Old Testament reading:
[Exo 18:1-27 ESV] 1 Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), 4 and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). 5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. 6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” 7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. 13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 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. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.” 24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.
New Testament reading:
[Act 6:1-4 ESV] 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
[Luk 6:20-23 ESV] 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
The mighty acts of God have been made known to the nations. At least Jethro in Midian, “had heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his Israel his people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.”
Not merely “that” God had brought Israel out of Egypt, but “how” God had done so. He did so by His mighty hand. God won the victory. He brought victory over Egypt, over hunger, over thirst, and over the Amalekites. He has brought the Israelites through the Red Sea and to the other side.
And Jethro has caught wind of this. And he wants to know more. So he goes out to see Moses. This is a family reunion. Jethro, the priest of Midian, as you recall, is Moses’s father-in-law.
I. A Family Reunion (v. 1-12)
So Moses and his brother Aaron now meet up with Jethro, and Zipporah (the daughter of Jethro and wife of Moses) and joining them are Gershom and Eliezer (the two sons of Zipporah and Moses).
You might ask, why had the nuclear family of Moses, Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer been apart in the first place? It is not exactly clear. Possibly when Moses had gone to Egypt his wife and two sons went back to Midian to live with grandpa Jethro. Or, as others think, only in this present episode had Moses sent his wife and children to see Jethro, and now they are all returning to the wilderness for this family reunion.
Now that they are reuniting this might indicate something of where they are. Perhaps they are near Midian, and so perhaps it tells us that Mt. Sinai is indeed in Midian and not the traditional site in the Sinai peninsula. But we cannot make any conclusions. All we know is that they are meeting in the wilderness. And there are a lot of places that could be considered as “the wilderness.”
When they met Moses bowed down and kissed Jethro. This is a showing of respect indicating not only that Jethro is Moses’ elder family member, but also perhaps that Jethro is an authority in the place; if indeed they are still in the land of Midian.
Moses then explains to Jethro all of what had happened so far in the Exodus. And Jethro then responds:
“Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.”
This is sometimes called “the conversion of Jethro.” Some yet refer to Jethro as heathen, as an unbeliever.
But that Jethro brings a burnt offering and sacrifices to God is a sign of his conversion. And then Aaron and all the elders of Israel eat bread with Moses’s father-in-law before God. This is another sign that he has converted; they are all eating together presumably as believers in the one and same God.
Thus at this family reunion there was worship of God in the sacrifices offered. And this is part of the purpose of a family; to encourage one another’s walk with the Lord. To worship together. We should praise the Lord for our families, for it is most likely that you were brought to church by your father or your mother, or given a bible from your grandparent or aunt or uncle. One’s family often brings you to the Lord, and ones family often keeps you strong in the Lord. It helps to have believing family around you. If you do not have the influence of family, I pray you have the influence of Christian friends; and the influence of the fellowship of this church to always remind you of the things of God and return your focus to Him.
I hope and pray that your family brings you closer to God and that family reunions are greatly beneficial to you. But I know that this is often not the case. When I think of family reunions what comes to mind is the movie my family would watch every Christmas season – Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. And in this movie all the family comes over to their house. All the extended family. And the children find the relatives increasingly disturbing and disturbed. Their toupee’s are falling off, they are demanding, old and strange, brining odd foods; one of them even has wrapped up their cat in a box to give away as a present.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience at family reunions. Not so beneficial. As a child I once was told we were going to the Parbel family reunion. And I said, “who are the Parbels?” It turns out that that was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, and I had second cousins I didn’t even know about. And I thought it was a real drag to attend these reunions, though in adult life I’ve found family reunions much more enjoyable.
But as for Moses’s family reunion, it is very beneficial. It has not only brought about the conversion of Jethro, but is also brings about a great change and improvement in the governance of the church. And lest it be overlooked, the stories we read of in the Old Testament are stories of the church. These are the people of God of old. The church does not begin at Pentecost, but is renewed with the holy spirit and the gospel mission. But even in the Old Testament we see God working all things together for His people. And so we find that God brings this family reunion about in order to not only convert Jethro but to use him to give advice to Moses; advice that is heeded for the proper governance of the church.
II. The Advice of Jethro (v. 13-27)
There is a natural break in our text between verses 12 and 13. The first part is the first day of the family reunion. Then, in the second part, we have “the next day” and the discussion continues on the subject of choosing judges.
You see, Jethro finds that Moses is exhausting himself in judging every case that comes up among the people.
Today we might call this “burn out.” And many studies are conducted and people want to know “Why to pastor burn out?”
There are many factors. But what the text focuses on is that when Moses is stretched too thin he becomes exhausted. We can say this of pastors too; they suffer when stretched too thin.
And so last week we saw the importance of assistance. We saw that Aaron and Hur had held up Moses’s arms to support them as he called upon God to lead Joshua in battle over the Amalekites. And now we find again that Moses needs help. He’s experiencing “burn out.”
There are all sorts of statistics online, equally doubtful, about burn out among pastors. Some say “50% of ministers starting out will not last 5 years.” Another say “90% of pastors report working between 55 and 75 hours per week.” They struggle with unrealistic expectations, and there are “phone call even late at night or early in the morning,” no real weekends, and few vacation. People from outside of the church ask for their advice or help. And most of all they struggle with conflict in the church, sometimes a new issue each month. One article in Christianity Today even has the terrible title “That Stat that says all pastors are miserable and want to quit.”
Well, before I go any further, let me assure you that I very much love my job, and with the Lord’s help I pray that I will not suffer from pastoral burn out.
But the whole point of this is to realize one’s limitations. That is Jethro’s advice to Moses. He needs help! He needs to chose men, capable and trustworthy men (not women) to be judges.
There just simply was more work than one man could do. Moses tried. He had a good spirit to go about it all. But it was too much.
17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 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.
And the fact that Jethro’s advice is heeded is another sign that he is a believer. Though he is a Midianite (a gentile, not a Jew), he is part of the Kingdom of God. And God uses him for the benefit of His church.
An overarching principle of Presbyterian churches today is “good order.” An orderly society of a priority. Order is set up through Jethro’s advice.
25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.
These judges are “able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe.”
This reminds us of God’s requirement for elders today in the church.
[1Ti 3:2-3 ESV] 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
So this is the fruit of this family reunion. 1St, Jethro’s conversion. 2Nd, his advice heeded. And Jethro’s advice is the seeds of Reformed church government for today.
III. Implications for Church Government
There are then from this passage a number of implications for the church today and for the governance of it.
A. Multiple Leaders.
For one, we see that instead of there being a single leader, there are multiple leaders. Moses does not do all of the work, nor make all the decisions, but he has judges appointed to decide cases.
This idea of have many leaders rather than a single leader if a major principle of Presbyterianism. It is, in fact, part of how we get our name, Presbyterian. The elders in the New Testament are called, in Greek, presbuteros, from which we get our word Presbyterian. The idea is that multiple elders together are to lead a church. This prevents tyranny and provides a better guard against wayward doctrine.
This also divides up the work. A single pastor scarcely has all of the abilities to lead a full church. Rarely is their the combination of skills, patience, intelligence, counseling ability, judgment, etc. Well-formed in one individual. The pastor needs a team of elders to assist in the work of the church. In fact, the pastor is an elder, but one whose focus is on teaching, as was Moses’s focus.
Moses was a prophet who taught people God’s word which came to him. Today a pastor teaches God’s word, not as a prophet, but as a pastor and servant, preaching from the faith once delivered to the saints; that is, the words of the Bible.
Moses, we should note as well, is a family man; not a celibate priest or a monk kept separate from the world. And the judges here selected in the Old Testament and the elders chosen in the New Testament also are family men; men with no more than one wife.
B. Levels of courts.
Then we see various levels of governance. There are man placed over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.
This may have been a bit like a graded court system. Decisions are made at the most local level possible, in the group of ten (or within a family). Then, if there is an appeal the decision is reviewed by a judge of 50 or 100, and finally—if needed—by the judge of a thousand.
We understand, and we in the Presbyterian church, practice something similar. From Matthew 18 we know that we should start at the smallest level. When someone sins against you, you tell that sin to that one person. If they do not listen, you take another person with you. If they still do not listen, you take the issue to the church. Then, in Presbyterian church governance, there is also a system of appeals, where a local decision can be reviewed by a Presbytery, or a Presbytery decision reviewed by the General Synod.
C. The Work Divided Out
Most clearly of all in our passage we find the principle of dividing up the work in the church. And there is a New Testament parallel with the choosing of deacons. The work is to be spread out. Moses can’t do it all, and neither can the apostles do all the work. They need help; deacons devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the word, serving the people of the church.
All of this fruit then came out of the family reunion here in Exodus 18.
And church government is to be considered a great blessing. It is good that we don’t have tyrannical pastors making all the decisions and directing your life. But rather Christ rules, through his word (like a constitution) and through the judgment of multiple elders who are mature Christians seeking what is Biblical and good … for you.
But while we see such fruit from this family reunion, as we conclude I want to point us—in two ways—towards that which is greater.
For one, Moses is a type of Christ. He, as a prophet, is a mediator between God and men. But Christ is the compete mediator that we need. Thus today we have no mediator but Christ. There is no vicar, no substitute for Christ. And anyone who calls himself the vicar of Christ is falling into the error of the antichrist which the New Testament warns us about. (The one who claims to be in the place of Christ is stealing glory from God and is truly against Christ.)
So we have Christ himself as someone greater than Moses to look to.
But also, note that the 10 commandments are not yet given here in the Exodus. Certainly there are those creation ordinances and other words that God has already given to the prophets. But these judges just elected need more guidance. They need the law of God. And this is what will soon be coming as we continue the account of the Exodus, God willing, in future sermons.