.
The person owed God total allegiance, yet he cut the heart of God causing so much pain. Moses declared the execution of justice and judgment against the false worshipper and idolater (Deut. 17:4-7). The idolater and false worshipper deserves the penalty of capital punishment because his evil threatened the very existence of the Israelite nation. The crime, though religious in form, had the most severe political consequences. It destroyed the unity of the people and the assurance of God's presence and blessings. False worship and idolatry would destroy the nation. These terrible evils could be compared to the crime of espionage or treason in the time of war, acts that would weaken the security of the nation. A charge of false worship or idolatry against a person was to be thoroughly investigated (Deut. 17:4). This was absolutely necessary since the crime was a capital crime: the person was to be executed. The accused could not be convicted solely on the accusation of a single witness.
The accused was innocent until proven guilty. However, if he was found guilty, he was to be executed (Deut. 17:5). The person was to be taken out to the city gate and stoned to death. Moses provided two safeguards to assure justice, to make absolutely sure that an innocent person was not executed (Deut. 17:6-7).
One, the testimony of two or more witnesses was required (Deut. 17:6).
Two, the witnesses and the community were themselves to be the executioners (Deut. 17:7). This was a safeguard against false accusations. A person would think twice before falsely accusing someone since he himself had to cast the first stone.
God insisted that the evil of idolatry and false worship must be purged from among a nation that will enjoy His blessings (Deut. 17:7).