In Deuteronomy, Moses begins to review the events of the last forty or so years-what happened to cause the wilderness wandering and then what occurred while in it. In the middle of the first chapter, he talks about the time he implemented his father-in-law Jethro’s plan to handle the numerous issues that were coming up between the Israelites. These men he called “judges” (as contrasted with the men and women who would wear that title and deliver the people beginning a few generations after Moses) had certain divinely-given qualifications to meet. Deuteronomy 1:15-17 says, “So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes. “Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. ‘You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.'”
They were to be wise. Verse thirteen adds “understanding” and “knowledgeable.” Knowledge is the foundation beneath wisdom and understanding is an outgrowth and application of wisdom. Problem-solving and issue-resolving require wisdom.
They were to be experienced. “Not novices.” They were to have demonstrated the ability to judge and discern difficult situations.
They were to possess righteous judgment. In conflict, everybody feels they are right and the other party is wrong. How were these leaders to tell? A mind clear from improper motives and rash judgment would more clearly discern situations.
They were to be impartial. Favoritism was tantamount to corruption. Conflicts had to be resolved with utmost fairness.
They were not to ignore “big” or “little” problems. The “small” and the “great” fell to them to handle, if they could. If it was too big for them, Moses could be called upon to intervene. Yet, the design of this system was for these men to handle these matters. “Big” problems were not to be shied away from for their enormity, neither were “small” problems to be scoffed at in their seeming insignificance. Those enduring “big” problems needed intervention, and those who had “small” problems no doubt saw them as big in their own eyes.
They were not to fear any man. They could easily face intimidation, threats, bullying, bribery, ostracism, or the like. But, God through Moses gives and unqualified and unequivocal command that they stand tall and fearlessly before each situation.
The system set up by God right outside Egypt and before the wilderness journeys is not a direct parallel to God’s pattern for leadership today. Yet, the text is dripping with principles and application. These same qualities will help God’s leaders be quality leaders today!