A Lesson from Moses' Father-in-Law
Today is Father-in-Law Day! To celebrate father-in-law's everywhere and learn a little bit about leadership, we are going to look at Exodus 18 and the relationship between Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro.
Whether you do have a father-in-law or not, the passage shows a wonderful Biblical relationship and comes with leadership advice that can benefit anyone.
Moses and Jethro had a loving and respectful relationship.
The opening verses of Exodus 18 display the loving and respectful relationship between Jethro and Moses:
“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. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake… and how the Lord had delivered them…Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel.” (Exodus 18:7-9, English Standard Version)
Bowing showed humility and honor to Jethro. The kisses are a part of family affection and show that Moses welcomed him as family. Both greetings hold respect and love for Jethro in the highest regard.
Their conversation on welfare suggests that their relationship was balanced and that they cared for each other. The care they showed each other goes beyond conversation and becomes fellowship and celebration.
They rejoiced together: they celebrated God’s mercies during the times of hardship under Egyptian rule and now in the wilderness.
This shows us how we should greet our father-in-law’s, and how we should honor and fellowship with them.
Jethro’s leadership advice was meant to benefit both Moses and the Israelites.
Later in the passage, Jethro showed respect toward Moses as a leader when he asked Moses about how he judges – or leads – the people. Their relationship paved the way for leadership advice.
Moses had the task of judging the people, which was an all-day affair. Jethro asks him about it in verse 14. When Moses answers him, Jethro kindly confronts him.
“What you are doing is not good. 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.” (Exodus 18:17-18, ESV)
Jethro’s advice is about delegation, but he does not say Moses is doing a bad job. Jethro’s advice looks to Moses’ personal care and for the wellbeing of Israel. Jethro explains the steps and the qualifications for the men. Exodus 18:21-23 instructs Moses about the structure, but it can also give us insight into delegation so that important responsibilities can be prioritized.
Moses peacefully listened and obeyed. Jethro stayed only as long as necessary.
Moses does not retaliate against Jethro. He takes the advice to heart and “listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he said. He chose able men, they judged, and then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.” (Exodus 18:24-27, ESV)
Jethro was there to help out as needed but was able to depart to his own country of Midian after he knew Moses was well established.
Their obedience again shows their respect for each other. Moses respected Jethro by obeying him and Jethro respected Moses by leaving when the time came. He did not overstep boundaries – he advised and then he departed.
Jethro’s actions here model how someone offering counsel or leadership advice does not need to become controlling.
What does this mean for us?
Respectful and loving relationships can be accomplished with anyone, including father-in-laws.
We can model humility and respect from Moses and Jethro’s relationship. We can also learn from Jethro’s advice on delegation. Delegation looks different depending on the situation, but it is clear from the passage that our way of doing things might not be the best way! After all, Moses was leading the way he thought was best, but was able to change based on Jethro’s advice.
Regardless of our “father-in-law status,” we can still love and honor the godly relationships and their counsel.
Cheers to all the father-in-law’s out there!