In our passage we see Jethro, Moses father-in-law, giving him some much needed advice. In the previous passage we saw the conversion of Jethro to the one true living God, after Moses recounted all the Lord had done in bringing Israel out of Egypt.

Now, the next day, Jethro observes Moses going about his work as the leader of Israel. Israel is not on the move, so the people take the opportunity to bring cases before Moses. There are around 2 million people, and you can imagine the conflicts, disputes, crimes, or need for direction there is among so many people.

Therefore, it is not a surprise when we read that Moses began early in the morning judging cases and continued until the evening. The picture is of the need of a judge but the impossibility of one man handling such a case load. So Jethro, very directly, tells Moses that this whole way of proceeding is not good. He tells Moses that he and the people will wear themselves out and literally “wither on the vine.”

Jethro doesn’t stop with just the critical analysis of what is taking place. He gives Moses a comprehensive proposal for a system that would work. The first element of his proposal is for Moses to spend time teaching the people, instructing them and warning them according to God’s word, the “way they must walk and what they must do.”

The second element is to delegate responsibility to others. Moses is to choose men from among the people who can judge cases, and the hardest cases can still be brought to Moses. So you have a gradation of courts, Moses being the final appeal or supreme court.  The vital part of this system is to have men who are qualified.

The primary qualification is that of character, but also men who are “able,” who have the discernment and capability to judge rightly. The character qualifications include fear of the Lord, trustworthiness, and unwillingness to take a bribe. In other words, they were men who will do this difficult task with integrity and focus on their duty before the Lord, rather than using the office for personal gain.

Moses sees the wisdom of the plan, accepts it, and proceeds to implement it. I want to focus on two important considerations in this story that we see in the working of the church in the New Testament. They are the primacy of God’s Word for his people and the need of qualified officers or leaders in the church.

Moses is God’s chosen prophet, so Jethro rightly prioritizes Moses teaching the people God’s directions. We see the same pattern in the New Testament Church. In Acts 6, we read of important practical services that widows and others in the church have need of. The Apostles recognize the need, but they also realize that if they devote themselves to it, they will have to neglect the primary calling they have of preaching and praying.

The Apostles find a solution in establishing the office of deacon, where spiritually mature men can take care of practical needs in the church, and the Apostles can devote themselves to the preaching of the Word. The importance of preaching the Word of God is not just for evangelistic purposes. It is essential for the perseverance and fruitfulness of believers in the church.

The vital nature of the Word of God is highlighted in Luke 16 in the story Jesus tells of the rich man in hell. The man begs for Abraham to send Lazarus (who is in heaven) to warn his brothers so they won’t end up in hell. Abraham says that if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets (meaning God’s word) then they wouldn’t listen to someone from the dead. The point for us is that if we are not changed by the Word of God, there is no hope for us.

The other important point is the need for qualified officers in the church. Jethro recommends men who “fear God.”  A holy fear of the Lord is reverence toward the Lord as the one you have ultimate accountability to. A fear of the Lord is essential to genuine piety. It is required for leaders in the church.