The judges appointed by Moses were charged with the solemn responsibility of handling the Word of God faithfully. They were to be seen to be men of truth, hating covetousness and, in applying the principles of the Word in matters of judgment, they must firstly apply them personally. It is no different in our ecclesial stewardship today.

In the nation of Israel the Judge was one of the earliest appointments. Moses was a judge and had cause to explain to Jethro that, “When the people have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws” (Exod 18:16). It was an important teaching role as well as one requiring discernment and judgment. But it was too much for Moses to handle alone, and Jethro recommended that he should delegate some of the work to others. “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: and let them judge the people at all seasons…every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge” (Exod 18:21,22).

This arrangement had two significant advantages—it wisely delegated some responsibility, giving Moses time for more important work; and those appointed were given real experience in preparation for further responsible tasks later. And note the criteria: nothing they may have learned in Egypt was required, but the godly characteristics of integrity and truthfulness. They were not to be covetous or envious, nor allow their judgments to be corrupted by personal issues and desires.

It was a wise suggestion of Jethro and God later gave the same instructions to all the people. These attributes, essential for judges, were to be cultivated by every Israelite when they came into Godʼs land (Lev 19:15; Deut 16:19,20).

That generation had personally heard the words spoken by Yahwehʼs angel at Sinai. They had seen the demonstration of His power and glory and could never really forget that they were the special people of God who had redeemed them. But what of subsequent generations? The appointed judges, and all parents, were to teach the same principles to their children and those who followed. It was an essential and solemn duty. “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut 6:6,7). Parents were to act in their family in the same way the judges acted for the nation. They were to be teachers of Godʼs ways and to act with discernment and justice. These were essentials for the continuance of their nation as Godʼs people. Yet sadly the nation failed because neither judges nor parents carried out their roles effectively. As a result the nation was rejected and went into exile to Assyria and Babylon.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

What can we learn from this? Surely Godʼs principles apply to spiritual Israel today just as they applied in the nation redeemed out of Egypt. We have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and the need to leave Egyptian type wisdom and philosophy behind, and apply and teach the principles of God to the next generation is just as essential and as challenging now. This is a great responsibility for parents and elders, if we want God to bless our Brotherhood and prevent its fragmentation. The role that the judge filled in Israel, has to be actively continued today.

Teaching godliness means bringing to attention what has been “written before time for our learning” and the implication of the message. It also requires a demonstration of those principles applied in our lives. Our actions have to be consistent with our words and what we teach must be from the inspired Scriptures. To be effective we also need consistent enthusiasm for God and His coming Kingdom so that our service is never grudging but arises from our love for our Heavenly Father and our joyful anticipation of Christʼs return. Parents and elders need to take this responsibility very seriously or there is the risk that some for whom we are responsible could be found with insufficient oil in their lamps when the cry goes out, “Behold the bridegroom cometh”.

Young people particularly will benefit from accepting and exercising a delegation of some responsibility. In fact both young and old need to show what they have learned in action. This helps to develop faith and conviction and a reliance on Godʼs wisdom. Many ecclesial and inter-ecclesial activities designed to keep our brotherhood active and focused would benefit greatly from others joining in the work. In this way they gain experience and learn to exercise judgment through active service. Sometimes the work of the Truth has languished through lack of active participants. What example does that leave the next generation? Young brethren particularly should ask the question, “Are we putting what we have been taught into practice so that there will be sufficient with the necessary experience to meet our future ecclesial needs?”

Instructing Disciples

It is worth noting the New Testament examples of our Lord and his Apostles. Christ sent his disciples out to preach and prepare people for his visits. But before sending them he taught them the principles by which they should act. For example, we read in Matthew 10:35 that he warned them that the gospel would bring controversy and conflict because some would receive the message while many would reject it; and this would result in enmity. In Luke 6:41,42 he told them in the parable of the mote and the beam, to exercise discernment and deal primarily with the big issues of repentance, preparation for the coming of the Kingdom, the exercise of justice and mercy and faith. He taught the disciples these principles and then sent them out to practice what they had heard. They had successes and failures but their experience provided a basis on which the Lord could later consolidate and deepen his teaching.

In Luke 10 we learn that Christ also sent out another 70 of his followers to progress the work, for “the harvest was plenteous but the labourers few”. Again he first instructed them as to how they should act in the course of their mission. When they returned the Lord rejoiced with them at what they had been able to accomplish for him, saying, “I saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven”. By this he indicated how the adversaries would be overcome by faith and exercising the words of wisdom which he provided from his Father.

Similarly, the apostle Paul appointed elders in every city to carry on the work which he had commenced. He told Titus to do likewise in Crete (Titus 1:5), and Timothy was encouraged to exercise judgment in his ministry and correctly teach and live by instruction from the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15).

The Apostle Peter wrote to believers, “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts,… have your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that… they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11,12).

These New Testament examples confirm the need for disciples today to exercise the same godly characteristics required for the judges in Israel. We too must teach others by our words and by our judgment demonstrated in service and action. We show we love the God we worship by acting as He does. In this way we give practical encouragement to others in our ecclesias to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and prepare to take up the role of teachers and elders if the Lord tarries a little longer. May our Heavenly Father bless us all to this end.