On the surface, Exodus 18 seems like just another bible story highlighting Moses being visited by his father-in-law Jethro. But a closer look reveals 3 life lessons we can all benefit from learning.
Summary of Exodus 18
If you need a refresher on what Exodus 18 is about, here is a brief overview. Upon hearing what God was doing through Moses, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro decided to visit him. During Jethro’s visit, he saw the inefficient way Moses was handling the people’s disputes and so he advised Moses of a better way. Moses accepted Jethro’s wise advice and everything appears to move smoothly thereafter.
The 3 life lessons we can learn from the Exodus 18 story of Moses and Jethro is you can do the right thing the wrong way, be open to people’s advice, and many hands make light work.
Let’s look at each of the lessons in more detail.
You Can Do The Right Thing The Wrong Way
One of the first life lessons that stand out in Exodus 18 is that you can do the right thing the wrong way. Before Jethro came to see Moses, he used to judge the people alone. On one day, the Bible says “Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening” (Exodus 18:13 NIV).
In general, what Moses was doing was the right thing to do. He was the one God called to lead the Israelites and because of it he told Jethro “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 instructions” (Exodus 18:15-16 NIV).
But although deciding between the parties and informing them of God’s decrees and instructions was the right thing, Jethro told Moses that he was going about it the wrong way.
17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.
18 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.
Exodus 18:17-18 (NIV)
Here we have Moses doing what we all would agree was in the will of God, yet the way he was going about it was leading to him and the people he was serving being worn out.
Just like Moses, we can find ourselves doing the right thing in the wrong way. As a result, we may get frustrated, tired, or confused leading us to question whether what we are doing is truly God’s will.
Thankfully, God may send people our way to advise us like Jethro advised Moses. Similarly, we can learn from others’ mistakes and successes through reading books like The Bible. This leads us to the next life lesson from the Exodus story of Moses and Jethro.
Be Open To People’s Advice
The next life lesson from Exodus 18, Moses and Jethro, is to be open to people’s advice. When Jethro told Moses “What you are doing is not good (Exodus 18:17 NIV), Moses had a choice. He could have ignored Jethro as soon as he suggested that what he was doing wasn’t good or he could continue listening to what he had to say.
Moses made a wise choice and continued listening. Not only did he listen, Moses did everything Jethro said (Exodus 18:19-24).
In the same way that Moses was open to Jethro’s advice, we should remain open to people’s advice. As highlighted at the end of the last lesson, God often uses people to speak to us and if we aren’t open to people’s advice we may miss out on something God wants us to know.
Think about, how often have you heard of God speaking from heaven to tell anyone that they are going off track? Based on The Bible, he uses people like the prophets to get his messages across.
Get A Fresh Perspective
There is a good chance that Moses didn’t start out with lots of people standing before him waiting for his judgment. Like many people’s responsibilities, his as a judge likely grew a little at a time. Such subtle changes, whether it be in our responsibilities or behavior can easily be missed. And without someone like Jethro bringing a fresh perspective we may find ourselves in a bad position for a long time.
This brings me to another point about this lesson of being open to people’s advice. We don’t have to wait for a Jethro to visit us and tell us how we can improve. By developing an attitude that there is always room for improvement we can actively seek it.
Many Hands Make Light Work
The last life lesson is that many hands make light work. In other words, the more people that assist, the lighter the workload will be for each person. This lesson which is taken directly from the advice Jethro gave Moses is especially important for those in leadership positions.
To recap, when Moses was trying to serve as a judge for all the people, Jethro told him to continue being the people’s representative before God, teach them his decrees and how to live.
“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” (Exodus 18:21-22 NIV).
Although Moses was responsible, it didn’t mean he had to do all the work. He just had to make sure it got done. Jethro opened Moses’ eyes to this reality and by extension those of us who are learning from the story.
This is where some leaders, including myself, tend to fall short. We may believe that in order for things to be accomplished, we have to do it. Or when we delegate, our desire to have tasks completed in a certain way keeps us so attached to it that we might as well do it ourselves.
Remember Jethro’s Advice When You Are Overwhelmed
So if you ever find yourself becoming overwhelmed by your responsibilities, remember the advice that Jethro gave Moses. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Find people that are capable of handling some of the work and let them do it. Jesus chose 12 disciples, trained them and sent them out in pairs. The apostles later chose 7 in order for them to focus on teaching (Acts 6:2-4). Do the same as many hands make light work.
Jethro’s visit to Moses is a great story with important life lessons. In this article, you learned that you can do the right thing the wrong way, be open to people’s advice, and many hands make light work. Find ways to apply these lessons in your life. If you are in a leadership position, these are lessons you can’t ignore. I hope you were blessed!