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Read Exodus 18

Jethro Visits Moses

1 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.

After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

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. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”

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. 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.

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.

Go Deeper

We love to be wanted and needed by others. Whether you’re a parent whose kids need help tying their shoes, the friend to whom everyone turns for wisdom, or the boss who knows all the answers, it’s good to be in high demand. But sometimes this “need to be needed” becomes a source of pride. We find too much significance from being needed by others.

The people of Israel needed Moses. The lines to get time with him to pick his brain were very long—God’s people stood around Moses from morning till evening (Exodus 18:13-14), waiting for his help and counsel. He alone sat as the judge for the people. The text doesn’t tell us how Moses felt, but he thought he had to be the one, the only one, who could help the people know God’s decrees and instructions. He is, after all, Moses! He’s the one who led them out of captivity and was the leader of God’s people. The Lord spoke to him through a burning bush, he stood up to the evil Pharaoh, and he led the people through the Red Sea. 

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, called him out when he said, “What you are doing is not good” (v. 17). After singing the praises of the Lord and all the work He had done (see verses 8-11), Moses now thinks he needs to do it all. We often feel the same way. We want to be needed and think we need to do it all. “My way is the best way”–and in the process, we wear ourselves out and leave people dissatisfied.

We can be grateful for the example of Moses and the way he applied Jethro’s wisdom. Once Moses selected capable men to help lead, he was no longer weary, and the people went home satisfied. We see something similar in Acts 6:1-7. When the workload of the twelve Apostles was distributed to others, the Word of God spread and disciples were made. The Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ was shared in making disciples and strengthening the saints!

Getting practical for your life today: think through the areas of life where you “need to be needed.” Too often, we find significance in what we do and being needed by others. In the process, we wear ourselves out. Think through how you can better follow the example of Moses in building teams and including others in the work that needs to be done.

  1. How does Exodus describe the men who Moses selected to share his workload?

  2. Do you have men and women in your life who aren’t afraid to tell you that “what you’re doing isn’t good”? How can you better position yourself to hear the feedback and input of others?

  3. Why do you think we like to be needed? Do you think there might be some sin in your need to be needed?

Did You Know?

Jethro’s plan through Moses paves the way for the rule of God’s law. Israel needed a system in place to help resolve legal disputes. Very soon, we’ll see Israel become a nation ruled by God’s law, and this system implemented by Moses sets God’s people up for their legal system.

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2 thoughts on “Exodus 18”

  1. I’m observing a healthy model of Exodus 18 in HCBC, and how grateful I am for this as our body has navigated a pandemic year. Through the 150 Life Groups, or little churches, we’ve kept rolling through this difficult time. All gifted leaders have limits, even Moses, and as our body has grown exponentially we have continued to call out and equip leaders, whether from the pulpit or writing for the BRP. If you haven’t read “Welcoming the Future Church” by J.P., especially section 3, I would highly recommend it. I love how relevant the Word of God remains right on down to 2020!

  2. 1 – · Men of ability: men able to bear the responsibility and people.
    · Men of godliness: men who fear God.
    · Men of God’s Word: men who only speak truth in the Lord’s name.
    · Men of honor: men who hate dishonest gain.

    2 – I’m very bad at taking advice or feedback. My mother would try when I was younger to guide me, but I would just try harder to succeed in the way I was doing things. This makes most people around me not even try any more but wait until I ask or get stuck. That’s why I give such praise to Moses for accepting and acknowledging that it could be improved. For I would have a negative attitude if someone would say and start with ‘the thing that you do is not good.’

    3 – I love helping and making other people happy. and a therapist once said that it is not good or healthy, and that I shouldn’t do everything for others, and focus more on myself. And my response was ‘ooow but I do!.?. I love helping, partly because it makes me feel better and partly because it makes others feel better. Like a two in one thing but at the core of it, it is just a very selfish thing.’ And I think there is such a truth to that some good things like helping are rounded in sin like selfishness, self-empowerment, or even self-importance or self-idolatry. Which goes all against God. But I do not think this is the case with Moses here.

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