Friday, April 20, 2012

Exodus 18:13-27 Advice from Moses' Father-in-Law

"The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people,
and they stood around him from morning till evening.
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?'

Moses answered him,
'Because the people come to me to seek God's will.
Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me,
and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws.'

Moses' father-in-law replied,
'What you are doing is not good.
You and these people who come to you will only wear themselves out.
The work is too heavy for you;
you cannot handle it alone.
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.
Teach them the decrees and laws,
and show them the way to live
and the duties they are to perform.
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.
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.
If you do this and God so commands,
you will be able to stand the strain,
and all these people will go home satisfied.'

Moses listened to his father-in-law
and did everything he said.
He chose capable men from all Israel
and made them leaders of the people,
officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
They served as judges for the people at all times.
The difficult cases they brought to Moses,
but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way,
and Jethro returned to his own country.

Exodus 18:13-27 (NIV)

Well, I think I understand now why Moses is called "..A very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth."  (Numbers 12:3)  Here he is, the one who has confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt on numerous occasions, and who was chosen by God to lead the multitude of Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea on dry ground, and yet he is able to stand there and humbly receive the advice given to him by his father-in-law.

I did chuckle a bit, though, as I typed this section of Scripture.  For not long after Moses' father-in-law arrives and they have a nice meal together, Jethro leads off with  "What is this you are doing?"  It seemed so stereotypically 'in-law-ish'.  Now let me say right here that my own in-laws are not like that usual stereotype.  But when Jethro starts off this way, you might expect trouble to follow.  However, Moses responds in a way that is full of wisdom and humility.  As it turns out, Jethro's advice is quite wise.  He also speaks with great restraint and humility.  Let me just make some observations about their interaction:
  • Jethro is honest about a problem which he perceives.  He doesn't mince words, yet he doesn't make it a personal attack upon Moses, either.  He sees the crowds of people surrounding Moses all day and waiting for their problems to be addressed and he knows that this is not good for either party.
  • Jethro asks Moses to explain why the situation exists.  He doesn't assume he knows it all.
  • Moses explains that as the leader, naturally the problems are brought to him.  He has the responsibility to represent the people before God and to explain to them God's commands.
  • Jethro acknowledges this fact of Moses' responsibility before God, and fashions his advice in such a way that he both acknowledges Moses' concerns and offers a possible solution so that Moses can meet the needs of the people without exhausting himself.
  • Jethro also acknowledges that God is the One who will bring success to this idea if it is His will.  Jethro never acts as though his own great idea will be the final reason for success.
  • The division of the multitude into more manageable groups brings both a sense of order to the administration of justice and a way to hold individual leaders responsible for the people within their sphere of influence.  The fact that there are different types of leaders (those officials who will be in charge of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens) highlights the fact that some leaders may be better at caring for small groups, while others may be capable of ministering to a wider audience.
  • Moses does not seem to be worried that such division of labor will be a threat to himself or his position.
  • Jethro also gives very sound advice regarding the selection of men who will be fit for such responsibility:  They must be capable, God-fearing, trustworthy, and not interested in gaining treasures for themselves.
  • Moses will still need to teach the people God's laws and decrees.  In this way, people will know what is right and may avoid situations which would require judicial rulings.  Moses is free to handle the more difficult cases which may arise.  These 'larger' issues will affect the whole body of Israel, so it is good that Moses has some authority in these important cases.
Moses listens to his father-in-law's advice, and is a better leader because of his humility.  Jethro also goes on his way home in peace.  What more could one ask for after a visit from the in-laws?

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