How Moses Blew It (and Made It)

Moses is the best (and worst) example we have in the Bible of how to lead a team. In short, looking at his leadership journey, when God first called Moses to lead, Moses tried desperately to back out; when he led the nation of Israel through the wilderness, he tried to do it on his own; but, after listening to a much-needed leadership lesson from his father-in-law, Jethro, he was transformed into a true teaming leader.

The premiere biblical passage on the art of delegation, an essential teambuilding skill, is Exodus 18. At a breaking point, Moses, encumbered with the overwhelming responsibilities of leading the Hebrew children out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, was paid a visit by his father-in-law. After observing the struggles of his son-in-law and his antiquated organizational style, he offered some fatherly (or father-in-lawly) and, in a real sense, progressive advice. Here's the story:

The next day, Moses sat as usual to hear the people's complaints against each other. They were lined up in front of him from morning till evening.

When Moses father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "Why are you trying to do all this alone? The people have been standing here all day to get your help. 

Moses replied, "Well, the people come to me to seek God's guidance. When an argument arises, I am the one who settles the case. I inform the people of God's decisions and teach them his laws and instructions."

"This is not good!" his father-in-law exclaimed. "You're going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people's representative before God, bringing him their questions to be decided. You should tell them God's decisions, teach them God's laws and instructions, and show them how to conduct their lives. But find some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as judges over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. These men can serve the people, resolving all the ordinary cases. Anything that is too important or too complicated can be brought to you. But they can take care of the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God directs you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace." (Ex. 18:13-23, NLT)

After following Jethro's advice, instead of judging matters and disputes as the lone arbiter, Moses selected and brought together a team of judges. This made "the task easier" and lightened his workload. As a result, the people were served and matters resolved more effectively and Moses was probably prevented from a heart attack or some other breakdown. The man who would lead the Hebrew nation towards the promises, and Promised Land, of God was becoming a Teaming Leader.

You've got a Problem? I've got a Team!

Later on in the wilderness journey, after a time of considerable complaining to Moses among the Hebrew children in the wilderness, it was apparently time for some changes to be made. Moses, the leader, was feeling the pressure. The people for some time had been eating the manna (the heaven-sent food) that God had provided and yet still craved meat. This not only frustrated Moses, it angered God.

Moses heard all the families standing in front of their tents weeping, and the Lord became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated. And Moses said to the Lord, "Why are you treating me, your servant, so miserably? What did I do to deserve the burden of a people like this? Are they my children? Am I their father? Is that why you have told me to carry them in my arms—like a nurse carries a baby—to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep complaining and saying, "Give us meat!" I can't carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! I'd rather you killed me than treat me like this. Spare me this misery! (Num. 11:10-15, NLT)

Moses' complaints are reminiscent of Jethro's earlier observations and advice in Exodus 18. Clearly, Moses is now feeling alone and isolated in his responsibilities as a leader. But, God had a remedy. It was time for a new team.

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Summon before me seventy of the leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone." (Num. 11:16-17, NLT)

12/2/2022 9:06:00 PM
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  • Robert Crosby
    About Robert Crosby
    Robert Crosby is an author and Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University. Read his interview with Bobby Gruenewald, the Founder of (the Bible App) and related articles at Christianity Today, The New Engagers and The Social Network Gospel. Robert Crosby is the author of the new book, The Teaming Church: Ministry in the Age of Collaboration (Abingdon Press).