“Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said”.
Exodus 18:24 (NIV)
In searching for biblical examples of mentoring, I have uncovered a lot of stories, but none is quite as challenging to pastors and leaders as the story of Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18. It is also a challenge to anyone to see the benefit of having a mentor. I will address two of the principles in this installment with the other two to come in the next installment.
The backdrop of this story is the miraculous flight of the Israelites – some say there were 2 million of them – out of Egypt. In Exodus 18, we find Moses is camped with the Israelites in the Sinai desert, and he is trying to deal with disputes that had arisen while in captivity in Egypt that had not been addressed. My guess is that there were a lot of disputes – in any large group, conflicts are bound to exist, and some of these may have been festering for a long time. Moses, like any leader, realized that everyone wanted him to be the arbitrator of their disputes because they had seen the Lord was with him in their escape through the Red Sea.
Jethro, Moses’s father in law, sent Moses a message that he was coming to visit in Exodus 18:6. I don’t know about you, but in some instances, having an in-law come to visit is not always a welcome thing or a happy event. Neither was the case here. Jethro is delighted to hear about “all the good things the Lord has done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 18:9). That’s a good start.
Jethro spends the next day from dawn to dusk watching Moses serve as a judge for his people, and he is taken aback at the scene he has watched. He challenges Moses by asking him why are you doing this. Moses’ response in Exodus 15:15-16 is typical of any leader who feels called upon to resolve others problems by himself. Moses basically said I am doing the judging because “people come to me to seek God’s will.”
Jethro continues, and gives Moses advice to find good men, train them, and organize them into thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, and let them handle most of the disputes, but Moses should retain the most difficult ones. Exodus 18:24 tells us that Moses “listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.” Wow.
I have distilled this story into four principles as follows:
- Every Moses needs a Jethro. Even the leader of the Israelites needs a mentor of someone older and more experienced. We all need that. If you are a Moses, who is your Jethro? Or, if you are a Jethro, who is your Moses?
- Every Moses needs to listen to a Jethro. Not only did Jethro give Moses advice, but Moses immediately took it and put it in place. An interesting historical note is that the judicial structure outlined by Jethro is still the basic judicial structure in Israel today. Moses not only listened to Jethro, but he implemented his advice. Moses relationship with Jethro was not an immediate thing – we can use our imagination that they got to know one another when Moses was courting his daughter. He took the advice from a trusted advisor, not just someone he didn’t know well.
Mentoring is a relationship with another – it takes time to develop and you have to build trust in one another. Whether you are a Moses or a Jethro, the effort is worth it for either side. As a Moses, you get the benefit of wisdom of someone who has more experience than you. As a Jethro, you get the satisfaction of helping a Moses to become all that God wants him to be.
So, if you are a Moses leader doing his own thing, who is your Jethro? We all need a sounding board to initiate best practices in our leadership.