Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jethro's Management Advice to Moses

Jethro's management advice to Moses has been rattling around in my head for weeks, as I struggle to deal with all of the work on my plate. As you may recall, Jethro was Moses' father-in-law, someone who gave Moses his first real job, sheep-herding, and later his favorite daughter, Zipporah. In Chapter 18 of the Book of Exodus, we learn that Jethro visited Moses and Zipporah after Moses had led the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Wilderness.

A day or so after Jethro arrived for the visit, he went to work with Moses. Jethro was simply appalled. Moses was working from "morning to evening" acting as judge in all the disputes that these contentious and disputatious people (my adjectives) brought before him.

"What you are doing is not good," Jethro said, "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."

Jethro had some advice for Moses:

1. Focus on your core calling and understand how God relates to it.
"Be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes before God." Moses was a splendid interface between the people and God. That should be enough for any one. But Moses was invested in the result of his decision making. Part of the strain of making decisions is worry that you will make the wrong decision. As a result, decisions are deferred and the problems get worse. Jethro advised Moses to put that part of the decision-making process on the Lord. You are not God, Moses, God is God. Do the best you can; keep within the boundaries of truth, humility, and righteousness as you make your decisions, and leave the rest to Him. Remember, Moses, you are you and God is God, regardless of the lofty position you may have achieved with these people out here in the Wilderness. Don't be confused on this score.

2. Educate your constituency so that they can deal with problems among themselves and not have to come to you with every issue that may arise. Jethro advised Moses to teach the people "the decrees and laws and show the way to live and the duties they are to perform". The implication is that if the people were schooled in how to behave, then many of their problems would not arise or would be worked out at an individual level.

3. Delegate Reasonably. Jethro advised, "Select capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain" and have them handle unresolved disputes. In this judiciary, Jethro suggests several levels: "officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens." Moses is only to get only the most difficult cases, as the disputes go up the levels of appeal, and those really difficult ones, of course, he should take up with God.

Jethro states: "If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied." Jethro states that the advice is not simply his idea of how Moses might best manage his work. Jethro states that "God so commands." Jethro is advising prophetically, then. He is, in a manner of speaking, laying down God's law for the situation. And how so? What do we know about Jethro? As Chapter 18 begins, we are reminded that Jethro is a priest of Midian. He is a God fearing man, a leader himself, and the person whom God put in Moses' path when Moses fled Egypt as a young man. Managing competently, then, is not an option for those who fear God. It is not a technique developed by free-market gurus. God states to Moses and I believe to any manager who seeks to follow Him, that we are to manage manage competently and, if I may extend the application even further, along the general lines that Jethro sketches for Moses.

UPDATE: I discussed this passage with my Friday breakfast group this morning. They helped me see that I did not quite get the point of Jethro's use of "God so commands", and straightened me out. So I rewrote the immediately preceding paragraph.

There is another point we developed during our discussion this morning. One might object that Jethro's advice is not generally applicable because it was given to Moses, a person who had very special, even exceptional access to God, perhaps as no other figure in the Old Testament, excepting only Adam. How, then, could it possibly have application to us?

The answer leaped right to the lips of everyone: We have the same, in fact even better access than that Moses enjoyed, access more appropriately comparable to that of Adam before the Fall. How so, but through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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