Moses’ father in-law had come to visit him in the wilderness. He didn’t just come to drop off the wife and kids and go back home. Much fruit came from Jethro’s presence in Moses’ camp.
Firstly, Jethro asked Moses how he was. This may seem trite, but to a leader who is ever placed in the position of asking others how they fare, being asked of his welfare was likely refreshing and encouraging.
Secondly, Jethro listened to Moses. Here is another seemingly small detail that may mean more to this man than meets the eye. When you are a listener of all, sometimes listening is the last thing anyone thinks to do for you.
Thirdly, Jethro rejoices and praises God with Moses for what he has done. It is always helpful to receive encouragement in the good things God has done through you. Far too little encouragement is found among God’s people for the ways in which he uses each of us individually.
After this time of encouragement and becoming reacquainted, Moses goes back to business as usual. Jethro watches in curious concern as he sees Moses’ daily schedule. He says this:
” 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?”… 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.” Exodus 18:14, 17-18
Jethro sees how Moses is conducting himself and he asks a question. “Why do you sit alone?” He makes an observation. “What you are doing is not good.”
How faithful are the words of one who loves us when they say plainly what needs to be said; what no one else wants to say. More faithful still is our willingness to hear and listen to those words of concern and love.
Jethro isn’t just there to criticize as some may think at first glance. Moses did not take Jethro’s forthrightness and plain words of truth as harmful criticism because he knew Jethro loved him. Moses trusted Jethro. How much good advice do men forfeit out of mere fear, insecurity, and mistrust of the faithful friends who share it! We must never mistake genuine concern for negative criticism lest we end up sitting alone and doing that which is not good. Such is the lot of many leaders of old. Paranoia has a prominent place of position among those who clutch to keep control with both hands.
No. Jethro’s intent was never to offer his opinion in order to discourage or criticize. Jethro had advice! Good, wise, helpful advice for this man whom he loved, respected, and rejoiced over! Jethro loved Moses so much that he was adamantly unwilling to turn a blind eye to things he knew would eventually destroy Moses – things that would lead to burn out, wearying of well-doing, and bury him in burden-bearing.
Jethro actually says, “Obey my voice…” Obey my voice?! Wasn’t Moses supposed to be obeying God’s voice? Moses, if he had been insecure, mistrusting, or prideful of the counsel of this man, may have been inclined to malign Jethro and tell him he was called to obey God alone. But, could it be possible that God really does use men to instruct men—even when and if those men are not as gifted in the prophetic as those to whom they offer counsel? Could it be possible that he uses more practical men to counsel his prophets and vice versa? Yes and amen!!!
Jethro’s advice was thus:
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. 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.” ~Exodus 18:21-23
Hey, Moses. Son, what you are doing is not good. You cannot do it alone. You need help. Ask men to help you.
If Moses had been prideful, insecure, or less in tune with God, he would have turned on Jethro in a nanosecond upon hearing these words. These are not, after all, easy words to hear when you’re the authority in all the land; when you are the God-ordained, called, confirmed and chosen leader who comes complete with past prophetic power plays as proof. Can’t you just hear his thoughts?
And just who is Jethro anyway? Some shepherd from nowhereland? Who cares what he says anyway, right? I’m the prophet. He’s some worker ant with a pretty daughter. He probably doesn’t even know God. What does he even know?
No. Moses does not think evil of the man who loves him when he is told the truth as many of us may tend to do in our fleshly weaknesses. Instead, Moses listens. Moses proves his humility by having the wisdom to listen to one who is bold enough to say hard words in efforts to help.
Jethro not only gives advice on what to do, but how to do it. What kind of men is Moses to choose to help? His buddies? No. Here, he is given criteria from a very practical man, again, ultimately for his own benefit.
The men he chooses must fear God. These men cannot fear men. They must be confident, courageous, and certainly not cowardly. They are going to have to judge and confront many situations and disputes. They cannot be cowards who duck and run at the first sign of trouble.
The men he chooses must be trustworthy. Trust is not something a man magically gains simply by being amicable, educated, or even profoundly gifted. Trust is something that must be proven, time and again, over a considerable period of time.
The men he chooses must hate a bribe. These men must absolutely abhor partiality, favoritism, and pats on their own back. These kind of men cannot be bought by accolades or personal advancement of any kind. If they can be, they will be and the entire justice system will be completely compromised.
Matthew Henry describes them this way, “It was requisite that they should be men of the very best character. For judgement and resolution – able men, men of good sense, that understood business, and bold men, that would not be daunted by frowns of clamors. Clear heads and stout hearts make good judges.“
Finally, Jethro concludes with the reason this must happen and a promise of sorts. His reason: “So it will be easier for you.” The promise: “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.”
If you do this, the fruit will be your ability to continue and peace among the people. Inferred from that statement is, if you do not do this, you will not be able to continue and there will be division among the people.
Practical men who love prophetic men often advise them from a place of wisdom. Prophetic men who love practical men often advise them from a place of wisdom. Let us not despise the counsel of another based on either paranoia or a pit of hell presupposition that arrogantly assumes their gifting is inferior to our own.