The Wisdom of In-laws
Lord, may I never be so arrogant as to refuse good counsel when I hear it.
Read Exodus 18:1–27
Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.
2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”
7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.
9 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.
13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone… they will share it
with you… you will be able to stand the strain” (Exod. 18:18,22,23).
Again, it seems as if Moses doesn’t recognize his limitations. He eagerly
tells his father-in-law of all that the Lord has done and how he saved them from the Egyptians and the hardships along the way (8). Jethro, for his part, is delighted to hear this, praises God and makes sacrifices (9–12). It all seems so perfect until he observes Moses’ packed schedule the next day and realizes that Moses is fast approaching what we would call “breakdown” or “burnout” (13,14). He also realizes that this would not only extinguish Moses’ high octane enthusiasm that he had witnessed the night before, but it would also negatively affect the people. Therefore, he asks Moses to explain his methodology before telling him bluntly, “What you are doing is not good” (17).
How many who work full-time for the church or Christian organizations are overworked? They don’t need a Jethro to tell them it’s counterproductive, but there seems to be no other option. Jethro gets quite specific about the kind of associates Moses is to appoint to minister with him: capable, God-fearing, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain (21). Appointing deputies is not the priority, however. The end-game is to teach the people how to live and to give them guidance (today we might say “empower” them) to be able to live rightly on their own, so as to minimize dependence upon the already overworked leader. Sometimes there is more than one means of lightening the load.
Knowing that he will be described as the humblest man on earth (Num. 12:3), it may come as no surprise that “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (24) and did not become defensive at constructive criticism or refuse to share power. How would we have reacted?
If I am overworked, how can I lighten the load? If I have spare time, is there something I can do to lighten someone else’s load?
Lord, the harvest is so great that we have a tendency to work hard rather than work smart. Help us to recognize our limitations.
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