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Lessons for life from the Old Testament-no3 Advice from a father-in-law

Updated on November 2, 2013
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Important advice for Moses from a father-in-law

One of the facts that make the Bible so believable is that it does not hide the truth in a sugar coated pill. It tells the story as it is, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of those leaders who served God. It reveals the history “warts and all”! This helps us to be able to identify with real people like Moses, who struggled with their humanity as they performed their Godly calling.

Moses, great leader that he was, was after all a man who questioned his own ability to do the task God gave him; who killed someone in anger, who knew how to weep for the people and who also despaired at times for them. In Exodus 18 we read about a visit from his Midianite father-in law, Jethro. Moses welcomed Jethro to the camp in the desert near Mount Sinai in a scene of great joy and mutual respect. The Bible records that “Jethro was so pleased to hear this good news about what the Lord had done, that he shouted “Praise the Lord! He rescued Israel from the Egyptians and their king. Now I know that the Lord is the greatest God…”(Exodus 18:9-11a - Contemporary English Version)

The next morning it was, however, back to business as usual as the people came to Moses for judgment on the many legal cases that he had to adjudicate. Jethro watched in amazement how, from early morning till late, Moses judged the people, with very many still waiting for their turn. As the wise Jethro watched this situation, he realized that what Moses was doing was not the best way and so he spoke out; “That isn’t the best way to do it” (Exodus 18:17 CEV), he advised the overworked Moses." Appoint judges from the people to help and then you take care of the difficult cases".

The important lesson Moses learnt from his wise father-in-law was that of delegation. How often a leader works him/herself into the ground trying to do everything themselves! After all, we all believe we can do it better, and so “if I want it done properly, let me do it myself.”

There are a few obvious problems with this theory of “I have to do it myself!” Firstly it limits seriously the amount of work that can be accomplished. It puts unnecessary pressure on everyone. How often I have seen a leader lose his family because he was so busy looking after the affairs of others that he neglected to spend time taking care of his own.

The second serious problem is that it limits growth by limiting opportunities for others to learn and gain experience. The parent that does everything for the children may, in fact, get things done better, but how in the world will the children ever learn? Imagine the excitement in the lives of the many judges that Moses appointed as they now had the opportunity to exercise their abilities and be and feel useful.

It actually is quite amazing that it took a Midianite priest to come and help his famous son-law-Moses to do his work more efficiently. Sometimes it is hard to see clearly what is happening when you are so involved with the daily pressures of life. Sometimes it is pride that can keep us from getting good advice or perhaps just desperation in trying to survive.

I am certain Moses’ family were glad to see him for lunch occasionally and that the work was now accomplished much more efficiently. In fact, in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, some of the speeches of Moses are recorded and in verses 9-19 he describes the success of this effort. He begins by saying, “being your leader is too big a job for one person”.(Deuteronomy 1:9 CEV) Here it is a pity that Moses does not give credit to his father-in-law for the idea, but then that is often what happens.

Sometime later when King Solomon died, the United Kingdom was split because his son Rehoboam failed to listen to the good advice offered him by the elders. He rather listened to the bad advice from the young men who grew up with him. So he increased the hardship that Solomon had inflicted on the nation and the United Kingdom thus split into a Northern and Southern one. (2 Chronicles 10:1-19)

Two lessons from the story of Moses and Jethro can be applied today. Seek out good advice and listen to it. Learn to delegate because it lightens your load, helps to increase productivity and also gives opportunities for others to grow and use their abilities.

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    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Amen! The best owners manual available is God's Word.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Truly a valuable lesson to be kept in mind. Life doesn't come with an owner's manual, so we must rely on good choices.

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      4 years ago from East London, South Africa

      It is an interesting example of learning to do things differently. Thanks for the comment.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am ashamed to say I did not know anything of this story. It is so interesting too. So that was the beginning of judges? Now what a lesson you have taught! Am sharing hoping some others may learn it too. Thank you!

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