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Shemot/Exodus 18:26 And they judged the people at all times; the hard things they would bring to Moshe, and all the small things they would judge themselves.
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This text records the way in which Moshe has implemented the recommendations of his father-in-law, Yitro, regarding the settlement of disputes and cases between the Israelites. It is the last thing that happens before Yitro returns to his own land, so that he can see that Moshe has taken his advice seriously and has released the backlog caused by dealing with everything himself and delegated to the "leaders of thousands, leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties and leaders of tens" (Shemot 18:21).
The verse begins with the word , a straight forward Qal affix 3mp form of the root , to judge, rule or punish, with a simple conjunctive vav, 'and', normally translated in the past tense: "and they judged". On the other hand, it is exactly the same word as starts verse 22, when Yitro is giving his advice - "and they shall judge" - taking the there as a vav-reversive, to generate a future tense. A normal single-action past tense is clearly not right here either, since the activity presumably went on throughout the forty years in the wilderness. Moreover, the other two verbs in the verse - and - are both in prefix form, indicating incomplete or ongoing action. Some sense, then, of past continuous tense needs to be applied: "and they were judging"; every day.
TheMekhilta notices a difference between the text of the advice and that of the practice. The advice (v. 22) speaks of , a 'great' or 'major' matter, while the report (v. 26, above) uses , a 'hard' or 'difficult' matter, which is to be brought to Moshe for resolution. Why the difference? is an adjective meaning "hard, firm, strong, difficult". The Mekhilta offers this explanation: "Matters that are important they shall bring to you. Perhaps it means only matters of important people they shall bring to you, while matters of less important people they shall judge themselves? It says, however: 'The hard cases they brought to Moshe' - hence, it is not of persons that the Scripture speaks but of matters." On the other hand, the Baal HaTurim amplifies a masoretic note, which says that the word is only used twice in the Tanakh: (i) here 'the difficult thing/matter'; and (ii) , 'your stiff neck' (D'varim 31:27). From this, the Tur claims that "Moshe would judge any case involving powerful litigants, for they were stiff-necked."
Hirsch is more interested in the verb at the end of the verse, - "they would judge". It is an unusual composite or hybrid, made up of both the singular and plural forms. Hirsch suggests that this "expresses the idea that the decisions the judges would make () would also really be the decisions that Moshe would make (); they would be given in his spirit and in accordance with the principles and rules the judges had received from him."
Most judges today are highly trained and professional lawyers, appointed to the judiciary after many years of experience learning the interpretation of the law in the courts and their legal practices. They are given delegated authority by the state to hear cases, conduct trials, reach verdicts (where there is no jury) and, in criminal cases, pronounce sentence. Each court level, from the magistrates court to the Supreme Court, has its own prescribed process and powers: magistrates do not hear murder cases, but order the accused to be held "on remand" until their case can be heard by a higher court; the Supreme Court does not get involved with minor cases involving disputes between neighbours or traffic offences, unless a major legal point is referred for settlement. Specialist courts such as the Court of Chancery deal with corporate matters involving shareholders or policy holders; immigration tribunals hear cases involving requests for political asylum. The division into specialist areas ensures that the appropriate lawyers and judges are available to hear the case properly, consider all the legal issues and deliver justice for all litigants according to the law of the land.
The Bible tells us thatHaShem is the judge who will finally settle all cases: "He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4, ESV) and that He will take issue with human judges who have not been just, or who have been corrupt: "The L-RD will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: 'It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing My people, by grinding the face of the poor?' declares the L-rd G-D of hosts" (3:14-15, ESV). It is G-d's Messiah, the Shoot from the stump of Jesse, who will judge the nations: "And the Spirit of the L-RD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the L-RD. And His delight shall be in the fear of the L-RD. He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked" (11:2-4, ESV). Because of the Ruach, the Spirit who is in Him, He will judge perfectly in accordance with G-d's laws; all His judgements will be from G-d and He will be immune to pressure or corruption, will not be swayed by people - great or small - but will always judge fairly and righteously.
The inter-testamental writings tell us about the changing ideas about the Messiah G-d had promised to send within the Jewish world in the time years before Yeshua came. ben Sirach, for example, talks about the need for a perfect High Priest to lead the Jewish people in righteousness; other writers speak about a warrior king to restore Israel's sovereignty under G-d. The Dead Sea Scrolls expect a judge - a righteous and powerful judge - referred to as Melchizedek, who will come at the end of this age to judge between those who have been faithful to G-d and kept His laws and those who have rebelled against G-d and not obeyed Him. This Melchizedek will judge righteously and fulfill the words of Isaiah above. Yeshua, whom the book of Hebrews describes as "a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:20, NASB), spoke about Himself, saying, "If anyone hears what I am saying and does not observe it, I don't judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Those who reject Me and don't accept what I say have a judge - the word which I have spoken will judge them on the Last Day" (John 12:47-48, CJB). It is the word of G-d, the word of Messiah, that will judge the people.
While Yeshua clearly tells us, "Don't judge, and you won't be judged. Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37, CJB), He also tells us that, "just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions" (Matthew 7:20, NLT), which implies that we must make some kind of judgement - or at least, observation and evaluation - of what people do and say. Rav Sha'ul adds something important: "If we were judging ourselves correctly, we would not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31, GWT). Judging ourselves - that is, comparing our thoughts and actions to G-d's word and correcting any discrepancies - is essential so that G-d doesn't need to judge and discipline us for sin: "when the L-rd judges us, He disciplines us so that we won't be condemned along with the rest of the world" (v. 32, GWT). Like the judges that Moshe appointed for our people in the wilderness, small things we know and can put right immediately; hard things, or things that have become entrenched,we need G-d's assistance to resolve.
Further Study: D'varim 1:16-17; Luke 3:21-22; Hebrews 12:11-14
How good are you at judging yourself and making sure you are right before
G-d? Is it time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you conduct a spiritual
inventory and get everything sorted out afresh? There's no time like the
present and He is always ready to help!
© Jonathan Allen, 2013
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© Jonathan Allen, 2013
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.