Monday, April 07, 2014

Jethro Tells Moses That What He’s Doing Is Not Good For Him -- Exodus 18:13-19a

And it came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening.  Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people?  Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?”  And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws.”  And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good.  You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.  Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you.”
After being reunited with his son-in-law Moses, hearing of what God had done, sacrificing to the Lord, having a feast together with the elders of Israel, and we assume, getting a good night’s rest, Jethro went to observe Moses at what the leader of the Israelites had become accustomed to doing each day – sitting to judge all the cases of dispute that came before him from morning to evening.
Before we focus on what Moses was doing, it behooves us to notice how Jethro went about handling what he observed.  And in fact the very first thing he did was to simply observe, likely from morning to evening, what was going on.  Without saying anything.  Next, Jethro asked questions in order to get a better understanding of the situation.  Was there something that simple observation was not revealing to him?  Only after he saw what Moses was doing for an extended time and got answers to all his questions as to what and why (check out the actual questions in the text) from Moses’ perspective, did he consider sharing his opinions.
When Jethro did finally give his opinion with respect to what his son-in-law was doing, he gave it boldly and at the same time, with love and care for his son-in-law.  The statement “The thing you are doing is not good” is indeed bold.  Here is a father-in-law who had not been part of all that had led up to this situation now telling his son-in-law that what the latter was doing was not good.  That takes guts.  But he also, in giving his opinion, did not go after the character of Moses himself.  He did not say he was stupid, uncreative, egotistical, naïve, what have you.  He dealt with what he saw rather than attacking the person involved.  And then he went one step further and explained to Moses that the main reason it was ‘not good’ was that it would wear Moses out.  That was Jethro’s main concern.  He cared about Moses and what this action and behavior was doing to him.
These are the main steps to dealing with any situation where you either need to bring about change (as Jethro felt he needed to here) or you are asked for your advice (as I often am being a consultant) – you first observe extensively, then ask questions for clarification, and only after you indicate your concern for the those involved can you offer solutions.  My wife and I have the privilege of conducting marriage mentoring sessions with couples and we get a lot of chances to observe how people are quick to give solutions to their mates without really understanding where their spouse is coming from or without presenting options enveloped in one’s love for the other person.  Jethro was doing this right.
And we note that Jethro also appealed to Moses’ love for his people.  Jethro pointed out that what Moses was doing – adjudicating cases alone one at a time – would also wear out the people who had to wait in long lineups day after day to have their cases heard.  It reminds me of the long court delays here in North America with some cases taking years to go before a judge.  The frustration on the parties is incredible as it must have been then.  Perhaps this too had added to the grumbling of the people in the wilderness.
Then Jethro returns to his care and love for Moses and points out that the task was so grand that Moses needed to realize he could not do it alone.  He would ‘burn out’.  Have you ever tried lifting something that was too big for you to lift?  Someone comes along and says, “Wait, you need help.”  You hate to admit it; you want to do it yourself; but you know the other person is right.  It takes both humility and brains to face the facts and agree you need help.  Some people can do that easily; some cannot.  We see both types in management.  There are those that can delegate and those that cannot.  We see both types in our children and grandchildren.  Some refuse help and some welcome it.  But there comes a time in life when we need to realize no man is an island and the help of others is a positive thing to welcome.
If you are in church or mission leadership as a layperson, you have a responsibility before God and man to give counsel to those who are managing your organization in order to prevent their ‘burnout’.  Too many pastors and Christian leaders have fallen victim to this and often it is accompanied by a turning to behavior that is not what God would bless.  Too many individuals and families have been hurt as a consequence.  Too many faiths have been shattered.  I believe a lot of it could be avoided if we all made certain that our leaders had caregivers and wise counselors like Moses did.
Lastly, Jethro comes up with some suggestions.  He does not just identify the problem, but he has some counsel for Moses.  Jethro will not go down in history as someone who always complained about things or as a critic who could see what is wrong but has no concept whatsoever of how to amend things for the better.  And we know that Jethro’s counsel would be good because he wanted his son-in-law to go about his work in partnership with God.  That is, the counsel that Jethro was about to give was advice that would be pleasing to God.
How is your advice giving these days?  Would what you recommend be pleasing to God?  Do you fully observe, get clarification, and show love and concern for those involved before you make recommendations?  And is your ultimate goal that those who would heed your counsel have God as their partners?  If that is the case, you would make a great “Jethro” in someone’s life.

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