The Bible contains some pretty good advice for leaders. Moses was wearing himself out trying to do all the work, and his father-in-law Jethro gave him some wise counsel. “Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.
Some Old School Leadership Advice
Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.
Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:17-22 NASB)
Moses’ father-in-law is introduced in Exodus 2:16-18 as Reuel, which means “friend of God”. Such a title makes sense since he was a Midianite priest. He was also called Jethro, which was probably a title of respect, meaning “excellency.” Reuel was a devout man who celebrated Moses’ return from Egypt with burnt offerings,. Because of what he saw, he said in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”
It must have been a bit of a surprise to him that Moses left as one of his shepherds and came back as the ruler of thousands and thousands of Israelites… And as he observed his son-in-law try to manage things, Jethro could see that Moses needed some help. As the senior member of the family, he greeted Moses with enthusiasm and then offered him this wise counsel in verses 17-22.
The Bible is full of good, practical advice about leadership, and it offers wise counsel about good management technique. (For example, Paul gave some leadership advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2). In this case, Moses was doing what many bosses assume: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. As a result, Moses was wearing himself out being the sole judge for all of the Israelites. Conducting daily hearings to help settle disputes among all of the people was more than one man could do.
A Short But Good List
Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled him to:
1) educate the people about God’s statutes and laws;
2) select godly leaders who loved the truth, and
3) lighten his workload by sharing the burden of leadership.
If you have a leadership position, if God has given you a task, then think like Jethro and act like Moses. Surround yourself with honest, godly people who will use their gifts to share the burden and lighten the load. Just make sure you look for the right qualifications. If there is any doubt about those qualifications, Jethro even spells them out for Moses (and for us).
Jethro said, “…select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.” That’s actually a pretty strong list, and if you applied those qualifications to a business, or a church, or to, say, Congress, how many leaders would ACTUALLY be left to lead? I think Moses’ first problem today would be in finding enough able men who fear God, love truth, and hate dishonest gain.
Standards Are Important
His second problem in a world governed by relativism would be how to measure those leaders against a standard. He would have to have a means to evaluate men’s behavior and make judgments that did not tolerate arrogance, dishonesty or greed. He needed accuracy about the candidates’ character, and accountability to judge their behavior. In a life-and-death world where leaders’ decisions can result in human loss, Moses had to ask himself if the men he was considering were qualified to lead.
But asking if others have those qualifications as leaders is really the SECOND question. The first question is, would YOU qualify? If you lead anyone, anywhere—if you are a mom, a dad, a boss, a teacher, a friend, whatever—those are the qualities you should pray for! And we should hope we see them not just in others but also when we look in the mirror.
Jethro watched the way that Moses managed
And felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged.
He said, My son, Don’t try to do it all,
You’ll soon discover you will hit the wall,
And jeopardize your mission and your health:
Instead of doing all the work yourself,
Select some honest, godly men to lead
And they will give you all the help you need.”
Moses followed Jethro’s plan to lead,
And found a better platform to succeed.
If working hard’s not getting us what we need,
Perhaps that’s something all of us should heed.
Choose on godliness, if you can see it;
And best, for godly leadership, just be it.
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