Exodus 18 finds Moses and the Israelites in a burgeoning crisis–that of addressing the increasing needs of civil management… In His grace, God would deliver counsel through the agency of a father-in-law–Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. Read Exodus 18:13-27.
Indeed, God had delivered His people from under the hand of the Pharoah, but that action came with the need of self-governing a mostly unruly lot of Hebrews… in the middle of the desert. The picture given in verses 13-27 of the chapter is that Moses felt tasked, took it upon himself to judge, to adjudicate all the civic and spiritual matters of the nation in light of divine statues. Quite a task for one individual to perform in this capacity all day long – “from morning until evening” (13). The actions of Moses are easily understood by Jethro as one bordering on extreme… “Why do you sit alone?” (14). The response provided is seen as deficient by everyone except Moses. Basically, his circular argument is that he judges because they–the people–continue to come to him… because they need help (15). And Moses is under the delusion that he needs to be the sole adjudicating shepherd over all the burdens of the nation (16). Jethro, a seasoned shepherd in his own right, effectively communicates three ideas in his marvelous economy of words. 1) It is not good. 2) Moses and the people will burn out. And, 3) This task is not able to be performed by Moses. And so, the admonishment, “You cannot do it alone” (17-18).
So far as Scripture reveals, God had never commanded Moses to serve the people to the point of exhaustion. In verses 19-20, Jethro lays out the art of a shepherd–a shepherd of many which is to communicate the principles of the divine will, word, and statutes, etc. And so, he exhorts Moses in the pastoral survival technique of the delegation of administration and authority (21-23). In effect it is a trickle-down PERT chart of organizational administration. These proposed lieutenants will judge the people in the everyday “minors” of life. The “majors,” the ones requiring greater Solomonic wisdom will be brought to Moses. These partners will bear the great weight of leadership alongside of Moses, and in so doing, allow Moses to endure, to stand, to not collapse from exhaustion (c.f. Acts 7).
Hopefully, those in pastoral ministry (and indeed all positions of ministry), are squirming just a little bit right now under the prodding of the Holy Spirit, at least those who have found themselves in a similar situation as Moses. Likely, we all need to reminded of this from time to time, that we were never meant to bear the entirety of leadership on our own (c.f. 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 in regards to the functioning of a healthy Body) understanding that the benefits of such an imposed discipline are a ministry which is able to thrive, and able to secure, and assure the divinely given “shelf-life” of any given leader.
Moses heeds the counsel of his father-in-law and is able to attend to the greater demands of the Nation (24-27)–untimely burnout is averted.
What a beautiful “cameo” appearance Jethro makes for the benefit of the Nation. He departs having imparted great wisdom to Moses which would, as he had said, bring peace to the people.
Burning the candle at both ends provides a beautiful glorious light, but for only half of the time. How many ministers have been side-lined with burnout well before their “expiration date”? I would suggest that it is good to know our limits, to steward our time and resources well. In reality, none of us is irreplaceable, but again we do well to recognize that if we overdo it…. We will be replaced, sooner than we “should’ve outta.”
I am not sure how deeply rooted in Scripture it may be, but, as my friend used to say, when it comes to being an effective leader, it is wise to “Decide, Delegate, and Disappear!”
It may be a little bit of an overstatement, and it may not be something which is communicated in an Ivy League MBA, but there’s some wisdom there–Jus’ Sayin’!