Deuteronomy 1:9-18; The Charge of the Magistrates; Moses here reminds them of the happy constitution of their government; Judgment must be given according to the merits of the cause, without regard to the qualities of the parties. B.C. 1451

The Charge to Magistrates.

B. C. 1451.

Deuteronomy 1:9-18

9 And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone:   10 The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.   11 (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!)   12 How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?   13 Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.   14 And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do.   15 So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.   16 And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.   17 Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.   18 And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do.

Moses here reminds them of the happy constitution of their government, which was such as might make them all safe and easy if it was not their own fault. When good laws were given them good men were entrusted with the execution of them, which, as it was an instance of God’s goodness to them, so it was of the care of Moses concerning them; and, it should seem, he mentions it here to recommend himself to them as a man that sincerely sought their welfare, and so to make way for what he was about to say to them, wherein he aimed at nothing but their good. In this part of his narrative he insinuates to them,

I. That he greatly rejoiced in the increase of their numbers. He owns the accomplishment of God’s promise to Abraham (v. 10): You are as the stars of heaven for multitude; and prays for the further accomplishment of it (v. 11): God make you a thousand times more. This prayer comes in in a parenthesis, and a good prayer prudently put in cannot be impertinent in any discourse of divine things, nor will a pious ejaculation break the coherence, but rather strengthen and adorn it. But how greatly are his desires enlarged when he prays that they might be made a thousand times more than they were! We are not straitened in the power and goodness of God, why should we be straitened in our own faith and hope, which ought to be as large as the promise? larger they need not be. It is from the promise that Moses here takes the measures of his prayer: The Lord bless you as he hath promised you. And why might he not hope that they might become a thousand times more than they were now when they were now ten thousand times more than they were when they went down into Egypt, about 250 years ago? Observe, When they were under the government of Pharaoh the increase of their numbers was envied, and complained of as a grievance (Exod. i. 9); but now, under the government of Moses, it was rejoiced in, and prayed for as a blessing. The consideration of this might give them occasion to reflect with shame upon their own folly when they had talked of making a captain and returning to Egypt.

II. That he was not ambitious of monopolizing the honour of the government, and ruling them himself alone, as an absolute monarch, v. 9. Though he was a man as well worthy of that honour, and as well qualified for the business, as ever any man was, yet he was desirous that others might be taken in as assistants to him in the business and consequently sharers with him in the honour: I cannot myself alone bear the burden, v. 12. Magistracy is a burden. Moses himself, though eminently gifted for it, found it lay heavily on his shoulders; nay, the best magistrates complain most of the burden, and are most desirous of help, and most afraid of undertaking more than they can perform.

III. That he was not desirous to prefer his own creatures, or such as should underhand have a dependence upon him; for he leaves it to the people to choose their own judges, to whom he would grant commissions, not durant bene placito–to be turned out when he pleased; but quam diu se bene gesserint–to continue so long as they approved themselves faithful. Take you wise men, that are known to be so among your tribes, and I will make them rulers, v. 13. Thus the apostles directed the multitude to choose overseers of the poor, and then they ordained them,. Acts vi. 3, 6. He directs them to take wise men and understanding, whose personal merit would recommend them. The rise and origin of this nation were so late that none of them could pretend to antiquity of race, and nobility of birth, above their brethren; and, having all lately come out of slavery in Egypt, it is probable that one family was not much richer than another; so that their choice must be directed purely by the qualifications of wisdom, experience, and integrity. “Choose those,” says Moses, “whose praise is in your tribes, and with all my heart I will make them rulers.” We must not grudge that God’s work be done by other hands than ours, provided it be done by good hands.

IV. That he was in this matter very willing to please the people; and, though he did not in any thing aim at their applause, yet in a thing of this nature he would not act without their approbation. And they agreed to the proposal: The thing which thou hast spoken is good, v. 14. This he mentions to aggravate the sin of their mutinies and discontents after this, that the government they quarrelled with was what they themselves had consented to; Moses would have pleased them if they would have been pleased.

V. That he aimed to edify them as well as to gratify them; for,

1. He appointed men of good characters (v. 15), wise men and men known, men that would be faithful to their trust and to the public interest.

2. He gave them a good charge, v. 16, 17. Those that are advanced to honour must know that they are charged with business, and must give account another day of their charge.

(1.) He charges them to be diligent and patient: Hear the causes. Hear both sides, hear them fully, hear them carefully; for nature has provided us with two ears, and he that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame to him. The ear of the learner is necessary to the tongue of the learned, Isa. l. 4.

(2.) To be just and impartial: Judge righteously. Judgment must be given according to the merits of the cause, without regard to the quality of the parties. The natives must not be suffered to abuse the strangers any more that the strangers to insult the natives or to encroach upon them; the great must not be suffered to oppress the small, nor to crush them, any more than the small, to rob the great, or to affront them. No faces must be known in judgment, but unbribed unbiased equity must always pass sentence.

(3.) To be resolute and courageous: “You shall not be afraid of the face of man; be not overawed to do an ill thing, either by the clamours of the crowd or by the menaces of those that have power in their hands.” And he gave them a good reason to enforce this charge: “For the judgment is God’s. You are God’s vicegerents, you act for him, and therefore must act like him; you are his representatives, but if you judge unrighteously, you misrepresent him. The judgment is his, and therefore he will protect you in doing right, and will certainly call you to account if you do wrong.”

3. He allowed them to bring all difficult cases to him, and he would always be ready to hear and determine, and to make both the judges and the people easy. Happy art thou. O Israel! in such praise as Moses was.

Matthew Henry Commentary

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