Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. What was Moses doing each day and what does Jethro say about this? See Exodus 18:13-14,17-18 (printed below)
The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning until evening. (14) When Moses’ 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 the people stand around you from morning until evening? …(17) Then Moses’ father-in-law said to him, What you are doing is not good. (18) You will surely wear yourself out, both you and the people who come to you. The work is too much for you; you cannot do it by yourself alone. (Exodus 18:13-14,17-18)
Consider what Moses was doing: each day he sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning to evening (verse 13). Now listen to Jethro’s analysis of this situation: “What you are doing is not good” (verse 17). It may appear to be a noble and heroic effort on the part of Moses to personally minister to all the people of Israel as they had need, but Jethro defines it as “not good.” Jethro goes on the explain, “You will surely wear yourself out, both you and the people who come to you. The work is too much for you; you cannot do it by yourself alone.” (verse 18). Both Moses and the people would eventually suffer “burn out” if Moses were to continue ministering as he is presently doing.
2. What counsel does Jethro give Moses? See Exodus 18:19-20 (printed below)
Listen to me and I will give you advice, and may God be with you. You be the peoples’ representative before God and bring their disputes to God. (20) Teach them the statutes and the laws and show them the way in which they are to walk and the duties they are to perform. (Exodus 18:19-20)
Consider the job description Jethro outlines for Moses: “You be the peoples’ representative before God and bring their disputes to God” (verse 19). Jethro is recommending a ministry of prayer, intercession, and seeking the wisdom of God on behalf of the people. He further counsels Moses, “Teach them the statutes and the laws …” (verse 20a). Note: this is the same two-fold pattern of ministry (prayer and Bible teaching) that was implemented by the apostles to set the precedent for the New Testament church (cp. Acts 6:2-4). Moses is also to “show them the way in which they are to walk” (verse 20); that is to say, Moses, as the leader of God’s people, must be an example and model for the people (cp. 1 Timothy 4:12).
3. What further counsel does Jethro offer Moses in Exodus 18:21-22 (printed below?)
Furthermore, select capable men from among the people—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, officials over hundreds, officials over fifties, and officials over tens. (22) Have them serve as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every difficult case to you, but let them decide every small matter by themselves. In this way it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. (Exodus 18:21-22)
Jethro advises Moses to “select capable men from among the people…and appoint them as officials” (verse 21). Jethro counsels Moses to delegate responsibility to able men who will assist him in the ministry. Jethro is speaking of competent men whom he defines as “men who fear God, men of integrity, men who hate dishonest gain”—i.e.; men of principle and integrity.
4. According to Exodus 18:20 (printed below), besides being an example for the people (showing them the way in which they are to walk), what else is Moses to do with regard to the people?
Teach them the statutes and the laws and show them the way in which they are to walk and the duties they are to perform. (Exodus 18:20)
Jethro instructs Moses, Show the people “the duties they are to perform” (verse 20c). The people of Israel were to take an active part in the worship and service of God; they had their duties of ministry to perform. The congregation of the people were not to merely be consumers of a religious service or ministry, they were to actively engage in worship and service to God.
5. How does Jethro’s counsel (found in Exodus 18:20 printed above under question #4) apply to the present day (New Testament era) pastor and congregation? Consider Ephesians 4:11-12 (printed below)
…the Lord gave some to be … pastors and teachers (12) to prepare the saints for the work of ministry for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12)
One of the tasks of the pastor is to prepare the saints (i.e., the people of God) for active service to Christ and to one another. The service for which the pastor/teacher must prepare the people of God is defined as “the work of ministry” (the Greek word translated ministry means humble service to others, the type of service performed by a servant). Thus, by means of the pastor/teacher’s ministry, the people of God are being prepared to be more like the Lord Jesus Himself: “whoever desires to be first among you must be your servant, (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 20:27-28). By way of illustration: as a Christian layman you must not view yourself as a tourist on a luxury liner, lying on the deck in a lounge chair, absorbing the crew’s professional service and enjoying the cruise. On the contrary, you should view yourself as a navy pilot aboard an aircraft carrier, being equipped by the ship’s crew for your next mission.