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Shemot/Exodus 18:21 And you, you shall see from all the people, men of valour, fearers of G-d, men of truth, haters of unjust gain
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These are the words of Jethro, Moshe's father-in-law and the priest of Midian. Having heard about the way in whichHaShem brought Israel out of Egypt, "with great might and with an outstretched arm" (2 Kings 17:36, NJPS), he has come to visit Moshe at the camp in the wilderness in order to get a first-hand account of the proceedings for himself. After their initial conversations, Jethro is shocked by the way that Moshe is trying to hear all the disputes for the whole people of Israel personally, keeping the people standing around all day waiting for their turn to be heard. "What you are doing isn't good" (Shemot 18:18, NJPS), Jethro upbraids him, "you'll wear yourself out and frustrate the people along the way. You can teach the people and hear the difficult cases, but for the rest - in fact, the vast majority - you must delegate." Our text is Jethro's instructions about how to identify the men who can be appointed over "thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens" (v. 21, NJPS). Some idea of the scale of this HR task can be seen by thinking about the six hundred thousand men the Torah records as coming out of Egypt: over six thousand six hundred just for the hundreds and thousands, let alone the fifties and tens!
Four qualities are identified: , men of valour or means; , fearers of HaShem; , men of truth; and , haters of unjust gain. "Men of means",Rashi explains, "means rich men, who have no need to flatter or show recognition." Rabbi Hirsch broadens the meaning of to include, "every accumulation of forces whether of possessions, power, moral of mental gifts", so that it can cover "fortune, army, goodness, virtue or valour." These are seriously good men, far above temptation or influence! Rashi again explains "men of truth" to be "men who inspire confidence, for they are worthy for their words to be relied upon" and "haters of unjust gain" to be those who "hate to have their money in litigation" - that is, subject to any kind of suspicion that dishonesty might have been involved. As Nahum Sarna observes, "Jethro now defines the ideal social, spiritual and moral qualifications for judges - those necessary to create and maintain a healthy and just legal order." It is worth noticing that in the 'catch-up' version of this story that Moshe tells to the next generation on the Plains of Moab forty years later, it is Moshe who tells the people to select leaders for themselves and the list of qualities has changed to "men who are wise, discerning, and experienced" (D'varim 1:13, NJPS).
Our key to understanding this passage and the burden it appears to place upon Moshe is the verb at the start of the verse: , which as well as being ahapax legomenon in this form, is the Qal, 2ms prefix form of the root , to see or behold (especially a vision), to look out or choose, to perceive (Davidson). Here, with the personal and singular 'you' being emphasised by the preceding word , "and you", this verb seems to fairly squarely put the selection of the delegate judges on Moshe's shoulders. How on earth is he supposed to pick out all those men, even given the selection criteria by HaShem? How is he to know? Umberto Cassuto takes a very matter of fact approach, asserting that this is simply a matter of choice. He reports that "both in Hebrew and Ugaritic, expressions of 'seeing' are used in the sense of 'choosing'; compare, for instance, 'let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt' (B'resheet 41:33, NJPS) [actually a form of the verb , to see]."1 To confirm that, he also points out that in the following account of Moshe carrying out his instructions, the Torah tells us, " And Moshe chose capable men" (Shemot 18:25, NJPS) using the verb , to choose. The Sforno agrees, paraphrasing "you shall discern/provide out of all the people" to "You shall choose and appoint".
The rabbis of theMekhilta, however, have a different opinion. According to the words of Rabbi Joshua, means "you shall look for them [from the root to announce, to prophesy] with prophecy". The Amar N'kei explains, using references to B'resheet 15:1, Shemot 24:11 and B'Midbar 24:4,16, that "when used in the Chumash, the root always connotes prophetic vision." Rashi claims that Moshe is told that he will 'see' "by means of the Holy Spirit which is upon you." Gersonides, rather more briefly, suggests, "by means of prophecy." The contemporary scholar Thomas Dozeman elaborates: "The process of selection requires charismatic, prophetic power by Moshe. The Hebrew verb translated 'to select' in verse 21 is a technical term for prophetic clairvoyance (see Amos 1:1, Isaiah 1:1, Micah 1:1). The advice is that Moshe will 'perceive' the qualities of justice and truth in the judges he appoints."2
This is a critical observation with significant implications for those who are selected. Dozeman continues, "Thus their ability to judge is charismatic, not inherited. It derives from Moshe's ability to recognise their qualities." Being perhaps a fore-runner of the selection of the seventy elders in B'Midbar 11:16-35 where HaShem tells Moshe, "I will draw upon the Spirit that is on you and put it upon them" (B'Midbar 11:17, NJPS), this implies not only that Moshe can spiritually discern the qualities in the men he selects, but that the ability to be a judge is implanted within them by Moshe prophetically 'seeing' them in that role. We could imagine this in the language of creation: Moshe said, "You shall be a judge" and behold, they were a judge. The older generations of prophets were often described with the word , seer (or should that be see-er) because what they 'saw' in their visions would come to pass. HaShem gave them a glimpse of the future that they related as a vision - "Behold, I saw ..." - and it was as if their words speaking out the vision had creative power for that vision to become reality.
How are we supposed to see today? Yeshua gives us a big pointer is the story of Peter's confession at Caesarea Philippi. Yeshua, you'll remember, had asked the disciples who they thought he was. Based on what they had heard the people saying around them, other disciples suggested, "John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:14, ESV), but it was Peter alone who said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (v. 16, ESV). "Clever boy!" Yeshua responded, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (v. 17, ESV). Now let's rewind that and look a little more closely. The other disciples had responded to Yeshua's question with what they saw and heard with their physical senses: the paradigm, they could 'see'. Peter answered the question according to revelation - the paradigm - and spoke out of what he saw in his spirit, revealed to him as Yeshua points out, by the Ruach, the Holy Spirit. And because Peter spoke out the words of the vision, something of what he had seen was created: a faith and a greater depth of reality in Yeshua's own mission so that in turn He could prophesy about His community built on the rock, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and binding and loosing.
On another occasion, engaging with the crowds in Jerusalem, Yeshua challenged them that, "Whoever is of G-d hears the words of G-d. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of G-d" (John 8:47, ESV). They could not hear the words of G-d because they were not really in relationship with G-d. Rav Sha'ul says the same to the Corinthian community, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of G-d, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV). If we are not in tune with the Ruach then we will not see, hear or understand the things of G-d. what He is saying to us and the visions that He shows us so that we may speak them into reality today. It is the Spirit who shows us "all things" (John 14:26) and shows us visions of Yeshua and the kingdom around us every day for us to declare and bring into being.
1. - Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983), page 220.
2. - Thomas B. Dozeman, Exodus, Eerdmans Critical Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2009), page 409.
Further Study: 1 Samuel 9:15-20; Nehemiah 6:10-13; Acts 14:8-10
Application: How is your spiritual vision? Are you able to 'see' and encourage men of valour and those who truly fear G-d and walk in the ways of the kingdom? Pray that you may see with G-d's eyes, hear with His ears and see visions of the kingdom of God growing around you so that you can speak those visions of reality into being in your community and your world.
Comment - 01:23 20Jan19 Paul Saputra: Great teaching and Hebraic perspective. I like it. Very helpful ... for sharing ... a blessing for me and community
Comment - 01:30 20Jan19 Theresa Newell: Always appreciate your background information and insights. Most helpful for those teach and/or take Torah and Yeshua seriously.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2019
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