One of the hardest, yet most important things for all people everywhere to except is that God is God and we are not. I know it sounds simple. How can creatures reasonably think they can stand in the place of the Creator? How could the sinful believe they are on the same level as the sinless? When you think for only a few seconds about the difference between the sovereign creator of the universe and creatures who can barely decide what to eat for lunch, you quickly realize how absolutely crazy it is for creatures to presume the authority and autonomy of the Creator. Yet, this is exactly what we all do. The very essence of sin is a rebellion and rejection of divine authority. It is a desire not to be like God, but instead to be God. To be certain, sin causes all kinds of craziness in the world, but it begins with the basic reality of the creation trying to replace the creator (Rom. 1:18-23). In other words, at its core, sin is old-fashioned idolatry.
There are countless examples that show us how far above us God is in his being and actions. We definitely see an example of the limitations of people in Exodus 18. If anyone was capable of powerful and even miraculous acts, it was Moses. He had just led hundreds of thousands of slaves out of slavery that they had been in for 400 years. With authority, he had commanded the most powerful king in the world. He was the one God used to bring each and every plague on Egypt, and he was the one that God used to part the Red Sea. Moses was even crucial in the feeding of the people in the wilderness and the victory of God’s people in their battle against the Amalekites (Ex. 15:22-17:16). Yet, with all his experience and authority, a pagan priest was able to clearly see how inadequate Moses was to make all the decisions for the people of God (Ex. 18:13-18).
Seeing that Moses was clearly unable to continue to judge all the disputes of the people, Jethro gave his son-in-law some helpful advice. He told Moses to find men among the people of Israel he could trust to handle smaller disputes. He suggested that he set up “mini judges” throughout Israel to deal with some of the smaller problems. Moses will still represent the people before God and teach them the will and ways of God (Ex. 18:19-20), but he would no longer sit for long hours judging the small problems. It is interesting that this advice doesn’t come from God, but from a priest of Midian. This, however, doesn’t make his advice unhelpful. Moses “listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Ex. 18:24). Though we should be careful, it is good to listen to the wise advice of older men and women, even if they are not believers.
Most importantly we learn two things from this passage. (1) Moses is not God. If you or I had been living among the people of Israel at this time, it would have been all too easy to worship Moses. He would have been more famous than a celebrity and more powerful than a president. But Moses is not God. He has limits. God does not. And everything Moses did was received as a gift of God’s grace. Honor your leaders, but don’t idolize them. (2) Moses knows he is not God. Do you see the humility of Moses? He listens to a man who, if converted, had been a believer for literally one day. He gives up total control of the people and allows others to lead. Ultimately, Moses realizes the most basic, but liberating truth in the universe: God is God and he is not.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.