DIG: The judges were to decide the simple cases and bring the difficult cases to Moses. In doing so, the burden upon Moses was made light. How does this impact your understanding of Matthew 11:30?
REFLECT: How did you react the last time you were corrected or criticized by your boss? Your spouse? Your in-laws? How do you wish you had reacted under those circumstances? Whose criticism do you receive the best?
Now that Moses had provided a ministry in the life of his father-in-law, it was Jethro’s turn to return the favor.332 Moses was not only charged with the responsibility of caring for the spiritual and military needs of the nation, but also for the civil problems as well. Apparently a good deal of Moses’ time was devoted to civil problems of the nation. The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening (18:13). This verse sets the tone for the entire passage.
As Jethro sized up the situation he realized that Moses could not be an effective leader if he were continually bogged down with civil matters.333 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked two questions. The first one was rhetorical. What is this you are doing for the people? The second was an accusation. Why do you alone judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening (18:14)? Moses was not abusing his power; the problem was that he was doing too much alone. He was carrying too great a burden and had no assistance.334
Moses answered him saying: Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. His response in Hebrew was very straightforward: to enquire of God. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws (18:15-16). The new body of the revealed law that would govern the newly formed nation had already begun (also see 15:25-26). No doubt Moses had already established basic decrees and laws upon arriving in the desert. The movement of millions of people would not have been possible without such basic structure.
Wisely, Moses’ father-in-law warned him that he was overworked, saying very directly: What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. Literally, fading you will fade. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone (18:17-18). The word for heavy is kabed, which as was emphasized earlier, is a key term in the book of Exodus, having been used earlier of Pharaoh’s heart (8:15, 32, 9:34, 10:1), of the plagues (8:24, 9:3, 18-24, 10:14), and of Moses’ arms (17:12).335
Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. Here Jethro uses the first of three references to God. It is the type of language that an unbeliever would not use. He continued: You must be the people’s mediator, or representative before God and bring their disputes to Him. It didn’t take a prophet to decide disputes between neighbors. Moses’ responsibility was to teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform (18:19-20). Thus, Moses’ teaching was not merely in religious instruction, but he was to teach the people how to function in all areas of life. He was to educate them with a worldview based on the Word of God.
But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain or bribes. The rabbis teach that a man is not fit to act as a judge from whom payment can only be obtained by a lawsuit. There should be a chain of command, he said: Appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Those terms were used to organize the tribes into military and civil units. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you (18:21-22).
If you do this and God so commands, there will be several benefits. First, you will be able to stand the strain, and secondly, all these people will go home satisfied. So even at the age of eighty, Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said (18:23-24). He accepted the advice of Jethro at Rephidim, but the judges were not appointed until after the giving of the Torah (Numbers 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 1:9-18). Perhaps Moses wanted to wait for divine approval before proceeding.336 It was included here to complete the story about Jethro’s counsel. Occasionally writers from the Old Covenant treated subjects topically rather than in strict chronological order.337
He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves (18:25-26). These two verses are the specifics of the instructions given by Jethro to Moses. They are repeated almost word for word from 18:22-22.
This principle of a plurality of leadership, division of authority, and a chain of command is also woven into the community of believers today as well. The Bible does not ever suggest a one-man-show over any congregation. And assemblies that have gone astray on this issue have become hierarchical, where one man is a dictator, micro-managing every detail. The Bible teaches that there should be a plurality of elders who make decisions over the local assembly. So congregations of believers that expect their spiritual leaders to do all the work, actually force believers to act in an unbiblical manner. All should use their spiritual gifts.
In times of great crisis, God has always provided men to lead the way to deliverance. Moses is an eloquent example of this very fact. The hand of ADONAI prepared him for that very moment in history. He was well aware of Egyptian customs and was therefore able to articulate demands before Amenhotep II, the king of Egypt. He had been trained in military matters and was able to organize two to three million people to move across the desert. His education in Egypt had given him the ability to write, and therefore provided the means by which the history of the Jewish people could be recorded for eternity. Forty years of desert experience had given Moses the know-how to travel in the desert as well as the kind of preparation that would be needed to survive in the desert heat. This was no accident. God provided for His people. And those who belong to Him have every reason to be confident that He is a promise keeper.338
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017