What are your criteria for leadership? If you were the CEO of a business responsible for hiring the executive team, or a school administrator in charge of selecting the staff, what qualities would you look for in the person you hired? What do you want to know about the people on the ballot when you enter the voting booth?
In Exodus 18, Moses learned some lessons in leadership from his father-in-law, Jethro that are worth considering today, more than three thousand years later!
It’s been a couple of months since God had the last word and Pharaoh’s armies drowned in the Red Sea and Israel said a final goodbye to the Egyptian people who had enslaved them. Six hundred thousand men plus women and children are making their way across the wilderness toward the land God had promised their ancestor, Abraham. They’ve already settled into a pattern of experiencing need, grumbling and complaining, seeing God provide in miraculous ways, and then repeating the cycle again when the next need arises. God’s given them manna from heaven, quail in abundance, and water from a rock. He opened a path of dry ground in the sea and His Spirit guards them day and night, a visible expression of His care and protection.
One would think they would be wide-eyed with amazement and so grateful for what God was doing there would be no disagreements among them, but sadly, that’s not the case. By the time Jethro visits Moses to bring his wife and daughters to join this massive caravan, Moses is spending entire days listening to their complaints and judging between their disputes.
Jethro wisely sees that this can’t last. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone (Exodus 18:18).
His solution is simple and brilliant. He tells Moses to choose good leaders to govern the people, teaching the statutes and laws according to which God would have His people to live. Each will be given a measure of responsibility that will spread the burden across many shoulders. It’s an excellent, God-inspired plan, and Moses institutes it immediately.
Jethro’s words of wisdom give us four distinct character traits that we should look for in those who are selected for leadership roles across all segments of society.
Exodus 18:19-22 – Now listen to me: I will give you counsel and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.
What kind of men and women should be elevated to leadership positions?
First, they should be teachable. As God’s ordained leader, Moses received instructions from and answered directly to, God. The leaders he selected would have to be humble enough to take direction and instruction from Moses.
Second, they were to fear God. Those in leadership should have a healthy respect and understanding for their Creator, knowing they will ultimately give account for their decisions to God.
Third, they were to be men of truth. They should be committed to transparency and integrity, unwilling to lie or deceive, and standing firm on the words of God.
Fourth, they were to hate dishonest gain. They would not be swayed by the lure of money or possessions; they would refuse to sell out their fellow Israelites for bribes or lucrative gain.
If you are serving in a leadership role in any capacity, would others define your character in this way? Are you humble and teachable? Do you fear God? Are you committed to living and working according to the truth found in God’s Word? Are you an honest person, not motivated by worldly gain?
What kind of world we would live in if our governing authorities, business leaders and administrators, and teachers – anyone who has responsibility and influence over other individuals – were held accountable to this standard? Moses certainly knew that the men he chose would not be perfect; they would make mistakes just as he did. There would be times when he would have to intervene, and moments of disagreement that would need to be worked through, but if those men truly were developing these character qualities, the people they served would benefit greatly and God would be glorified.
These words of wisdom are not just for business leaders. Character traits like these are not natural; our human flesh left to itself, will grow into the exact opposite of the kind of people God wants for leadership roles. Strong leaders come from homes where children are taught both by example and verbal instruction and expected to live up to these truths. Jethro’s wisdom is a great foundation for parents to consider in their desire for their children to do well in life.
How relevant scripture is to our world today! As we make practical decisions in our daily work and home life, God’s Word provides all the wisdom we need. May we be men and women worthy of the leadership roles God assigns us, and guide those under our care to the same high standard of character and integrity that pleases our Heavenly Father.