Deuteronomy 1:9
And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:
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(9-18) In these words Moses appears to combine the recollection of two distinct things: (1) the advice of Jethro (Exodus 18), by following which he would be relieved from the ordinary pressure of litigation; (2) the still further relief afforded him by the appointment of the seventy elders. These last received the gift of prophecy, and were thus enabled to relieve Moses from some of the higher responsibilities of his office by representing his mind and reproducing his personal influence in many parts of the camp at once. Jethro’s advice was given on their first arrival in Horeb: when it was carried into effect we are not told. The seventy elder were appointed (Numbers 11) between Sinai and Kadesh-barnea, shortly after they left Sinai. It is quite possible that both institutions came into existence at the same time. The seventy elders would have been of great service in the selection of the numerous judges and officers who were required.

(9) I am not able to bear you myself alone.—Repeated almost exactly from Numbers 11:14.

Deuteronomy 1:9. I spake unto you — Unto your fathers, who were alive at the time here referred to, but now dead, Numbers 26:64. At that time — That is, about that time, a little before their coming to Horeb. See Exodus 18. This was by the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law.

1:9-18 Moses reminds the people of the happy constitution of their government, which might make them all safe and easy, if it was not their own fault. He owns the fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham, and prays for the further accomplishment of it. We are not straitened in the power and goodness of God; why should we be straitened in our own faith and hope? Good laws were given to the Israelites, and good men were to see to the execution of them, which showed God's goodness to them, and the care of Moses.This appointment of the "captains" (compare Exodus 18:21 ff) must not be confounded with that of the elders in Numbers 11:16 ff. The former would number 78,600; the latter were 70 only.

A comparison between this passage and that in Exodus makes it obvious that Moses is only touching on certain parts of the whole history, without regard to order of time, but with a special purpose. This important arrangement for the good government of the people took place before they left Horeb to march direct to the promised land. This fact sets more clearly before us the perverseness and ingratitude of the people, to which the orator next passes; and shows, what he was anxious to impress, that the fault of the 40 years' delay rested only with themselves!

9-18. I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone—a little before their arrival in Horeb. Moses addresses that new generation as the representatives of their fathers, in whose sight and hearing all the transactions he recounts took place. A reference is here made to the suggestion of Jethro (Ex 18:18). In noticing his practical adoption of a plan by which the administration of justice was committed to a select number of subordinate officers, Moses, by a beautiful allusion to the patriarchal blessing, ascribed the necessity of that memorable change in the government to the vast increase of the population. At that time, i.e. about that time, to wit, a little before their coming to Horeb, Exodus 18:18.

And I spake unto you at that time,.... About that time; for it was after the rock in Horeb was smitten, and before they encamped at Mount Sinai, that Jethro gave the advice which Moses took, and proceeded on it, as here related; see Exodus 18:1.

saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone; to rule and govern them, judge and determine matters between them. Jethro suggested this to Moses, and he took the hint, and was conscious to himself that it was too much for him, and so declared it to the people, though it is not before recorded; see Exodus 18:18.

And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:
9. at that time] As the syntax implies this means when or after the command was given to depart from Ḥoreb; while in Ex. the institution of colleagues for Moses, E, Exodus 18:12 ff., conies before Israel’s arrival there. This difference of date is either due to D’s move distant perspective (Introd. § 11); or as Dillm. suggests (also Bacon JBS xii. 24) the author of D found the passage in JE placed beside our Numbers 10:29-36. See further Dri. Exod. p. 162. The discrepancy is of no importance. The other difference, the absence from D of Jethro’s initiative as related in JE, may be due to the summary nature of its review (Dillm.); yet the possibility of intentional omission cannot be excluded in view of the prevalent confinement of the interest in D to Israel alone. Berth. (p. 4) relevantly points to the omission from D of all reference to Balaam. The formula, at that time, is curiously enough found only in Pl. passages Deuteronomy 1:9; Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 1:18; Deuteronomy 2:34; Deuteronomy 3:4; Deuteronomy 3:8; Deuteronomy 3:12; Deuteronomy 3:18; Deuteronomy 3:21; Deuteronomy 3:23; Deuteronomy 4:14; Deuteronomy 5:5; Deuteronomy 9:20; Deuteronomy 10:1; Deuteronomy 10:8.

I am not able to bear you myself alone] More fully in E, Numbers 11:14, I am not able, I myself alone, to bear all this people, for it is too heavy for me; similarly E, Exodus 18:18 (Jethro to Moses), the thing is too heavy for thee, thou art not able to do it alone.

9–18. The Institution of Tribal Heads (Judges?)

At that time, Moses, declaring his inability to bear alone the greatly increased people (9–12), bade them choose men, wise, understanding, and known, according to their tribes, that he might make them heads over them (13). The people approved (14). Moses took such men (the text becomes obscure) and set them in graded ranks (15). At that time, too, he charged the judges to be patient and impartial, for their judgement was God’s; the harder cases to be brought to himself (16 f.). And he also charged the people (18).—The parallel passages are two: (a) E, Exodus 18:13-26 : before arrival at Sinai, Jethro advised Moses, as unable to bear the people alone, to reserve himself for them Godward and to provide men of power and troth, fearing God and hating unjust gain, to judge the people, but to bring the greater cases to him: Moses agreed and chose such; (b) JE?, Numbers 11:14; Numbers 11:16 f., 24b–30: Moses, confessing to God his inability to bear the people alone, was charged to choose seventy elders, who should receive the same spirit as he, to hear the people with him. With these two passages this section, besides showing some verbal coincidences (see 9b, 12, 15, 17b) and correspondences (13a, 18), agrees as to the motive for the new appointments, Moses’ inability to bear Israel alone, the lay character of the appointed, their grading in ranks, and the division of cases between them and Moses (these last two absent from Numbers 11). The differences of substance are three. On that of date see on Deuteronomy 1:9. In Exodus 18 Jethro starts the proposal, here Moses, in Numbers 11 the Deity on the prayer of Moses. In Ex. and Num. Moses selects, here the people. On the apparent, but unreal, difference on the qualifications for the posts see on Deuteronomy 1:9. There are also differences of language; here the forms of words, turns of rhythm and phrases, are all characteristic of D. In P there is no parallel; P throughout assigns judicial functions to the priests (cf. D. Deuteronomy 17:11), but mentions certain nesî‘îm, chiefs of the clan, called to the Diet, who attend Moses and Aaron to hear petitions, and who represent Israel in foreign engagements.

Verses 9-18. - Moses reminds them that he had done all that was required on his part to conduct the people to the enjoyment of what God had freely given to them. The people had so increased in number that Moses found himself unable to attend to all the matters that concerned them, or to adjudicate in all the differences that arose among them. God had brought to pass that which he had promised to Abraham (Genesis 15:5), that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude; in this Moses rejoiced, nay, he would even that their numbers were, with the Divine blessing, increased a thousandfold beyond what they were. But he found the burden, the weight of care and trouble, especially in connection with their strifes and suits thereby brought on him, too much for him; and, therefore, whilst they were still at Horeb, he had, following the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled them to select competent men from among themselves, who should relieve him by attending to those duties which he found it too burdensome for him to have to attend to (cf. Exodus 18:13, etc.). This appointment of captains was quite distinct from that of the elders whom God directed Moses to select that they might assist him in bearing the burden of the people (Numbers 11:10, etc.). The occasion of the appointment was the same in both cases, viz. the complaint of Moses that the task was too onerous for him, but the time, the place, and the manner of the two transactions were different. Verse 9. - I spake unto you at that time. The somewhat indefinite phrase, "at that time" (comp. Genesis 38:1), does not refer to the time after the people departed from Horeb, but to the time generally when they were in that region (see Exodus 18:5, 13). "The imperfect (וָאֹמַד, I spake), with yaw tel. expresses the order of thought and not of time" (Keil). It is not mentioned in Exodus that Moses spake to the people, as here stated, but what Jethro said to him to this effect is recorded; and as Moses proceeded to put in execution what his lather-in-law advised, it is probable that in doing so he told the people what he proposed to do, with his reasons for so doing, and obtained their assent, as here mentioned. Deuteronomy 1:9This land the Lord had placed at the disposal of the Israelites for them to take possession of, as He had sworn to the fathers (patriarchs) that He would give it to their posterity (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18., etc.). The "swearing" on the part of God points back to Genesis 22:16. The expression "to them and to their seed" is the same as "to thee and to thy seed" in Genesis 13:15; Genesis 17:8, and is not to be understood as signifying that the patriarchs themselves ought to have taken actual possession of Canaan; but "to their seed" is in apposition, and also a more precise definition (comp. Genesis 15:7 with Genesis 15:18, where the simple statement "to thee" is explained by the fuller statement "to thy seed"). ראה has grown into an interjection equals הנּה. לפני נתן: to give before a person, equivalent to give up to a person, or place at his free disposal (for the use of the word in this sense, see Genesis 13:9; Genesis 34:10). Jehovah (this is the idea of Deuteronomy 1:6-8), when He concluded the covenant with the Israelites at Horeb, had intended to fulfil at once the promise which He gave to the patriarchs, and to put them into possession of the promised land; and Moses had also done what was required on his part, as he explained in Deuteronomy 1:9-18, to bring the people safety to Canaan (cf. Exodus 18:23). As the nation had multiplied as the stars of heaven, in accordance with the promise of the Lord, and he felt unable to bear the burden alone and settle all disputes, he had placed over them at that time wise and intelligent men from the heads of the tribes to act as judges, and had instructed them to adjudicate upon the smaller matters of dispute righteously and without respect of person. For further particulars concerning the appointment of the judges, see at Exodus 18:13-26, where it is related how Moses adopted this plan at the advice of Jethro, even before the giving of the law at Sinai. The expression "at that time," in Deuteronomy 1:9, is not at variance with this. The imperfect ואמר with vav rel., expresses the order of thought and not of time. For Moses did not intend to recall the different circumstances to the recollection of the people in their chronological order, but arranged them according to their relative importance in connection with the main object of his address. And this required that he should begin with what God had done for the fulfilment of His promise, and then proceed afterwards to notice what he, the servant of God, had done in his office, as an altogether subordinate matter. So far as this object was concerned, it was also perfectly indifferent who had advised him to adopt this plan, whilst it was very important to allude to the fact that it was the great increase in the number of the Israelites which had rendered it necessary, that he might remind the congregation how the Lord, even at that time, had fulfilled the promise which He gave to the patriarchs, and in that fulfilment had given a practical guarantee of the certain fulfilment of the other promises as well. Moses accomplished this by describing the increase of the nation in such a way that his hearers should be involuntarily reminded of the covenant promise in Genesis 15:5. (cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4).
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