Exodus 18:21 MEANING

Exodus 18:21
(21) Provide out of all the people able men.--This was the gist of Jethro's advice. It seems somewhat surprising that it should have been needed. In Egypt, as in all other settled governments, while the king was the fountain of justice, it was customary for him to delegate the duty of hearing causes to officials of different ranks, who decided in this or that class of complaints. In Arabia a similar practice no doubt prevailed. Jethro himself had his subordinates, the head men of the various clans or families, who discharged judicial functions in "small matters," and thereby greatly lightened the burthen which would otherwise have rested upon his shoulders. His advice to Moses was simply that he should adopt this generally established system--one which belongs to a very early period in the history of nations.

Jethro's definition of "able men"--men, i.e., fitted to exercise the judicial office--is interesting. He requires them to be (1) God-fearing, (2) truthful, and (3) men of integrity. The second and third requirements would approve themselves to men of all times and countries. The first would generally be deemed superfluous. But it really lies at the root of all excellence of character, and is the point of greatest importance.

Rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds.--An organisation of the entire people on a decimal system is implied in the arrangement suggested. Such an organisation may not improbably have existed at the same in connection with the march and the encamping. See the Comment on Exodus 13:18.) Jethro thought that it might be utilised for judicial purposes. One an out of ten might be competent to judge in "small matters." If either party were dissatisfied, there might be an appeal to the "ruler of fifty"--from him the "ruler of an hundred," and then to the "ruler

Of a thousand." In all ordinary disputes this would suffice, and the contest would not require to be carried further.

Verse 21. - Able men. Literally, "men of might" - i.e., of capacity or ability - men competent for the office of judge; who are further defined to be, such as possess the three qualities of piety, veracity, and strict honesty, or incorruptness. Jethro's conception of the true judicial character leaves little to be desired. If among every ten Israelites there was one such person, the moral condition of the nation cannot have been so much depressed by the Egyptian servitude as is sometimes represented. Place such over them to be rulers of thousands, etc. A decimal organisation naturally presents itself to men's minds as the simplest in a simple state of society, and was probably already in use among the Arab tribes with whom Jethro was familiar. The graduated series - rulers of tens, of fifties, of hundreds, and of thousands, implies a power of three-fold appeal, from the "ruler of ten" to the "ruler of fifty" - from him to the "ruler of a hundred" - and from him to the "ruler of a thousand." Whether there was an appeal from the last-named to Moses, is doubtful. Probably there was not; Moses deciding those cases only which the "rulers of thousands" reserved for him as being specially difficult or important.

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.Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people,.... Or look out (t) from among them; see Acts 6:3,

able men; or "men of power" (u); meaning not so much men of strong and robust constitutions, who, as Aben Ezra says, are able to bear labour; but men that have strength of heart, as Ben Gersom expresses it, men of spirit and courage, and are not afraid to do justice, to repress vice, and countenance virtue; or, as Maimonides says (w), have a strong heart, or courage and boldness to deliver the oppressed from the hands of the oppressor. Jarchi interprets it of rich men, of men of substance, who have no need to flatter, or play the hypocrite, and to know the faces of men:

such as fear God; who have the fear of God before their eyes, and on their hearts, in all they do, and therefore cannot do those things that others do, who are destitute of it; cannot give a cause the wrong way wilfully, or pervert judgment, and are the reverse of the character of the unjust judge, that neither feared God nor regarded man, Luke 18:2,

men of truth; true men, sincere, upright, and faithful men, that love truth and hate lies and falsehood, and will take some pains to get at the truth of a cause, to inquire where it lies, and pursue and encourage it where it is found, and discourage to the uttermost falsehood, lies, and perjury: hating covetousness; in themselves and others, filthy lucre, dishonest gain, mammon of unrighteousness, and so not to be bribed and corrupted, and execute wrong judgment for the sake of money:

and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens; meaning not courts of judicature, consisting of such a number of judges, for such a court was never known to have a thousand judges upon the bench at once; the highest court of judicature that ever was among the Jews, which was long after this time, consisted but of seventy or seventy one: but the sense is, that each of these should have such a number of persons, or rather families, under their care, who, when they applied unto them for justice, should faithfully administer it to them; See Gill on Exodus 18:25.

(t) "videbis", Montanus; "tu prospice", Tigurine version; "tu videto", Drusius. (u) "viros virtutis", Montanus, Vatablus; "viros fortitudinis", Cartwright.

(w) Hilchot Sanhedrin, c. 2. sect. 7.

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