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Deuteronomy--Moses' first speech, Part 2

Jun 13, 2012

Deut. 1:12 says,

(12) How can I alone bear the load and burden of you and your strife?

Disputes are common among people. When disputes cannot be settled between the disputing parties, they were to go to an authorized and respected mediator to judge the case and render a verdict. Because there were so many cases, Moses was led to appoint the 70 elders, which traditionally consisted of 72 as the actual number. Perhaps the 72 was meant to include Moses and Aaron, along with six elders from each tribe.

(13) Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.

It is interesting that in this first step of delegating powers of government, it was the people who voted for their own leaders, and these were ratified by Moses. Moses did not appoint them himself, but let the people choose their own judges.

This says something about Kingdom government as it applies on earth, for it is a Republican form of government in principle. Obviously, if the people should choose evil men, they would receive a corrupt government. Yet they were accountable to the people, not to Moses. If the people were not led by the Spirit, and if the people could not discern the hearts of the candidates, then the type of government they obtained was precisely what they deserved, for it would reflect the corruption in their own hearts.

Moses then tells the people,

(14) And you answered me and said, "The thing which you have said to do is good."

The people agreed to this Republican form of government. This implies that even the form of Israel's government was not imposed upon them. It was agreed upon after discussion.

(15) So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands, and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes.

The principle behind this is to set forth a system of representative government. The use of the plural, such as "fifties" and "tens," shows an nonspecific number. How many "fifties" are there? How many "tens"? We do not know, but it establishes the idea of local government, districts, regions, as well as the national government. It correlates today with our City, County, State, and National governments.

(16) Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, "Hear the cases between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. (17) You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God's. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring it to me, and I will hear it."

There are three great principles seen in this passage. The first principle of government is set forth as that of impartial judgment. This is the basis of all righteous judgment. The judges must be able to set aside personal preferences or friendships and judge the case not based on wealth, class, or race.

Secondly, they were to judge according to the laws of God, not the laws of men. "The judgment is God's," Moses told them. These judges not only represented the people, but also God Himself when they sat as judges of His law. When the laws of men are the basis of the judicial system, then one could say that the judgment is man's. Likewise, when men claim to judge according to the law of God, but are not led by the Spirit to know the spirit of the law, they are likely to judge by the traditions of men.

Thirdly, Moses served as an earthly Supreme Court. Judges could refer hard cases to Moses, particularly in situations where the law gave no clear statement. The law, as given to Moses, set forth all of the basic principles of the mind of God that were necessary to determine His will. However, it could not possibly cover every specific case, because every case has different circumstances. It is for this reason that a judge must know the Author of the law and be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Beyond Moses, there is also a heavenly Supreme Court, which is the highest court of all. If men who sit in Moses' seat (Matt. 23:2) are corrupt or devoid of the Holy Spirit, we yet have a final Appeals Court where we may present our case. As believers, we all have the right to approach the throne of God with boldness (Heb. 4:16) to lay our case at His feet for righteous judgment. Yet in such a case, we must be willing to leave it with Him for judgment and not attempt to adjudicate the case ourselves.

Leaving Mount Horeb

(18) And I commanded you at that time all the things that you should do. (19) Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw, on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the Lord our God had commanded us; and we came to Kadesh-barnea.

Jethro's counsel to Moses in regard to delegation of authority came prior to Israel's arrival at Mount Sinai (Horeb). The 70 elders were elected and appointed in Exodus 18, and then Israel arrived at the Mount in the following chapter. After the Ten Commandments were given in Exodus 20 as a summary of the law, then Moses went up the Mount by himself to receive the rest of the law--the statutes and judgments by which we might know the practical application of the Commandments.

The statutes were specific laws legislated according to the spirit of the Commandments. For instance, the Sixth Commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal." A statute explaining this in more detail is found in Deut. 22:1-3, where we see that if one finds property that someone else has lost, he cannot claim it as his own. If he does so, it is stealing. This statute is necessary, because many believe differently.

The judgments are the penalties for violating the law. The Commandments themselves do not include any judgments, but only the basic principle. So to learn the penalties for stealing, one must go to Exodus 22:1-4, where we find that double restitution is the judgment of the law for ordinary theft. If the stolen item cannot be returned intact or alive, then the penalty is fourfold--or fivefold, if it involves the tools of a man's trade.

After Moses received these statutes and judgments, the Israelites marched to Kadesh-barnea as their staging area to prepare to enter Canaan.

(20) And I said to you, "You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the Lord our God is about to give us. (21) See, the Lord your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed." (22) Then all of you approached me and said, "Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land for us, and bring back to us word of the way by which we should go up, and the cities which we shall enter." (23) And the thing pleased me and I took twelve of your men, one man for each tribe. (24) And they turned and went up into the hill country, and came to the valley of Eshcol, and spied it out.

The story in Numbers 13:1, 2 does not tell us about the people's request to spy out the land. There we are only told that the Lord told Moses to send the spies. Now we learn the circumstances behind this revelation. Hence, we know that the people made their request, and Moses took it to God, who told Moses to comply with their request.

At the time, Moses probably did not suspect that their request was motivated by their uneasiness (fear). God knew, because the outcome was part of His plan.


This is the second part of a series titled "Moses' First Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.

Moses' First Speech


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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones


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