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Gerald Gerbrandt: The Old Testament relates this story three times—here, in Exodus 18:13–27, and in Numbers 11:11–17. . .

The phrase at that time serves as a structuring device in the story (vv. 9, 16, 18). It opens the narrative, placing the story at Horeb, after the receipt of the commandments but before leaving the mountain as instructed in verse 7. Then, after the main story (a problem is introduced, a solution is proposed, the proposed solution is accepted, and the judges are selected, vv. 9–15), it introduces Moses’ charge to the newly named judges (v. 16), and concludes the narrative (v. 18).

Duane Christensen: The opening rubric of v 9 forms an inclusion with the first half of v 18 to frame the pericope as a whole:

And I said to you, AT THAT TIME (v 9)

And I commanded you, AT THAT TIME (v 18)

Daniel Block: Those who lead God’s people must be committed fundamentally to the promotion of righteousness. Righteous (ṣedeq) administration demands uncompromising fairness for all, without respect to the social standing of the persons involved. As Leviticus 19:15 recognizes, the righteous administration of justice may easily be derailed by showing either deference to the rich and powerful or sentimentality toward the poor (cf. Deut. 10:17; 16:19; 24:17). Moses’ inclusion of aliens reminds us that those who adjudicate on covenantal matters must be blind to status, race, and citizenship. It may be too much to expect that the world will operate this way, but the current climate of hatred toward specific people groups offers the church a glorious opportunity to display the compassion of God himself (10:17).

Michael Grisanti: Although some scholars view this section as a digression (because 1:8 flows into 1:19 seamlessly), it does prepare the reader (and Moses’ audience) for the reality before them. The breadth of the land into which they are about to enter (the wilderness initially and the land of Canaan in Deuteronomy) and the growing population of Israel (a fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to them) provide the occasion for this appointment of leaders to serve as Moses’ assistants. It will also pave the way for a smoother transition once Moses passes off the scene.

Patrick Miller: It is precisely the intention of Deuteronomy to say that receipt of the salvation gift opens up marvelous possibilities, but things do not end there. The blessing brings with it demands and responsibilities, indeed in a way not true before the promise was accomplished. From here on, Deuteronomy stresses that blessing, gifts, and prosperity, by their very existence, place burdens, require leadership, and demand shared responsibilities and work. When the promise is realized is, in some sense, only the beginning. Life now becomes more complex, requiring leadership, wisdom, structure, order, and fairness to an even greater degree than before.


A. (:9) Leadership In Isolation Can Become Especially Burdensome

“And I spoke to you at that time, saying,

‘I am not able to bear the burden of you alone.’”

B. (:10-11) Growth Creates the Need for Shared Leadership

1. (:10) Evaluating the Blessing of Past Growth

“The LORD your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.”

Eugene Merrill: This burgeoning growth had come about, of course, as a direct fulfillment of promise to the fathers (Gen 15:5; 17:2; cf. Exod 1:7; Deut 10:22; 26:5). Moses therefore saw this state of affairs not as a problem but as a sign of the blessing of the Lord. In fact, he reported that his innermost desire was that God make them not just as numerous as the stars but a thousand times more so. The language of hyperbole —“as many as the stars” and “increase you a thousand times” (vv. 10-11)—is not, of course, to be taken literally. In fact, however, the descendants of Abraham have become many more than the stars the patriarch could have counted with the naked eye.

Jack Deere: If the nation had any doubt about God’s intention or ability to fulfill His ancient covenant with Abraham she had only to look at here present condition. Israel had become so numerous that they were like the stars in the sky (v. 10). This, of course, was one thing God had promised Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Ex. 32:13). The nation’s growth thus proved both God’s intention and ability to fulfill His original promises to Abraham.

Bruce Hurt: Behold (02009) hinneh is an interjection meaning behold, look. . . “It is used often and expresses strong feelings, surprise, hope, expectation, certainty, thus giving vividness depending on its surrounding context.” (Baker) Hinneh generally directs our mind to the text, imploring the reader to give it special attention. In short, the Spirit is trying to arrest our attention! Spurgeon reminds us that “Behold is a word of wonder; it is intended to excite admiration. Wherever you see it hung out in Scripture, it is like an ancient sign-board, signifying that there are rich wares within, or like the hands which solid readers have observed in the margin of the older Puritanic books, drawing attention to something particularly worthy of observation.” I would add, behold is like a divine highlighter, a divine underlining of an especially striking or important text. It says in effect “Listen up, all ye who would be wise in the ways of Jehovah!”

2. (:11) Anticipating the Compounding of Future Growth

“May the LORD, the God of your fathers,

increase you a thousand-fold more than you are,

and bless you, just as He has promised you!”

C. (:12) People Problems Contribute to the Burden of Isolated Leadership

“How can I alone bear the load and burden

of you and your strife?”

Daniel Block: Moses’ plea to God to multiply them a thousand-fold suggests that numbers was not the real problem (v. 11). The problem lay with the character and conduct of the people; to Moses they were a pain and a burden, and their bickering was intolerable (v. 12).


A. (:13) Essential Leadership Qualifications

“Choose wise and discerning and experienced men

from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.”

Daniel Block: Moses emphasizes the leaders’ maturity and intellectual qualifications, in contrast to Jethro’s focus on their spiritual and moral qualities in Exodus 18:21.

Peter Craigie: they were to have the benefit of acquired knowledge (wisdom), and the ability of discernment, together with the knowledge that can come only with experience. Their task was a difficult one, and the required qualifications were high.

Michael Grisanti: These appointees must also have a good reputation (“known”); they had to be recognized by the community and be people in whom others had confidence. These leaders had to have passed the test of close scrutiny and enjoy respect by their peers.

Patrick Miller: Verse 13 gives three necessary characteristics: wisdom, understanding or discernment, and reputation (“reputable,” NRSV). “Wisdom” in this case probably has to do with intelligence and knowledge acquired by experience that is assimilated and brought to bear on cases and new situations. “Understanding” refers to the ability to discern, to distinguish between matters of right and wrong, good and bad. “Reputable” (being known) means just what the text suggests. Leaders expected to make judgments acceptable to the persons involved and the whole community should be respected and of good repute.

John Maxwell: The inability of some leaders to delegate work is often a big stumbling block to progress. Many leaders fail to delegate because they have an exaggerated estimate of their own ability—the “no-one-can-do-it-as-well-as-I-can” attitude. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize the abilities of their subordinates. (Preacher’s Commentary)

David Thompson: Being a leader has nothing to do with seniority, popularity, charisma or natural ability. What is needed are wise men of God who can govern themselves. This is the kind of person who will be able to also govern others.

The word “wise” (hokma) is a word often used in Proverbs. It describes one who is very skilled and crafty in his ability to judge things in light of God’s word (William Gesenius, Hebrew Lexicon, p. 277). p. 21

The word “discerning” (bin) is a word that refers to one who can understand things and distinguish things and separate things perceptively and in an intelligent way (Ibid., p. 113). God did not want His people governed by a bunch of gullible buffoons. They needed to be led by men who could sort out things from God’s word in a very God-honoring, intelligent way.

The word “experienced” (yada) refers to discerning and knowledgeable men who know how to analyze things with their minds to discover what is true and right (Ibid., pp. 333-334). This word is found some 873 times in the Old Testament in various contexts. It certainly implies that one has a reputation for having a discerning mind.

Moses said these were the kinds of men that God’s people needed to select and then they were to bring those men to Moses for his approval.

B. (:14) Endorsement of Shared Leadership

“And you answered me and said,

‘The thing which you have said to do is good.’”

C. (:15) Elevation of Qualified Leaders

“So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men,

and appointed them heads over you,

leaders of thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens,

and officers for your tribes.”

Duane Christensen: The leaders whom Moses chooses (vv 9–13) and instructs (vv 16–17) clearly have a judicial function. But in v 15b the leaders are called “heads over you—commanders of thousands, and commanders of hundreds, and commanders of fifties, and commanders of tens . . . officers throughout your tribes.” This focus on military language anticipates the subsequent discussions of “The March of Conquest” (2:2–25), “Israel’s Unholy War” and “YHWH’s Holy War” (Deut 2:26—3:11). Continued life in the Promised Land is dependent on prior conquest of that land; and Moses’ successors must exercise both judicial and military roles in the life of YHWH’s people. The tension inherent in the demand for both justice and power in Moses’ successors will be a dominant theme. . .

Moses’ organization of Israel down to “commanders of ten” has some application to small groups in the church today. The cell-group concept that has led to remarkable church growth suggests that ten persons may be the ideal maximum for involvement of each person in the dynamics of group life. When cell groups have grown to twelve to fifteen persons, it is best to divide them under trained leadership. The two new groups often increase quickly to the optimum number of ten. If a pastor today would heed the example of Moses, he or she will organize the church body into subgroups—down to ten persons in each group, as leadership responsibility is concerned.

Patrick Miller: The functions of the officials described here are not easy to determine or distinguish. There may be military functions central to the role of “commander” (especially in light of the breakdown into units of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens), administrative responsibilities assumed for the “officers,” and judicial functions for the “judges.” It is likely that there are only two officials here (commander-judges and officers) or possibly only one, described with three terms that may in fact reflect a combination of military, administrative, and judicial responsibilities. Certainly the context, as well as Exodus 18, indicates that the primary function is judicial and the primary assignment the maintenance of justice and equity, reminding us of the centrality of the proper maintenance of justice for the social fabric.


(:16a) Charge to the Judges Introduced

“Then I charged your judges at that time, saying,”

A. (:16b) Judge Righteously

“Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.”

Peter Pett: The constant reference that we find to ‘resident aliens, sojourners’, that is foreigners who lived among them without actually joining the covenant, although expected to keep the ordinances and statutes and not to openly worship other gods, is a reminder of the conglomerate make-up of the camp. Most present at Sinai appear to have responded to the covenant and become ‘true’ children of Israel, but there would always be the odd one or two who did not, and others may well later have joined them later in the journey through the wilderness once they had left Sinai and have partly held aloof. There would probably be a small but constant stream of people who liked the idea of joining with them as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who seemingly were welcomed. Israel were ever to remember that they had been in bondage in Egypt and were on the whole to refrain from doing the same to others, and were to show hospitality to strangers. They were to treat all fairly, as they would have liked to be treated in Egypt.

B. (:17a) Judge without Partiality

“You shall not show partiality in judgment;

you shall hear the small and the great alike.”

Jack Deere: The concern shown in the choice of wise and respected men (v. 15; cf. v. 13) and the command for fairness (judge fairly, v. 16) and absolute impartiality in judgment (v. 17; cf. 16:19; Prov. 18:5; 24:23) made it clear that the point of the Conquest was for Israel to establish righteousness and holiness in the Promised Land and ultimately in the entire world (cf. Deut. 28:1, 9-10, 13). It took faith for Israel to conquer the land, but it also took faith for them to administer justice in the land, for here too they would encounter opposition.

C. (:17b) Judge without Pressure or Intimidation

“You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s.”

Patrick Miller: Justice shall not be compromised by fear. This is the other side of the word about impartiality. Not only shall the weak be treated as well and fairly as the strong, but judges should not let fear of power and wealth compromise their insistence on equity and the right. An intimidated judge can never deal justly; nor is there any place to turn for redress when the court is intimidated. Martin Luther said of this instruction, “This is the highest and most difficult virtue of rulers, namely, justice and integrity of judgment. For it is easy to pronounce judgment on poor and common people; but to condemn the powerful, the wealthy, and the friendly, to disregard blood, honor, fear, favor, and gain and simply to consider the issue—this is a divine virtue” (p. 19).

Duane Christensen: The judge administers the law on behalf of God, which is no easy task as the reference to cases “too hard” for the judges bears witness.

Daniel Block: The last clause seems intentionally vague. It could mean:

(i) God’s judgment will support the official’s verdict;

(ii) the official judges by divine authority;

(iii) the official receives wisdom for rendering a just decision from God;

(iv) the law by which the official renders judgment is administered on behalf of God, from whom it derives; or

(v) the judge will ultimately answer to God for how he has administered justice.

Eugene Merrill: Since he is absolutely sovereign and furthermore knows the true guilt or innocence of parties in judgment, he, not human litigants, is to be feared.

Bruce Hurt: The buck stops with God, not the judge. Judge boldly and with courage, doing so in dependence on and in the authority of God. They were not to be afraid of the consequences of their judgment including threats against them (as powerful people are prone to do!). Moses explains that the reason is because it is not their judgment but God’s so the parties could take their case to Yahweh if they were not satisfied! And mark it down that judges are accountable to God and God alone! America is filled with judges that seem to seek advancement of their political agenda instead of seeking God’s justice, and as a famous pastor once said in a sermon there will be Pay Day, Some Day! And as someone else has said “Without fair and equal justice, a people cannot long survive!” Woe!

D. (:17c) Judge within the Scope of Your Limitations

“And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me,

and I will hear it.”

(:18) Charge to the Judges

“And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do.”

Peter Craigie: The section closes with a summary statement referring to all the legislation given at Horeb; the function of the historical prologue is such that only selected recollections were described, insofar as they fitted into the purpose of Moses’ address.

John Maxwell: What more could the people ask than a God who is faithful and a leader who is responsible? Now the people must be obedient. (Preacher’s Commentary)