After listening to the counsel of his father-in-law Moses selects men who will help him to arbitrate in matters of the Israelis.

Exodus 18:17-26 NASB

17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear out, both yourself and [m]these people who are with you, for the [n]task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, [ab]of hundreds, [ac]of fifties and [ad]of tens. 26 They judged the people at all times; the difficult [ae]dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor [af]dispute they themselves would judge.

But some time later in the book of Numbers Moses complains about the burden of carrying this challenge alone.What had happened to the group of leaders he had chosen?

Numbers 11:10-15 NASB

10 Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and [j]Moses was displeased. 14 I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too [m]burdensome for me. 15 So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.”

God counsels Moses to choose seventy elders to help him to govern.Did Moses disband the initial group of leaders?


1 Answer 1


These were two separate groups. The first group were officers (שָׂרִים) whose job was to judge the nation (Exodus 18:22). In the retelling in Deuteronomy (1:16), they are also referred to as judges (שׁוֹפְטִים). The problem they were meant to solve was that Moses was occupied judging the nation from morning to evening. They were also quite numerous, having "leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens" (Exodus 18:25) over a people which numbered 600,000 men (12:37).

The group of leaders were seventy elders (זְּקֵנִים) whose task was to help Moses bear the nation (Numbers 11:16-17). The problem they were meant to solve was that Moses couldn't deal with the nation's complaining for meat (11:13). They also received some of Moses' spirit and prophesied (11:17, 25). They weren't appointed to judge the nation.

So the officers judged the nation, while the elders were in a role of leadership.

These same distinction existed later. Rehoboam consulted with the elders for advice (I Kings 12:6), but Jehoshaphat appointed judges to judge the nation (II Chronicles 19:5).

  • I was not sure if you were saying these were different groups of men chosen at different times or if you are saying they are the same group of men described differently in the two accounts.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 12:40
  • @NigelJ I don't see how my answer is at all ambiguous, The officers were thousands of judges. The elders were seventy leaders. I stressed the differences in every paragraph.
    – b a
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 12:58

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