“And when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?” (Exodus 18:14)
In the Eighteenth chapter of Exodus, Moses is reunited with his wife and two sons. Strangely, however, the key figure in this pasage is not Zipporah, Gershom, or Eliezer, but Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. Moses seems very happy to see Jethro again; it’s hard to tell if he is as enthused to to see his wife and children.
Moses proceeds to fill Jethro in on all of the details of the journey thus far. He recounts the plagues of judgment that God rained down on Egypt, Pharaoh’s demise at the Red Sea, and God’s miraculous provisions of Manna and water. Impressed by the testimony of his son-in-law, Jethro, called here “the priest of Midian” (v. 1), glorifies the Lord of Heaven and offers sacrifices in worship to Him.
The main feature of this chapter is the advice that Jethro gives to Moses, counsel that suggests Moses’ responsibilities are too great and that he should delegate some of his duties to other capable men. We have here the framework of what would become part of the government of Israel (Deut. 1:9-16). Jethro’s suggestion does seem, at first glance, to be sound advice and a wise plan to follow. But when we look a little closer, we have to wonder if implementing Jethro’s plan was really such a good idea or not.
First of all, we have an incident where Moses is following the advice of a human being rather than directly following the instructions of God. Verse 16 tells us that Moses was sitting in the judgment seat and judging the people according to the statutes and laws of God, yet the giving of those laws would not even be recorded until the following chapter! It seems that this incident is likely written, not in strict chronological order, but topically. Since Moses was about to tell how the Law was given, he decided to precede the account by mentioning how the structure of government under the Law originated.
That being said, we should consider that, not only is it peculiar that Moses is now taking advice from a person, but he is doing so even after spending all of that time alone with God atop Mt. Sinai. It would make sense that, had God wanted Moses to share his position of authority with others, He would have specifically told him so during those days and nights when the Lord so meticulously dictated the most minute details of how the nation should be governed. When we read in Deuteronomy 1:9-16 as Moses describes how leaders will be placed over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens; there is no indication given that this was ever God’s idea at all.
Moses complained several times to the Lord about the burden of being the sole leader of so many people. In Numbers 11, God concedes to disperse the anointing of leadership over seventy elders who will help Moses shoulder the responsibility. In light of this fact, we can be certain that Moses was more than willing to accept Jethro’s advice and put it into action.
“And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.” (Exodus 4:14)
The problem with what Moses did by heeding Jethro’s counsel was not that it was a bad idea, it was that it was man’s idea, not God’s. We can be sure that Moses prayed about Jethro’s plan, even Jethro admonishes Moses to do so (Ex. 18:23). Nor was it that Moses was violating the will of God, but that he wasn’t walking in the perfect will of God. The Lord never intended anyone but Moses to deliver the Children of Israel or lead them into the Promised Land. Even adding Aaron into a leadership role at the beginning would eventually cause problems that God never intended Moses to face. The Lord only permitted Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman because of Moses’ protests when the Lord first called him. God’s plan was for Moses alone to serve as deliverer.
It is hard to find fault with Moses, weary and exhausted from the journey and the never-ending doubt and murmuring of the people, for welcoming any assistance in leadership. He surely respected his father-in-law and valued his wisdom. But had God not strengthened him for the task so far? Would He not continue to do so? God is not a cruel taskmaster who expects those He calls to serve past the point of fatigue. He never calls anyone to do more than He has enabled them to do. God could have raised up any number of capable leaders to help Moses lead and judge the people at any time, but that was not what God wanted.
The Lord does all things according to His own plans and purposes. At times, He permits us to interject our own will and desires into His plans as He accommodates our own self-imposed limitations. But this is never God’s best. Regardless of how little His ways might make sense at the time, or how much better the advice of someone else might seem to be, we do well to make sure that we are keeping with God’s program, not our own or that of another.
An old proverb says: “I pray not that my burden be lightened, but that I be given the strength to bear it.” May He strengthen us to bear whatever He has called us to bear.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,