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Exodus 18:19-23

Context
18:19 Now listen to me, 1  I will give you advice, and may God be with you: You be a representative for the people to God, 2  and you bring 3  their disputes 4  to God; 18:20 warn 5  them of the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they must walk 6  and the work they must do. 7  18:21 But you choose 8  from the people capable men, 9  God-fearing, 10  men of truth, 11  those who hate bribes, 12  and put them over the people 13  as rulers 14  of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 18:22 They will judge 15  the people under normal circumstances, 16  and every difficult case 17  they will bring to you, but every small case 18  they themselves will judge, so that 19  you may make it easier for yourself, 20  and they will bear the burden 21  with you. 18:23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, 22  then you will be able 23  to endure, 24  and all these people 25  will be able to go 26  home 27  satisfied.” 28 

1 tn Heb “hear my voice.”

2 tn The line reads “Be you to the people before God.” He is to be their representative before God. This is introducing the aspect of the work that only Moses could do, what he has been doing. He is to be before God for the people, to pray for them, to appeal on their behalf. Jethro is essentially saying, I understand that you cannot delegate this to anyone else, so continue doing it (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 219-20).

3 tn The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; following the imperative it will be instruction as well. Since the imperative preceding this had the idea of “continue to be” as you are, this too has that force.

4 tn Heb “words”; KJV, ASV “the causes”; NRSV “cases”; NLT “questions.”

5 tn The perfect tense with the vav (ו) continues the sequence of instruction for Moses. He alone was to be the mediator, to guide them in the religious and moral instruction.

6 tn The verb and its following prepositional phrase form a relative clause, modifying “the way.” The imperfect tense should be given the nuance of obligatory imperfect – it is the way they must walk.

7 tn This last part is parallel to the preceding: “work” is also a direct object of the verb “make known,” and the relative clause that qualifies it also uses an obligatory imperfect.

8 tn The construction uses the independent pronoun for emphasis, and then the imperfect tense “see” (חָזָה, khazah) – “and you will see from all….” Both in Hebrew and Ugaritic expressions of “seeing” are used in the sense of choosing (Gen 41:33). See U. Cassuto, Exodus, 220.

9 tn The expression is אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל (’anshe khayil, “capable men”). The attributive genitive is the word used in expressions like “mighty man of valor.” The word describes these men as respected, influential, powerful people, those looked up to by the community as leaders, and those who will have the needs of the community in mind.

10 tn The description “fearers of God” uses an objective genitive. It describes them as devout, worshipful, obedient servants of God.

11 tn The expression “men of truth” (אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת, ’ansheemet) indicates that these men must be seekers of truth, who know that the task of a judge is to give true judgment (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 220). The word “truth” includes the ideas of faithfulness or reliability, as well as factuality itself. It could be understood to mean “truthful men,” men whose word is reliable and true.

12 tn Heb “haters of bribes.” Here is another objective genitive, one that refers to unjust gain. To hate unjust gain is to reject and refuse it. Their decisions will not be swayed by greed.

13 tn Heb “over them”; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

14 sn It is not clear how this structure would work in a judicial setting. The language of “captains of thousands,” etc., is used more for military ranks. There must have been more detailed instruction involved here, for each Israelite would have come under four leaders with this arrangement, and perhaps difficult cases would be sent to the next level. But since the task of these men would also involve instruction and guidance, the breakdown would be very useful. Deut 1:9, 13 suggest that the choice of these people was not simply Moses’ alone.

15 tn The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive, making it equivalent to the imperfect of instruction in the preceding verse.

16 tn Heb “in every time,” meaning “in all normal cases” or “under normal circumstances.” The same phrase occurs in v. 26.

17 tn Heb “great thing.”

18 tn Heb “thing.”

19 tn The vav here shows the result or the purpose of the instructions given.

20 tn The expression וְהָקֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ (vÿhaqel mealeykha) means literally “and make it light off yourself.” The word plays against the word for “heavy” used earlier – since it was a heavy or burdensome task, Moses must lighten the load.

21 tn Here “the burden” has been supplied.

22 tn The form is a Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive; it carries the same nuance as the preceding imperfect in the conditional clause.

23 tn The perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive now appears in the apodosis of the conditional sentence – “if you do this…then you will be able.”

24 tn Heb “to stand.” B. Jacob (Exodus, 501) suggests that there might be a humorous side to this: “you could even do this standing up.”

25 tn Literally “this people.”

26 tn The verb is the simple imperfect, “will go,” but given the sense of the passage a potential nuance seems in order.

27 tn Heb “his place.”

28 tn Heb “in peace.”

sn See further T. D. Weinshall, “The Organizational Structure Proposed by Jethro to Moses (Ex. 18:17),” Public Administration in Israel and Abroad 12 (1972): 9-13; and H. Reviv, “The Traditions Concerning the Inception of the Legal System in Israel: Significance and Dating,” ZAW 94 (1982): 566-75.



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