Jethro advises Moses to Share Responsibilities

Today our lesson is about Jethro's Advice to Moses from Exodus Chapter 18.


We look in on the Israelites. They left Egypt and traveled for about two months on their way to Mt. Sinai. Only a few days earlier, Moses provided water to the Israelites by striking the rock as instructed by God. After solving the need for water, they moved on to Rephidim. At Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Moses stood on the hillside with raised hands while
Joshua led the Israelite army against the Amalekites.

Along with supplying the water and food needs of the people, Moses had the responsibility of sitting as a Judge to resolve hundreds and hundreds of disputes among the people.

Moses was overburdened with responsibilities as the leader of nearly 3 million people.

Then, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit. He brings Moses’ wife, Zipporah, and their two sons, who have been in Midian during the exit from Egypt. While hanging out for a few
days with the Israelites, Jethro observes the tremendous duties and responsibilities Moses has taken on.

Moses is responsible for teaching the people the laws and statutes of God. Also, Moses is the sole judge for settling matters for the 3 million people.

An understatement would be that Moses had a busy schedule.

The Midianites

Midianites: Midian was the son of Abraham and had settled in “the land of the east.” Midian was near the Gulf of Aqaba, near Mt. Sinai.

Forty years earlier, when Moses fled the wrath of Pharaoh, he traveled to Midian (Exodus 2:15). There Moses met and married Zipporah and served his father-in-law, Jethro, as a shepherd
during the forty years. Jethro was a sheep herder and the priest for the Midianites.

We recall that Moses’ life can be divided into 3 phases:

  • First, he grew up and lived in the house of the Pharoah for 40 years. 
  • Then he had a conflict with the Egyptian commander and escaped to Midian, where he lived for 40 years. 
  • Now he has started the third 40 years of leading the Israelite people.

During the forty years that Moses lived in Midian, he married Jethro’s daughter and worked for Jethro as a shepherd. After the sheep were settled in the evening, Moses and Jethro would have long conversations about the family, Moses growing up in Pharoah’s palace, and God.

They would have discussed the history of Midian, the son of Abraham, and would have retraced the life and times of the Midianites.

Jethro was the “priest of the Midianites” who believed in the one True God. Moses was rescued from the river by Pharoah’s daughter and raised by his mother, an Israelite. They would have
become close and discussed every topic imaginable.

Jethro would be concerned about his son-in-law and want to check on him. He also wanted to escort Zipporah and the grandchildren to Moses.

But it is long before Jethro sees something is terribly wrong.

Moses is overburdened with the duties and responsibilities he has taken on.

Exodus 18:1 Moses meets with Jethro, his father-in-law

1 “And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people—that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.”

Jethro, who was the priest of Midian, was Moses’ father-in-law. Jethro heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel.

The greatness of God’s work—the exit from Egypt—was heard around the world.

The mighty work of God through Moses for the people of Israel became known throughout the surrounding countries.

Jethro was the priest of Midian. He was a descendant of Midian, one of Abraham’s children, through a wife named Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2). Because of this connection with Abraham, we
have good reason to believe he was a true priest and worshipped the true God.

Moses had a special relationship with Jethro. Moses worked for Jethro, married Jethro’s daughter, and shared the joy of the grandkids. They talked and shared many things for 40 years.
Moses only left Midian because God had a special mission for him; to lead the Israelites out of Egypt

Verses 7-11: Jethro Glorifies God for all that God has done

7 “So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent. 8 And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them.

9 Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods.”

These verses show us where Jethro stood in his beliefs. He acknowledged that the LORD is greater than all the gods. It is believed that the Midianite people worshiped many gods. Jethro
was a priest of Midian (Exodus 2:16, 3:1, and 18:1).

Hearing what the one True God had done for Israel just boosted Jethro’s belief in God. He acknowledged it before men who caused Jethro to believe even more deeply.

Verses 13-16: Jethro’s advice to Moses

13 And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. 14 So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did
for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”

15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 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.”

Moses had not only taken on the leadership of the 3-million people but served as a judge to settle disputes among them. If disputes arise in small groups, think about the massive number
of conflicts in such a large group. Disputes happened 4000 years ago and continue to happen today.

There would naturally be many disputes and questions of interpretation to settle. But, apparently, all the people came to Moses with every large and small dispute. And Moses would
hear each case that occupied Moses from morning until evening.

Jethro noted this and asked Moses about it.

Remember, Moses was not only the leader and the judge but also the teacher of God’s Word. Little by little, the responsibilities grew until Moses had more than he could do.

Verses 17-18: Jethro advises Moses to delegate and share the responsibilities

17 “So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 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.”

Moses wanted to serve God and the people of Israel.

But too much of a good thing can wear a person out and turn into something that is not as good as it should be.

It wasn’t that Moses was unfit to hear their disputes; it wasn’t that he didn’t care about their disputes; it wasn’t that the job was beneath him, and it wasn’t that the people didn’t want
Moses to hear their arguments.

The problem was simply that the job was too big for Moses.

Also, what about the people? They would have to take a number and wait days, weeks, or even months to get an appearance before Moses. As a result, his energies were misspent, and justice
was delayed for many in Israel.

Verses 19-20: Jethro Advises Moses to Pray and Teach

19 “Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the
statutes and the laws and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.”

The first essential responsibility for Moses was to pray for the people of Israel. But he now had little time to pray. So it was important for Moses to stay close to God and seek God’s direction
for the people. Prayer was an essential aspect of Moses’ leadership of the people. The wisdom of God came through prayer.

For Moses to effectively lead and delegate, he had to teach the Word of God to those who would hear the disputes and those who might dispute.

Verses 21-22: Jethro Advises Moses to Delegate the Responsibility of Resolving Disputes

21 “Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of
hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they
themselves shall judge. So, it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.”

Jethro saw the problem, and he also saw the solution. Jethro's advice to Moses was simple and obvious. But why did Moses not know the solution if it was an obvious solution?

Moses was so involved in handling each situation that he had no
time to look at the overall picture.

This is why the incredible thing Moses was doing turned into a not-so-good of a thing. He could not see the forest for the trees. So, the next logical step was to delegate responsibilities.

For the delegation of duties to be successful, Moses must seek God’s guidance in selecting the right people.

The tasks must be put into the hands of able, godly men and women.

Paul gave the same counsel to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2: And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach other

Verse 23: Jethro Tells Moses the Good Result from his Advice

23 “If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will also go to their place in peace.”

Jethro was not part of the Israelite nation, and he made suggestions to Moses. However, he did not try to dictate what Moses should do. Instead, Jethro was providing loving advice to his son-in-law and friend.

Therefore, Jethro was careful to tell Moses that he had to be sure that God approved of this approach and not Moses.

Moses would enjoy the rewards of effective delegation.

He would enjoy life more and be able to do his job better than ever, avoiding the exhaustion of settling every dispute.

The second reward was that the people would be more effectively served.

The old saying is true, justice delayed is justice denied. This method had the advantage of settling problems quickly because people didn’t need to wait in line for Moses.

Verses 24-27: Moses Follows Jethro’s Suggestions, and Jethro Returns to Midian

24 “So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands,
rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.

27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own land.”

Jethro's advice to Moses was a good solution for Moses. He could now focus on his leadership role and not be overwhelmed and overstressed by the enormous number of smaller tasks.

The delegation was good for the leaders. Capable men were given real responsibility and had the opportunity to serve God’s people in meaningful ways and further God’s work.

The delegation was good for the congregation. Moses would have more time to pray and to teach. When they did need Moses involved in settling a dispute, the people would receive
quicker attention and better attention.

God sent Jethro with a special message for Moses.

At the rate Moses worked, he may have had a few years of ministry left.

But, because of God’s intervention through Jethro's advice to Moses, he went on to lead the Israelites for another 40 years.