Skip to content
May 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 6, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 18

Leadership Fatigue And Frustrated Followers

Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, heard about everything God had done for Moses and his people, the Israelites. He heard especially about how the LORD had rescued them from Egypt.  . . .
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. He bowed low and kissed him. They asked about each other’s welfare and then went into Moses’ tent. Moses told his father-in-law everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and Egypt on behalf of Israel. He also told about all the hardships they had experienced along the way and how the LORD had rescued his people from all their troubles. Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians.
“Praise the LORD,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! I know now that the LORD is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians”
Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence. Exodus 18:1, 7-12

Intro: God sponsored Israel’s spiritual health with three prominent resources:

Prophecy, worship and wisdom – think: Isaiah, Psalms and Proverbs
– in this chapter we come across two of those resources
• but there’s an unusual twist
• the person who officiates worship and gives wise counsel is not Moses
◦ in fact, this person is not even an Israelite
◦ he is Moses’ Midianite father-in-law, Jethro

1-7 Jethro arrives with Zipporah and Moses’ two sons

The storyteller takes this opportunity to fill in a few details

  1. At some point Moses had sent away Zipporah back to father’s home
    • my assumption: he did this once he realized the danger and hardship they faced
  2. Moses had a second son who was not mentioned before
  3. Between last week and now, Israel had moved to Mt. Sinai
    • this would have brought Moses close to his old home

Moses greets Jethro with warmth and respect
– “welfare” is the Hebrew word shalom
• it is an optimumal state of health, prosperity and peace
– then they then retreat into a more private and homey space
• here Moses can catch Jethro up on all that happened

8-12 The theme of first half of chapter emerges

In verse 1, Jethro had received news of what had transpired
– there were two parts to the message he received:
everything God had done for Moses and his people
the LORD had rescued them from Egypt
– these are the same topics that Moses reports in verse 8 (with more details no doubt)
• and Jethro repeats them in his delighted response

Moses told his father-in-law everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and Egypt . . . and how the LORD had rescued his people from all their troubles (v. 8)
Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians (v. 9)
Notice the rescue theme again in verse 10, “Praise the LORD,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt.”

What happens next is a little surprising
– Jethro takes the initiative in presenting God a burnt offering and sacrifice
• his actions aren’t surprising, because he was the priest of Midian (v. 1)
◦ they would expect this expression of gratitude from a priest
• the surprise is that he’s not Israel
◦ yet Israel’s elders accepted his lead and joined him
– some commentators have tried to make Jethro a convert
• a descendant of Abraham who remembered Abraham’s God
◦ but that’s unlikely – the forever sign of God’s covenant with Abraham was circumcision
◦ remember Moses’ tension with Zipporah over their son’s circumcision?
◦ that would seem to rule out the possibility that God’s covenant with Abraham had been maintained by the Midianites
• Jethro’s confession also points in another direction, Yahweh is greater than all other gods
◦ he the priest of Midian’s god or gods
◦ but he had never witnessed anything like the works of Yahweh

The problem for some Christians is they cannot imagine Israel’s elders allow themselves to participate in a ritual performed by a non-Israelite
– what possible factors could have made this seem acceptable to them?

  1. Jethro acknowledged Yahweh’s supremacy
    • and he directed the act of worship to Yahweh
  2. They may have respected his status as a priest – a holy man
    • he had knowledge of the ritual and how to perform it,
    ◦ while protecting the sacredness of the blood, fire and stones of the altar
    • however, this by itself would not have been enough to satisfy them
  3. Aaron and the elders were following Moses’ lead
    • Moses had his own reasons for paying respect to Jethro
    • already, at least eight times Jethro has been referred to as Moses’ father-in-law
    ◦ culturally, that was no small matter in those days

13-18 Jethro observes Moses’ typical work day

Moses took his seat . . . these words relate to holding court and legal proceeding
– imagine the long line of people waiting to speak to Moses
• Moses listened and arbitrated through from the beginning to end of daylight
◦ this bothers Jethro, so he asks Moses about it (v. 14)
• Moses explained, “I’m the one who has direct access to God”
– remember, until now Jethro has heard all the good things God has done (v. 9)
• for the first time we read, This is not good! – echos of Eden (cf. Gen. 1:31 & 2:18)
• Jethro doesn’t have to look far into the future to see what’s coming
◦ Moses will burn out – and he’ll wear down the people too

19-26 This section is devoted to Jethro’s advice

There are matching markers at the beginning and end of this unit

It begins, listen to my adviceand may God be with you (v, 19)
(i.e., “God be with you to help you see the wisdom of it
and with you in implementing it”)
It ends, follow my advice – if God commands you (v. 23)

• 23-26, Moses listened . . . and followed Jethro suggestions
– notice that Jethro’s advice is more common sense than brilliance:

  1. Moses will continue to perform his unique service
    • a mediator between God and the people
    • teach, instruct and show them (social and spiritual norms)
    ◦ literally “way to go” (through life) and “work to do” (v. 20)
  2. Select qualified assistants
    • capable – honest – fear God – hate bribes
  3. Assign them a reasonable number of people to serve
    • the structure used for grouping the people combines:
    • clan leadership and military organization
  4. Give them responsibility and authority
    • to be always available to the people
    • to handle all of the most common and simple disputes
    • to take any issue too big for them to Moses

Jethro predicts a brighter future if they follow his counsel
– Moses’ burden will be lifted, so he can endure the pressure
• the people will get what they need (and faster)

and all these people will go home in peace (v. 23)

◦ they will return to their homes in shalom (rather than in frustration)
◦ or perhaps this means continue journey to their new home in the promised land

27 The chapter comes full circle

Passages in the Old Testament frequently have this “ring structure”
– there are actually rings within rings in this chapter
• it began with Jethro’s arrival and the wife whom Moses had sent away
• now it ends with Jethro’s departure, whom Moses also sent away (literal Hebrew)

Where does Jethro fit in the Bible’s cast of characters?

Who else is like him? or has a role like his?
– he does not not fit in the category of priest like Aaron became
(he doesn’t stand before God for the people)
• he was not a prophet like Moses
• he seems to fit closely in a class that will be better known later on
◦ the wise man, the sage, a wisdom teacher
◦ his advice reflects the kind of wisdom we find in Book of Proverbs

Jethro’s process of observation, projections, and counsel looks rather familiar
– he is almost a present day character, acting as a management consultant
• after observing Moses, he asked key questions:
◦ what’s your mission? your purpose?
◦ why devote precious resources to this task? why put people through it?
◦ is this effective? where will it get you?
– after hearing Moses’ answers, Jethro gives his assessment
• he reveals flaw of system; namely, it put too much work on one person
• so he outlined a new system that would provide better, faster service
◦ and would also be a great relief to Moses

Conclusion: Finding a practical application from this chapter is easy

It almost falls into our laps — for example:
– “Let’s organize our lives in a way that allows us to enjoy more peace and less stress”

But I have something else on my mind
– someone who assumes he knows something decided it is not biblical for churches to hire management consultants
• and especially so if the consultant is not a Christian
• it is true that the church is not a business
◦ however, churches are obligated to perform business functions
◦ and if done poorly, business can be very unforgiving (as can the IRS)
– administrative, financial, legal, and management consultants can be very helpful
• they can help churches to keep the business parts legal and to run smoothly

Please bear with me a little while longer
– my surviving uncle wrote a book in which he condemns the “Emergent Church Movement”
• he claims in his book that I have “nested” in the movement
◦ this despite the fact that I had told him I was not part of any such movement
◦ early when the online Emergent Village was formed I was asked to join, but declined
◦ I still consider the original team friends in Christ and his work
• my uncle also wrote that I was “mentored” by Peter Drucker,
◦ the world renown authority on corporate management
◦ writing about me, my uncle said,

“He claims to have received counsel from Drucker while writing the book.”

– now not one word of this is true
• nevertheless, several of the Calvary Chapel churches branded me because of his false information
◦ but even if what my uncle said were true, would it matter?
• the dogma that working with consultants is not biblical is false
◦ the person who invented uninformed proposition may know some verses of scripture
◦ but obviously does not know the whole counsel of God

A side note: I confess to being in the home of Peter Drucker. However, I did not receive counsel from him and I seriously doubt he would have remembered me there afterwards. I was there to accompany my dad. A couple of people were warning my dad that he would die one day or retire and that he should prepare a successor. Dad was beginning to think those people may be right and he even brought several pastors into Calvary Chapel of Cost Mesa to help with some of the teaching ministry. We were there so Peter Drucker could talk to my dad about a successor. Two comments that Drucker made to my dad have stayed with me. The first was, “Men like you cannot retire. You need to be thinking about the next fifteen years of your life.” (Dad was in his mid-sixties at the time.) The second was, “There is no successor to a charismatic leader.” In other words, there was no one like my dad who could take his place.

On Friday I sat in a crowded church auditorium where a speaker said, “If you love Jesus, raise your hand”
– think of how that affects people
• there is the personal challenge as we think, “I love Jesus, so I guess I have to raise my hand”
• there is also the social pressure, “But what if I don’t raise my hand? Others here will assume I don’t love Jesus”
◦ what on earth does loving Jesus have to do with someone telling you to raise your hand?
◦ it’s like the childhood game of “Simon Says”
– prompting people to raise their hands in this way is manipulative
• you don’t think so? what if he said,
“If you love Jesus, raise your right knee”? or
“If you love Jesus, pull out all the money in your wallet or purse and donate it to us”?
◦ some people have emotional disorders that make them feel like they need to control others
◦ some people have emotional disorders that make them feel like they need to be controlled

Fr. Romuald one time told me, “The reason people kill pastors who fail is because they want them on a pedestal, they want [their pastors] to give them the answers.” He said people want to hear an authoritarian voice telling them what to do, “It’s part of our brokenness.”

There are Christians who want to manage your faith and life in God
– we can manage machine operations, systems and units
• but human persons do not need to be managed
• our souls do not need managers, but leaders
– you are free to make use of whatever resources can deepen and strengthen your life in God
• you can read and listen to whomever you choose
• just be sure to filter everything

Finally (if you’re still with me) I am going to share with you my meditation from last Thursday morning

Ezra 4:3, You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the LORD
Acts 17:23, This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about 

The Jews who chased Paul out of Thessalonica and Berea were to to their tradition. No compromise with outsiders. Establish boundaries. Build walls. Do not share Yahweh with the heathen. Let them continue to worship their own gods and remain in ignorance of the true and living God who made heaven and earth, gave breath to us all, and is not far from anyone, “for in him we live and move and have our being.”
Both boundaries and bridges are necessary. Some people are more proficient at building boundaries and others are more proficient at building bridges. Both builders can go too far and be all boundary or all bridge. Either one is unhealthy. Still on the whole it seems to me boundaries that withhold God from even one human soul seems worse than a bridge that would at least try to allow anyone to cross over.
Many Christians–especially Fundamentalists and Evangelicals–think they are building bridges. But if so, they supply them with guard posts, border checks and road blocks.
All of us were illegal or unregistered aliens when we first set foot on the bridge that brought us to God through Jesus Christ.

One Comment

Leave a comment
  1. Ed Northen / May 11 2018

    Chuck, thank you for your thoughtful words and your faithfulness, to who God has called you to be. One of the things I have always appreciated about you and your teaching is, you are comfortable in allowing people to access God through whatever means God so chooses and yet provide balance and teaching which encourages those same people to walk in healthy relationships with God. My private spiritual practices have often led me to non typical approaches to intimacy and centering my life in God. The result has been a spiritual evolution of thoughts or concepts concerning God which have deepened my faith, understanding and intimacy of and with God. It has also opened me to accepting those outside of the church right where they are. To not judge but love them, extending grace, acceptance and friendship into their lives. You have always encouraged me to pursue the journey, with discernment, wisdom, openness while setting boundaries and building bridges. Though I now live in another state, I continue to be ministered to by you through these reflections. Thanks for being a mentor and friend. Blessings Ed

Leave a comment