23 July 2021Exodus 18:13-26
'If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’ (v. 23)
In the earlier verses of this chapter (Exodus 18:1-12), Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, is re-introduced to the story. Jethro is not an Israelite, he is a Midianite – a people who were often Israel’s greatest enemy, yet (in verses 10-12) he is found recognising the supremacy of Israel’s God, Yahweh, and offering a sacrifice. Now in this second part of the chapter he also recognises the lack of structure in the community of pilgrims and gives some advice to his son-in-law. It is a remarkable story to be contained in the Hebrew scriptures.
Although in the Book of Numbers (12:3) Moses is described as "the most humble man on the earth" there are a few hints (not least in the verses preceding that statement (Numbers 12:1-2) that at times he preferred to act alone rather than devolve power or authority to anyone else. Jethro looks on in amazement as, from morning until evening, Moses alone enquires of God on behalf of the people, deals with all the disputes amongst them and tries, apparently through individual tuition, to impart God’s ways to them.
Jethro wisely advises this is not good for Moses, and, by implication, not good for the people either. He proposes a two-pronged approach in which Moses retains his primary role as the intermediary between God and the people, instructing them in the "way they are to go" while sharing with suitable others the settling of disputes. The Hebrew word derek, translated here as ‘way’ in verse 20, has the meaning of a path or road. This metaphor for living as a follower of God is frequently found in both the Old and New Testaments, perhaps culminating in the words of Jesus, "I am the way" (John 14:6).
Jethro predicts that such a system of organisation will bring well-being (‘peace’) to the people and will enable Moses to continue in leadership without burning out. Moses exercises his humility by listening and putting the suggestions into practice.
- How easy or difficult do you find it to accept advice – especially if it comes from a different cultural perspective?
- Burnout is a common problem in church leaders (and others) today; how might it be avoided?
- How helpful do you find the metaphor of following a ‘way’ as a description of Christian living?
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:10-11,14)