The next day Moses took his seat to judge the people, and they stood around him from morning until evening.
1. The scope left in the arrangements of Israel for the independent action of the human mind. Various examples of this occur in the history - e.g., the retention of Hobab as a guide in the wanderings (Numbers 10:31), and the suggestion of the spies (Deuteronomy 1:22).
2. The truth that in God's ways of dealing with Israel, existing capabilities were utilised to the utmost. We have seen this in regard to the miracles, rod again in the conflict with Amalek; it is now to be noted in the formation of a polity. The same principle probably applies to what is said in ver. 16 of Moses making the people to "know the statutes of God and his laws." That Moses, in giving forth these statutes, acted under supernatural direction, and frequently by express instruction of God, is not to be denied; but it is equally certain that existing usages, embodying principles of right, were taken advantage of as far as they went. We cannot err in supposing that it is this same case-made law which, in its completed form, and under special Divine sanction, is embodied in the code of chs. 21-23. But neither in substance nor in form is this code, so various in its details, a direct Divine product. It grew up under Moses' hand in these decisions in the wilderness. Traditional materials were freely incorporated into it.
3. The assistance which a man of moderate gifts is often capable of rendering to another, greatly his superior. Jethro's was certainly a mind of no ordinary capacity; but we do this excellent man no injustice in speaking of his gifts as moderate in comparison with the splendid abilities of Moses. Yet his natural shrewdness and plain common-sense enabled him to detect a blunder in Moses' system of administration of which the lawgiver himself was apparently oblivious, and furnished him, moreover, with the suggestion of a remedy. The greatest minds are in this way often dependent on the humblest, and are, by the dependence, taught humility and respect for the gifts of others. There is no one who is not his neighbour's superior in some matter - none from whom his neighbour may not learn something. The college-bred man may learn from the rustic or mechanic, the merchant from his clerk, the statesman from the humblest official in his department, the doctor of divinity from the country minister, studious men generally, from those engaged in practical callings. Let no man, therefore, despise another. Jethro could teach Moses; and the plainest man, drawing on the stores with which experience has furnished him, need not despair of being of like service to those above him. It is for our own good. that God binds us together in these relations of dependence, and we should be thankful that he does so. "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need. of thee: nor, again, the head to the feet, I have no need of thee," etc. (l Corinthians 12-14:31). Observe -
I. MOSES' ERROR (ver. 13). He took upon himself the whole burden of the congregation. He sat from morning till evening to hear their causes. We naturally wonder that the suggestion of appointing judges was left to come from Jethro - that so obvious an expedient for getting rid of the difficulty did not occur to Moses himself. It is astonishing, however, how wise a man may be in great things, and yet miss some little bit of sense which is right before his vision, and which is picked up at once by another and possibly a more ordinary mind. It is of Sir Isaac Newton the story is told, that being troubled by the visits of a cat and kitten, he fell on the expedient of making two holes in his study door to admit of their entrance and exit - a large hole for the cat, and a small hole for the kitten! Moses' error, we may be sure, did not arise from that which is a snare to so many in responsible positions - an exaggerated idea of his own importance. He would not fancy that everything must be managed by himself, because no one else was able to do it so well. But: -
1. The burden which now pressed upon him had probably grown from small beginnings. It is proverbially easier to set a system in operation, than to get rid of it again, when it presses and becomes inconvenient.
2. Moses probably accepted the position of judge and arbiter, as inseparable from the peculiar relation in which he stood to the people. They naturally looked to him, God's delegate, and in some sense their spiritual father, as the proper person to hear their causes, and settle their disputes. He felt the burden, but submitted to it as inevitable.
3. It was a further difficulty in the situation that no code of laws had as yet been formed; he was making the law as well as deciding cases. This may have seemed a bar in the way of the appointment of deputies.
4. The method by which the reform could be accomplished was not obvious. Jethro's scheme exactly met the case; but it had not as yet been suggested. Even had it occurred to Moses, he might have shrunk from entertaining it. There is always a hesitancy felt in entering on reforms which necessitate a large recasting of the frame-work of society, which involve new and untried arrangements. Difficulties might have been anticipated in finding the requisite number of men, in imparting to them the requisite amount of instruction, in making the scheme popular among the people, etc. It is useful to observe that when the scheme was actually set on foot, these difficulties did not prove to be insuperable. Nor, when Jethro made his proposal, do the difficulties seem to have been much thought of. Moses saw the wisdom of the plan, and readily adopted it. We are often thus kept back from useful undertakings by the ghosts of our own fears.
II. JETHRO'S EXPOSTULATION (vers. 14-19). If Moses did not see the mistake he was committing, Jethro did. To his clearer vision, the evils of the system in vogue were abundantly apparent, he saw: -
1. That Moses was taking upon himself a task to which his strength was quite unequal (ver. 18).
2. That, notwithstanding his exertions, the work was not being done.
3. That the time and energy which Moses was expending in these labours could be bestowed to infinitely better purpose (ver. 20).
4. Above all, that this expenditure of strength on subordinate tasks was unnecessary, seeing that there were men in the camp as capable as Moses himself of doing a large part of the work (ver. 21). On these grounds he based his expostulation. The lessons taught are of great importance.
(1) The neglect of division of labour in Christian work leads to serious evils. The work is not overtaken, the strength of those engaged in it is greatly overtaxed, while energy is bestowed on inferior tasks which might be applied to better purpose.
(2) The adoption of division of labour in Christian work secures obvious advantages. It relieves the responsible heads, expedites business and promotes order, secures that the work is better done, and utilises a great variety of talent which would otherwise remain unemployed. These are important considerations, and the application of them to hard wrought clergymen, and to others in responsible positions, is sufficiently obvious (see an essay by Dr. Caird, on "The co-operation of the laity in the government and work of the Church," in Good Words for 1863). Not a little work is heaped by congregations on ministers which could he far better done by persons among themselves, and the doing of which by laymen would leave the minister free in mind and heart for the discharge of his higher and proper duties.
III. THE PROPOSAL OF THE APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES (vers. 19-27). Jethro's scheme had every merit which a scheme of the kind could have. It relieved Moses, provided for the overtaking of the work, and secured that, while being overtaken, the work would be done with greater efficiency. It was a bold, comprehensive measure, yet withal perfectly workable. It would also have an important effect in welding the nation together. It is to be noted concerning it: -
1. That it reserved to Moses various important duties (vers. 19, 20). he was still to be the teacher of the people in the ordinances and laws of God, and had the duty of trying and of deciding upon causes of special difficulty. This would fully occupy his powers, while his relation to the people, as God's vicegerent, would be better preserved by his retaining a position apart, and keeping himself from their petty strifes.
2. That special stress is laid upon the character of the men to be selected as judges (ver. 21). Ability is not overlooked, but peculiar importance is attached to their being men that fear God, love truth, and hate covetousness. Happy the country which has such judges! Jethro's insistance on these particulars shows him to have been a man of true piety, and one who had an eye to the true interests of the people, as well as to the good of Moses.
3. The scheme, before being adopted, was to be submitted for God's approval (ver. 23). This should be done with all our schemes. Jethro, having accomplished this useful bit of work, returned to his home in peace (ver. 27). - J.O.
1. The greatest and best rulers disdain not to give an account of their judgment to reasonable inquisitors.
Moses sat to Judge the people.1. God's providence joins work to sacrifice, and His servants do unite them.
2. The morrow brings its own work from God unto His servants, not every day the same.
3. God's substitutes are careful as to worship Him, so to do judgment to God's people.
4. Good rulers sit close to deal judgment to their people.
5. Providence puts hard work upon God's ministers sometimes, from morning to evening.
6. It is just to be unwearied in giving and receiving judgment when God calleth (ver. 13).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
2. The access of souls unto rulers to inquire of God, is a just ground for them to attend the work.
3. The appeal of souls to man's bar in matters, is and should be inquiring after God (ver. 15).
4. Duties of people and rulers are correlate, they come with matters, and these must judge.
5. God's laws and statutes axe the best rule to order judgment between men.
6. It is duty to rulers to make people know the statutes and laws of God.
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
(William A. Lay.)
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