Moses: work and family

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Which area of your life has slipped off your radar recently in prayer: immediate family? neighbours? work? church? extended family? distant friends? Pray for someone you have not prayed for in a while.

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Bible passage Exodus 18:1–27

Exodus 18

Jethro Visits Moses
 1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

 2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, "I have become an alien in a foreign land"; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, "My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh."

 5 Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, together with Moses' sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent word to him, "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons."

 7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.

 9 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, "Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly." 12 Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God.

 13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?"

 15 Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws."

 17 Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. 18 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. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."

 24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.

 27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Explore the Bible

Busy as a bee...
A story about Moses, the big impressive leader of the people. First, his work. He is busy. Then, as now, being busy can be a status symbol, a sign of value, evidence that he is a man of God.

But he is too busy. Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) offers some business tips from the latest edition of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Midianite Priests’: delegate, so that he can ‘stand the strain’ (v 23). So far so good.

Work-life balance
But secondly, his family. There is a troubling undercurrent to the story. According to verse 2, Moses had ‘sent away’ his wife. When she visits (v 5), Moses is more involved in business discussions with her dad than in enjoying her company. She is never mentioned again in the Bible, and Moses’ wife in Numbers 12 seems to be someone else.

Moses would not be the last person to let his Important Spiritual Work push out his marriage and family life. Why is it Jethro, rather than Moses, who recalls them all to the central significance of God (v 11)? Is it always others who see more clearly than us when we get this balance wrong?


Ask for God’s help to see your own balance between work and church and family and friends in a healthy way, and pray for yourself to be wise in this regard.

Richard Briggs

Deeper Bible study

‘The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone … they will share it with you … you will be able to stand the strain.’ (Exodus 18:18,22,23)

Again, it seems as if Moses doesn’t recognise his limitations. He eagerly tells his father-in-law of all that the Lord has done and how he saved them from the Egyptians and the hardships along the way (v 8). Jethro, for his part, is delighted to hear this, praises God and makes sacrifices (vs 9–12). It seems so perfect until he witnesses Moses’ overwork the next day, at which point he realises that Moses is in danger of what we would call ‘breakdown’ or ‘burnout’ (vs 13,14). He realises that such an event would not only take away Moses’ own thankful enthusiasm that he had witnessed the night before, but it would be bad for the people. Therefore, he asks Moses to explain the situation before telling him bluntly, ‘What you are doing is not good’ (v 17). How many who work full-time for the church or Christian organisations are overworked? They don’t need a Jethro to tell them it’s not good, but there seems to be no other option.

Jethro is quite specific about the kind of people Moses is to choose to work under him: capable, God-fearing, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain (v 21). Appointing deputies is not his first suggestion, however, which is to teach the people how to live and to give them guidance (today we might say ‘empower’ them) to be able to live rightly so that they do not always have to defer to the leader. Sometimes, there is more than one means of lightening the load.

Knowing that he is described as the humblest man on earth (Numbers 12:3), we may be unsurprised that ‘Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said’ (v 24) and wasn’t defensive at criticism or reluctant to share power. How would I have reacted?

Julie Woods

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Developing gifts

One of the important roles of church community is the way we all develop one another’s gifts, support and pray for each other. Listen to this meditative prayer activity by Liz Low as a way of becoming actively involved in helping people grow to mature service for God.


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  • David Chipchase | Monday, 26 June 2017

    Help please. I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the drought and famine disaster confronting East Africa. I can't find adequate words to pray beyond "Lord, have mercy". I have also used a favourite of mine Isaiah 45,8 "You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the LORD, have created it." I don't find it particularly adequate. Please, give me some ideas about what to pray.

  • Rachael Hampton | Monday, 26 June 2017

    Yes David, confronting the suffering of our human family members in Africa and many other parts of this world can reduce us to tears and our hearts 'groan within us with yearnings too deep for words.' According to Romans 8:22 the Spirit meets us in that place, and prays with us, according to the will of God. Others, who have the gifting, will pray in tongues. Practically, we can pray for generous open hearted gifts of food relief and honest dealings that it might reach the needy. And in the advice of Jethro, perhaps people need to be taught better ways to care for the earth so that famines are less severe. Blessings and prayers WL family.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    DAVID your whole comment is a prayer and thank you RACHAEL for your helpful comment.

  • Janet Webb | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    DAVID, I'm praying for you, that God sends His Holy Spirit to lift you, encourage you and give you wisdom. Thank you for your faithful heart for Africa. May God speak to that heart and tell you what and how to pray. Bring yourself before God and He'll tell you what to pray.

  • Angela Munday | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    May people in leadership listen to good advice, as Moses did when he received the suggestion to "select capable men from all people - men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain........have them serve." When greedy people lead then the result is that there is very little left over for others to share in......'Father God, may we never hoard or waste the many resources You have gifted us; please help us to use wisely all we have and to share with others. Amen.'

  • Angela Munday | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    JANET - it is good to see you here today and I hope all is well for Jonathan and Maddy.

  • Roger Hall | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    I've been a bit quiet recently, but your prayers for Africa speak to me. You're doing all right David. Sit down with God, I'm your heart you know that

  • Roger Hall | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    Fat finger again! David, you know God is listening - He promised! He that promised is true. God bless your faithful heart.

  • Derek Forster | Tuesday, 27 June 2017

    From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace. Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never-ending day; Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine

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