Exodus 18:15
And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:
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(15, 16) Moses assigns two reasons for his conduct.

Exodus 18:15. The people came to inquire of God — And happy was it for them that they had such an oracle to consult. Moses was faithful both to him that appointed him, and to them that consulted him, and made them know the statutes of God, and his laws — His business was not to make laws, but to make known God’s laws: his place was but that of a servant.

18:13-27 Here is the great zeal and the toil of Moses as a magistrate. Having been employed to redeem Israel out of the house of bondage, he is a further type of Christ, that he is employed as a lawgiver and a judge among them. If the people were as quarrelsome one with another as they were with God, no doubt Moses had many causes brought before him. This business Moses was called to; it appears that he did it with great care and kindness. The meanest Israelite was welcome to bring his cause before him. Moses kept to his business from morning to night. Jethro thought it was too much for him to undertake alone; also it would make the administration of justice tiresome to the people. There may be over-doing even in well-doing. Wisdom is profitable to direct, that we may neither content ourselves with less than our duty, nor task ourselves beyond our strength. Jethro advised Moses to a better plan. Great men should not only study to be useful themselves, but contrive to make others useful. Care must be taken in the choice of the persons admitted into such a trust. They should be men of good sense, that understood business, and that would not be daunted by frowns or clamours, but abhorred the thought of a bribe. Men of piety and religion; such as fear God, who dare not to do a base thing, though they could do it secretly and securely. The fear of God will best fortify a man against temptations to injustice. Moses did not despise this advice. Those are not wise, who think themselves too wise to be counselled.To enquire of God - The decisions of Moses were doubtless accepted by the people as oracles. The internal prompting of the Spirit was a sufficient guidance for him, and a sufficient authority for the people. 13-26. on the morrow … Moses sat to judge the people, &c.—We are here presented with a specimen of his daily morning occupations; and among the multifarious duties his divine legation imposed, it must be considered only a small portion of his official employments. He appears in this attitude as a type of Christ in His legislative and judicial characters.

the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening, &c.—Governors in the East seat themselves at the most public gate of their palace or the city, and there, amid a crowd of applicants, hear causes, receive petitions, redress grievances, and adjust the claims of contending parties.

i.e. Of the mind and will of God, both as to his worship and service and as to their mutual duties to one another. 1 Samuel 9:9.

And Moses said unto his father in law,.... In answer to his question; and there were two things, as Aben Ezra observes, he did to the people, and for which they came to him; the one is observed in this verse, and the other in the next:

because the people come unto me to inquire of God; of his mind and will in certain cases, and of his statutes and laws, as the following verse shows; what they should observe, and according to which they should conduct themselves: they came to inquire what God would have them to do; and, in doubtful cases, what was his will and pleasure, and to desire Moses to inform them; and if the things were of such a nature that he could not easily and readily do it, then to inquire of God for them, which in later times was done by Urim and Thummim.

And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of {g} God:

(g) That is, to know God's will, and to have justice executed.

15. to inquire of God] i.e. to obtain from Him a legal decision. In early times judgement was a sacred act; legal decisions were regarded as coming from God, the judge being his representative, or mouthpiece (cf. v. 16 end)1[160], accordingly ‘God’ is sometimes used, where we should say ‘judge’ (see on Exodus 21:6). Perhaps in very primitive times the decision was given by the sacred lot (cf. the use of the Urim and Thummim in 1 Samuel 14:41 LXX. [see Kennedy’s note in the Century Bible, or DB. iv. 839b]; and the ‘breastplate of judgement,’ ch. Exodus 28:15): but the same view of the nature of judgement prevailed, even after this method of obtaining it was given up, or only resorted to exceptionally. To inquire of (or seek) God (דרש) in later times, means often to seek Him generally, in prayer and worship; but it means also, particularly in the early language, to resort to Him for the sake of obtaining an oracle, either in answer to some particular question, or, as here, a legal decision (LXX, ἐκζητῆσαι κρίσιν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ): see Genesis 25:22 the answer follows in v. 23), 1 Samuel 9:9, 1 Kings 22:8, 2 Kings 3:11; 2 Kings 8:8; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 22:18, Jeremiah 21:2 (so, of inquiring of the dead, or of heathen gods, 1 Samuel 28:7, 2 Kings 1:2, Deuteronomy 18:11, Isaiah 8:19 al.).

[160] So in Homer, θέμιστες are spoken of as received by kings from Zeus (Il. i. 239 οἵ τε θέμιστας Πρὸς Διὸς εἰρύαται); and cf. Sir Henry Maine, Ancient Law, ch. 1.

Verse 15. - And Moses said... Because the people come unto me, to inquire of God. To inquire of God is certainly not a mere "juridical phrase," meaning to consult a judge (Kalisch), nor, on the other hand, is it necessarily "to consult God through an oracle." It cannot, however, mean less than to seek a decision from some one regarded as entitled to speak for God; and it is certainly assigned by Moses as the reason why he judged all the causes himself, and did not devolve the duty upon others. They could not be supposed to know the mind of God as he knew it. Jethro, however, points out, that it is one thing to lay down principles, and another to apply them. Moses might reserve the legislative function - the inculcation of principles - to himself, and so still, "be for the people to Godward" (ver. 19); but he might find "able men" among the congregation, quite capable of applying the principles, and delegate to them the judicial function (vers. 21, 22). Exodus 18:15The next day Jethro saw how Moses was occupied from morning till evening in judging the people, who brought all their disputes to him, that he might settle them according to the statutes of God. על עמד: as in Genesis 18:8. The people came to Moses "to seek or inquire of God" (Genesis 18:15), i.e., to ask for a decision from God: in most cases, this means to inquire through an oracle; here it signifies to desire a divine decision as to questions in dispute. By judging or deciding the cases brought before him, Moses made known to the people the ordinances and laws of God. For every decision was based upon some law, which, like all true justice here on earth, emanated first of all from God. This is the meaning of Genesis 18:16, and not, as Knobel supposes, that Moses made use of the questions in dispute, at the time they were decided, as good opportunities for giving laws to the people. Jethro condemned this plan (Genesis 18:18.) as exhausting, wearing out (נבל lit., to fade away, Psalm 37:2), both for Moses and the people: for the latter, inasmuch as they not only got wearied out through long waiting, but, judging from Genesis 18:23, very often began to take the law into their own hands on account of the delay in the judicial decision, and so undermined the well-being of the community at large; and for Moses, inasmuch as the work was necessarily too great for him, and he could not continue for any length of time to sustain such a burden alone (Genesis 18:18). The obsolete form of the inf. const. עשׂהוּ for עשׂתו is only used here, but is not without analogies in the Pentateuch. Jethro advised him (Genesis 18:19.) to appoint judged from the people for all the smaller matters in dispute, so that in future only the more difficult cases, which really needed a superior or divine decision, would be brought to him that he might lay them before God. "I will give thee counsel, and God be with thee (i.e., help thee to carry out this advice): Be thou to the people האלהים מוּל, towards God," i.e., lay their affairs before God, take the place of God in matters of judgment, or, as Luther expresses it, "take charge of the people before God." To this end, in the first place, he was to instruct the people in the commandments of God, and their own walk and conduct (הזהיר with a double accusative, to enlighten, instruct; שדרך the walk, the whole behaviour; מעשׂה particular actions); secondly, he was to select able men (חיל אנשׁי men of moral strength, 1 Kings 1:52) as judges, men who were God-fearing, sincere, and unselfish (gain-hating), and appoint them to administer justice to the people, by deciding the simpler matters themselves, and only referring the more difficult questions to him, and so to lighten his own duties by sharing the burden with these judges. מעליך הקל (Genesis 18:22) "make light of (that which lies) upon thee." If he would do this, and God would command him, he would be able to stand, and the people would come to their place, i.e., to Canaan, in good condition (בּשׁלום). The apodosis cannot begin with וצוּך, "then God will establish thee," for צוּה never has this meaning; but the idea is this, "if God should preside over the execution of the plan proposed."
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