The Jethro Plan

Exodus 18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2016

One of the hardest parts of marriage for some couples is how to deal with in-laws.  Many couples have a poor relationship with their in-laws.  Some in-laws are overbearing and domineering.  They are very controlling.  The Bible is clear that there are two parts to marriage.  Marriage is a fundamental change in relationship. It involves leaving and it involves cleaving.

Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV).  It involves leaving and holding fast.  The KJV rendered it “cleave”.  It means to cling to something or stick to something.  The modern Hebrew word for glue comes from this word.

Not all in-law relations are bad.  Many have had positive relations with their in-laws.  Some are encouraging and supportive.  Some have all kinds of gifts and abilities that we do not have. Moses had a great relationship with his in-laws.  His father-in-law was named Jethro.  He was a Midianite.

He was not Jewish but Moses knew him well. He worked for him for forty years.  He married one of his daughters (Zipporah).  He liked him and respected him.  He was glad to see him.  He went out to meet him.  He did not wait until he got there and, when he saw him, he bowed down  to the ground and kissed him (18:7).  He showed respect to his father-in-law.

This chapter is all about in-laws.  A key term in this chapter is the words “father-in-law”.  It is found twelve times in the chapter (18:1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12 [2], 14, 17, 24, 27).  This chapter is all about Jethro.  He is the main character of the chapter.  Jethro was an old man.  Moses was eighty and he was older than Moses.

This old man became a tremendous blessing to Moses.  He made a huge impact on Moses’ life.  He even made him a better leader.  We can learn some lessons on leadership from the words of Jethro.  What he said to Moses is still good advice to leaders today.  This chapter is very practical.

Jethro’s Salvation

Before Jethro has the ministry to Moses, he has to get saved first.  Jethro was a pagan priest.  He was the high priest of Midian but in this chapter, he gets saved.  His life is radically changed and Moses is the one who leads him to the Lord.  Notice how this happens.

Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt (18:1 NIV)

The first thing that happens is that Jethro HEARS what God was doing.  When God is at work, people will hear about it.  The word will spread.  Then, he took the next step and INVESTIGATED it.  Moses wanted to see firsthand what was going on, so he went in the wilderness and took Moses’ wife and two sons with him (18:5-6).

They greeted each other and then went into the tent.  Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them. (18:7-8 NIV)

Jethro hears first hand from Moses what happened.  By now, his son-in-law is famous.  He is a hero.  He led two million people out of slavery to freedom but he does not take any credit for what happened.  He does not talk about his accomplishments, like we might have done.  Moses does not talk about himself.  Instead, he talked about “everything THE LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians himself.”  He talked about “how the Lord had saved them” (18:8 NIV).

Moses gave a report of what God did, not what he did.  He told Jethro about all of the miracles God performed: the Ten Plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh, the manna from heaven, water from the rock, the pillar of fire and cloud.  Moses shared his testimony.  He shared what God did in his life.  What Moses did here, all of us should be able to do.  Jethro’s response to this testimony is very interesting.

Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. (18:9-10 NIV)

He did exactly what the Bible says we should do.  The Bible tells us to Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  Many people today are jealous when God does something in someone else.  When one church gets bigger than another church and grows phenomenally, the normal response is not to rejoice with that church in what God is doing but that is what Jethro did.

He was not only DELIGHTED to hear this, he PRAISED God.  He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians” (18:10).  Now Jethro was a Midianite.  The Midianites, like the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham but notice the big difference between the two.  Last week, we saw that the Amalekites attacked what God was doing.  This Midianite praised God for what He did for the Jews.

Jethro did not stop there.  He followed it up with an amazing statement.  He said, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly” (18:11 NIV).  Jethro says “NOW I know”.  This is a very important statement.  Let’s look at how this phrase is used elsewhere in Scripture. It is used in I Kings 17.  Elijah lived at the time of a famine.  God used two things to feed Elijah during this time.  First, he used some ravens to feed him and then he used a poor Gentile widow who couldn’t even feed herself.  They lived three thousand years ago near the area of Lebanon today.  One day her son died and she turned to Elijah.

Elijah didn’t know why he died.  He didn’t do anything wrong but he knew what to do.  He took him to his room, laid him on his bed and went to God.  I Kings 17:20 says, “Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  He acknowledges that the one who took her son was God, not Satan.  Then he did two things.  He prayed and stretched.

I Kings 17:21 says, Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (NIV).  God answered his prayer.  It was the first time anyone had ever been raised from the dead. Elijah took him to his mother and said “See, your son lives”.  She replied, “NOW I KNOW that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth” (I Kings 17:24 NIV).

We also see this phrase used in II Kings 5 with Naaman.  It is one of the most incredible healing stories in the Bible.  He was healed of leprosy. Who was Naaman?  Naaman was a soldier in the Syrian army.  He was popular.  He was well respected.

Everyone liked him.  He was the head of the army.  He was a war hero, like Colin Powell. He was also wealthy but he had a problem.  It was a medical problem.  He had leprosy.  It was incurable.  No one doctors in Syria or anywhere else could help him.  He desperately needed a miracle.

God planned to give him a miracle but he had to humble him first because he was such a big shot.  The answer to his problem came from an unlikely source.  It came from a child, a foreign child, a foreign slave child.  She said that the prophet Elisha in Israel could cure him. This was incredible faith.  Elisha had never healed a leper before.  Jesus said so in Luke 4:27.  He only healed one leper and that was Naaman.  How did she know that he would be able to heal him? He had healed other people.  He raised one person from the dead in the chapter before this.

Adults do not always listen to children but Naaman was desperate, so he took a chance.  When he finally got to Elisha’s house, he didn’t even come out to greet him.  He expected to see him.  That would be like going to a famous doctor and not even seeing the doctor but just talking to his nurse. God does not always work they way we expect Him to work. He told him to go wash in the River Jordan seven times and he would be healed.  Naaman was angry.  He was furious.

Naaman was finally talked into it by his servants.  This was the third time he was humbled.  Servants usually do what their master says.  He is listening to his servants.  Naaman goes to the Jordan, does exactly what God told him to do, even though he may have looked stupid doing it, jumping in the river seven times.  Surprisingly, he is completely healed.  He was shocked, so he returned back to Elisha’s house.  This time he saw him and he said, “NOW I KNOW that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. (II Kings 5:15 NIV).

After this miracle, Naaman not only became a worshipper of Yahweh, he knew that He was the only God in all the earth. This was similar to what happened to Jethro.  He came to the point where he said “Now I believe” but there was one big difference.  Jethro was not in Egypt.  He did not witness firsthand any of these miracles.

He did not see the miracle of the Burning Bush.  He did not witness the Ten Plagues.  He did not see the miracle of the Red Sea crossing but he still believes.  He may have seen some miracles.  He would have seen the pillar of cloud or the pillar of fire.  He may have eaten some manna (18:12).

He was also surrounded by two million eye witnesses to these events. The evidence was overwhelming and Jethro becomes a believer for the first time. The Jewish view is that Jethro changed religions (TB Zevahim 116a; Sanhedrin 103b-104a), which I think is absolutely correct.  Jethro became the first official convert to Judaism. This was a big deal because Jethro was not just anybody.  He was the high priest of Midian.  It meant a lot for him to become a believer.  Notice what he does next.

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God. (18:12 NIV)

Jethro offers a sacrifice.  Jethro was a priest.  He offered sacrifices before but he is not offering a sacrifice to a pagan God but to the one true God.  He does not just believe in Yahweh, he worships him.  What happens next is very interesting.

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. (18:13 NIV)

The next day, Moses goes back to work.  He goes back to his nine-to-five job.  He didn’t retire at sixty-five.  He is eighty and he is still working and he is working hard.  What does he do?  He is a judge.  He is a counselor.  He is a pastor.  People come to him with their problems.

What were their problems?  We don’t know but if you have two million people living next to each other, you are going to have all kinds of problems.  Where you have people, you have problems.  Proverbs says “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean” (Proverbs 14:4 ESV).  When there are no oxen, there are no problems, like ox poop, but you need them for a big harvest.

Moses goes to work.  Exodus 18:13 says “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening” (NIV).  There are many pastors today just like him today.

How to Give Advice

Jethro did what many in-laws do, they criticize.  He came down hard on Moses here.  He does not praise Moses.  He could have done that.  He could have praised him for his hard work, dedication and sacrifice.  Instead of praising him, he rebukes him.  He said, “What you are doing is NOT GOOD” (18:17 NIV).

Jethro criticizes Moses’ management style.  Family members tend to be very frank and direct.  Jethro was bold.  He was direct.  He did not mince words.  He told him like it is.  He did not beat around the bush.  That reminds us of some politicians today.  If you want to know how to give people advice, notice what Jethro does here.  He does several things.

1. He observed the situation

The text tells us that, while Moses served as judge from morning till evening Jethro “saw all that Moses was doing for the people” (18:14).  He did not begin with criticism.  It started with observation.  He gives advice based on knowledge.  He observed what Moses did and how long he worked (all day).  He observed the long line of people waiting to talk to Moses.

2. He asked questions

The observation was followed by some  questions. Jethro asked Moses two questions based on his observation.  What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge? (18:14). He asks him, what are you doing? And why are you doing this alone?

3. He identified the problem

“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone (18:17-18 NIV).  Jethro, not only said “What you are doing is not good.”  Jethro was not only observant, he was very perceptive.  He gave some reasons why this was not good.

He told him that this job was too hard for anyone to do alone.  Moses was a one man Supreme Court and Small Claims court for two million people.  That would be like all five thousand people in our church in line to talk to our pastor for counseling.  That would lead to overwork and overwork would lead to exhaustion and burnout.

It is possible to work too much.  Just because you are in God’s work does not mean that you cannot burnout. Chuck Swindoll says “God’s servants are not exempt from natural laws.”  Jethro also told Moses that he was going to wear the people out.  No one likes to wait in a long line.  Jethro was an efficiency expert.

4. He offered a solution to the problem.

Jethro does not just criticize Moses.  He offers a solution to the problem.  Many are shrewd critics.  They criticize everybody and everything but they have no solutions.  Jethro had some solutions.  Jethro is acting as a business consultant here.  He is the first consultant in the Bible.

Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 

Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (18:19-23 NIV)

Jethro told Moses to do four things.  First, select qualified men (competent, godly, trustworthy).  Second, train them.  Third, give them authority.  Four distinguish between major cases and minor cases (18:22).  All of the major cases went to Moses.  The minor cases went to the other judges (18:26).  We follow this principle today.  We deal with small problems in our small group.  The big problems go to the pastor and elders.

Lessons on Leadership

1) Leaders should be open to new ideas.

Moses is a model here for us.  He was teachable.  He was open to advice.  This is why he was called “the meekest man in the earth”.  He knew his limitations.  Moses was an expert in miracles but he was not very good at administration.

When Jethro came in with his suggestions, Moses could have easily said, “Who are you to tell me what to do?  You have only been here one day.  I have a better education than you have.  I am God’s man.  God appeared to me.  He called me and he has used me to perform all kinds of miracles.  I have the anointing.”   Moses does not do this.  He does not get defensive, like we do when people criticize us.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the value of taking advice. Proverbs 12:15 saysThe way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice” (NIV).  Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise” (NIV). Proverbs 11:14 says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers” (NIV).

Listening to advice is a test of character.  Many of us get good advice from people and do not take it.  Some are just too proud to take advice from anyone.  Of course, we need to be careful here.  We need to be careful whose advice we take.  Proverbs talks about wise counsel (24:6).  It also talks about wicked counsel (12:5). All of us need a Jethro.  We need an older, godly believer we can get advice from when we need it.

Jethro was not a prophet.  He did not speak by divine revelation.  He was just an old man with a lot of wisdom.  He saw things that Moses did not see.  Moses had a problem in his life that he was not even aware of.  Regardless of our spiritual maturity, we should always be open to godly advice and counsel.

2) Leaders should delegate their authority.

The Jethro Solution involved delegation.  It is still a great suggestion to this day.  It is much easier to get one hundred men to work than to try to do the work of one hundred men.  Delegation is a biblical concept.  We find it not only in the OT but in the NT.  We see it in Acts 6.  The Apostles were overworked.  They were doing everything, so they appointed some other men in the church to do some of the work.

Many pastors try to do all of the work of the ministry. Some pastors act more like dictators than Spirit-filled leaders.  I have been in churches like this.  You may as well.  One man does everything.  Those churches are a one-man show.  The pastors are control freaks.  They tell everyone how to do their job (musicians, cooks, janitors).  They are like thugs in the pulpit.

This is not God’s will.  It was not God’s will in the OT and it is not God’s will in the NT.  Great leaders don’t try to do everything themselves.  They are aware of their limitations and use more of a team approach to ministry.  They do not try to micro manage the whole church.

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