<< Exodus 18: Jethro's Advice to Moses to Choose Rulers >>
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. Exodus xviii. 21.
WE are here called to witness a most interesting event. We find Moses after having been absent for a considerable time, and having passed through a series of most momentous adventures, again returned to his original place of departure. Thence he had set out with the charge of freeing the Israelites from bondage by the command of the Lord, and there he returned again. Almost at the very spot where the Divine Being had appeared to him and promised him what would happen, he had brought the children of Israel to rest near the mountain of God. There had come his father-in-law, who had doubtless heard of the marvelous adventures through which he had passed.
We have pointed out, when noticing these circumstances on a former occasion, that Jethro is not simply called a priest of Midian, but the priest of Midian, a term which is probably equivalent to the ruler of the Church, or of that description of religion that prevailed all over Midian. In some ancient manuscripts the term for this father-in-law, or at least for his position, is the prince of Midian, and probably he was priest and peace. In ancient nations, the binding principle was religion, and the princes were the embodiment of the religion. In this instance, the priest, or the chief priest, and the prince are probably one.
Moses having brought the children of Israel thus far, almost as we have said to the very spot where he had received his mission to break down the power of Pharaoh, Jethro his father-in-law came to meet him, and they conversed together, and asked each other, it is said, of their welfare. We can clearly imagine how interesting that conversation must have been. Moses would relate all the wonders by which his people had been set free; the manner in which the proud tyrant of Egypt had been troubled; at length, the utter overthrow of the Egyptian host in the Red Sea; the way in which the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud had led them from time to time; how the manna came down;
and how they conquered Amalek. We can hardly imagine anything more interesting, anything more deeply impressive or touching than what would happen in the conversation between these remarkable men. But now another great stride in Israelitish progress was to be made. From a multitude they were to become a nation.
They had just recently had a struggle with a bitter foe. They had felt the need and were to learn the power of order.
They had arrived at complete rest, and then had spread themselves out in the plain just at the foot of the mount of God, completely delivered, but finding themselves only a great multitude not yet well arranged or well and satisfactorily governed. After being delivered from the outward foe, now came the time for being delivered also from inward danger. An immense multitude like that, with no regulations or order, must have been in the greatest possible difficulty, until such arrangements could he made as would reach the circumstances of every man and point out what was needed to be done for the sake of order.
The transformation of this immense multitude of individuals into a nation is the subject placed before us by our text, and the difference between a people and a nation is this. People is a word that denominates men in their individual condition, every man being a portion of the people. But an immense number of individuals, until they are placed under regulations of divine order, is no more a, nation than an immense number of grains of sand is a rock. A promiscuous multitude becomes a nation by law and order. Order is heavens first law. Individual people are like the atoms of the human body, order brings them into the beauty and strength of the human form. The perception of this law, the placing of it before Moses, the arrangements that resulted from it, and the constitution of the nation are the subjects brought before Moses by Jethro.
The people were two millions in number, uninstructed, brought out of a long and depressing condition of slavery, with little intelligence, and little perception of their true wants, or of true order. Jethro places the difficulty properly when he says, Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee. It would be just so in any similar case; and hence the necessity for order being introduced and upheld, so that men capable of laying hold of true principles of regulation and government, and sound-minded, so as to apply such principles conscientiously, should be chosen for just and orderly government; and thus this mass of individuals be changed into a well-organized nation. This was done.
Moses took Jethros counsel, made the choice of proper men, placed all in good and sound arrangement, and therefore provided for their true well-being.
We learn from this circumstance the importance of orderly arrangement. Orderly arrangement is the framework for good everywhere; whether it be in a nation, in a town, or in a church. Look at that glorious result, a well-ordered nation. Every one can pursue his aims and his business in peace. Trade, commerce, learning, the beautiful arts of social life, comfort, and confidence all flourish. As soon as intelligent men are selected and placed where their intelligence can be serviceable to the rest, orderly well-being at once prevails. So it is that nations are compacted together, and all goes on with ease in good order. There are some unfortunate people that suppose they would be far better off, if they had nobody to govern them--their own will, their own caprice being the only law which they willingly obey--but if such persons were left to themselves, the world would become a mere mass of struggling self-seeking disquieting people, and would ultimately rush to universal ruin. The weak would have none to protect them. The stronger members of society would oppress the rest. The universal feeling would soon call for some strong hand to repress disorder. By orderly arrangement, men of mind are selected, who have seen what truth requires and are able to bring it about.
The government of good men, is the government of God through men. Hence Jethro says, Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee.
National government secures for millions advantages unspeakable and innumerable; hence, rebellion is a deplorable crime. What the Lord teaches, true rulers will perceive, and what the Lord teaches them to perceive, they will hold out to other men. And then though they are the persons who are rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, rulers of tens, it is not really they who govern, it is the Lord who governs by them, as is expressed in those beautiful words which Gideon addressed to the Israelites, when they came to ask him to rule over them, he said, I will not rule over you, neither shall my sons rule over you, but the Lord shall rule over you.
Such is true government, and such true government makes happiness in a nation, and brings success and prosperity to its individuals. This truth is the divine teaching of the text.
The Word lays down the qualities of all rulers who have authority from the Lord to govern. First, it is said, they shall he able men. The word here given able in the Scripture means firm-minded.
It does not refer so much to their capabilities as to their strength of character. Next, it is said, they must fear God. They must also be men of truth, hating covetousness.
In the first duality assigned to men who shall be rulers, we see one of the very first elements of all true progress. Nothing is more injurious to a nation, to a community or to himself, than vacillation in a man--that easy, careless, reckless condition of mind, which says one thing today and another tomorrow, which has no firmness, no grasp of purpose, no solidity of character, but is perpetually pushed about by whomsoever will take the trouble. A person of this class is a perpetual source of weakness and distress. The very first attribute of a person who will go rightly and do good is firmness. The true man will intelligently adopt a principle, and then strongly carry it out. There are some men, and they are always men of an unsuccessful, weak and wavering character, that seem to have no earnestness about them; a lackadaisical class that are continually displaying a feebleness of character, that have no principle or scarcely any, and hardly know whether principle is necessary or not. There are men that neither in the government of themselves, nor in the government of anything they have to do can possibly have any success. They are just the same as those little children who sow a grain of corn today, and tomorrow dig it up to see what progress it has made. That is not the condition of any person who will really work through life successfully, or govern successfully. Life is not a mere reckless, careless condition of things; the world is the land of law, and he who will succeed must discover the laws of success in relation to the object he has in view and firmly carry them out. We must be stout men, able men, and firm men, men that have a meaning in life, men that do not expect to be mere shuttlecocks, but that may be trusted to do something,--to have a mission, and earnestly strive to carry it out. Such are the men who are serviceable to themselves, to their families, to the world, and to the Church.
The next quality is expressed in the words such as fear God. We must not suppose that being firm-minded means being insolent men. On the contrary, men of the firmest, noblest mind may be men of the deepest humility. Their reverence for God, and not for themselves or for the opinions of short-sighted mortals, is the source of their strength. They bow themselves before the Lord to ask Him to teach them, but when He has taught them they are as firm as a rock to carry out His divine will.
They fear God. h man may in this respect be as strong as a giant when he feels he is acting by the direction of the Lord, but gentle as a child in all points not incompatible with this. The two qualities not only can go together, but will go together in a right-minded, earnest, loving champion of his God and Savior. He will ever be humble and meek, as far as his own views go, but firm as a rock in all that is right, in all that obedience to the Divine Law demands. Such are these two qualifications--firmness tempered by the fear of God.
The third qualification is men of truth. Whenever there is carelessness of truth there is weakness and disorder. Yet how large a mass are they in the world who seem to have no adequate conception of the infinite worth of Truth. Millions seem like Pilate; they come and say, What is truth? and then, like Pilate, before they can get an answer they go away, not caring anything about it. Yet love of truth is that on which all progress depends, love of truth is the pivot on which salvation depends, progress depends, heavenly peace depends, everything depends. The Apostle in describing the wicked says, They received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. 2 Thess. 11. 10. It iv a sad reflection, especially when we see such multitudes going here and there careless of the truth, to meditate on their lot in the world of truth, where the light of truth lays all things hare. He who has never asked himself in the presence of the Lord, Who is the true God? What is true life? What is right for time and for eternity? will some day or other be of that class of which our Lord speaks when He says, And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
But, on the other hand, every loving man having an eternal affection for the truth, will be continually asking himself--is this opinion of mine right; is this view which seems to be true really so? Such a man, if he does not get the truth today will get it in due time. It is certain to come to him, whether he be in high or low degree, and whether in a Christian or a heathen nation. Divine light will come over his soul, and he will be in that class of which it is said by our Lord, Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
This grand qualification, men of truth, is that which fortifies the soul in its individual case, and which fortifies the man if he be uplifted to be a governor amongst men, and makes him fit to be placed in that position in a nation. Men of truth, hating lucre--that is to say, hating all manner of bribery: everything that springs from selfishness and love of self, or love of power, or anything that would draw him aside from truth and justice. Hating lucre--going straight on in the course of truth and right, for this is the rule of the Lord. He--the man of truth--is he who would no more go aside to what is merely interested and self-seeking, or which panders to the lusts and passions of avarice or worldliness either in himself or others, than he would voluntarily destroy his own life--hating lucre, hating covetousness.
Acting upon this sacred principle we should love the arrangements of our nation; at all times we should delight to obey the regulations of sound and just rulers; at all times we should be ready to sustain the authority of law and order, so that truth may reign and goodness may progress throughout our nation, and by its means throughout the world. Then amid the general security we may rejoice in the government of peace that results from the sovereignty of goodness and wisdom from the Lord.
A well-ordered nation is also the representative of a well-ordered mind. There ought to be, and there will be, after we have advanced in the regenerate life, a co-ordination and arrangement of principles in the soul.
We have forsaken sin as Israel left Egypt. We have had our battle with interior sin, our Amalek, and conquered again. Then there comes a time when it is necessary to regulate the mind, to think we must not remain satisfied with simply being generally religious, for that is precisely the condition that is represented by Moses doing all the business himself alone. A man may be generally religious, may wish that such a general law may govern him, as Moses governed the whole of the Israelites, without applying religion to the details of life.
But that is not enough. If a person would obtain the blessing of the Lord, he must have principles for all his pursuits. He must think what that is which ought to regulate him in relation to his religious views. Will he be quite satisfied with simply going from time to time to divine worship and taking a general interest in it, or will he adopt some principles in relation to it? He muse ask himself what he will do for other persons? Has he time or talent to assist in Sunday schools, or other useful works? What can he do for his own spiritual advancement? What principles shall govern his home, his friendship, his business?
When he inquires what is right in these matters, he is just selecting principles, as the Israelites selected governors. His principles must be firm, they must be humble, learned from the Word of God, men of truth. He must seek a perception of what is right. He must ask himself what he has to do in all things to be in harmony with the Divine Will.
The rulers of thousands are the chief principles of the Church. There is nothing so vast as the Church. It belongs to true progress to remember that these principles are his highest concerns. The laws that govern a mans life, as to his highest interior duties, both for heaven and earth, are his souls highest rulers. They are the rulers of thousands.
The rulers of hundreds refer to the government of the soul in relation to society, to his neighborhood, to his nation; how he will act in everything that has relation to civil law and order so as to perform his duty to society. He will avoid both prejudice and lucre in his investigations, and obey only truth and duty. He will examine carefully what is given him to be done, and he will easily discover it in the Word. He will Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, and unto God the things that are Gods; and do this for the Lords sake. And such principles he will make governors over his hundreds. In relation to his business there are governors of fifties. He has some occupation, some pursuit, some work in which he takes a warm interest, and in that case he will conscientiously regulate his mind according to the divine requirements, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with his God. We know that there are a vast number who neglect all this, who have no principles, who get as much as they possibly can, and give as little as they are able. But what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? He is a curse to everybody. He is a curse to his family, a curse to those connected with him in fellowship or in business, and a curse to himself. Let him choose principles like the men spoken of in our text and all will be well. Choose men that are men of truth, choose principles of right. As you would have others do to you, so do to them. Remember that this world is but a mere passing stage, a mere nursery in which you are capable of growing, and being nurtured so as to fill a place in the Lords kingdom.
Finally, allow me to remind you once more, that nations exist and become great only from law and order. When these exist and are sacredly maintained, all the manifold blessings and beauties of social life manifest themselves and multiply. Each mans home is his castle.
Each sits under his own roof and invents, creates, and enjoys in peace. A nation becomes a man on a grander scale: the legislature--the heart; the executive government and great employers--the shoulders, arms and chest; the rest of the nation forming the remainder of the body of the state in multiplied diversity and beautiful order, doing the Lords work and enjoying the Lords blessing in ten thousand thousand ways.
Would you see a mere people, then study the roaming tribes of the desert, though even there, there is a nation in its smallest form--a tribe. Would you see a nation, then turn to the civilized states of Europe, or America, or to Great Britain, the chief of them all, and contrast the security, the loveliness, the convenience, the magnificence, and the abundance which reign in the one, with the uncertainty, the bareness, and the meanness of life in the other, and you will be convinced of the importance of that wondrous result of law--ordered life--a nation.
The same contemplation will disclose the enormous wickedness of the sin of rebellion: a sin which encloses in itself multiplied murder, widespread robbery, and every human villainy. Where rulers have substituted despotism for law, and gagged discussion, when they persist in rejecting remonstrance, and are themselves stifling the nation, to whom liberty is life, until no reasonable hope of change remain, then resistance to iniquity in high places becomes faithfulness to God. This is not rebellion, it is patriotism. But in all other cases rebellion is regarded in Scripture as on a par with witchcraft, as wickedness of the foulest kind.
Let us then in our capacity of citizens ever regard faithfulness to law as our abiding duty, so shall we become in the language of the Word, a wise and understanding people.
But to secure this your soul also must be like a well-ordered nation, in which every subject does his duty, and righteousness rules over all. Then violence shell no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders: but thou shalt call thy walls Salvation, and thy gates Praise.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)