In today’s reading, Moses continues his rehearsal of the historic situation that had occurred with the nation of Israel’s disobedience to trust God and possess the Promised Land.
The number of people in the exodus from Egypt is really quite astounding. Only the men age 20 and over were counted, and they numbered about 600,000. A handy expression in the ancient world to capture the scope of such a multitude was to compare it to the innumerable number of stars in the sky. An estimate of the size of the entire nation would likely be in the range of 2 million to 3 million people. That is a lot of food, a lot of water, a lot of grumbling, and a lot of problems. Wherever there are people, there are problems and controversies and difficulties. It was more than Moses could handle.
In fact, the people and their problems were just about killing him. We read in Exodus 18 that he was busy from morning until evening dealing with all the issues, teaching God’s ways, and judging in situations of dispute. His father-in-law Jethro intervened by essentially saying to him, “Son, you are nuts killing yourself like this; here’s what you need to do.” And so Moses took the advice and set up a multi-tiered system of judges and leadership.
I’ll admit that the inclusion of this story at this point seems a bit odd. Remember, this is an odd situation for these recent escapees from Egyptian slavery. They were not used to independence and living in a scenario where their provision was entirely dependent upon miraculous intervention. But what it teaches and reminds the hearer, then and now, are several things:
- that there were a lot of people …
- that these people had a lot of controversies …
- that God provided in the midst of it all …
- that Moses was an esteemed leader under God’s blessing …
- that God’s truth is timeless and effective in every situation.
People have not changed; we are the same over the centuries and the millennia. Apart from a God-oriented eternal perspective, we will be self-centered grumblers. Then and now, God desires our complete trust in Him. His faithfulness to fulfill his covenant promises to us are indeed new every morning, ready to be picked up and applied. They are ready for us to revive our hearts and lives.
The Appointment of Leaders
9 At that time I said to you, “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. 10 The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky. 11 May the Lord, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!12 But how can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”
14 You answered me, “What you propose to do is good.”
15 So I took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you—as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens and as tribal officials. 16 And I charged your judges at that time, “Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. 17 Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.”18 And at that time I told you everything you were to do.