Moses Leadership In The Wilderness
God had directed Moses into the wilderness. The multitude of the children of Israel had followed his leadership and were now deep into the peninsula of Sinai. They had already faced many problems. God had led them across the Red Sea. He made provision for their food in the form of manna. When there was no water, the Lord provided it out of the smitten rock. When they complained about the lack of meat, He gave them quail until they cried, “No more.” The Lord had met their needs in a very miraculous way.
Now they needed direction for daily living. Although they did not fully comprehend the length of time they would remain in the wilderness, they certainly could not live without good leadership. Moses could not handle the people alone, but God had not overlooked their need in this area.
The Lord provided faithful men
Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, visited him, bringing. along Moses wife Zipporah and their sons Eliezer and Gershom (Ex. 18:1-3). He had heard of all the things God had done through his son-in-law for Israel. During this visit, Moses reported to his father-in-law how the Lord had been working in their midst. Jethro, recognizing that Moses’ God was greater than all the gods, made a burnt offering and sacrifice to the Lord. Aaron and the elders of Israel came and participated, eating bread together.
The following day, Jethro stood by and watched while a great host of people filed by their leader from early morning until late in the evening. That night he questioned Moses concerning what he had been doing for-those many hours. Moses explained to Jethro that he had to judge differences among the people by giving them the statutes of the Lord (Ex. 18:16).
Jethro, a wise older man, explained to Moses that he had two problems. First, Moses was wearing himself out over things that were very trivial. Secondly, the people grew weary waiting in line so long to receive his decision (Ex. 18:13, 17, 18).
He suggested a two-pronged method of handling these problems. First, Moses should mediate the spiritual matters relevant to obedience to the Lord (Ex. 18:19-20). Secondly, Moses should appoint able men over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They could deal with minor matters, with only the major ones coming before Moses. Jethro told Moses, Hearken now unto my voice; I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee (Ex. 18:19). Thus, the majority of the load would be lifted from the shoulders of Moses and placed on those appointed to assist him. The people would receive a quicker decision, and Moses would be able to concentrate on more weighty spiritual matters.
Some Bible teachers argue that Moses never should have given this leadership to others. They claim that Jethro’s position was one of the flesh. However, Jethro emphasized that Moses seek the mind of the Lord before he made the decision to delegate authority to others. Jethro’s intent was to lighten Moses’ workload while simultaneously assuring that the needs of the people would be met. On two different occasions, Jethro emphasized that Moses seek the Lord’s will before accepting his suggestions (Ex. 18:19, 23).
Several Jewish writers take exactly the same position as this writer. In the commentary on the Pentateuch by the noted Jewish scholar, Rashi, he notes, “This is really what he [Jethro] said to him: ‘Go and consult with the Almighty as regards the counsel I give you.’” Furthermore, in the Soncino Chumash, edited by A. Cohen, he says concerning Exodus 18:19, “‘I will give you advice,’ said Jethro, ‘and consult God whether it should be adopted.’ ” Obviously, some Jewish writers concurred that Jethro, in advising Moses to delegate responsibility to others, also recommended that Moses consult God for His will in the decision.
As for Christian writers, the Pulpit Commentary argues the same point. Alfred Edersheim, the well-respected Hebrew Christian and spiritual giant of the nineteenth century, pleads that the point of Jethro was made so modestly to Moses that it only applied “if God command.”
The late, godly Dr. Theodore Epp, in his book, Moses: Excellence in Leadership (Vol. II, p. 145) says, “Jethro emphasized that Moses should determine the Lord’s will before accepting his suggestions . . . thus, the advice of Jethro seems to have been given in the right spirit; he was used of God to wisely advise Moses.”
Advice can often mislead us. Our ultimate responsibility when given advice is to seek God’s will for direction. Moses certainly sought God’s leading before appointing this massive group of men to responsibility. The group of “judges” could have been as large as seventy-five thousand. They were to handle the mundane decisions necessary for this multitude of people.
As already stated, many scholars have questioned whether or not Jethro had the mind of the Lord. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses reflected upon the wilderness journey. In verse 12, he reminded himself of that time: “How can I myself alone bear your weight, and your burden, and your strife?”
The following verses clearly confirm that Jethro’s suggestion was of the Lord and that God approved his observation:
Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the heads of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the sojourner who is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment, but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s; and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it. And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do (Dt. 1:13-18).
As Moses reflected upon earlier events in the wilderness journey, he reminded the people of the impossible task he faced in Judging the myriad of problems brought before him by the people. He took Jethro’s recommendation went to the people and appointed judges. He charged them that, as they faced the people, they “shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s” (Dt 1:17). Moses was thoroughly convinced this leadership: decision was correct.
Our Heavenly Father never fails us. He provides that which is necessary for our lives. Just as He provided leadership to assist Moses, He provides direction to the Church today through gifted men whom He has placed in positions of leadership (Eph. 4:11-14). Our Lord never leaves His children helpless.
The Lord provided spiritual leadership,
The judges seem to have handled many of the civil affairs of the people. How would the Lord handle spiritual matters? It is true that there would soon be the priestly ministry of the Tabernacle; however, the Lord had yet another group of men to assist Moses.
Although there had been previous generations of elders in Israel, it usually carried the connotation of the older, white-haired men. Yet in Numbers 11:16, God specifically commanded Moses to gather seventy men from the elders of Israel. They were to be brought into the Tabernacle with Moses to stand before the Lord. “And I will come down and talk with thee there, and I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone” (Num. 11:17).
After thorough preparation, Moses “told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass that, when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied,;, and did not cease” (Num. 11:24-25).
We can clearly draw from this passage that the Spirit of God came upon these seventy elders. They had a continuing ministry of prophecy given by the Holy Spirit. They were chosen by God for a very special and unique ministry.
It is very evident, then, that God provided a multitude of leaders for the children of Israel in the wilderness. There were seventy elders with the Spirit of God upon them who handled spiritual matters along with Moses. They continued to prophesy. The group of judges was much larger.
Theirs was a civil leadership.
God was not only meeting the leadership needs of His people on their wilderness journey, but He was also planning for the future. One generation after Moses, when Joshua had died, the people were ruled over by judges for a lengthy period of time. When Israel finally had kings,
most of whom led the people away from the Lord, prophets were very prevalent. They were sent by God with His message. For hundreds of years, they cried out, Thus saith the Lord.
We can see in the account of the wilderness journey the precursor of both the judges who were soon to come, and the prophets who followed them and ministered for an extended period of time. This is a very significant consideration in light of the duties given these groups of leaders.
The Lord provided leadership for worship
A third group, which will not be considered in detail at this point, encompasses the priests and the high priest with God-given responsibilities. This was a separate and distinct leadership responsibility, since their ministry dealt with the matter of worship, the Tabernacle and sacrifices. They oversaw the nation’s relationship with God; the elders dealt with governmental affairs; and the judges mediated civil matters.
Just as God did not leave the children of Israel leaderless in the wilderness, so He has not left the Church leaderless. He has given us gifted men — pastor-teachers, elders and deacons — to guide us through our earthly pilgrimage until the day we are safely at home with Him.
We have a God-given responsibility to those in leadership authority. We should pray for them, encourage them and be obedient to their direction. Those who are in positions of leadership must be faithful to the Lord and to His Word and possess the heart of a servant.
All the leadership provided during the wilderness journey notwithstanding, Moses and the people of Israel that there was a higher authority. Far above any human leadership in the Church today, we have an ultimate responsibility to God’s Leader, Christ. He is the Head.