God faithfully directs the paths of everyone who trusts in him with all their heart (Proverbs 3:5-6). But sometimes, as Moses experienced in Exodus 18, God directs us through a word of correction from someone else.
The reunion of Moses and Jethro was a sweet one. Moses was glad to have his wife and his two boys back with him. And Jethro sat astonished as Moses described the ten plagues, the pillar of God's presence, the Red Sea deliverance, the provision of manna, and the water from the rock. Jethro rejoiced in such unparalleled demonstrations of divine power and confessed God's supremacy in everything.
Then Jethro observed his son-in-law at work. Clearly Moses was an extraordinary prophet, leader, and judge. But he was spending his whole day addressing one dispute or problem at a time. And the number of people waiting for a hearing only grew larger. Jethro could feel the rumblings of frustration. This looked like an eruption waiting to happen.
When Moses finally took a break, Jethro asked him a clarifying question: "Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?" (v. 14). Note that Jethro did not assume his perception was completely correct. Perhaps Moses had a good reason. Asking this question was both wise and kind.
This gave Moses a chance to explain the job God had assigned to him: The Lord instructed Moses regarding the law, and Moses was then to teach the people and help them apply it to their particular situations.
That was helpful. Moses understood his calling and he was working hard to serve everyone.
Understanding this, Jethro said to Moses, "What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone" (v. 17-18).
In other words, Moses' mission was right but his method was wrong. Bad systems can undermine the best intentions.
Now, Moses was used to being criticized. Some faction was almost continually calling his leadership into question. But Jethro was different. He saw a problem, sought to understand it, identified the core weakness, and offered a solution (in verses 19-23) that served both Moses' calling and the people's needs. Jethro really wanted Moses and the people to thrive.
In this world such a counselor is rare.
That said, I imagine this correction still might have stung Moses a little. It would have stung me. Our prideful fallen natures hate to have our mistakes or weaknesses pointed out.
But Moses' response revealed his humility. He didn't brush Jethro off as an outsider who didn't understand. He didn't try to protect his reputation by lying that he'd been thinking about doing that very thing himself. And he didn't pull rank by reminding Jethro who, between the two of them, tended to hear from God more. Rather, Moses humbly received and immediately implemented Jethro's counsel.
In this world such a leader is rare.
There's something else remarkable about Moses' response. Though he received frequent direct and detailed revelation from God, he was not narrow in his understanding of how God speaks and directs. Since God ruled everything he could just as easily direct him through a father-in-law as through a cloud.
Moses was not swayed by human opinion. But he was a man whose ear was always listening for God. He had been transformed by the renewing of his mind and by testing was able to discern what was the will of God (Romans 12:2).
Jethro has important things to teach us about bringing godly correction to someone else. First, we should identify specific ways God is working in and through that person and authentically rejoice with him or her. Second, we must have in mind the good of everyone involved and be able to describe what that is. Third, we should ask clarifying questions before we critique or counsel in order to accurately grasp the situation. And fourth, we should be graciously specific in our correction and, if possible, work with him or her to find a helpful solution.
And Moses has important things to teach us about receiving correction from someone else. First, all of us, even the most gifted, have areas that need correction. Second, correction is an opportunity to cultivate valuing God's glory and other people's good above our reputation. It helps us not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Third, God might bring correction through an unexpected person. We should keep our ears open and communicate to others receptivity to their input.
Trusting the One who lovingly pursues us with goodness and mercy, even in correction,
P.S. Our February featured message is titled, "Greatness, Humility, Servanthood."In it John Piper describes the humility that, like Jesus, does not seek to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45)—a trait that Moses so beautifully displayed in Exodus 18.
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