Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Social Architecture (3) Bottom Up

Moses did not understand the social structure of Israelite society, because he had been brought up in the house of Pharaoh close to the centre of power. Because he had been trained by Pharaoh’s courtiers, he assumed that he would have to control the people from top in the same way as Pharaoh controlled the Egyptians. He did not really understand the structure of this new society until he visited his father-in-law in the wilderness. Jethro saw the strain that Moses was under and understood that he was trying to control everything.

Jethro was a prophet. He told Moses to give authority back to the leadership that already existed in the community, so he could focus on representing the people before God.

You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him (Ex 18:19).
Moses should teach Israel God’s laws and instructions and pray for them.
Teach them the laws and the instructions, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the actions they are to take (Ex 18:20).
Authority should be restored to the people in the community who were already respected within their families.
You shall look among the community for people who fear God, love the truth and hate corruption, and put them as heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Exodus 18:21).
This passage is usually translated as if Moses appointed these leaders. This is nonsense, because Moses would have been even more stressed, if he had to appoint a leader for every family in Israel. The Hebrew text states that Moses was to “look for people” who were already respected within their community. He was to “put them as heads of tens, etc.” Moses did not know all the people personally, so he could not identify capable leaders who feared God. He did not need identify them, because they already existed as leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. Moses placed authority back where God wanted it to be.

These leaders were not to impose authority over the people with authority from the top down. They were to act as judges hearing legal disputes, not as rulers or governors.

They shall be judges of the people at all times, but they shall bring every difficult case to you (Exodus 18:21).
Authority was returned to families. If a family had an issue that they could not resolve, they could take to a respected person in the ten. If this person could did not how to resolve the case, it could be delegated higher. Only cases that could not be resolved by lesser judges would go to Moses.

The right to appeal rested with the people. They decided whether disputes should be referred upwards. They could control which cases would be referred to Moses. He could only intervene when he was invited. This was a bottom up system of justice.

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