A Burden to Heavy

Exodus 18:13-27

Repeatedly in the United States, we hear the cry that our Constitution calls for “Separation of State and Church.” Prayer is given no rightful place in a public school. A copy of the Ten Commandments cannot hang in a courtroom. And on and on it goes! The courts have twisted the Constitution prohibition of a state supported religion. People have bought Satan’s lie that government and religion are not to be mixed.

But in today’s text, God graciously supplies to Israel an organized governmental rule, as He had graciously supplied redemption, guidance, deliverance, earthly provisions, and victory in war. Religion and Government will be the fiber and web of the fabric of this new nation under God.

Before the Ten Commandments (the core of religion) are given to Israel, civil organization (the core of government) must be instituted. Issuing laws without the ability to administer them is an exercise in futility. Exodus 18:13-14—

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood round him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand round you from morning till evening?”

In Moses, we see a true leader. True greatness, true leadership is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them—and that is never done without cost. It involves drinking a bitter cup and experiencing a painful baptism of suffering. The true spiritual leader is concerned infinitely more with the service he can render God and his fellows men than with the benefits and pleasures he can extract from life. He aims to put more into life than he takes out of it.

Yet, often men who are greatly used by God get the idea that they are indispensable. This is a trick of Satan. Exodus 18:15-16—

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”

Moses made known to the people the ordinances and laws of God and he did not make them up as the people came with their questions or disputes. For every decision was based upon some law, which, like all true justice here on earth, emanated first of all from God.

There is so much of the Israelites that we need to avoid in our life, but here we find an outstanding quality that we want to put into practice—Moses said, “THE PEOPLE COME TO ME TO SEEK GOD’S WILL.” That’s were a relational experience with the LORD begins. Jesus said in Mark 3:35—

Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

People who live outside the will of God have no part with Him. Moses gave a good answer, but Jethro sees things differently. Exodus 18:18—

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “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.

Imagine these words coming from Jethro’s mouth actually coming from the LORD’S. The burden given to Moses was in essence God’s burden. We do not get the picture here of God saying, “Well, now that I’ve made you the leader, good luck. Make sure the annual report is in on time.” No, we get the picture of a God who identifies with the leader’s frustration and burden and who does something about it.

In Numbers 11 and Deuteronomy 1, Moses himself is said to have found the burden of his work too heavy. Some conservative commentators see Moses’ faith failing because of his complaint that burden is too heavy for one man. They say that God’s grace is sufficient for this task; that the hiss of serpent can be heard behind Jethro’s advice! That’s nonsense! Jethro is right—WHAT MOSES IS DOING IS NOT GOOD.

They fail to see that the LORD was attempting to teach Moses during the battle with the Amalekites that one man could not carry the burden alone. It took Aaron and Hur to hold and steady Moses’ hands that held the uplifted staff and Joshua on the battlefield with the sword, commanding chosen men to win the battle.

Now Moses recognizes that Jethro has put his finger on a serious problem that must be handled. Moses is the first person in recorded history to be headed for BURN-OUT!

In today’s terms, we might describe Moses as a person with a COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR. Americans applaud his type—those who think they need to DO MORE to BE MORE!

Perhaps whispers from the past kept driving Moses to do more. The shame and guilt of having murdered the Egyptian taskmaster may have resulted in a low self-esteem. This was the case at the burning bush. Now Moses might be driven to be more to keep from being less. Success is an addictive.

Addictive Compulsive Behavior so blinds that one cannot see the forest because of the trees—in Moses case, he cannot see the nation because of the people. It would have taken a panel of trained counselors and jurists to deal with all the difficulties that had arisen in one day—

“There is too much noise in the next tent, we cannot sleep.” “They can’t keep their children in their tent.” “Our lamb has been missing for two days and they look too well fed.” “They put their goat on the bit of pasture we had found.”

Probably the cases Moses had to solve would seen very modern to us, for human nature is nothing new.

What Moses needed desperately was the intervention of a trusted friend. In the providence of God, Jethro arrives on the scene as a wise counselor. It is evening, around the campfire at Moses’ tent, with the family and guests sitting together discussing the events of the day. The elderly Jethro politely but courageously gives his son-in-law some advice.

“You really do not arrange things very well, my son. You are dead tired, and the poor folk who have been standing in line all these hours are also dead tired.”

Jethro not only wise from the experience of years, but also with wisdom from above suggests that Moses’ ways of administering justice is impractical. No doubt, it is a great compliment to Moses to have the people trust him so implicitly. They recognize that he is motivated by the fear of the LORD, by devotion to the truth, and by total unselfishness. Still more extraordinary is his tireless activity. He is doing the work of many men. Three cheers for Moses! Let’s applaud him—he might even work harder!

Thank God for Jethros! His father-in-law is worried both for the health of Moses and for the dignity of his position. So the political organization of Israel is born. Otherwise, chaos lies ahead. If nothing is done, the people, weary of waiting for justice, will take the law into their own hands.

Proper organization and delegation of authority would make the entire process more effective and relieve God’s man for more essential duties. Many a pastor and other leaders need to learn what Moses did.

We have a good organization structure in our church based on commissions. The chairpersons and commission members are assigned certain tasks and are given authority to carryout them. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that Christ organizes His Church—

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

In Israel’s organizational structure, Moses is to have three roles in the nation that foreshadow Christ. He is to act as PRIEST, PROPHET and KING. Jethro offers Moses advice for handling these three roles.


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.

A priest is the people’s representative before God. The priest intercedes with God on behalf of the people. Moses is to continue to talk face to face with God. It is Jesus Christ our Great High Priest, who is our Advocate in Heaven, who brings our case before the throne of God. Moses foreshadows Christ in this role.


Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.

Moses was to provide a leadership course in three areas:

1. The decrees and laws
2. The way to live
3. The duties to be performed

The leaders were to be instructed as to their own conduct and walk before God. A NT parallel to this instruction is 2 Timothy 3:16-17—

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Moses as the prophet of God, who instructed the people on the kingdom of Israel, foreshadowed Jesus the Prophet, who instructed His disciples on the kingdom of God.

A primary role of the OT prophet was to speak to the officials of Israel so they would be in tune with God’s righteousness and justice. Moses was to instruct the appointed officials in decrees and laws so they would be fair, just and right in all their decisions. Moses’ charge to leaders is recorded in Deuteronomy 1:16-18—

Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it. And at that time I told you everything you were to do.

The people apparently participated in the selection of their leaders according to Deuteronomy 1:13, for Moses said to the people—

Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.

It would have been impossible for Moses to know the character of such a large group. So he wisely turns the selection process over to those who know them best. The seeds of democracy are planted here. Yet, Moses will hold the ultimate position of power in the nation, having been appointed by God, not elected by men.

One who leads God’s people must have a clear sense of being chosen by God. The theology of being chosen by God is a rich one in Scripture. For example, Christ Himself told His followers in John 15:16—

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.

God chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. The heir apparent to the throne of Egypt, turned nomad shepherd was called by LORD at the burning bush to be the first leader and ruler of Israel

MOSES’ THIRD ROLE IS KING, Exodus 18:21-22—

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.

The judges receive their authority from Moses, who is the religious as well as civil head. He sits as judge, chief, or king over the nation.

The judges are to FEAR GOD—so much for separation of church and state in God’s economy! How different do think the United States would be if our political leaders were people whom FEAR GOD? If we want to call ourselves a nation under God, we need God-fearing leaders!

Although the title KING is not used of Moses, he functioned as the King of Israel.

In the previous section, we discovered ways that Exodus 18:1-13 can figuratively picture the millennial kingdom of Christ. The advice Jethro gives Moses also will be carried out by Christ when He reigns over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:12—

If we endure, we will also reign with [Christ]. If we disown him, he will also disown us.

The new song of Christ is sung in Revelation 5:9-10, which also speaks of Christian’s reigning with Him—

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Christians who have been faithful and do not suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ will receive positions of rulership on the earth during the millennial kingdom.

Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19) was told by Jesus to people who thought the kingdom of God was going to appear once. In the Parable, He said that He was going away to a distant country (heaven) to be appointed King and then He would return. Before He left, He gave His servants ten minas (three months wages), with the instructions “to put this money to work until I come back.” When He returned the first servant had earned ten more mina and the King said to him—

“`Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. `Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’”

The Minas are not to be confused with the Talents in the Parable of Talents. The TALENTS represent opportunities to use our God given abilities and since we all have different abilities, we are given different opportunities. In this Parable, the servants are each given ten minas, which present the “deposit of the Gospel” that has been given to each believer. Christ expects every believer to multiply the Gospel so that the whole world will hear.

The Parable of the Minas teaches that when Christ Returns, He will reward the faithful servants, deal with the unfaithful servants and judge His enemies. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Lord will “balance the accounts” and give each of us exactly what we deserve. Those who bring others to the LORD can expect to receive positions of authority in the millennial kingdom.

It is estimated that around 85 percent of Christians never lead a person to the LORD? If that is the case with you, you really should read Luke 19. For as Moses selected capable men from all the people, so will Christ select qualified people in His kingdom to rule with Him.

Not every Micah, Samuel and Asher qualified. Those selected were capable men—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.

We have freedom of choice; we elect our public officials. Does character matter? A person may be capable, but what if he is not trustworthy, does he really qualify for public service? Does it matter whether the person who seeks public office fears God?

Here are the Bible’s four qualifications for public office: CAPABLE, FEARS GOD, TRUSTWORTHY and HONEST. Notice that those qualifications hold true whether the person officiates over thousands, hundreds, fifties, or tens. These qualifications apply from the President of the Untied States to a Township Supervisor for a nation that desires to be under God. It will never happen in the United States, but there is a time coming when the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of Christ and it will be so!

A CAPABLE PERSON is one who possesses qualities of character, leadership, and success. Character is what a person is at the root, core, and heart—either good or bad. 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns—

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

President Clinton said this week that only God could judge his character. The President or anyone who buys such a ridiculous thought would do well to read Exodus 18 or Proverbs 31, which describes a wife of noble character, or Acts 17:11, where Luke evaluates character—

The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians; for they received the message with great eagerness and they examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Character can be measured. Of course, what it is measured against makes all the difference. If one measures himself against Adolph Hitler, he will come out smelling like a rose. If the same person measures himself against Jesus Christ, his odor might resemble a sunk!

Jethro gives THREE GOOD REASONS why Moses is to share the burden with others in Exodus 18:23—

If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

THE FIRST GOOD REASON Moses is to take Jethro’s advice is because GOD SO COMMANDS. The word for COMMANDS is an intensive Hebrew verb, expressing an “intentional” action. Thus, Moses is not to take Jethro’s advice lightly because it is God’s orders. He is not to disregard this advice or chose what he likes from it. The entire plan is to be instituted.

That this plan is God’s command is not contradicted in Scripture. Moses’ accepts the plan as from God. How Jethro knew it was God’s command, we are not told. It might have been by a specific verbal communication or by spiritual insight, such as the Jerusalem Council’s insight in Acts 15:28—

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.

THE SECOND GOOD REASON Moses is to take this advice is because he will be able to stand the strain. Jesus understood that even He could not devote Himself to all the people. He reduced His ministry from the multitudes to 120 disciples to 70 and finally to the Twelve, with whom He spent most of earthy ministry.

When the number of believers increased after Pentecost, the Twelve Apostles quickly discovered that the demands of the people kept them from teaching the Scriptures. We read in Acts 6:2-4—

So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Wisely, the Twelve established their own priorities and delegated to other capable and qualified men the rest of the ministry. It did not take long for the Seven to evolve into the role of DEACON and DEACONESSES in the early Church. Their task as church officials was to do the work of ministry.

Interestingly, out of the Seven, Stephen was the first martyr for Christ and Philip became an evangelist. Wouldn’t it be great if every church officer was an evangelist, willing to die for Christ?

THE THIRD GOOD REASON Moses is to take this advice is because all these people will go home satisfied. We learn in Acts 6 that the people complained because certain widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Eventually, everyone will become dissatisfied—if one person or a few try to do all the work or they are expected to do so! The Church as the body of Christ is healthy when every person is doing their part.

With delegation of authority, the social order in the community of faith would become more and more in tune with the justice of God’s world order. Justice is not simply God’s responsibility, or one leader; it is the task of the community. Exodus 18:24-26—

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

Moses retained supreme authority and to his court every difficult case would come. He was the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice wrapped up in one.

Exodus 18:27—

Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

In Numbers 10:29-32, the parallel narrative, records that Moses’ urged his father-in-law to stay with them. This is another positive proof of Jethro’s faith in Yahweh. However, Jethro must go with the Good News—he has heard all the things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians—The Good News is to be shared with his own country. It must have been hard for Moses to let this efficiency expert leave. As is so often the case, the one who presents the suggestion for improvement moves on to other things. So Jethro returns home, never to be heard from again.

Israel tells and retells the story of the non-Israelite who was responsible for bringing “organization” to the community of faith. In most modern situations, in church and state alike, Moses would have gotten all the credit. But not so with God, nothing slips by Him. What you do for Him is recorded in the books of heaven and will be rewarded! For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

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