In Exodus 18:21 we read

21 And you will select from all the people men of ability, fearers of God, trustworthy men, haters of dishonest gain, and you will appoint such men over them as commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, and commanders of tens.

How would that hierarchy work? Would commanders of tens be the one's with more responsibility?

• Why was Jethro the one sketching the moral and spiritual character the judges should have? From what I got from Dottard's comment, Jethro’s counsel was given merely in the form of a suggestion. As we were not informed of it, I was seeing it as an adoption without the express sanction and approval of a better and higher Counsellor (God). In that sense, did Moses, before appointing subordinate magistrates, asked God?


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One possibility of such hierarchy is in Joshua 7:14

“ ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man.

This system was practiced by Samuel later in 1 Samuel 10

20When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken.


We do not have any way of knowing how the hierarchy might have worked, except perhaps by comparison with administrative hierarchies in the surrounding Mesopotamian culture. Such comparisons are probably of limited value because we don't know how the specifically Israelite interpretation of them might have worked. However it might have worked is not important enough in the eyes of the text to warrant exposition. In fact, the text leaves the implementation details open and therefore adaptable to the exigencies of each generation.

What is important in the eyes of the text is that there is an immediate need for an administrative, (essentially secular) hierarchy of judges that is not based on tribe, clan, first-born birth status, property ownership or religious standing, but on merit, and that the establishment of this secular administration is itself a religious necessity, a commandment. This idea of merit as the determining factor for appointment was apparently novel to the Israelites. It is not mentioned previously in the Bible.

The text credits the adoption of this administrative model to Jethro, a trusted ally of the Israelites ("our eyes in the desert", Numbers 10:31) who accepted the LORD as God and was accepted by Moses (Exodus 18:11-12). This accreditation to a trusted ally whose descendants played an honorable role in later Israelite history provides a religiously palatable justification for adoption of an administrative model that as well as being novel, might have been similar to those in place at that time in less savory regimes such as Canaan, Egypt, Aram or Babylon.

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