Exodus 18 Sermon Notes


Pastor Rick Duncan

Life is a series of problems… one after another. We are either in the middle of a problem or coming out or a problem or getting ready to go into a problem! That might sound discouraging. But it reflects reality, right? We do live in a fallen world. So, how do we handle these problems? We aren’t meant to deal with our problems alone. And that’s why God has given us community. We need the leadership, the help, the support, the encouragement, and the care of others.

Let’s dive into the last half of Exodus 18.

The Jewish people are now liberated. God has made them to be a new community under His rule, reflecting His character and experiencing His care. And now they are facing new problems. How will they govern themselves? Who will lead? How will they resolve disagreements? How will they handle problems as God’s people under God’s rule?

We’ve come to a defining moment! This new community needs to establish new structures for the sake of love and justice. God’s people under God’s rule for God’s glory. Verse 13…

13 The next day [after Jethro brought Moses’ wife and sons to meet him] Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.

Jethro was a priest in Midian long before he ever met Moses. But we’re not sure what kind of priest. Was he a priest of the one true God? Maybe.

But it seems to me that his statement in verse 11, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods” could mean that he was actually a polytheist prior to his experience of hearing all the stories Moses told about how the LORD delivered the people. We could be reading a conversion story here. Jethro becomes a believer in and a follower of the LORD.

Now the next day, Jethro observed his son-in-law at work. Moses was a strong leader, clearly. But he was spending his whole day – dawn till dark-thirty – helping people with their problems. And it looks like he was dealing with one problem at a time. It’s not hard to imagine that the number of people waiting in line for Moses’ help was growing. Jethro is watching all this. Moses finally takes a break. And Jethro seizes the opportunity.

Exodus 18:14-17

I wonder if Moses is expecting his father-in-law to give him a fist bump! “Man, the people hang on your every word! They respect you so much! I didn’t know that you were such a gifted leader. I thought you were a simple shepherd. Your level of responsibility, your leadership capacity, and your wisdom are amazing!”

Wear out. The Hebrew word means “you’re going to sink, drop, languish, wither, fall, fade…” Why? This task is too heavy, too difficult, too massive, too burdensome.

And notice that Jethro says. “Moses, if you try to handle all these problems alone, it will not only wear you out. But it will wear out the people, too.” Through Jethro, the LORD wasn’t just seeking to care for Moses. He was seeking to care for all the people – this entire new community.

Jethro understood that this new community could not survive with just a single leader, a single judge. It’s too much for one person. So, Jethro, who maybe had just become a new believer, in showing a concern for this new community is actually showing a concern for God and His Kingdom and glory. He’s wondering, “How can I help my son-in-law organize this new community so that all the people of God can truly experience the rule of God where they live and work and play?” 

Exodus 18:19-20

Jethro says, “Represent the people before God and bring their cases to God…” Sounds like prayer!  And then Jethro says, “Warn them… and make them know the way in which they must walk…” Sounds like the ministry of the Word.

It’s what the New Testament leaders said about their responsibility in Acts 6. When they were resolving a dispute in the early church about the distribution of food to widows, they appointed others to handle that issue and said about their responsibility, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

The best thing that a pastor or elder of a church can do is to stay focused on praying for the people and teaching them the Word of God.

Exodus 18:21

Earlier in Exodus, we are told that there were 600,000 Jewish men who left Egypt and were traveling through the wilderness to the Promised Land with Moses. So, there may have been, by conservative estimates, about 2 million people when you add in women and children. If there were 2 million people, the breakdown would be approximately 2,000 groups of thousands, 20,000 groups of hundreds, 40,000 groups of fifties, and 200,000 groups of tens. That blows my mind. 

Moses needed 262,000 leaders!?!? How long would it take to organize that way? It didn’t just happen in a day! I guess the idea was to start with the first 2000? I don’t know.

Moses has to be thinking, “Who do I look for first?” Pastor Kevin DeYoung breaks down verse 21. What kind of leaders should Moses appoint?


… their relationship to the task (are they able?) Able men. The word “able” in the Hebrew language refers to strength and competence. 2) Evaluate…

… their relationship to God (do they fear Him?) Fear God. This refers to a person who has so much of a reverence of the LORD and a respect for the LORD that he or she desires to please Him at all times. 3) Evaluate…

… their relationship to others (are they trustworthy?) Trustworthy. This Hebrew word conveys the idea of faithfulness, stability, reliability. 4) Evaluate…

… their relationship to money (do they hate a bribe?) Hate a bribe. This describes a person who hates dishonest gain (NIV).

No one is perfect, of course. But when someone steps into a position to lead God’s people, all 4 of these characteristics ought to noticeable and growing.

Leaders who fear God, are worthy of trust, and hate bribes, but lack ability will be poor problem-solvers, unable to navigate change and challenges. People will get hurt.

Leaders who are able, are worthy of trust, and hate bribes, but lack the fear of God will ignore or compromise God’s word when making decisions. People will be led astray.

Leaders who are able, fear God, and hate bribes but are not worthy of trust will break promises. People will be disillusioned.

Leaders who are able, are worthy of trust, and fear God but do not hate bribes will make decisions based on personal gain rather than on the best interests of the community. People will be abused.

Exodus 18:22-23

Sharing leadership – bearing the burden together – is the way to get 1) direction from the LORD, 2) endurance for the ministry, and 3) peace for the people.

Delegation is not a sign of weakness, but strength! Delegation isn’t only about getting things done; it’s about helping people grow! Delegation is a sign that you trust and respect the people who surround you! It’s about collaborating. If you want to do a few things with a small impact, do them by yourself. If you want to do great things with a big impact, invite others to help.

Exodus 18:24-27

Moses’ response shows humility. He didn’t dismiss Jethro as an outsider. He didn’t roll his eyes at his father-in-law. He didn’t pull rank by reminding Jethro, “Hey, I’m the person God used to lead the people out of Egypt, not you!” He didn’t dismiss the idea because he didn’t come up with it first. Moses listened and learned!

In this world humble leaders are rare. Sometimes God directs us through the instruction and correction from unexpected places. Moses was a fallen man in fallen world leading fallen people. He needed help! So, God gave Moses wisdom through the advice of his father-in-law.

This new community that God was establishing needed to be an organization that would not be dependent on one leader. They needed a system of care that was manageable and sustainable. Systems and structures are not necessarily unspiritual!

Jesus is the Head of the Church. But He’s given us a team of elders, pastors, ministry directors, LifeGroup leaders, and Sunday school teachers to share the burden of leadership.

I think about the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus taught 1000s. He appeared to 500 after His resurrection. He had 120 followers waiting in the Upper Room in Acts 1 for the coming of the Spirit. He had 72 followers He sent on mission. An undefined number between 72 and 12 traveled with Him. He chose 12 disciples. Out of that 12, He had 3 who were His closest – Peter, James and John.

Why does this matter? The overarching theme of Exodus is that the LORD is the Hero who wants to be known. Throughout Exodus, the LORD constantly reveals Himself as the Author, the Producer, the Director, and the Star of the story. He is the central character who demonstrated His power, His compassion, and His ability to pursue a relationship with His people.

The LORD is advancing His Kingdom – His rule over His people on the earth. He’s concerned about the well-being of His people. The LORD is not only interested in delivering the people from bondage but also in establishing them in a just society that reflects His law and love. He wants people who actually reflect His moral character – ability, trustworthiness, reverence, and generosity.

So, the LORD sovereignly sent Jethro at a critical point in history to help Moses build a structure and a system for God’s rule over God’s people to flourish so God’s people could reflect His character to the world. And every person living in the world where life is a series of problems one after another had to play their part.

And in order for you to be able to live well in this world where life is a series of problems one after another, you have to play your part.

Why all this concern about the structure for God’s new community? The LORD longs to be known and loved and served better and better! The LORD longs for His people to be governed in a way that mirrors His own wisdom. The LORD longs for His people to know Him in every aspect of our lives.

We should care about the organization of this church because we care about every person here and we care about the glory of God!

God’s call is for every one of us. Whether you’re a teacher or plumber, a business professional or stay-at-home parent, a student or retiree, God has created your life to count in a world filled with people who have problems.

So don’t underestimate the part God is calling you to play, starting right here where you go to church. Realize that God has you where you are for a reason. You are not in this community by accident. You are here with the gifts, skills, abilities, and resources you possess by divine design. God has sovereignly given you unique opportunities for Kingdom service right here at CVC.

We unapologetically exhort you to be involved and to lead. Keep letting us know you are willing! It might take us some time to help you find your place.

Maybe you aren’t ready, but the LORD is stirring something in your heart. What if you dedicated yourself in 2024 to be your year to abide in Christ so deeply so that by 2025 you are qualified to lead?