Exodus 18 Sermon – Life in the Family Of God – You Are Not Able To Go It Alone


On January 28, 1986 the US space shuttle Challenger was about to be launched. But it was a freezing morning and icicles hung onto the launch tower. McDonald was an engineer of the rocket boosters. Research had shown that the rings sealing the sections were more likely to leak in cold weather and it had never been tested in temperatures that cold. He was the only person who said the launch should be delayed. Although he stood his ground in opposing the launch, he was vetoed and they went ahead. 73 seconds later the shuttle exploded and 6 astronauts lost their lives.

Allan stood his ground and told the truth even though it was unpopular. His counsel could have saved the lives of 6 astronauts if it was listened to.

Today we will see Jethro’s counsel for Moses and how he responded.

Today’s passage in Exodus is analogous to life in the church, the family of God. We will learn that we need each other. Like a family, we are to help and support each other.

I. God’s Family Is Big (1-12) – It is not limited to only the Jews.

Exodus 7:5 – The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”

God had declared His purpose to show He was the real God and the Egyptian gods were not. Jethro had heard of what had happened in Egypt. Even at that time, news traveled pretty fast, probably mostly through merchants and traders. Then Jethro took the initiative to seek him out based on the news he had heard. God’s purpose was accomplished. People far and wide must have heard what had happened in Egypt. This gave many people the chance to believe who might not have known much about God before.

Verses 10-12 – Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

Jethro’s response indicates he is a believer in God. This shows us that non-Jews could be saved and were saved. The requirements were the same, faith in God. If someone heard and believed they could be saved. God’s family was not limited to Jews.

Verse 10 and 11 show Jethro using God’s covenant name with Israel ,YHWH. Then in verse 12 the word Elohim is used, a more generic word for God. This word is never used elsewhere when making sacrifices to the LORD in the Penteteuch, so this seems to be evidence that God is meeting with Gentiles (Jethro) and Israelites at the same time. This is why He doesn’t use His covenant name here. That means that anybody can come to God anytime, and anywhere and God will respond.

God’s family is big. He is working in places we don’t even know. In the Old Testament people like Jethro and Melchizidek are following God. They are not only following God themselves, but they are religious leaders for their people.

No person or group is too isolated for Him to reach. We only know a tiny fraction of what God is doing. In the jungles of the Amazon, in the mountainsides of North Korea, in the streets of Dubai, in the plains of Mongolia, in the ancient deserts where the nomadic tribe of Jethro’s Midianites dwelt, God is at work. Let us lift up our eyes. And let us pray for all of God’s family which is out there. Pray not just for the needs of you and your family. Pray for the worldwide church remembering that His family is big.

II. Giving wise counsel

A. Listen and observe first

Jethro did not come into the camp and immediately start criticizing. First, he listened. He heard from Moses all that God had done for His people. And then he observed. The text says in verse 13 that Moses judged the people from “morning until evening.” Jethro would not have known that unless he watched the whole day. Only after he watched the whole day did he say anything.

And that is important. Jethro probably saw very quickly the problem. But he didn’t jump into the middle of the situation. Neither did he rebuke Moses in public. It looks like this is a conversation between the two of them in the evening after Moses’ duties were done. So he talked with Moses privately.

Even then, He didn’t rush to judgment. He didn’t assume it was always like this. He didn’t seek to share his opinion as soon as possible. Instead Jethro asked for more information before giving counsel. He saw what he thought was a problem, but he wanted to know more about it first before offering his opinion. So he asked, “Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening.”

Perhaps there was a good reason for it. If so, Moses had the opportunity to first share his point of view.

Application: Giving counsel without knowing the whole picture is likely to lead to misunderstandings, resentment, and bad counsel. Daniel example

B. Speak clearly

He didn’t beat around the bush or sugar coat it. He came right out and said this was not good.This didn’t leave any room for question marks or ambiguity. This was his conclusion.

Jethro then supported his conclusion with facts. What were the facts? Moses would wear out. The people would get worn out from waiting so long to have justice. This would also breed more arguments from people while they were waiting.

Jethro’s advice was concise, clear, and factual.

C. Be motivated by their spiritual well-being –

Verse 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.

His goal was for God to be with Moses and bless Moses. He wanted to see God’s will done, not Moses’ will done. Whenever you give advice, give advice not for what the person wants or would like to hear, but what you know God wants to happen. Sometimes this kind of advice could disappoint people. It doesn’t matter. If somebody gives you counsel that you don’t like, but know it is what God likes, do it.

And Jethro’s advice fit with Scripture.

D. Agree with Scripture

At that time Scripture hadn’t been written yet, but in Jethro’s wisdom he perceived the truth. His advice touched on many spiritual principles such as:

  • Two are better than one (Ecc 4:9),
  • Everyone getting involved and using their gifts (1 Cor 12),
  • Letting the spiritual leaders have more time to attend to spiritual things (Acts 6),
  • Appointing elders to oversee the people (Titus 1-2, 1 Timothy 3)

Counsel should always be based on Scripture. If it is just an opinion it is just that, an opinion. Opinions could be helpful and we might learn from them, but they are non-binding and don’t carry God’s authority.

E. Consider the good of every side

Jethro’s advice was for Moses’ AND the people’s good. This is key. Jethro didn’t give Moses this advice just to save his energy or make his life more comfortable. If the result was harmful for the people then it wouldn’t be good advice. Jethro took into account both sides. By following his advice the people could get quick and speedy resolutions to their problems. This would promote morale and justice and keep the people from waiting in long lines everyday, which would lead to more grumbling and complaining. A lot of times when giving counsel we have to consider more than just one side.

The world often gives counsel according to what is best for the individual. “Look out for yourself. Look for number 1.” Godly advice should consider what is good for all parties.

Negative example: A lawyer was giving advice to a person who had a lot of debt. His advice was, “run to the countryside and hide so they can’t find you.” Then he wouldn’t need to pay the debt. Even if he could get away with it, it is not good advice for the person he owed money too!

III. Receiving wise counsel

A. Get counsel from believers

In verse 11 Jethro says, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods.” He then offered sacrifices and a burnt offering to the Lord. By all accounts, Jethro appears to be a genuine believer in Yahweh.

That is important. Because Jethro was a believer he looked at the situation with the correct viewpoint. An unbeliever would not have been focused on Moses’ and the people’s welfare or glorifying God.

Unbelievers might be more focused on:

Position – You need to preserve your position as the people’s leader. Don’t delegate authority or you will weaken your own position. People need to know that you are the boss!

Wealth – You work so hard all day long. What’s in it for you, Moses? Let the people bring you a payment when they ask you to settle their disputes. This will have a double benefit. You can get paid and fewer people will wait in line so you will be more free.

Their wrong worldview and their wrong priority would manifest itself in bad, unbiblical counsel.

Lesson: Seek to get counsel from believers. A lot of people will want to give you advice. Parents, co-workers, friends, relatives. But you need to know the worldview their advice is coming from. An unbeliever cannot give good advice on moral matters. 2 Corinthians 5 says that their minds are blinded by the god of this world. Believers and unbelievers disagree on so many areas: the meaning of life, the purpose of marriage, the education of our children, and so many more. Let’s simplify the area of disagreement.

We believe that God created us and one day we will face God. We are from Him and to Him. Unbelievers do not believe this. Many believe we come from random chance and when we die there is nothing more. They don’t believe there is a judgment. They don’t believe in the authority of God.

Their advice is therefore tainted. They will focus on the here and now, pleasure, achievement, worldly wealth, materials, personal satisfaction.

1 Corinthians 2:14 – The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Go to experts for math or accounting questions, sure. But don’t go to them for asking about where to send your kids to school. That is a moral question and we have to answer to God for it.

Go to experts about how to treat a health problem or sickness, sure. But don’t go to them asking about the ethics of abortion, birth control, or sex education. Those touch on moral issues and we have to answer to God for them.

Go to the experts for candles or flowers or a venue for your wedding. But don’t go to them asking about how to improve your marriage. That is a moral question. We have to answer to God for it.

They are not experts on these things. The truth is foolishness to them. They can’t understand it because their eyes have not been opened.

You want to know who is the expert about these and all moral questions? God.

So when you ask counsel go to someone who believes in Him. I want you to take a moment and think about who gives you counsel. Who is always in your ear? Who are you swayed by? Think about it.

Are they godly believers. If not, your application this morning is simple. Stop listening to them. Make a commitment before God in prayer right now that you will not moral and life decisions based on counsel from worldly culture and unbelievers.

Next time you have big decisions to make, intentionally seek out and ask counsel from godly, mature, believers.

Proverbs 13:20 – Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

B. Get counsel from unbiased third parties

Aaron and the other leaders of Israel had never approached Moses about this. Perhaps they were scared to offer advice to their leader. Perhaps they were so close to the situation they could not give objective counsel. Jethro noticed this problem HIS FIRST DAY there. As an outside eye, he could see things that Moses and the other leaders could not see.

A lot of times we are in the middle of a situation and can not see clearly. This especially applies to things that are important to us (maybe a job we love, romantic relationships, or our future in school.) We might really want to do go a specific way so this strong emotion could cloud our own judgment and cause us to be biased. In these kind of situations, get advice from somebody a little bit distant from the situation.

D. Get counsel from people who will tell you the painful (unvarnished) truth

Most people around Moses were probably a bit afraid of him. They likely would have tried to tell him what they thought he wanted to hear. Jethro wasn’t like this. He tells the clear, unvarnished truth:

  • What you are doing is not good.
  • You will wear yourselves out.
  • It is too heavy for you.
  • You are not able to do it alone.

Jethro’s advice was so valuable because he said what needed to be said. He wasn’t afraid of offending Moses. He was concerned with helping Moses, even if it meant making changes, even if it meant saying something Moses may not have enjoyed hearing.

That is the kind of person you should go to ask counsel from. It is not very helpful to go to get counsel from a “yes” man.

You can probably think of people who will say “go for it” to almost any idea you have. You could go to them to rubber stamp your own plans and then say, “I asked counsel!” It’s not useful. Go to mature, godly believers who will tell you the unvarnished truth. Go to be people who are not afraid to tell you what you might not want to hear. And trust that God will use them to reveal Himself to you in that situation.

E. Listen to said counsel (value)

Verse 15-16, 24 –

When Moses was first questioned he answered honestly and without being defensive. Moses wasn’t angry towards Jethro for questioning him. He didn’t say, “That is just how we do it. Why do you care?” He didn’t say, “I have given up everything for these people and risked my life for them. You have been camping in Midian. What do you know about it?” Moses was not prideful. He was not defensive. He was clear and forthright in explaining what he was doing and why.

And then verse 24, “Moses listened.”

Here is the climax of the whole story. Moses listened to counsel. This doesn’t mean he sat there and listened and nodded and said “yes, yes, good” and then walk away without changing anything. HE FOLLOWED THE COUNSEL. He did what Jethro suggested. He was the authority. He spoke with God face to face. And yet he could still learn from others. He was God’s right hand man, but he didn’t know everything. He knew that and he was willing to learn. That is perhaps one reason in Numbers he is called the most humble man on earth.

Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 15:31-33 – Whoever heeds life-giving correction
    will be at home among the wise.
32 Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
    but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
33 Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord,
    and humility comes before honor.

There is no point in asking counsel from others just to say you did it if you didn’t plan to truly consider the counsel. God touched Jethro’s heart to tell Moses for a reason. Do you want to be a wise person? If somebody comes to you with counsel, value it. Even if it is not what you want to hear. God may be speaking to you through them.

F. A few minutes of wise counsel can change a life –

Jethro just appears for a little while in this story, but he has a major impact on the future course of Israel and Moses’ life. Counsel is important. Just 10 minutes of counsel or even one sentence could change the course of somebody’s entire life. Therefore don’t throw it out casually. Think about it. Pray about it. If it is biblical, give it.

IV. Working as a team (17-23)

A. The problem

Jethro sees a clear problem.

Verse 17-18 – Moses’ father-in-law said to 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.

The problem is that Moses was trying to do all the work himself. He was a great leader. He met God face to face. But no human can handle the duties of overseeing 2 million people by himself!

The same problem that Jethro saw occurs in many churches today. Many churches feature one dominant pastor who is in charge. He makes the decisions. And he does most of the work. This type of church leadership is very unhealthy for the church and the leader just as it was for Moses. Here are some of the problems with this:

  • Burn out
  • Resentment – Why do I have to do all the work?
  • Pride/ego – It can cause the head pastor to become prideful.
  • Blind spots – When a single person makes decisions, he has blind spots and may not see the whole picture.
  • Passivity – The congregation then has an excuse to be passive.
  • Lack of growth and training – The saints in the church will not have chances to learn by serving and leading.
  • No reproduction – When something happens to the leader, there are no new leaders to take his place because they haven’t been equipped.

A single leader model was unhealthy for Israel and it is unhealthy for the church.

B. The plan

Jethro’s plan is simple: get help! Moses would be in charge to represent the people to God and receive from God the laws for His people. And wise, mature men would be appointed as leaders. Every group would have an elder. Groups of ten, fifty, one hundred, and one thousand were formed. Leaders were set over each group and judged the people. If the case was too difficult, they would report it to the next leader up and so on. Rarely there would be a complex case which would make it up to Moses and he in turn could go to God for the answer.

C. The principles

1. Good leaders delegate authority. Or we can say it another way. Good leaders equip and train up more workers.

Ephesians 4:11-13 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Look carefully at this text and note who is is doing the work of the ministry. The leaders are not doing it themselves. Rather the saints are doing the work. Everyone is helping. The leaders’ job is to equip the saints.

A leader should not try to hold on to his authority. A leader should not try to make all decisions himself. Instead a leader should be constantly trying to train up replacements, working himself out of a job.

Application: Leaders, don’t try to do everything yourselves. This applies to church and family leaders. Give your kids jobs and patiently help them learn it.

Many leaders try to do everything themselves. Perhaps they think they can do this task better and it is more work to teach someone else how to do it. Short term that is probably true. But a parent or leader who tries to do everything himself will burn out in the long term. On the front side it takes more effort to train up someone else, but in the long term it is necessary. Take the long term perspective.

Jesus was the most gifted preacher and evangelist ever. And yet He didn’t do everything Himself. He trained up His disciples and sent them out in pairs, empowering them to do the work.

Whether you are a parent, a life group leader, an evangelist, a disciple maker, or a leader in your ministry, you should seek to equip those around you for the work. Through this way God’s kingdom can multiply.

Application #2 – Help your leaders by joining the work.

2. Good leaders are chosen for their character.

Jethro suggests a number of qualifications for Israel’s leaders:

  • Able men
  • Fear God
  • Trustworthy
  • Hate bribes

In the New Testament, Paul also gives qualifications for church elders which are similar (1 Timothy 3:1-7), but more comprehensive (show on PPT).

In many churches leaders are chosen because of their status, their longevity, their seniority, or their connections. When churches do this they ignore God’s qualifications and replace them with worldly ones. And the dangerous consequences will not be far behind.

3. Good leadership requires a plurality of leaders

  • More strengths, fewer weaknesses
  • Healthier Teaching
  • Lightening the workload
  • Accountability
  • Safety in numbers
  • Encouragement in difficulty
  • Stability in transition
  • Reminder that there is one chief shepherd

Application: Join a church that follows these biblical principles. It may not be the biggest church. It may not be a famous one. But it is probably the healthiest. Secondly, support your leaders. Pray for them. And encourage them. And join the team to work together with them.


From the very beginning God did not design people to be alone. God created Eve so that Adam would not be alone. Jethro said that Moses could not do it alone. And God established the church so that believers would not be alone. When believers isolate themselves, they become more susceptible to Satan’s attacks.

One verse we have shared again and again in the past year is Hebrews 10:24-25:

Do not give up meeting together. The church is a place where you can fellowship with other believers. God established this fellowship for your protection. Many types of animals herd together. They do this because it offers protection from predators. Fellowship with other believers is your protection. They can counsel you when you need wisdom, support you when you are weak, pray for you when you face trials, and encourage you when you are depressed. We worship together and serve together. Two are stronger than one.

Turn to your neighbor and say “you are not able to go it alone.” Do you believe that?

Then I have a question for. Are you trying to go it alone? And more to the point, are you alone today? Are you isolated from other believers?

During Covid we can’t meet face to face. The enemy wants to isolate us. Many are more alone than ever before. Many of you today have been trying to go it alone. How has that worked? Are you closer to God than you were one year ago?

The application point I want to suggest for you is very simple. Stop trying to follow God by yourself. In a moment we will have a time of fellowship with questions around the Word. Join. Many weeks we see attendance suddenly drop as soon as we go to the small group rooms. Why is this? Here is a chance for fellowship that God has provided so that you can give and receive encouragement by the Word and prayer with other believers. Join.

In the coming week you will have 10080 minutes. You will be by yourself for most of that. Why don’t you spend 40 of those minutes fellowshiping with other believers? The thing about fellowship is you will only get out as much as you put in. If you don’t put anything in, you won’t get anything out. But if you actively participate, you will grow and be encouraged. Join.

And join the lighthouse groups if you can.

Discussion Questions

  • Why is isolation dangerous for believers? What are the benefits of fellowship?
  • Why are we sometimes so reluctant to receive counsel?
  • Share about an area of your life that you need more help/support in because you cannot go it alone. OR share about a testimony when you have asked for that help/counsel from other believers.
  • Is there any issue you need wisdom/counsel in? Can you share it with the small group to receive suggestions or prayer?
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