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” involves 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 always 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 advice. 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 responsibilities 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 rebuilding 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 select 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.
— Roger D. Campbell