Jethro and the Leadership of Moses - Exodus 18:13-27
This section is more extended then the previous ones, and as I noted before, there is some major disagreement as to what conclusions should be drawn from Moses accepting the advice of his father-in-law. The two positions taken are:
- God was using Jethro to give Moses some good advice, teaching him that God can work through a number of ways. Note: Israel served as a negative witness sometimes, for in their disobedience, God still displayed who He was as He judged them for their disobedience. This also told other nations about who He was.
- This was worldly advice, not from God. While it seemed appropriate, it actually led to problems at a later date.
Now think about these two positions and draw your own conclusions, as we go through the passage. Afterwards I will try to show why these views are held and why I lean towards one.
First, we get a glimpse of the nation’s organizational structure as it marched towards Canaan. Moses, as God’s spokesman, was the one to whom the people brought their disputes. This would have been an overwhelming task, as he was sitting, surrounded by clamoring crowds for the entire day, morning to night. Once again, keep in mind we are dealing with one who could definitely be called a senior citizen. and this would have been exhausting.
Jethro saw the arrangement and asked a logical question. What did Moses think he was doing for the people? Not only was he exhausting himself, but because he was doing this all on his own, he was forcing the people to stand around all day. waiting for an opportunity to get justice. What we have here is an inefficient operation. While there was a need for the provision of judicial oversight, Jethro questioned the irrational approach. Moses pointed out that the people come to him because he was God’s representative. Moses was instructing the people in God’s statutes and laws.
This brings up an interesting point and that is, I thought the law is yet to be given. You can see how some may draw the conclusion that this incident occurred at a later date and was just stuck in here. But I don’t know why we can’t assume God had made his standards known in some way. There seems to be some hint of this in earlier Scripture, such as guidelines for sacrifices given to Cain and Able.
“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”” (Genesis 4:3–7 ESV).
It is understandable the people would come to Moses, taking into consideration what he had already accomplished. Jethro’s point was, Moses couldn’t handle all this work on his own. This is not an unreasonable conclusion, based on the reasons we have already considered.
Now comes the disputed part. Jethro had advice on how to run things more efficiently. He was sure the recommended changes would benefit both Moses specifically and the people in general. Moses’ job was to represent the people before God. He cold bring the problems to God. He can learn the Lord’s laws and statutes and bring them to the people. But he needed to select godly men whom he would instruct in God’s standards. These men would then function as representatives of God’s judgments to the people.
This was the establishment of a court system. Decisions that were easily resolved were to be handled by this group. Issues that were more complex would come to Moses, and he would take them to the Lord. Notice that in verse 23. Jethro told Moses that if he did this, assuming it was acceptable to God, his remaining administrative tasks would be less overwhelming.
And so Moses followed Jethro’s recommendation. He appointed judges and established the court system. I call it this because it is easier to understand, and that is how it was practiced. The standard items were handled in the “lower courts,” and the more complex issues still came to Moses. Jethro having given his recommendations and having them accepted, he left to return to Midian.
Now, let’s take a look at the two major interpretative views of the acceptance of Jethro’s advice. The first position is represented by Dr. McGee. He believed that Moses should not have taken the advice. God had been speaking directly to Moses, and if He wanted such a system, He would have told him. There is no question that the advice of Jethro was sincere, but it was worldly. Jethro was essentially questioning God’s love and support for Moses, because he believes that God hasn’t done the best for him. Finally, this “court system” led to the Sanhedrin, the body who plotted Christ’s death. Obviously, then, this is an example of a failure of Moses. 3
The second position is that Jethro came providentially from God. The advice was appropriate. God blessed Moses by giving him the suggestion indirectly. Because God spoke to Moses directly didn’t preclude His acting in other ways.
I have to agree with the view this is an example of God’s providential actions. There is nothing in the passage that would lead one to the conclusion God was displeased. In fact, Jethro suggested Moses clear the idea with God before he put it into practice. The argument that the Sanhedrin came out of this, therefore it was a bad idea, is like saying God was wrong giving the law - because there were those who abused it during Jesus day. This just doesn’t make sense without some other Scripture showing Moses was out of God’s will by taking this action. Finally, when Moses did foul up, God made it clear to Moses, and Moses made it clear to us. If this were not appropriate, I think Moses would have noted it. “I’m sorry, Dr. McGee, but here’s a place you and I will have to agree to disagree.”
Study to be continued.
You will find more info about Pastor Geoff Kragen at GKragen.com, and you may find more of his Bible studies at http://cfdevotionals.org/links/authgeof.htm.
- McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Volume 1, “Genesis - Deuteronomy,” Thomas Nel- son Inc., Nashville, TN 1981, p. 260-261.
You will find more info about Pastor Geoff Kragen at GKragen.com, and you may find more of his Bible Studies at http://cfdevotionals.org/links/authgeof.htm
If you have a prayer request for Christian Fellowship's Prayer Ministry, or if you would like to receive prayer requests in email, feel free to write firstname.lastname@example.org (Jan), or email@example.com (Debbie)
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