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Exodus 18:13-27

13. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.

13. Accidit autem postridie ut sederet Moses ad judicandum populum: stabatque populus juxta Mosen a mane usque ad vesperum.

14. And when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?

14. Et videns socer Mosis omnia quae faciebat ipse erga populum, dixit, Quid est quod tu facis populo? quare tu sedes solus, et universus populus stat juxta te a mane usque ad vesperum.

15. And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God.

15. Et respondit Moses socero suo, Quia venit populus ad me ad quaerendum Deum.

16. When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

16. Quum est illis negotium, veniunt ad me, et ego judico inter quemque et proximum ejus, et ostendo statuta Dei et leges ejus.

17. And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

17. Tunc dixit socer Mosis ad eum, Non est bonum quod tu facis.

18. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee; for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.

18. Deficiendo deficies tam tu quam populus iste qui tecum est: Nam haec res gravis est supra tuas vires: non poteris ergo praestare solus.

19. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God;

19. Nunc audi vocem meam: consilium tibi dabo, et erit Deus tecum. Esto tu pro populo coram Deo, ut referas causas ad Deum.

20. And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

20. Docebisque eos statuta et leges, et ostendes eis viam in qua ambulent, et opus quod faciant.

21. Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

21. Tu autem deliges ex toto populo viros fortes, timentes Deum, viros veraces, qui oderint avaritiam: praeficiesque eis tribunos, centuriones, quinquagenarios, et decanos.

22. 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.

22. Qui judicent populum omni tempore: si autem acciderit negotium magnum, ad te referent, omnem vero leviorem causam judicabunt ipsi: et tibi levius erit onus, quia sufferent ipsi tecum.

23. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.

23. Si hoc feceris, et praeceperit tibi Deus, poteris stare: atque etiam populus hic ad locum suum veniet in pace.

24. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.

24. Obedivit Moses voci soceri sui: et fecit omnia quae ille dixerat.

25. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

25. Et elegit Moses viros fortes ex toto Israel, et constituit eos capita super populum, principes super mille centuriones, quinquagenarios, ac decanos.

26. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.

26. Qui judicabant populum omni tempore, ardua referebant ad Mosen: omnem vero rem parvam judicabant ipsi.

27. And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land.

27. Dimisit autem Moses socerum suum, et abiit ad terram suam.

13. And it came to pass. A memorable circumstance, and one well worth knowing, is here introduced. In that form of government over which God presided, and which He honored with extraordinary manifestations of His glory, there was something deserving of reprehension, which Jethro corrected; and again, Moses himself, the mighty Prophet, and with whom alone God was thus familiar, was deservedly reproved for inconsiderately wearing away both himself and the people by excessive labor. It was a proof of his illustrious virtue and mental heroism to undergo so many troubles, to endure so much fatigue, and not to be subdued by weariness from daily exposing himself to new toils. It betrayed also a magnanimity never sufficiently to be praised, that he should occupy himself gratuitously for this perverse and wicked people, and never desist from his purpose, although he experienced an unworthy return for his kind efforts. For we have seen him to have been often assailed by reproaches and contumelies, and assaulted by chidings and threats; so that it is more than marvelous that his patience, so constantly abused, was not altogether worn out. In this, assuredly, many virtues will be discovered worthy of the highest praise; yet Jethro in these very praises finds occasion of fault. Whence we are warned that in all the most excellent acts of men some defect is ever lurking, and that scarcely any exists so perfect in every respect as to be free from any stain. Let all those, then, who are called on to be rulers of mankind know, that however diligently they may exercise their office, something still may be wanting, if the best plan that they adopt be brought to examination. Therefore let all, whether kings or magistrates, or pastors of the Church, know, that whilst they strain every nerve to fulfill their duties, something will always remain which may admit of correction and improvement. Here, too, it is worth while to remark, that no single mortal can be sufficient to do everything, however many and various may be the endowments wherein he excels. For who shall equal Moses, whom we have still seen to be unequal to the burden, when he undertook the whole care of governing the people? Let, then, God’s servants learn to measure carefully their powers, lest they should wear out, by ambitiously embracing too many occupations. For this propensity to engage in too many things (πολυπραγμοσύνη) is a very common malady, and numbers are so carried away by it as not to be easily restrained. In order, therefore, that every one should confine himself within his own bounds, let us learn that in the human race God has so arranged our condition, that individuals are only endued with a certain measure of gifts, on which the distribution of offices depends. For as one ray of the sun does not illuminate the world, but all combine their operations as it were in one; so God, that He may retain men by a sacred and indissoluble bond in mutual society and good-will, unites one to another by variously dispensing His gifts, and not raising up any out of measure by his entire perfection. Therefore Augustine198198     “Videndum etiam, ne forte ibi voluerit Deus ab alienigena admoneri Moysen, ubi et ipsum posset tentare superbia,” etc. — Augustin. Quaest. in Ex., vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 442. A. truly says that, God humbled His servant by this act; just as Paul reports, that buffetings were inflicted on him by the messenger of Satan, lest the grandeur of his revelations should exalt him too highly. (2 Corinthians 12:7.)

15. And Moses said unto his father-in-law. Moses replies ingenuously, as if on a very praiseworthy matter, like one unconscious of any fault; for he declared himself to be the minister of God, and the organ of His Spirit. Nor, indeed, could his faithfulness and integrity be called in question. He only erred in overwhelming himself with too much labor, and not considering himself privately, nor all the rest publicly. Yet a useful lesson may be gathered from his words. He says that disputants come “to inquire of God,” and that he makes them to know the statutes of God and His laws. Hence it follows that this is the object of political government, that God’s tribunal should be erected on earth, wherein He may exercise the judge’s office, to the end that judges and magistrates should not arrogate to themselves a power uncontrolled by any laws, nor allow themselves to decide anything arbitrarily or wantonly, nor, in a word, assume to themselves what belongs to God. Then, and then only, will magistrates acquit themselves properly:. when they remember that they are the representatives (vicarios) of God. An obligation is here also imposed upon all private individuals, that they should not rashly appeal to the authority or assistance of judges, but should approach them with pure hearts, as if inquiring of God; for whosoever desires anything else except to learn from the mouth of the magistrate what is right and just, boldly and sacrilegiously violates the place which is dedicated to God.

17. And Moses’ father-in-law said. He does not absolutely condemn the whole system which Moses had before adopted, after the manner of morose, or froward, or ambitious men who, by carping at some trifle, obscure the noble deeds of others; but by seeking only to correct a part of it, he detracts not from the just praise of Moses, and leaves the power which God had conferred upon him untouched. Herein his moderation is worth observing, for he does not abuse this pretext of a particular error, so as to upset the due order of things; but only advises Moses how he may usefully execute the office which God had conferred upon him.

19. I will give thee counsel. Jethro dares, indeed, to promise success, if Moses will obey his counsel; yet does he not proudly boast that this will be the fruit of his own prudence, but ascribes it to God’s blessing and grace, if he prospers even when nothing is established but on the best system. For this is the import of the expression, that a counsel occurs to him, which if Moses follows, God shall bless him. Nor yet does he reprove Moses, as if God had not been thus far with his pious zeal and industry, but rather hints that God is the author of this counsel, which He will follow up with His grace. In sum, he does not state it to be his Object to diminish in the smallest degree the grace which Moses had already experienced; but to point out a plan, of which God will, by its result, show His approbation. Then follows the other point to which I have alluded, viz., that he does not rob Moses of his authority, so as to overturn his call from God, but rather by exhorting him to proceed, desires that what God has once ordained should be firm and inviolable. It is well also for us diligently to consider that counsel be taken according to circumstances and expediency, so that there be no departure from the ordinance of God; because it is sinful to entertain the question whether we should obey God or not. Accursed, then, are the deliberations wherein it is proposed to alter anything in God’s Word, or to withdraw ourselves from the bounds of our calling. We have said that the burden whereby Moses was weighed down was not of God’s imposing; but only had he been set over the people as their leader, as far as his ability permitted. Jethro leaves this unaffected, and thus confirms by subscribing, as it were, to the decree of heaven. Because he was chosen to be as an interpreter, and God familiarly admitted him as the mediator between Him and His people, Jethro enjoins him to continue in the discharge of these duties. But because the possession of the supreme government did not interfere with the duty of a Prophet, he desired also the greater matters to be referred to him; for I so interpret the expressions, that Moses was to be “to God-ward,” for the delivery of the rule of piety, and for the performance of the prophetical office, whilst the weightier causes were to be referred by the rulers to him, that every one might have justice done him.

21. Moreover, thou shalt199199     Thou shalt choose. — Lat. provide out of all the people Literally so, “thou shalt provide;” meaning, thou shalt choose out, and take the most worthy, so that such an office be not entrusted rashly to any one that offers. But this was most reasonable, among a free people, that the judges should not be chosen for their wealth or rank, but for their superiority in virtue. Yet although it be right that regard should be chiefly had to virtue, so that if any one of the lower orders be found more suitable than others, he should be preferred to the noble or the rich; still should any one choose to, lay this down as a perpetual and necessary rule, he will be justly accounted contentious. Jethro enumerates four qualifications which must be principally regarded in the appointment of judges, viz., ability in business, the fear of God, integrity, and the contempt, of riches, not to exclude others whereof, as we shall soon see, mention is made in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, but to signify that all are not qualified, nay, that extraordinary virtues are required which, by synecdoche, he embraces in these four. The words which we translate “brave men,”200200     אנשי חיל, Men of might. It is S. M. who thinks the words to mean “Strong and hardy men, capable of bearing fatigue.” ́̓Αιδρας δυνατοὺς LXX. — W. (viros fortes,) are, in the Hebrew, “men of bravery,” (viros fortitudinis;) by which title some think that strong and laborious men are described. But in my opinion, Moses rather designates strenuous and courageous persons, whom he opposes not only to the inactive, but to the timid and cowardly also. But because vigor of mind as well as of body is but frail without the fear of God, he adds piety in the second place, in that they should exercise their office as having an account to render to God. “Truth” is opposed not only to deception and gross falsehoods, but to popularity-hunting, flattering promises, and other crooked arts, which tend to corrupt justice. Lastly, hatred of covetousness is demanded; because nothing is more antagonistic to justice than eagerness for gain; and since snares are so constantly set for judges by the offers of pecuniary advantage, they would not be duly fortified against this mode of corruption, unless they earnestly detested avarice.

23. If thou shalt do this thing. What immediately follows, “and God command thee so,” may be taken in connection with the beginning of the verse, as if, in self-correction, Jethro made the limitation, that he did not wish his counsel to be obeyed, unless God should approve of it. Others extend it more widely, that if Moses followed God’s commands in all things, this moderation of his duties would be useful. However you take it, Jethro declares that he would have nothing conceded to him, which should derogate from God’s supreme authority; but that there was nothing to prevent Moses from following, as he had done, God as his leader, and still adopting the proposed plan. Yet he signifies that this was to be but temporary, when he adds, that the people should go in peace or prosperously into the land of Canaan. Jethro, then, had no wish to establish a law for posterity; but points out a remedy for present inconveniences, and a provisional arrangement,201201     There is an obscurity here in the Latin, which I have not been able to remove. The words are, “atque (ut vulgo loquitur) modum promissionis ostendit.” The common language to which C. alludes may probably be that of the ancient grammarians. The Fr. is “par maniere de provision, (comme on dit.)” until the people should obtain a peaceful resting-place.

24. So Moses hearkened. Here is a. remarkable instance of modesty, that Moses is not indisposed to submit himself to the counsel of his father-in-law. For although Jethro was his superior in age and in degree of affinity, in other respects he was far inferior to him. This yielding, then, of Moses to his authority, lays down a rule for all the greatest and most excellent Doctors, that they should not refuse to receive the admonitions of those whom they admit to teach rightly, although they are not of such high dignity. For Cyprian202202     “Et ideo vir sanctus Cyprianus, (Ep. 74:12, ad Pompeium,) non solum doctus, sed etiam docibilis, quod in laude episcopi quem designat Apostolus sic intellexit ipse ut diceret: ‘etiam hoc in episcopo diligendum, ut non solum scienter doceat, sed etiam patienter discat.’” — Aug. contra Donat, lib. 4:7, vol. 9:125. truly declares that none is a good doctor who is not also docile. It is probable that the old man immediately returned home, not in contempt, or from his dislike to labor or fatigue, but203203     “Mais il est vray-semblable, que Moyse l’a volontiers excuse pour sa vieillesse;” but it is probable that Moses voluntarily excused him on account of his old age. — Fr. on account of his age; but we shall hereafter see in its proper place that his son remained in the camp.

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