Principles of Godly Leadership

Exodus 32

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2017

Last week, we began looking at the topic of leadership. We looked at four characteristics of bad leaders from the life of Aaron from this chapter. Today, we want to look at four characteristics of good leaders from the life of Moses.

It is not an exhaustive list but this chapter gives us four positive qualities of leadership. Unfortunately, there are probably more people leading the church like Aaron rather than like Moses. What does godly leadership look like?  We see some characteristics of it in Exodus 32.

Four Qualities of Leadership


The seventy elders spend time up on the Mount Sinai and have a vision of God.  Moses goes up on top of the mountain and is alone with God for forty days and forty nights.  He is away from distractions.  God speaks to him on top of the mountain.  He has communion with God. Moses had communion with God like no other person in the Bible.

Leaders need to spend time with their family but cannot neglect their relationship to God.  Why is it so important?  Leaders have a lot of responsibility on them.  They have to make important decisions.  Jesus spent a whole night in prayer before selecting the Twelve Apostles. Spending time along with God guarantees that you have God’s agenda and not your own.

When people under our leadership sin, our first response should be, not to gossip but to pray for them.  Let’s look at who he prayed for and how he prayed.  This is fascinating.  It is one of the greatest prayers in the Bible.  Someone called this one of the seven most powerful prayers in the Bible.[1]

The Prayer of Moses

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.

13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” (32:11-13 NIV)

We need to learn to pray the way Moses prayed. How did Moses pray?  First, he prayed based on GOD’S REPUTATION.  Why would God start something that he cannot finish?  If He destroys the whole nation, the Egyptians will hear about it.  They will think that their god took them all out in the wilderness to kill them.  God’s reputation was at stake.

Second, he prayed based on GOD’S PROMISES. We need to do that today.  We need to plead the promises of God and quote Scripture when we pray.  Moses reminded God what He promised their ancestors, what He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He reminded God what He swore to them and that came from a God who does not and cannot lie.

It was a prayer for people who had fallen into sin.  It was a prayer for rebellious Israel.  Moses acts as a mediator here.  He is the one who goes between God and man and prays for them.  He goes before an angry God and pleads for their survival.  This was intercessory prayer.

This prayer was bold.  It was effective.  Moses was one of the four people who successfully argued with God.[2]  Abraham was someone else who did this when he prayed for the city of Sodom.  Moses’ prayer got God to change His mind, which sounds strange.

Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

Many teach that doesn’t change God.  It only changes us.  That is not true.  What did God want to do? He wanted to destroy the nation. “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them (32:9-10 NIV).

Moses’ prayer caused God to change his mind.  Moses was the man who caused God to repent.  We see that in Exodus 32:14 which says, “So the LORD changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people” (NLT).  The KJV reads, “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”

That is strange.  It talks about the repentance of God.  Does God repent?  People repent but does God repent?  Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (KJV). God does repent but there is a big difference between God’s repentance and man’s repentance.

We have to repent, because we have sinned.  God does not do anything wrong.  He never has to apologize.  His repentance has nothing to do with sin.  When people change and repent, He changes and does not judge them.

Jeremiah 18:7-10 says, “7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” (NIV)

There are many examples of this in Scripture.  Jonah went to preach a message of judgment to the Ninevites.  He was a prophet.  It took him a day to get to Nineveh and when he got there, he preached, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The nation repented.  God didn’t overthrow them and Jonah was mad, because his prophecy did not come true.  That raises the question, Can prayer change the decree of God?

Another example is King Hezekiah.  You can read about in II Kings 20.  It is also in Isaiah 38.  Hezekiah was a godly king.  He was a man of prayer.  He got sick.  God sent the prophet Isaiah to him to tell him some bad news.  He told him that he was going to die and would not recover from his sickness. Hezekiah was devastated.

He immediately wept bitterly.  He prayed for healing. Before Isaiah even got out of the building, God told him to turn around and go back and give him another message.  “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you; I will add fifteen years to your life.  He already had a word from God from a genuine prophet. Prayer changed that.  It shows us the power of prayer.


The writer John Ruskin, who lived in the 1800s, said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility.” Godly leaders are humble. There is nothing worse than leaders who are arrogant and think they are superior to everyone else.  They are only leaders because they like to order people around.  They like to tell other people what to do.

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Jesus said that the world has one way to lead.  It is a top down approach.  Jesus says four important words – “not so with you.”  We have a different model of leadership that comes right from Jesus.  It is the model of servant leadership.  Jesus led by example.  He washed the disciple’s feet.  That was usually done by servants but Jesus did it.  Afterwards, He said these words:

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:13-15 NIV)

Leaders in the church are to have this type of leadership style.  I Peter 5:2-3 says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (NIV).

How was Moses humble?  He was the meekest man on the face of the earth.  The Bible says that he was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3 NIV).  He was not the wisest man on the face of the earth, though he was highly educated in the palace of Egypt.  He was not the wealthiest man on the face of the earth.

He was not the strongest man on the face of the earth or the fastest man on the face of the earth.  He was not the most attractive man on the face of the earth.  He was not the most gifted man on the face of the earth.  He was the meekest man on the face of the earth.

Is Meekness Weakness?

Every preacher will tell you, meek does not mean weak.  It does not mean timid.  How do we know?  Moses was the meekest man on the earth but he was not weak.  He was no coward.  He had a lot of courage.  He stood up to evil in many forms.  We see it several times in his life.

1) He had the courage to stand up to bullies.

A gang of bullies harassed Jethro’s seven daughters and they had when they had no man to protect them, so he stood up for them.  One man took on several shepherds and drove them away.  He must have had some good moves.

2) He had the courage to stand up to an evil king.

He confront Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the country and possibly the world at that time and demand that he release all of the Hebrew slaves.

3) He also had the courage to stand up to sin in his own nation and even in his own family.

When he came down from the mountain to confront his brother face to face.  He confronts three thousand idolaters.  That does not sound like someone who is weak, and passive. He was not timid.

Rick Warren said, “Only two people in the Bible were called meek: Jesus and Moses. Neither of them were weaklings or wimps.”[3]  Meekness is actually a form of strength, not weakness.  We see the humility of Moses several different times in his life.

a) He was humble when he left the royal palace

Moses chose to leave the palace of Egypt and identify with poor slaves. Socially, he was part of the upper class.  He had wealth, power and prominence.  He gave up the comforts of the palace to identify with the lowest class of people, foreign slaves.  When he fled Egypt, he went from being a prince of Egypt to just being a plain shepherd and did that for forty years in total obscurity.

b) He was humble at the burning bush

When God appeared to him at the burning bush and God told him that he was going to use him greatly to lead out two million slaves out of Egypt. He said, “Who am I to do this?”  He did not boast to God about his own gifts and abilities.

c) He was humble when he rejected God’s offer

Moses turned down an incredible offer. God offered to wipe out all of the Hebrews and make him the leader of a bigger and better nation.  God said, “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked  10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (32:9-10 NIV)  He said in Deuteronomy 9:14 that this nation would be more numerous and stronger.  Moses turned down this offer, even though it was a promotion.


Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.” 18 Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat; it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. 21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” (32:15-21 NIV)

Strong leaders are decisive.  They are good in a crisis.  This was a crisis.  The future of the nation was at stake.  God wanted to destroy the entire nation.  Good leaders know how to act in a crisis.  Bad leaders are terrible in a crisis.  They are not good at making a decision.  Moses took decisive action.  He came down from this mountain and he was on fire.  He also confronted some people.

Some leaders never pray for people.  Other leaders never confront people.  When some Christians fall into sin, some leaders in the church will love them unconditionally, show compassion to them but they will never confront them.  Moses did not just stay up on the mountain and pray.  He came down and confronted people, starting with his own brother, his older brother.


We are looking at qualities of godly leaders, not just leaders in the church but leaders in the home or in society.  A third quality is compassion.  Jesus was a leader and He had compassion for people.  Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (NIV)  Moses also was a man of compassion.

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”

31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”

33 The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” (32:30-34 NIV).

Moses is a type of Christ.  Moses served as a mediator between God and the people.  Jesus is our mediator.  He went up to try to make atonement for the people. The Tabernacle was not built yet.  Moses was not successful in making atonement for the people.  Jesus makes atonement for us.  He prayed for the people.  This is Moses’ second great prayer in the chapter.  He prays for God to forgive the people.  Jesus makes intercession for us.

Moses was completely selfless. He thought of others and put their needs above his own.  Jesus did the same thing.  Many leaders are only out for themselves.  They like to be leaders because they love the power.  They like to tell other people what to do. It makes them feel better.  It makes them feel important.

Facts About God’s Book

Moses loved the people. He did not want them all to be destroyed. In fact, he said that if God was going to judge them that he wanted to be judged as well and blotted out of God’s book. That tells us four things.

1) God has a book.

He calls it “my book” in Exodus 32:33. From the rest of Scripture we know that he has more than one book in heaven. God has a library in heaven and it is made up of several books. Books are mentioned in the plural (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 20:12). That is good news for those of us who like books. There will be books in heaven.

2) Moses knew about this book.

He asked God to blot him out of the book that God wrote (32:32). How did Moses know about this book? No one knows but we do know that he spent forty days and nights directly in God’s presence.

3) This books has a list of names of people on earth.

Moses’ name was in this book and so were the names of the other Hebrews on earth at that time.

4) Names can be removed from this book by God.

What does that mean?  Is it proof that you can lose your salvation? Does God have a big eraser?  If everyone who was removed from the book for sin, then we would all be removed from the book.  We all sin. What is going on here?  What kind of book we are talking about? There are at least three books mentioned in heaven.

God’s Library in Heaven

1) The Bible mentions a BOOK OF WORKS (Revelation 20:12-13).

This is a scary book.  This book contains all of the works you have done while you were on earth. Can you imagine a book that mentions all of the sins you have committed while you were on earth from the time you were born until the time you die?  It must be a pretty large book.  All of the sins you wished no one knew about or forgot about were all written in this book.

What is even worse is to be held accountable for each one of these sins before an infinitely holy God.  That is what it is like to stand before God in your sins.  That is what the unsaved will do at the Great White Throne Judgment. The Psalmist says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” (130:3).

2) The Bible mentions a book called THE BOOK OF THE LIVING (Psalm 69:28).

That is what Exodus 32 is talking about.  It is a book of physical life, not eternal life.  Every person on the planet is written on this book.  Some names are erased from this book.  The three thousand people who are killed in this chapter are blotted out of God’s book.  Moses did not sin in this chapter but eventually sins and is not given a chance to enter into the Promise Land.  He does not lose his salvation but does receive judgment for his sin.

3) The Bible mentions a book called THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE (Revelation 21:27).

This book is different. It also contains a list of names.  It does not contain a list of the names of everyone on earth but of everyone who is saved (past, present and future).

The names in this book were NOT recorded at the time of salvation.  They were all written in advance before the world even began, before people believed or were even born (Revelation 17:8) and this list does not get bigger as time passes.  It stays the same.

The good news is that when you get saved, you know that you name is in the book.  We know that from two passages in the NT ( Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:2-3).  We can have assurance of salvation.  The question worth asking is this: Is our name written in heaven?  Are we in this book?

The other good news is that there is no evidence that anyone is ever blotted out of this book.  In fact, we are promised in the NT that God will not blot our names out of his book (Revelation 3:5).  Jesus died for our sins.  When we become Christians, God does not blot us out.  He blots our sins out.




One Response to Principles of Godly Leadership

  1. Joseph Ajor says:

    This is a good teaching of the word of God. I’ve benefited from it. God bless you.

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