These last few years I’ve been thinking about “leadership” much more often than I thought it would. So it’s no surprise that a recent reread of a moment in the life of Moses stuck out to me in a way I hadn’t thought much about before.
In Exodus 18, Moses has led the people out of Egypt to Mount Sinai. Before going to the mountaintop to receive the law, Moses is met by Jethro, his father-in-law. Jethro brings Moses’ wife and children with him.
7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Then 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 in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. 9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
Then Jethro praises the God Moses has obeyed and even offers a burnt offering and sacrifice.
The next day, Moses gets back to work acting as a judge for the people. In the midst of it, Jethro gives some advice. Advice, of course, can be a tricky thing, both in the giving and receiving. Jethro sees what leading the people has done to Moses and has advice on how to balance things out:
13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till 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 dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.
Here’s what is interesting to me at this particular moment: when Jethro makes this suggestion, he isn’t doing it so Moses can pursue his bliss or go out on retreat or to work on some side project. Jethro sets things up so Moses can do the more vital, only-he-can-do work that God intends: mediate with God, warn the people, and show the people the way they should go. No side hustle here. No walk in the park, either. Moses is to be directly tied to the most basic things about God’s relationship with His people. (One gets the sense that this could even by a kind of “prototype” of the New Testament church and the introduction of deacons as servants with the people.)
And then finally this:
23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
Divine direction, endurance, and people at peace. These are real evidences of God’s presence and work among His people. A good reminder of what can be possible when structure and calling and community work well together, both for the leader and for those being led.