Exodus 18:17

The thing that thou doest is not good, etc. Exodus 18:17, 18. In the error of Moses, and the amendment suggested by Jethro, are to be discovered most valuable lessons. This day in the life of Moses was a microcosm of all his days. His whole life was service. So with all true life. But in such a life mistakes are possible. We inquire then what are the Divine conditions of a life of true ministry?

I. CHARACTER. The elements were laid down by Jethro as qualifications of the new judges. Certain that Moses possessed them. So must all who aim at usefulness (ver. 21).

1. Ability. Strange that ability comes first; but so it must be. Piety without ability can adorn only obscurity. Service and responsibility demand the man of power. Ability may be natural; but is also to be acquired. Hence duty of hard work, especially in morning of life.

2. Piety. Ability is the engine of the soul, the fear of God the helm. Richard Cobden was wont to say: - "You have no security for a man who has no religious principle." Said his colonel to Hedley Vicars, offering him in 1852 the adjutancy of his regiment: - "Vicars, you are the man I can best trust with responsibility."

3. Truth.

4. Disinterestedness.

II. ECONOMY, i.e., of force and of resource (vers. 17, 18). Remark: -

1. That the most earnest are likely to neglect it. It is not the hack but the thoroughbred that needs to be held in. The energy of Moses led him into error. So earnestness kills itself with excess of work.

2. That there is necessity for economy. As with money, one must not spend 25s. a week, if one has only 20s.; so there is a limitation as to strength (of every kind), time, and opportunity.

3. That the economy is easy. The Christian worker should not attempt that which is above, beside, or beneath his power or vocation. Nor all that is on the level of his ability.

4. That the consequences will be abundant and rich. The result of division of labour in a factory; so with spiritual enterprise, the effects will be the enrichment of the Church, and the largest service for the world.

III. CONCENTRATION. The more we withdraw effort from that which is not within our own province, the more must we accumulate and concentrate energy upon that which is. - R.

Thou wilt surely wear away.
Various lessons may be gathered from the fact that Moses was wearing himself away by undue application to the duties of his office, and that by adopting Jethro's suggestion and dividing the labour he was able to spare himself and nevertheless equally secure the administration of justice.

I. We see the goodness of God in His dealings with our race in the fact THAT LABOUR MAY BE SO DIVIDED THAT MAN'S STRENGTH SHALL NOT BE OVERPASSED, but cannot be so divided that man's strength shall be dispensed with.

II. It is a principle sufficiently evident in the infirmity of man that he cannot give himself incessantly to labour, whether bodily or mental, BUT MUST HAVE SEASONS OF REPOSE. We shrink from the thought and the mention of suicide, but there are other modes of self-destruction than that of laying hands on one's own person. There is the suicide of intemperance; there is also the suicide of overlabour. It is as much our duty to relax when we feel our strength overpassed, as to persevere while that strength is sufficient.

III. God has, with tender consideration, PROVIDED INTERVALS OF REPOSE, and so made it man's own fault if he sink beneath excessive labour. What a beautiful ordinance is that of day and night! What a gracious appointment is that of Sunday! When the Sabbath is spent in the duties that belong to it, its influence gives fresh edge to the blunted human powers.

IV. EACH ONE OF US IS APT TO BE ENGROSSED WITH WORLDLY THINGS. It is well that some Jethro, some rough man from the wilderness, perhaps some startling calamity, should approach us with the message, "The thing that thou doest is not good; thou wilt surely wear away."

V. AT LAST WE MUST ALL WEAR AWAY, but our comfort is that, though the outer man perish, the inner man shall be renewed day by day.

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

I. THE POWER WHICH MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL SHOULD HAVE. "Be thou for the people to God-ward."


1. Conduct Divine worship and establish suitable rules for the government of their people.

2. Give the right impetus to the moral and religious life of their people.

3. Explain to their people the duties devolving upon them.



1. Devout piety.

2. Truthfulness.

3. Disinterestedness.

4. Freedom.

(W. Edwards.)

1. God may use men of mean, calling, and endowments to help for prudentials, for government in His Church.

2. The most morally good government may not be good in natural or civil respects (ver. 17).

3. Imprudential over-acting in doing judgment may consume rulers and people.

4. Good and righteous work may be too heavy for the best and strongest shoulders.

5. Solitariness in dealing judgment may carry great weakness in it.

6. It is good prudence to undertake burdens proportionable for strength and no more (ver. 18).

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

1. Supreme governors had need of subordinate to carry on the burden of government.

2. Men entrusted with government should be eminently qualified with wisdom, knowledge, courage, etc. Each endowment may give a special observation.

3. Variety of bounds for power are requisite to the various capacities of rulers (ver. 21).

4. Men so designed to rule ought all times reasonably to attend on judgment.

5. Matters of greatest moment have a just way of appeal from lesser to superior judges.

6. Smaller matters are reasonably to be concluded by lesser hands.

7. Such distribution of work in government maketh the burden more easy (ver. 22).

8. Supreme rulers managing their affairs by others according to God's command, walk safely.

9. Prosperity to prince and people may be well expected by keeping God's commands (ver. 23).

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

I. IT CAUSES AN UNDUE STRAIN UPON THE SOLITARY INDIVIDUAL. Wicked men sometimes kill themselves by excess of pleasure. Good men should not kill themselves by excess of work even in the service of God. Many great lives are lost to the Church through excessive toils. The Divine Judge can never grow weary in His administration of the universe.

II. IT INTERFERES WITH THE EXECUTION OF THE HIGHER PART OF THE JUDICIAL OFFICE. How often are ministers engaged with the technical and local when they might be engaged in the spiritual and universal. Justice needs more than administrative power; it needs spiritual discernment and those qualities of moral character which are the outcome of moral nearness to God; hence it requires men to be for the people God ward. Jesus Christ is now for the people God-ward, the one Mediator between God and man.

III. IT LEAVES UNUTILIZED A VAST NUMBER OF ABLE MEN QUITE EQUAL TO THE ORDINARY REQUIREMENTS OF JUSTICE. Ministers should not do all the work of the Church; they should call out latent talent for it. Society has many unrecognized judges.

IV. THAT THIS FOLLY IS EVIDENT TO WISE OLD MEN WHO SEE SOLITARY JUDGESHIPS IN OPERATION. Others can form a more correct estimate of our work than we can. We are too near it to take the perspective of it. We are too much interested in it to form unprejudiced judgments concerning it. Let us be open to the voice of wise old men who often speak to young men as in the fear of God. Lessons: —

1. That positions of trust should not be monopolized by the few.

2. That the common crowds of men have unsuspected abilities.

3. That good men should not be prodigal of their physical and mental energy to the shortening of their lives.

(J. S. Exell, M. A.)








(J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Here is the archetype or first draught of magistracy. Scripture is the best man of counsel for the greatest statesman in the world.

1. It first gives order for the care and circumspection in the choice. "Provide."

2. Secondly, it directs the choice by four essential characters of magistrates: —

(1)Men of ability.

(2)Fearing God.

(3)Men of truth.

(4)Hating covetousness.

3. Thirdly, it applies these four to magistrates of all degrees, in aa exact distribution of them, by way of gradation, descending step by step, from the highest to the lowest. "And place such over them to be rulers" —

(1)Of thousands;

(2)of hundreds;

(3)of fifties;

(4)of tens.

4. Fourthly, it prescribes to the magistrates, thus qualified and chosen, their offices, viz., to judge the people in the smaller causes, etc., and their assiduity and industry therein. "And let them judge the people at all seasons, etc. And it shall be that they shall bring every great matter to thee, but every small matter they shall judge."

5. Lastly, it propounds the blessed fruit and emolument that will necessarily ensue thereupon.(1) To Moses himself, "So shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee, and thou shalt be able to endure."(2) To the people, "And all this people shall go to their place in peace."

(T. Brooks.)

What heroical spirit had he need have, that must encounter the Hydra of sin, oppose the current of the times, and the torrent of vice, that must turn the wheel over the wicked; especially such roaring monsters, and rebellious Korahs, such lawless sons of Belial, wherewith our times swarm, who stick not to oppose with crest and breast, whosoever stand in the way of their burnouts and lusts! Surely if Jethro called for courage in those modest primitive times, and among a people newly tamed with Egyptian yokes, what do our audacious and fore-headless swaggerers require? Our lees and dregs of time, not unlike to those wherein God was fain to raise up extraordinary judges to smite hip and thigh, etc. What Atlas shall support the state of the ruinous and tottering world, in these perilous ends of time? For all these fore-named purposes, how unapt is a man of soft, timorous, and flexible nature I for whom it is as possible to steer a right course, without swerving to the left hand or right, for fear or favour, as it is for a cock-boat to keep head against wind and tide, without help of oars or sails: experience ever making this good, that cowards are slaves to their superiors, fellow-fools to their equals, tyrants to their inferiors, and windmills to popular breath, not being able to any of these to say so much as No!

(T. Brooks.)

How valuable is a little common-sense — and how scarce! Here was Moses, a man trained in kings' palaces, deeply skilled in all the wisdom of Egypt, and yet he has to wait till Jethro comes — a mere man of the desert, before to a self-evident evil he can apply a self-evident remedy. Labour is good; but if we labour unwisely, so as to overtask and enervate our faculties, the labour which in itself is good becomes, through our perversity, an evil.

I. LABOUR IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. There is work for all, and need for every man's work, of whatever sort it may be — from thinking the thoughts or pursuing the scientific discoveries which clear the road along which the world is to advance, down to working a loom or digging a field; from managing a large estate so as to develop all its manifold capabilities of service, down to trimming its hedges or hauling its coal.

II. THE DIVISION OF LABOUR IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. It is the wise division and distribution of labour to which we owe all the services and comforts of civilized life; and the wiser the distribution, the higher the civilization. It is this division of labour which multiplies the products of labour, and not only sets men free to invent improved methods of labour, but also puts them in the way of inventing them. If, for instance, one man could make a tent in ten days, ten men, each of whom was trained to make his separate part, would turn out not ten, but fifty or a hundred tents in the same time; and each of the ten, always handling the same tools and working on the same substance — canvas, or wood for poles and pegs, or palm fibre or hemp for ropes — would naturally improve his tools to save his pains, and discover qualities and capabilities in the substance which only long familiarity could detect. From such simple beginnings as these has risen that division of the whole civilized community into separate trades and professions, and these trades and professions again into many component elements and specialities, which multiplies its productive power to an almost infinite extent, and keeps the discovery of our means and appliances of labour up to the level of our growing numbers and wants.

III. THE INTROMISSION OF LABOUR IS AN ORDINANCE OF GOD. Not only has He given us an inward monitor which warns us when mental or vital powers are overtasked, to seek out holiday mirth and recreative sports, to change the air we breathe and the scenes on which we look if perchance we may thus change the wearing current of our thoughts; He has also fixed the bounds to our labour beyond which we cannot or ought not to pass. Seven times a week the day draws to to an end, and the night comes on in which most of us, at least, are compelled to rest. Once every week, too, there returns the Day of Rest, on which we cease from our toils, and withdraw our minds from the noisy labours and corroding anxieties of traffic. And when we are over eager in our labours for present good, or what we think good, God sends some rugged Jethro — some warning sickness or calamitous loss, some sorrow that, passing through all our defences, smites and cleaves our very heart. Not because He grudges our prosperity, or would abate our happiness, but because He would have us rise to that sacred rest and satisfying peace which even adversity cannot take away, He often sends a chastening whose message, if we will hear it, is, "The thing thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear thyself away, and wastefully expend thy life on things which perish as you handle them. Turn ye at My reproof; for why should ye die?"

(S. Cox, D. D.)


1. An old man. The father-in-law of Moses, who was now fully eighty years of age. Age has had experience of life. Time for observation. Old men have seen and noted causes of success and failure. Less likely than the young to give bad advice. Are less moved by passion. Taught by memory. Are near to eternity.

2. Thoughtful. His advice shows his thoughtfulness. Thought founded on observation. He saw the labour of Moses and the extent of the camp.

3. Affectionate. He was a relative of Moses. Looked kindly also on this great host of fugitives. Near relatives, amongst those who are most anxious for our welfare.

4. Disinterested. He had nothing to gain personally by giving it, save the satisfaction of his own mind and conscience.

5. Pious. Priest of Midian. Had a respect for the God of Israel. "Rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel" (Acts 11:22-24). The advice of men that fear God, who are men of prayer, and love the Bible, not to be slighted; it will be agreeable to the mind of God.

II. THE RECEIVER OF THIS ADVICE. Moses. He did not slight Jethro's advice, although —

1. He was in direct communication with God. And we should respect the words of good men, although we have also the Word of God. We have need to be reminded of words, precepts, and promises, that we may overlook; or of laws, etc., that we may not understand.

2. He had been eminently successful. Such a man, if not humble, might have been very self-reliant; and have spurned the advice of another. Success makes some unmanageable and proud.

3. He was himself an aged man. Might have thought himself too old to be taught. As competent to give advice as Jethro. Inexperienced youth often puffed up by a little knowledge. The more one really knows the more one feels his ignorance.

4. He doubtless laid the advice he received before the Lord. Jethro made this a condition (ver. 23). Are we willing that the advice we give should be tested by the Word of God? Do we so test the advice we receive?

5. He acted upon it, and benefited by doing so. Much good advice is lost in this world. Evaded, though good, because of trouble, or indifference, or pride. The character of the adviser, or his opinion on other matters, made an excuse for neglecting his words. Will God excuse the neglecter?Learn —

1. To do good by word and deed, as we have opportunity, unto all men.

2. To get good, from all men, as opportunity offers.

(J. C. Gray.)

Dr. Holland, after Mr. Bowles's death, wrote as follows: "As I think of my old associate and the earnest, exhausting work he was doing when I was with him, he seems to me like a great golden vessel, rich in colour and roughly embossed, filled with the elixir of life, which he poured out without the slightest stint for the consumption of this people. We did not know when we tasted it, and found it so charged with zest, that we were tasting heart's blood, but that was the priceless element that commended it to our appetites. A pale man, weary and nervous, crept home at midnight, or at one, two, or three o'clock in the morning, and while all nature was fresh and the birds were singing, and the eyes of thousands were bending eagerly over the results of his night's labour, he was tossing and trying to sleep. Yet this work, so terrible in its exactions and its consequences, was the joy of this man's life — it was his life."

(H. O. Mackey.)

After Marcus Valerius had gained two great victories over the Sabines, in one of which he did not lose a single soldier, he was rewarded with a triumph, and a house was built for him upon Mount Palatine. The doors of the Roman houses generally opened inwards, but this was built to open outwards, to show that he who dwelt there was ready to listen to any proposal made to him for the public good.

One of Stonewall Jackson's peculiarities was to select for his chief of staff, not a military man, but a Presbyterian clergyman, a professor in a theological seminary, and to clothe him with the power of carrying out his mysterious orders when he was temporarily absent. In this he acted as did the greatest of all English commanders — Oliver Cromwell; who always surrounded himself with men of prayer.

(H. O. Mackey.)

Christian Age.
One of the best qualifications of a minister is the ability to set the membership at work. It is said that Mr. Spurgeon asks every person seeking admission to membership in his church. "Well, if you are received, what individual work are you going to take up and carry on for the Lord?" As a result, he has now enrolled in his church register, 5,756 communicants, who represent just so many willing workers under his leadership. He saves his own strength by doing nothing that his hearers can do equally well. And every minister who tries can carry the same rule into practice with a membership of one hundred as well as five thousand. Many ministers fritter away valuable time in doing what the laity might do as well, and sometimes better, for them.

(Christian Age.)

S. S. Chronicle.
In one of the police courts up town in New York, one morning not long since, a very small boy in knickerbockers appeared. He had a dilapidated cap in one hand, and a green cotton bag in the other. Behind him came a big policeman, with a grin on his face. "Please, sir, are you the judge?" he asked in a voice that had a queer little quiver in it. "I am, my boy. What can I do for you?" asked the justice, as he looked wonderingly down at the mite before him. "If you please, sir, I'm Johnny Moore. I'm seven years old, and I live in One Hundred and Twenty-third street, near the avenue; and the only good place to play miggles on is in the front of a lot near our house, where the ground is smooth. But a butcher on the corner, that hasn't any more right to the place than we have, keeps his waggon standing there; and this morning we were playing at miggles there, and he drove us away, and took six of mine, and threw them away off over the fence into the lot. And I went to the police-station; and they laughed at me and told me to come here and tell you about it." The big policeman and the spectators began to laugh, and the complainant at the bar trembled so violently with mingled indignation and fright that the marbles in his little green bag rattled together. The justice, however, rapped sharply on the desk, and quickly brought everybody to dead silence. "You did perfectly right, my boy," said he, gravely, "to come here and tell me about it. You have as much right to your six marbles as the richest man in this city has to his bank account. If every American citizen had as much regard for his rights as you show, there would be far less crime. And you, sir," he added, turning to the big policeman, "you go with this little man to that butcher and make him pay for those marbles, or else arrest him and bring him here." You see this boy knew that his rights had been interfered with, and he went to the one having authority to redress his wrongs. He did not throw stones or say naughty words, but in a manly, dignified way demanded his rights.

(S. S. Chronicle.)

It is an honourable memorial that James the Fifth, King of Scots, hath left behind him, that he was called the poor man's king; and it is said of Radolphus Hapsburgius, that seeing some of his guard repulsing divers poor persons that made towards him for relief, was very much displeased, and charged them to suffer the poorest to have access unto him, saying, that he was called to the empire not to be shut up in a chest, as reserved for some few, but to be where all might have freedom of resort unto him.

(J. Spencer.)

Jethro counselled Moses to be "for the people God-ward, that he might bring the causes unto God." The highest of all vocations is the spiritual. It is greater to pray than to rule. Moses was to set himself at the highest end of the individual, political, and religious life of Israel, and to occupy the position of intercessor. He was to be the living link between the people and their God. Is not this the proper calling of the preacher? He is not to be a mere politician in the Church, he is not to enter into the detail of organization with the scrupulous care of a conscientious hireling: he is deeply and lovingly to study the truth as it is in Jesus, that he may be prepared to enrich the minds and stimulate the graces of those who hear him. He is to live so closely with God, that his voice shall be to them as the voice of no other man, a voice from the better world, calling the heart to worship, to trust, and to hope, and through the medium of devotion to prepare men for all the engagements of common life. The preacher is to live apart from the people, in order that he may in spiritual sympathy live the more truly with them. He is not to stand afar off as an unsympathetic priest, but to live in the secret places of the Most High, that he may from time to time most correctly repronounce the will of God to all who wait upon his ministry. When preachers live thus, the pulpit will reclaim its ancient power, and fill all rivalry with confusion and shame. Let the people themselves manage all subordinate affairs; call up all the business talent that is in the Church, and honour all its successful and well-meant experiments; give every man to feel that he has an obligation to answer. When you have done this, go yourself, O man of God, to the temple of the Living One, and acquaint yourself deeply with the wisdom and grace of God, that you may be as an angel from heaven when you come to speak the word of life to men who are worn by the anxieties and weakened by the temptations of a cruel world. Many a man inquires, half in petulance and half in self-justification, "What more can I possibly do than I am already doing?" Let the case of Moses be the answer. The question in his case was not whether he was doing enough, but whether he was not doing too much in one special direction. Some of the talent that is given to business might be more profitably given to devotion, Rule less, and pray more. Spare time from the business meeting that you may have leisure for communion with God.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

He might have thought: "what presumption in this Midianite to dictate to the ambassador of Jehovah!" But Moses was a man of a very different spirit. In Montreal, some years ago, a certain English nobleman who had been recently converted, and was preaching the gospel to large multitudes who gathered to hear him, unfortunately had his heart lifted up within him, and began to speak bitterly and scornfully of the Churches of Christ in the city. An excellent and revered Presbyterian elder approached the young nobleman in the kindest way, spoke with great appreciation of the value of his work in preaching the gospel, but suggested that it would be better for the cause if he would cease abusing Christians and Christian Churches, and confine himself to the preaching of Christ. In reply he curled his lip in scorn, and said, "I take my counsel from the Lord!" What a contrast between the grand nobleman of the olden time, and the small one of yesterday. Moses might with some reason have claimed a monopoly of Divine counsel. God had chosen him out from all other men to make known His will to him; but when Jethro, though an outsider, and one who had only good common sense on his side, makes his suggestion, Moses does not scorn to listen to his advice, and take it too. And the event showed that the Lord fully approved His servant's course.

(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)

We recognize the value of the principle of division of labour in manufactures, because there it cheapens the manufactured article, but we fail to see its importance in our own work, because there, in the first instance, it involves additional outlay. We cannot get a man competent to be the head of a department without paying him a handsome salary; for responsibility means character, and character always commands its price. So, to divide our work into so many departments, and to put over each a thoroughly capable man whom we will hold to a rigid account, requires the immediate expenditure of a large amount of money, and we say we cannot afford it. But all this is a shortsighted policy, for, in the long run, the greater amount of business done will more than reimburse the original outlay; and, in addition, you can go home, not to fret and worry over trifles, but to be the companion of your wife and the guide and director of your children. Moreover, instead of breaking down hopelessly under the strain of carrying everything on your own shoulders, and requiring to go abroad for years, or, it may be, to leave business altogether, your strength remains unimpaired — nay, perhaps it even increases; and you have the satisfaction of seeing your home happy, and your children growing up to follow in your footsteps, and to declare that their God is dearer to them because He is the God of their father.... One said to me, when I began my ministry, "Never do yourself what you can get another to do for you as well as you can do it yourself"; and though I confess that I have not acted on the maxim as much as I ought to have done, I see the wisdom of it more clearly, the longer I live. "Divide et impera," was the maxim of the old Roman general — divide and conquer; and by dividing our labour into many sections, and holding some one responsible for each, we shall do more, we shall do it better, and we shall work longer than would be otherwise possible.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.).

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