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Exodus 18:21-26

Context
18:21 But you choose 1  from the people capable men, 2  God-fearing, 3  men of truth, 4  those who hate bribes, 5  and put them over the people 6  as rulers 7  of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 18:22 They will judge 8  the people under normal circumstances, 9  and every difficult case 10  they will bring to you, but every small case 11  they themselves will judge, so that 12  you may make it easier for yourself, 13  and they will bear the burden 14  with you. 18:23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, 15  then you will be able 16  to endure, 17  and all these people 18  will be able to go 19  home 20  satisfied.” 21 

18:24 Moses listened to 22  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 23  to Moses, but every small case they would judge themselves.

1 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.

2 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.

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

4 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.

5 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.

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

7 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.

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

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

10 tn Heb “great thing.”

11 tn Heb “thing.”

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

13 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.

14 tn Here “the burden” has been supplied.

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

16 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.”

17 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.”

18 tn Literally “this people.”

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

20 tn Heb “his place.”

21 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.

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

23 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.



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