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Shemot/Exodus 18:13 Moshe sat to judge the people and the people stood
Rashi tells us that Moshe's father-in-law, Yitro, was disturbed by this, for he felt that Moshe was belittling the honour of Israel by making them stand while he sat, like a king among them, dispensing justice. The Mekhilta even goes as far as to turn Yitro's question in the next verse into a rebuke: "Why do you alone sit, while all those stand?" The practicalities of the situation suggest, since Moshe spent all day teaching the people in this way, "from morning to evening", whereas they would each bring their question or case in turn, that if he didn't sit down then he would soon be exhausted. It is also customary to accord a measure of honour to those who teach and judge disputes - in courts to this day it is common practice for all the people to rise when the judge enters and court and only re-seat themselves when the judge is seated.
Some time later, "D'vorah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she used to sit under the palm tree of D'vorah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgement" (Shoftim 4:4-5, NASB). Whether Yitro liked it or not, it was becoming established that teaching and judgement - which would often amount to arbitration or determination of principle rather than the criminal justice element so prevalent today - was undertaken by someone who was seated as a sign of their authority. As Israel developed fortified cities, archaeologists point to the gate chambers where the judges of the city would sit to hear cases and disputes not only for the city with its traders and merchants, but also for those in the neighbouring countryside so that Moshe's instructions came true: "So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall enquire of them, and they will declare to you the verdict in the case" (D'varim 17:9, NASB). Later in the time of the kings, the husband of the Eyshet Chayil, the Woman of Valour, "is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land" (Proverbs 31:23, JPS).
Yeshua recognised the position of the Scribes and Pharisees: "'The Torah-teachers and P'rushim', He said, 'sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it!'" (Matthew 23:2-3a, CJB) Although in His next breath He warned that they didn't do it themselves, He nevertheless affirmed their right and responsibility to be in that position and exercise that authority.
Today, when talk of authority and submission to leaders is not very popular, it is important to realise that G-d still appoints leaders over congregations and schools for the purpose of teaching and judging; for exercising godly authority over those in their charge. So the words of the writer to the Hebrews are true for us: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your lives, as people who will have to give an account" (Hebrews 13:17, CJB).
Further Study: Isaiah 62:6; Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Application: Everyone in the Kingdom of G-d, from the highest to the lowest, has been placed under authority or made accountable; it is a Kingdom principle. Why not pray today for your leaders, that they may exercise their role faithfully and be able to take joy in serving the people of G-d.
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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