It’s interesting to read about the ancient renown leader of the Israelites, Moses, and really take a close look at the way he led the massive group of Hebrew ex-slaves that had been delivered out of the oppression of Egyptian rule.
Moses had a profound, rare experience with the God of the Universe, who spoke to him audibly through a burning bush, giving him the biggest task of faith that had ever been given to anyone at that time. Moses felt a heavy weight of leadership from this, and obviously wanted to carry it out his entire life, even after he had been the instrument of deliverance for his people… He confronted the mighty Pharaoh. Then he courageously led a multitude of people out of the most powerful world empire of his era. He watched God do mighty miracles- sending plagues on Egypt, and watching the Red Sea swallow up the Egyptian army after supernaturally leading the people through it. This guy had the right to be an egomaniac, didn’t he? Moses was obviously a chosen leader of God, more powerful than all the others, right?
So how did he wield that power?
Let’s look at this passage found in Exodus 18…
13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”
Here we have Moses doing what he does… He’s burning himself out constantly, feeling that he almost needs to be a mediator between the people and God. He is foreshadowing Jesus Christ in this way, which makes him a wildly unique leader in the Bible. Remember, this was a time before any book of the Bible as we know it was available… because Moses and the community of Israel wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament.
Now we’d figure that Jethro, Moses’ father in-law, would look at what Moses is doing, and think to himself… “Man, my son in law is the head honcho of all these cronies! What a powerful kid! I’m so proud of him!” But that isn’t Jethro’s reaction at all.
17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 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. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 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.”
Wow… that’s some heavy advice from the Father-in law! In-laws sure can have a lot of nerve, can’t they? We’d figure Moses would be tremendously offended, and blow off this advice. I mean, he’s God’s chosen man, right? The most powerful man in Israel, right?
24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country. (Exodus 18:13-27)
Moses wasn’t a fool. He knew he wasn’t invincible. Like any other great leader throughout history, he knew he had limitations, and needed to delegate leadership to able bodied men of high, godly character. In many ways, we see how Moses’ greatest leadership quality was his continual ability to build up other leaders. He was commanded by God to empower and commission the Levitical priesthood. He brought up a successor, Joshua, who would lead Israel into a greater era of victory than himself. Moses was not a megalomaniac, autocratic, “my way or the highway” kind of leader. He was a leader of leaders. People came to him mostly because he had the spirit of God upon him, and obviously the spirit of God made him a just and fair, but also powerful man of great integrity and humility.
It literally drives me crazy to consider even the possibility that a person could compare themselves to Moses. But nonetheless, people, even pastors, do this. They often do it to justify thinking they’re a great, powerful leader that everyone needs to depend on.
This couldn’t be further from the biblical truth. The thing that made Moses great and powerful was the fact that he was a leader of other powerful leaders. He laid out a template for the church of Jesus Christ to follow.
Jesus laid out the instructions for his disciples quite clearly… And contrasted these with the corruption and foolishness of the majority religious leaders of his time…
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:1-12)
Peter, who was the chief leader in the church after Christ’s resurrection, also would have had plenty of reason in his natural flesh to exalt himself above everyone. After all, he and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had been pretty tight during His time on earth in human form. But what did Peter write to his fellow believers?
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
All followers need to be led, and all great leaders are essentially followers. Great leaders are great followers of Jesus, who laid down His life and empowered a rag tag bunch of wild men and women to do His work on earth.
Foolish leaders are prideful, and poisoned by delusions of grandeur. They won’t succeed, but “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” This is the beautiful, earth shattering way of the Kingdom of God.