The Wickedness of Bribery and the Hope of the Gospel

Last Thursday two judges pleaded guilty in Philadelphia to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences.

Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan admitted that for three years they took payoffs from two penal childcare institutions.

In this we move not just beyond the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21), and not just beyond the law of Moses (Exodus 23:21), but beyond the law written on the heart before there was any law of Moses.

Before Mount Sinai, when Moses was overwhelmed with having to decide more cases in Israel than he could handle, his father-in-law told him he needed help. What kind of men should he choose? Jethro mentioned four qualifications:

“Look for able men from all the people,
men who fear God,
who are trustworthy
and hate a bribe.” (Exodus 18:21).

This is a Gentile talking—a Midianite priest. And he is talking before the law of Moses was given. And he sees with crystal clarity: You can’t sustain a legal system if the judges take bribes.

Why not? Because “a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Exodus 23:8).

It even makes wealthy, enlightened American judges use the legal system against children—just to get more money. It is, as the proverb says, wicked. “The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice” (Proverbs 17:23).

To make the heinousness of bribery clear God ordained that the worst sin in the universe would involve bribery—the betrayal of the Son of God to death for 30 pieces of silver. Judas brought down on his head the long-established verdict: “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood” (Deuteronomy 27:25).

Astonishingly, in that very hour, God was making his own payment. Not a bribe, but a redemption price in the death of his Son. Why? So that, if they will have it, Judges Ciavarella and Conahan, may be forgiven, and every child they wronged may say to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Lord, open their eyes to see their only hope.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.