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Exodus 18:13-27

Context

18:13 On the next day 1  Moses sat to judge 2  the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning until evening. 18:14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this 3  that you are doing for the people? 4  Why are you sitting by yourself, and all the people stand around you from morning until evening?”

18:15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire 5  of God. 18:16 When they have a dispute, 6  it comes to me and I decide 7  between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the decrees of God and his laws.” 8 

18:17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What 9  you are doing is not good! 18:18 You will surely wear out, 10  both you and these people who are with you, for this is too 11  heavy a burden 12  for you; you are not able to do it by yourself. 18:19 Now listen to me, 13  I will give you advice, and may God be with you: You be a representative for the people to God, 14  and you bring 15  their disputes 16  to God; 18:20 warn 17  them of the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they must walk 18  and the work they must do. 19  18:21 But you choose 20  from the people capable men, 21  God-fearing, 22  men of truth, 23  those who hate bribes, 24  and put them over the people 25  as rulers 26  of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 18:22 They will judge 27  the people under normal circumstances, 28  and every difficult case 29  they will bring to you, but every small case 30  they themselves will judge, so that 31  you may make it easier for yourself, 32  and they will bear the burden 33  with you. 18:23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, 34  then you will be able 35  to endure, 36  and all these people 37  will be able to go 38  home 39  satisfied.” 40 

18:24 Moses listened to 41  his father-in-law and did everything he had said. 18:25 Moses chose capable men from all Israel, and he made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 18:26 They judged the people under normal circumstances; the difficult cases they would bring 42  to Moses, but every small case they would judge themselves.

18:27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, 43  and so Jethro 44  went 45  to his own land. 46 

1 tn Heb “and it was/happened on the morrow.”

2 sn This is a simple summary of the function of Moses on this particular day. He did not necessarily do this every day, but it was time now to do it. The people would come to solve their difficulties or to hear instruction from Moses on decisions to be made. The tradition of “sitting in Moses’ seat” is drawn from this passage.

3 tn Heb “what is this thing.”

4 sn This question, “what are you doing for the people,” is qualified by the next question. Sitting alone all day and the people standing around all day showed that Moses was exhibiting too much care for the people – he could not do this.

5 tn The form is לִדְרֹשׁ (lidrosh), the Qal infinitive construct giving the purpose. To inquire of God would be to seek God’s will on a matter, to obtain a legal decision on a matter, or to settle a dispute. As a judge Moses is speaking for God, but as the servant of Yahweh Moses’ words will be God’s words. The psalms would later describe judges as “gods” because they made the right decisions based on God’s Law.

6 tn Or “thing,” “matter,” “issue.”

7 tn The verb שָׁפַט (shafat) means “to judge”; more specifically, it means to make a decision as an arbiter or umpire. When people brought issues to him, Moses decided between them. In the section of laws in Exodus after the Ten Commandments come the decisions, the מִשְׁפָּטִים (mishppatim).

8 tn The “decrees” or “statutes” were definite rules, stereotyped and permanent; the “laws” were directives or pronouncements given when situations arose. S. R. Driver suggests this is another reason why this event might have taken place after Yahweh had given laws on the mountain (Exodus, 165).

9 tn Heb “the thing.”

10 tn The verb means “to fall and fade” as a leaf (Ps 1:3). In Ps 18:45 it is used figuratively of foes fading away, failing in strength and courage (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 166). Here the infinitive absolute construction heightens the meaning.

11 tn Gesenius lists the specialized use of the comparative min (מ) where with an adjective the thought expressed is that the quality is too difficult for the attainment of a particular aim (GKC 430 §133.c).

12 tn Here “a burden” has been supplied.

13 tn Heb “hear my voice.”

14 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).

15 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.

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

17 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.

18 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.

19 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.

20 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.

21 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.

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

23 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.

24 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.

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

26 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.

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

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

29 tn Heb “great thing.”

30 tn Heb “thing.”

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

32 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.

33 tn Here “the burden” has been supplied.

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

35 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.”

36 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.”

37 tn Literally “this people.”

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

39 tn Heb “his place.”

40 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.

41 tn The idiom “listen to the voice of” means “obey, comply with, heed.”

42 tn This verb and the verb in the next clause are imperfect tenses. In the past tense narrative of the verse they must be customary, describing continuous action in past time.

43 tn The verb וַיְשַׁלַּח (vayshallakh) has the same root and same stem used in the passages calling for Pharaoh to “release” Israel. Here, in a peaceful and righteous relationship, Moses sent Jethro to his home.

44 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Jethro) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

45 tn The prepositional phrase included here Gesenius classifies as a pleonastic dativus ethicus to give special emphasis to the significance of the occurrence in question for a particular subject (GKC 381 §119.s).

46 sn This chapter makes an excellent message on spiritual leadership of the people of God. Spiritually responsible people are to be selected to help in the work of the ministry (teaching, deciding cases, meeting needs), so that there will be peace, and so that leaders will not be exhausted. Probably capable people are more ready to do that than leaders are ready to relinquish control. But leaders have to be willing to take the risk, to entrust the task to others. Here Moses is the model of humility, receiving correction and counsel from Jethro. And Jethro is the ideal adviser, for he has no intention of remaining there to run the operation.



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