Moses could see Jethro watching him from the corner of his eye. He seemed nonplussed and Moses could not fathom why. He had expected his father-in-law to be impressed with the enormity of responsibility he was effectively discharging, but the man only looked pensive. Last night he had congratulated him several times on the growth of his faith and what God had done for the children of Israel.
Jethro’s great grandfather was Eldah, the last son of Midian, the son the patriarch Abraham, who had had six sons with his last wife Keturah after the death of his wife Sarah. Before his death, Abraham had given every piece of land he had acquired to Isaac. His first son Ishmael was long gone from home and had become an incredibly successful archer in the desert of Paran. To the rest of his sons with Keturah, he had given treasures of gold, camels and servants. Then he ordered them to travel and find their own territories with the wealth. Growing up, Jethro had tired of hearing from his great grandfather Eldah how their patriarch Midian and the rest of his brothers had found the distribution unfair, and refused to understand the action.
Jethro did not appreciate their arguments. The land of Canaan that Abraham lived in had been promised to Isaac, and this promise was a huge part of whatever Abraham did. It was best to leave Isaac there alone to work out the promise of God. Anyway, the Midianites had travelled south towards what had developed as the kingdom of Egypt. So it was that when Joseph and the rest of Jacob’s sons including Levi, the third son of Jacob had travelled down to live in Egypt, the Midianites had noted with consternation that in Egypt, the descendants of Isaac had again become prominent. It deepened their hatred of their relatives.
As Patriarch priest, Jethro was now leader of the Midianite and he wanted nothing more for his people than righteousness, peace and joy. Then Moses turned up by a well that his daughters had gone to fetch from, one evening. He introduced himself as a fugitive prince from one of the major families in Egypt, a strange figure in his tattered robes. He claimed that his father had wronged the Pharoah and their whole family had had to flee. What astounded Jethro was that the night before Moses’ arrival, Jethro had had a dream and seen the most beautiful eagle fly into his house. The eagle settled in his courtyard, and soon, many young birds of many types were flying into Jethro’s house. Each settled under the wings of the eagle and seemed content to sit there without fuss. Jethro watched this expanding prince of a bird with its enlargening brood take over his whole house. Then he woke up.
By the time his servants brought Moses to him, his princely sandals were long worn out and his beard did not look like anything that had been in a palace. But his nobility was unmistakable. And Jethro knew in his spirit that Moses was the eagle God had revealed to him. His daughter Zipporah had fallen in love with Moses, and Jethro was only too pleased to give her to him. He waited for the enlargened brood that God had showed him, but they had only two children. Well, until Moses came in great consternation to inform him that God had appeared to him to return to Egypt and bring out God’s people. Jethro could have fallen off his chair to discover that Moses was not an Egyptian, but a Hebrew, from the house of Levi. Jethro forgave him for the deception, for he knew in his spirit that the dream was unfolding. And unlike the rest of his tribesmen, he held nothing against the sons of Isaac.
And now Jethro was watching Moses hold court over every kind of person, after he had led the whole household of Jacob through a sea. And drowned the majestic empire of Egypt. The dream had incredible dimensions. There was only a huge problem. Moses would kill himself because he did not understand the need for delegation. ‘Of course, those Egyptian princes were not taught to serve. Just rule’. He smiled wryly. Moses had been humbled by the desert, and achieved incredible feats by the arm of God. That humility coupled with the achievement could easily be mistaken for the presence of wisdom to do other major things. Wrong. Wisdom comes in different shades. The wisdom needed to manage a community that was not on the move was different from the wisdom needed to manage an enemy. The wisdom to build love is different from the wisdom to pull down the unwanted. When people were afraid, they would rally around a leader who gave them solutions. But when fear is gone, they want to craft their own solutions. So when Moses rose from his court that evening, Jethro spoke quietly.
Prophet, it is not good for man to be or to do anything alone. Everyone must have help meet for every condition and endeavor. What you are doing will surely wear you away, both you and these people with you. Managing any enterprise is too heavy for one person. If you will listen to me, I will give you counsel and God shall be with you. Write out the laws you have received from God, teach them the rules they are too live by, the way they should walk, and the work they must do. Provide them with able leaders who fear God, love the truth, hate covetousness, and give them the authority to guide the people. They can bring grave matters to you and judge all other issues. This way, you will groom others to bear the burden of responsibility with you.
And Moses listened. Soon, there were leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. As the people participated in leadership, they felt more accountable for peace and the environment. Those close to them were invested in the process. And the strain of leadership was spread. Moses began to smile more and more. And spend more time with God, receiving directions for building the tabernacle, military campaigns for taking the land and building the territory. One evening, as quietly as he had come, Jethro left Zipporah and the boys with Moses. He went back to be the priest in Midian.