Handling Matters - (Exodus 18:16-25)

Hugh Scott, Whitburn

Submitted by Andrew McPhee

The visit paid, and the advice given, to Moses by his father-in-law on this occasion throw light upon the vital and practical subject of handling matters arising betimes among the saints of God. To this he refers in Deut. 1 when he reminds Israel of their cumbrance, burden, and strife. How unbecoming it is that such things should be found among the saints, and yet how sadly common they are! Matters both unpleasant and baneful have arisen in the past and such will most likely arise in the future. Matters arose in Israel and matters arose in the church—some of them moral, others doctrinal. Matters affecting individuals, yea, and whole companies, have occurred, and will arise till the end. They will have to be faced and dealt with. Some need to be dealt with by immediate action (Numbers 25: 7-18) while other necessitate a sitting down for examination (Ezra 10: 16).

Whether it is a matter that calls for immediate judgment, or one that may demand time to exercise great care and a thorough enquiry, the end in view is the maintaining of the glory of God and the holiness of His dwelling place.

In our passages in Exodus 18 we have four important items mentioned which should greatly assist God’ss people to-day in dealing with matters difficult and disturbing.

1. The Right Guide (v. 20). The Word of God was to be their guide. Their walk and conduct were to be governed by its laws and ordinances. Matters arising among the saints were to be dealt with according to Divine revelation. Where no clear guidance had been given’s they waited prayerfully on the Lord for a revealing of His mind (Lev. 24:12; Num. 15:34). The matter in Ezra 10 was moral in character and was dealt with "according to the law" (v. 5).

That of Acts 15 was doctrinal in character and it too was settled because a common judgment was reached as the result of the opening of the Word of God. The decision reached at Jerusalem was based on the silence of Scripture. Some might have asked for a scripture to condemn circumcision and the keeping of the law in the case of Gentile believers. James could not have produced it, but on the silence of the Word of God he based his judgment not to trouble them thereby. Others might have said that James did not know what he was talking about, as Amos refers to a time subsequent to this church period. James does not say that Amos 9 refers to what God is doing now, but he does show from that passage that God would bless Gentiles as Gentiles, without their becoming Jews. Scripture is silent as to any conditions being imposed upon Gentiles before receiving the blessing, and its silence is as powerful as its speech. While the general cry today is "there is no scripture against it," what is more important and more weighty? Is "there is no scripture for it?" A great decision was reached on the silence of Scripture.

Look again at the value of the Word in the days of Nehemiah. In chapters 1-7 we have the value of the Wall. In Chapters 8-15, the value of the Word. The Book of the Saw, opened in ch. 8: 1 is never said to be closed again. It yields fresh guidance in every crisis, giving fresh light to the individual and the collective company. Let us never set it aside.

2. The Right Men (v. 21). Jethro tells us to look for three essential features in men who are able to adjudicate in difficult matters. (a) They are such as fear God. That at least means that the fear of God is deeper in them than the graven fear of man. (b) They are men of truth. Thus they would be quick to detect falsehood, and sure to condemn it. (c) They hate covetousness. No one will be able to buy them over. They are prepared to suffer financially rather than give a wrong decision.

It is common to find today in the assemblies that those most ready and eager to handle the saints’s affairs are the least fitted. Others are like policeman, suddenly becoming active as soon as trouble is present, but showing little interest in the Lord’ss work, or in the Lord’ss people in the general life of the Assembly. How great the need is for men of wisdom, discernment and ability! Note how the passage shows that one man is not sufficient or competent to judge. Moses was well advised to share responsibility.

Absalom took it upon himself to speak of, and deal with, the matters of Judah and Israel, his father’s subjects (2 Sam. 15: 3); but he lacked the moral weight and spiritual acumen to deal with them. David’ss handsome, charming son, combining courtesy and cunning, stole the hearts of the men of Israel. He belittled those who could indeed handle those affairs satisfactorily, and sought to impress men that he alone was capable of administering justice.

Absalom was all out for a place and a position on this earth. God left him without a foot on it: he died hanging from the branches of a tree. The Proverb says, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Prov. 18:15). Beware of the modern Absaloms who would deal with matters among the people of God in such a way as to gain popularity and favor. In the sad crisis of Peor and of Cozbi (Num. 25) it was a priestly man who dealt with it, a man who stood before the ark of God (Psalm 106: 28-31). Phinehas (mouth of brass) was a man of balance, one who could speak and act for God. In Judges 20:28 he is seen handling the Ark - a man of worship. In Numbers 31:6 he handles the trumpet - a man of ministry. In Numbers 25:7 he handles the javelin - a man of discipline. When the matter arose among the returned remnant (Ezra 10), it was Ezra the priest and the chief of the fathers who sat down to consider it, a man of maturity and discernment.

Again, in the great emergency situation of Acts 15, none less than the apostles themselves and the elder brethren assembled together to consider it (v. 6). While the whole church was present on that occasion, the responsibility mainly rested on the shoulders of its leaders. Paul asks the Corinthians, "If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church? I say this to move you to shame. Is it so" that there cannot be found among you ONE WISE MAN who shall be able to decide between his brethren?" (1 Cor. 6:4-5 R.V.). How essential is wisdom, for "great men are not always wise." Solomon said, "He that wisely handleth a matter shall find good" (Prov. 16:20). Knowledge and understanding can be communicated to others through human instrumentality, but not wisdom. God will yet feed His people Israel with knowledge and understanding through their shepherds (Jer. 3:15), but wisdom comes directly from Himself. When difficulty arose in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6) and men were sought out to deal with it, wisdom was one of the characteristics essential. Of "honest report" took in their past - "full of the Holy Spirit" took in their present - and "wisdom" would be needed for the future. Not only do we need the right guide, but we need the right men.

3. The Right Action (v. 22). Every matter, whether great or small, was to be judged. Sometimes, if left unheeded, small matters may become great matters, and matters affecting individuals may increase until they affect whole companies. Is it not written, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" (James 5:5). "At all seasons," says this verse, for things dealt with in their infancy and nipped in the bud often preserve from trouble later on. No doubt, what we have in 1 Cor. 5 was a great matter of immorality, yet in the following chapter Paul refers to the "smallest matters" among them, for whether great or small, every matter had to be handled. How great was the matter in Num. 15:32, when the man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day! How seemingly small was the one mentioned in Numbers 27 when the daughters of Zelophehad enquired for a possession among their fathers’ brethren! Yet the mind of the Lord was sought on both occasions and judgment given accordingly. Some brethren think that matters are not handled aright, unless they themselves do it. Moses was a man who had confidence in his brethren, even during his absence. In Exodus 24 when about to go up into the mount, he said to the elders, "Behold Aaron and Hur are with you; if any man have any matter, let him come before them."

The painful, yet necessary, action to be taken in the matter of the fornicator of 1 Cor. 5, was to be carried out "in the Name of the Lord Jesus." The only right course was to put him out of assembly fellowship, and they were assured of this by the apostle. The Name of their Lord in Heaven gave them solid ground. Their decision would be ratified in the courts above.

4. The Right Result (v. 25). "All this people shall go to their place in peace." Thus their pilgrimage Canaan-wards would be made both happier and holier. In the divine economy, peace follows righteousness—see Isaiah 32:17; Romans 14:17; Hebrews 7:2. Right action being taken would assuredly lead to peace—the very reverse of the strife which, as we noticed at the beginning of our little article, Moses had to remind Israel of in Deut. 1. In Psalm 122:6 we read, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee." Peace and prosperity in the Place of the Name, "peace... and prosperity... for my brethren and companions’ sakes." What a noble desire! Yet all this rests on the truth of the previous verse (v. 6), "For there are set thrones of judgment" (R.V. reads "for judgment"). "Of judgment" is their character; "for judgment" is their purpose. This verse is the moral centre of the Psalm, for the unity, testimony, worship, peace and prosperity of the House are maintained by the presence and exercise of the thrones of judgment. It is not peace at any price, nor peace through compromise, but it is right action, taken by the right men, in the light of the right guide, which will lead to right results.