And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for yourself, and they shall bear the burden with you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)At all seasons.—Not on occasional court days, as had been the custom of Moses, but day by day continually.
Every great matter they shall bring unto thee.—It must have been left to the judges themselves to decide what were “great” and what were “small matters.” Under ordinary circumstances, courts would be inclined to extend their jurisdiction, and take enlarged views of their competency; but the difficulties of desert life were such as to counteract this inclination, and induce men to contract, rather than widen, their responsibilities. When the wilderness life was ended, the judicial system of Jethro came to an end also, and a system at once simpler and more elastic was adopted.Deuteronomy 1:13, it appears that Moses left the selection of the persons to the people, an example followed by the Apostles; see Acts 6:3.
Rulers of thousands ... - The numbers appear to be conventional, corresponding nearly, but not exactly, to the military, or civil divisions of the people: the largest division (1,000) is used as an equivalent of a gens under one head, Numbers 1:16; Numbers 10:4; Joshua 22:14.
and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring to thee; any affair of great importance, and difficult of determination, and about which the judges may have some doubt in their minds, and they are not clear as to the decision of it; this, they the judges, not the people, were to bring to Moses:
but every small matter; which is of no great importance, or is easy of decision, where the right and the wrong clearly appear, and there is no difficulty in the determination of it:
so shall it be easier for thyself; to go through the business that would be necessarily devolved upon him, as the chief ruler and governor, supreme judge, lawgiver, leader, and commander:
and they shall bear the burden with thee; of ruling and judging the people; they taking a share of it, it would sit the lighter and easier upon him; and the whole seems to be wise and prudent counsel.And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)22. at all seasons] i.e. in all ordinary cases.
so &c.] Heb. and make it light off thyself, i.e. relieve thyself.Verse 22. - Let them judge the people at all seasons. Instead of occasional court-days, on which Moses sat from morning to evening hearing causes, judgments were to be given continually by the rulers of tens, fifties, etc., the accumulation of untried causes being thus avoided, and punishment following promptly on the committal of an offence. The elaborately minute organisation was only suited for the period of the wanderings, and was of a semi-military character, such as might have suited an army on the march When the Israelites became settled dwellers in Palestine, such a multiplicity of judges was unnecessary, and was discontinued. So shall it be easier. Literally, "So make it easier." Compare ver. 18. 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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