What does leadership look like to you? Do you want someone who makes unilateral decisions for the whole group? I have never wanted to be that guy. Not in my family and not in my ministry. I kind of like it when I can defer to someone else; when I can say, “you need to talk to this person.” “Go ask your mother” can be an effective leadership move. Now, it could also be simple deflection of responsibility, but that is not our topic today. There are areas in our family in which my wife is a much more effective leader than I am. There are questions that she has the answer to and I do not. And if I ignore that, isn’t that poor leadership? Delegation of responsibility is not only good leadership, it may save your life.
In Exodus 18:13-27 we are witness to a problem that it took an outsider to grasp. And isn’t that often the way it is? Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law watches as Moses spends the whole day, from sun up to sun down helping the people with their problems. Moses sits down, which demonstrated that he was ready to judge and the people stood waiting for their moment before the judge. We do not know how often this took place. We don’t know if this judging was done regularly, say once a week, or if it took place as it was needed. Either way, Jethro sees a problem. So, he asked Moses, “What in the world is this thing you’re doing, sitting and judging the standing people all stinking day?” The Hebrew word dabar is used throughout this passage. It is translated “thing,” “dispute,” and “matter.” Its basic meaning is “word.” Maybe what Jethro is asking is what in the world are you communicating here? And communication is important in leadership. Moses responds with, “the people are seeking God to help with their “matter.” Communication has broken down and a dispute has resulted and they want God to decide whose “matter” is right. Who else can judge these things? Who else can explain what God prescribes here? Who else can communicate God’s instructions or Torah here? I mean, after all, Moses was chosen by God to be the leader. And isn’t there a problem when we think we are the only ones who can interpret God’s instructions?
Jethro is not impressed. He tells Moses that he is killing himself and the people. The word “wearing out” can mean “drop down,” or “fade.” Taking this on himself is too heavy. It is too heavy for any one man. Jethro’s counsel is that Moses continue to stand for the people before the face of God; that he continue to bring the words to God and then teach them God’s decrees and instructions. You know, the path he wants them to walk and the work he wants them to do. God’s instructions always involve action. They are journey instructions after all. Then he tells him to delegate; to find some able men; faithful men; who hate gain by violence or deceit. Now, notice that Moses is the one who is told to “see” these men. So, initially, this is going to take more work, because Moses has to “see” these men out of all the people. These able and faithful men are to rule over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Many have pointed out that this number grouping is applied to the military. Now these faithful men are to handle the small “words” or disputes. The heavy or difficult words are to be taken to Moses.
Jethro then mentions that God commanded this arrangement. Some have called chapter 18 of Exodus, “The Jethro” chapter. This is the meeting between the wandering children of Abraham. Moses is the leader of the Israelites who are on the verge of receiving the “Ten Words” from God; the people whom God had rescued from the hand of Egypt. Jethro is the priest of Midian. Midian and Israel are both descended from Abraham. Jethro is intended to be seen as a significant figure here; a man being used by God to help keep Moses from killing himself with responsibility. Sometimes God uses “outsiders” to help us see what we miss. If we are willing to listen that is. Moses listened and put Jethro’s instructions into action. And he and the people had shalom as a result.
God never calls us to take on all the responsibility; to be the one who must do it all; the one who has all the answers. That approach to leadership will kill the leader and the people. Your family is a team. The goal is to get the team behind the family; to get everyone involved in doing what is best for the family. Your worship community is chock full of faithful and able men and women. I have been in churches that were subjected to one person who did and communicated everything for the church. It is a vision of slow death; of life being crushed out by the weight of it all. I would rather butt heads with people who are actively trying to figure out God’s will than do it all for a church on life-support. Which do you want? Shalom. Walter