Jethro’s Advice to Moses

by Roger D. Campbell 

After the Israelites left Egypt, Moses’ father -in-law, Jethro, accompanied by Moses’  wife and sons, came to visit Moses. The  Bible says that at that time Moses was in  the wilderness, encamped at the mountain of God, which was Sinai (Exodus 18:1-5).  

Jethro “rejoiced for all the good which the  LORD had done for Israel” and declared, “Now  I know that the LORD is greater than all the  gods” (Exodus 18:9,11). Jethro, who was a Gentile, acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac,  and Jacob.  

When Jethro observed how “Moses sat to judge  the people; and the people stood before Moses  from morning until evening” (Exodus 18:13), he shared his viewpoint with his son-in-law. None of us  should be under the delusion that the organization  of the Lord’s church should be based on the dealings of the children of Israel in the days of Moses.  Yet, there are a number of lessons that we can  learn from this Old Testament incident (Romans  15:4).  

When Jethro saw how Moses was doing things, he  asked him, “What is this thing that you are doing for  the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”  Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to  inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they  come to me, and I judge between one and another;  and I make known the statutes of God and His  laws” (Exodus 18:14-16).  

Jethro’s appraisal was, “The thing that you do is not  good. Both you and these people who are with you  will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too  much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself” (Exodus 18:17,18). Jethro then proceeded to  give his advice.  

Jethro’s counsel basically amounted to this: Moses,  you cannot do all the work by yourself. You need  some help. Give some duties to others. Sons-in-law  and fathers-in-law are not always keen to accept one  another’s counsel, but in this case, Moses bought  into Jethro’s suggestions, and things worked well.  Let us look at some lessons from the biblical record  of Exodus 18.  

 Leaders of God’s people must know their roles.  Moses needed to be a servant of God’s people,  just as his daddy-in-law exhorted him to stand  before God “for the people” (18:19). Again, leaders need to show the way. As Jethro put it, “. . .  show them the way in which they must walk and  the work they must do” (18:20). “Showing” in volves clear communication

 No one person can do all the work! As we noted,  Jethro’s accurate analysis was, “For this thing is  too much for you; you are not able to perform it  by yourself” (18:18). In the Bible, we frequently  read of “co-workers,” a concept which points to  multiple people pitching in to get God’s work  done. Even if one person could do all the work, it  is not in his best interest or the best interest of  the Lord’s Cause for him to do it all. There is al ways a need to involve and train others to labor  (2 Timothy 2:2).  

 Moses was a leader, but he needed help(ers).  Jethro appealed to Moses to let others handle  smaller matters while he gave his attention to  greater ones, saying, “So it will be easier for you,  for they will bear the burden with you” (18:22). To  suggest that Moses needed help(ers), did that  imply that he was a weak leader? Not at all. In  this case, Moses demonstrated wisdom, as he evaluated the situation and accepted good ad vice. He would seek out and accept the assistance of others.  

 Jethro encouraged Moses to make a change in  his approach. That does not mean that Moses  had a flaw in his character or leadership. Nor  should we think that making changes simply to  say, “Hey, we are doing things differently now”  necessarily indicates progress. Yet, sometimes  changes need to be made in the Lord’s work in  order to improve the effectiveness of a particular  effort.  

 Before Jethro offered his advice to Moses, Moses  was doing a good work. Sharing the responsibili ties and getting more people involved made it a  better work. Good leaders are always asking,  “What can we do to improve things?” We see that  exemplified in the approach that Nehemiah took  in re-building Jerusalem’s wall (Nehemiah 4:16- 22).  

 It is not enough just to make a decision: action  must be taken. Moses heard Jethro’s advice,  made the choice to accept it, then went to work.  He chose workers, delegated authority to them,  and they got busy judging (18:21,24-26).  

 The kind of people needed for the job is just as  important as identifying the work that needs to be  done. Jethro’s suggestion was for Moses to se lect helpers who were: (1) able, (2) God-fearing,  (3) men of truth, and (4) haters of covetousness  (Exodus 18:21). In any generation, God’s people  are blessed to have people of such character!  When Moses implemented his new strategy,  those whom he appointed to work showed that  they were responsible men, as they carried out  their assigned tasks (18:26), and in the process  they were cooperative (18:26). It is wonderful to  have talent, but unless those who possess it  have a heart that is ready to work and cooperate  with other laborers, the work will not be as effective.