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Exodus 18-13-27 Jethro’s Advice to Help Moses Delegate

The Lord spoke with Moses plainly, face to face unlike other prophets and even rebuked Miriam and Aaron for speaking presumptively against him since he married a Cushite woman (Numbers 13). Hence the famous adage, from Moses to Moses Maimonides (Rambam), there was none like Moses. However, Moses was seriously overworked and Jethro his father-in law, provided him with sound and timely counsel which would ease his burden and enable others to serve God.

Spiritual Delegation

Most commentators worth their salt recognise and commend Jethro’s vital advice although one interpreter referred to Moses’ special assignment to lead Israel and thought Jethro spoke out of turn. He thought the Lord would communicate to Moses to whom and when he should delegate some of his responsibility. He has a point, although it would be surely more apt to realise that the Lord was using Jethro to ease his burden and that it would be for the benefit of everyone.

Moses would sit judging the people who would stand around him from morning until evening. When Jethro enquired concerning his workload that he shouldered alone, Moses explained that he settled disputes which he would decide between one person and another and he would make them know the statutes of God and His laws. Soon afterwards, the giving of the Ten Commandments would also enable people to gain an awareness of God’s law.

Recognising Moses’ need to delegate and share the responsibility of leadership, Rabbi Sacks observes the phrase “What you are doing is not good” as one of only two places in the Torah where the phrase “not good” occurs.[i] The other is from Genesis 2:18 where “It is not good for man to be alone” and Sacks adds that we cannot lead or reside alone and that the Hebrew word for life, hayim is in the plural as if to signify the importance of shared life.[ii]

I have seen leaders of congregations physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually shattered often trying to run congregations themselves and not delegating. Sometimes they work inordinate hours, starting early and finishing late and continually playing catch up. Consider the amount of time needed to bring two sermons a week and provide pastoral care and to liaise or be involved, even to a limited degree with all the other activities involved. Sometimes this occurs when a congregation greatly increases in number or when additional responsibilities are taken on.

Spiritual Character not Business Strategy

Commenting on Jethro’s counsel, F.B. Meyer writes:

“His advice also was most sagacious. It is far better to set a thousand people to work than attempt to do the work of a thousand. The greatest and most useful men are those who know how to devolve on others work for which these are quite competent, while they concentrate themselves on matters of the highest moment, which the others cannot undertake. Thus character is created. It is the highest service of all to bring men’s requests and causes to God, and then to show them the way in which they should walk and the work they should do. In the best sense this is what Jesus does for us all.”[iii]

Jethro quickly responded that this immense task was too much for him to complete alone, whilst recognising Moses’ assignment and authority. He suggested that Moses represent the people and bring their cases to God. Ultimately the Israelites needed a Judge, Mediator and Deliverer. Since Moses to Moses there has been another like Moses, who is the Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-22; cf. John 1:45; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22; 7:37). He is the Messiah, Prophet, Priest, King and Saviour and He is the One Mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). Any leader of a congregation must recognise that they themselves are an under-shepherd under the great shepherd of our souls (Hebrews 13:17, 20-22; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Jethro counselled Moses to warn the people about the statutes and the laws and to teach them the way in which they must walk and what they must do. That is wise instruction for everyone for all time. God is holy so we must know His laws so that it may go well with us and what we should do, so that we might please Him through faith and bring Him glory.

Next, Moses was to look for able men from all the people who feared God, were trustworthy and refused to take bribes and placed them over heads of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Notice it was the moral and spiritual qualities that were sought first and foremost, above intellectual, oratory, or management skills. Note there was a distinction to lead groups of various sizes so individuals possessing a range of qualities, which in addition to the required spiritual and moral character, could be used to lead larger numbers. Remember that Moses feared speaking before Pharaoh though he was a man of exceptional spiritual character and God enabled him to gain experience of Egyptian as well as Israelite culture through his upbringing and knowledge of the wilderness whilst in Midian and beyond.

From time to time someone will arrive at a congregation and seek to apply principles of business and management and seek to formulate a model to organise the congregation and make it run more effectively. Some will view this as the way forward and go along unquestionably whilst others will seek to discover what the Bible teaches and examine biblical precedents. Those principles of business and management may or may not be wrong but they must be in alignment with spiritual priorities and must never result in running a congregation like a business.

The principle of appointing those with the appropriate spiritual character to serve the congregation is seen elsewhere. In Acts 6, seven were chosen to serve tables and help the widows with the daily distribution. These men picked and were of good repute, full of the spirit, wisdom and faith. The talmidim (disciples) devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.

Again in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, elders and deacons were selected according to their spiritual and moral character. The difference between elders and deacons was that elders had to be able to teach. The qualities that you would expect to find in the resume of a high- profile business executive, are notably absent.

Jethro added that in the great matters Moses would preside though in the smaller matters those who he had appointed would decide themselves. God would direct him, so that Moses could endure and all the people would go to their place in shalom-peace. Having been enslaved in Egypt and through the wilderness the people would have sought peace which only God can give.

Go in Peace

People still today need the peace that only God can bring. You can have peace with God by trusting in Jesus the Messiah who has satisfied the wrath of God taking our sin upon Himself making substitutionary atonement. But to have that peace you must repent of your sins and trust and follow Him. Someone who knows the lord can have the peace of God even in trying situations since the Prince of Peace is also Immanuel, God with us, by His Holy Spirit. Jesus the Messiah will bring peace to a troubled world when He returns to Jerusalem to reign in His Messianic Kingdom.

One more thing, that we could easily miss. Jethro went his way and returned to his home country. If you are trusting in the Lord be grateful for the fellowship which He provides for you with those whom you seldom see. Moses had not seen Jethro for quite some time but their reunion was a blessing and the Lord’s provision for Moses and the children of Israel. Never despise the day of small things, since in the Lord’s economy and guidance, they have both present and eternal value.

[i] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Exodus: The Book of Redemption Covenant and Conversation A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible (Maggid, 2010; Jerusalem), p128

[ii] Ibid, p128

[iii] F. B. Meyer ‘Through the Bible’ Commentary