Exodus 18 is a well known passage about delegation. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, observes that there is a great inefficiency in how the people are receiving justice. Moses is acting as the lone judge, with every daily dispute being brought before him from morning until evening. No matter how big or how small, the cases came to Moses alone. Moses alone was the keeper of the Law and he alone settled every dispute. In verse 17 Jethro declares, “What you are doing is not good.” Jethro has enough foresight to see that both Moses and the people will become exhausted by this judicial process. Jethro has some prescriptions to set things right.
First, Jethro encourages Moses to educate the whole of Israel as a people concerning the Law of God.
Second, Jethro tells Moses to find able men. These are to be men who truly fear God, who are trustworthy, and who hate a bribe.
Third, Jethro exhorts Moses to take such men and place them as chiefs over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. The title “chief” can carry a broad range of leadership meanings. But all of these titles require delegated authority and power. These men are to judge those allotted to them on any small matter at any time. Only the large matters will come to Moses. The expression of their delegated power is that they are able to vindicate or punish those who have been brought before them.
In verses 22 and 23 Jethro lays out two clear benefits in light of this form of delegation and empowerment. These benefits are worthy of our attention as well. When we educate, delegate, and empower others we will experience the same benefits.
1. The “For” and “With” Principle
Jethro states the first benefit this way, “So it will be easier for you. And they will bear the burden with you.” When leaders delegate clear responsibilities to others and empower them in decision making, their load becomes lighter because others are getting under the rock with them.
2. The Peace and Prosperity Principle
Jethro goes on to say, “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.” The follow through on this advice promises God’s direction, most likely because Moses will no longer be so distracted and in a better position to hear from God. The follow through also promises endurance for Moses and peace for the all of the people. What leader does not need staying power? Part of the answer is in shared leadership. The ultimate benefit is the shalom of the people, which not only means the cessation of anxiety, but the prevalence of prosperity.
Everyone is blessed when a leader wisely delegates and empowers others. And every now and then a father in law may have some really wise advice.