Exodus 18 (NRSV)
Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.
2After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro took her back, 3along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been an alien in a foreign land”), 4and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”).
5Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God, bringing Moses’ sons and wife to him. 6He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.”
7Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. 8Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.
Psalm 105:37-43 (New Living Translation)
The Lord brought his people out of Egypt, loaded with silver and gold;
and not one among the tribes of Israel even stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they were gone,
for they feared them greatly.
The Lord spread a cloud above them as a covering
and gave them a great fire to light the darkness.
They asked for meat, and he sent them quail;
he satisfied their hunger with manna—bread from heaven.
He split open a rock, and water gushed out
to form a river through the dry wasteland.
For he remembered his sacred promise
to his servant Abraham.
So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy,
his chosen ones with rejoicing.
9Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians. 10Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. 11Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.” 12And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.
13The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?”
15Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.”
17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do.
Jethro told Moses to focus on the two important things that only Moses could do: he should pray (speak to God on behalf of the people) and teach (show them how to live before God).
In the early church, the apostles came to a similar conclusion. They decided not to undertake tasks that others could do, in order to do what only they could do: “We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word“ — Acts 6:3-4 (my emphasis).
Are you spending your time on the things that only you can do? Can you delegate some of your responsibilities to others, to free yourself to spend more time in prayer and in the Word of God?
21You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.”
24So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
Proverbs 16:20 (New International Version)
Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,
and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.
25Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 26And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.
This was good for Moses. He could focus on the most important things and not be overwhelmed and overstressed by many smaller tasks.
This was good for the leaders Moses chose. Capable men were given real responsibility and had the opportunity to serve God’s people in meaningful ways and further God’s work.
This was good for the congregation. Prayed for and taught by Moses, they were able to settle more things themselves. When they did need a dispute settled, they received quicker attention and better attention from the delegated leaders than from Moses himself.
27Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went off to his own country.
“Blest Be the Tie that Binds.” “We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens share . . . “
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.