"Lessons in Leadership"

Exodus 17-18

SERIES: Lessons in the Wilderness

©August 5, 2001 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

There are lots of different kinds of leaders. Some are given positions of leadership, others lead by example, some lead in the home, some lead in the community, some lead at work or at school. Some people are recognized leaders others lead without even knowing it. There is a good chance that somewhere in your life you are leading someone.

This morning we are going to look at three principles leaders need to have firmly in mind if they ever want to make an impact for the Lord in the lives of those around them. We are going to learn these lessons from Exodus 17-18. By looking at Moses, the leader, we can learn things we must never forget.

The account begins at Rephidim which we have come to know as Massah and Meribah. It is here where God caused the water to flow from the rock.  It is quite possible that this is the very reason that the Amalekites started a war with Israel.  Water is often a point of contention in this area.  The Amalekites attack and God sends the Israelites to go and fight their attackers. The Lord doesn't just tell them to battle the Amalekites, He tells them that He is going to obliterate them. 

This seems out of character for the God we know. Why does God approach the Amalekites with such vengeance? We will understand if we look at some of the details of the story. There are at least two reasons God is upset with the Amalekites.  In Deuteronomy Moses looks back on this battle and this is what he says,

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. Deut 25:17-18  

What the Amalekites were doing was picking off the people at the back of the group.  It would be like someone coming in and bombing a hospital. The attack was on those most defenseless; the sick, the elderly, perhaps even some children. God has a special place in His heart for the weak and the poor. God defends those who have no way to defend themselves. God is rallying to the defense of the needy and punishing the Amalekites for their cowardly assaults.

In addition, we read that "they had no fear of God".   You see, the word about the Israelites and their miraculous defeat over the Egyptians had gotten around by this time. The Amalekites know that Israel is defended by their God. In the chapters ahead some of the neighboring nations are going to step out of the way of Israel because of their respect for Israel's God.  This is not the case with the Amalekites. They spurn Israel's God and attack Israel. Their attack is in effect saying, "We believe we can "take" your God." God is not about to let such arrogance stand.

A Leader's Strength Comes From the Lord

The Lord sends Israel out to battle and Moses goes up on the hill with his staff in his hands to view the battle. Moses raises the staff in his arms in prayer to the Lord. Israel begins whipping the Amalekites. Moses' arms get tired and he puts them down to rest. But when he does this the Amalekites start gaining the "upper hand". I wonder how long it took before Moses, Hur and Aaron realize that the victory is going well or not going well in accordance with whether or not Moses' hands are up or down.

What are we supposed to learn about leadership from this story? Is this where teachers got the idea that you should always raise your hands before you speak? Is this about the importance of raising our hands in worship?  Is the message about the importance of underarm deodorant? I think not.  So we have to ask the question, What is this all about? Was there a point that God was trying to make in this object lesson?  I think so. 

God was teaching the Israelites that at their best they were only victorious if God was fighting for them. The raised hands were a symbol that Moses was crying out to the Lord. This doesn't mean that the people didn't need to fight to the best of their ability. It doesn't mean that generals should be careless. It doesn't mean that leaders shouldn't plan effectively. But what is does mean is that we must always remember where our strength comes from.

Certainly, this is a valuable lesson for all of us.  It's possible that you are fighting some battle right now. 

In the midst of your battle it is essential that we remember where our strength comes from. It is the Lord that will bring us victory. Yes, we should use every appropriate means at our disposal, but we must never think that we can gain victory apart from the Lord. He is where our strength lies. It is not in programs, gimmicks, pills  and devices . . . our strength comes from the Lord.

This lesson carries a special message for those who are called to lead. Leaders often forget this and put their trust in

This is foolishness!  We cannot do it on our own. The Lord is the one who brings victory! God is the one who knocks down mountains and changes stubborn hearts.  It is the Lord who gives wisdom and it is the Lord that brings us the opportunities. Practically, this means that we should

  1. pray as much as we plan (isn't this the opposite of what often happens . . . we're so busy doing the work of the Kingdom that we have no time for the King?
  2. we must do our best in every circumstance but trust the result to the Lord.
  3. we must trust His timing, and not push ahead to achieve our agenda.

One of my favorite movies is a movie called Dave.  It's the story of a man who looks like the President who ends up as the President because of a series of sordid circumstances. Dave is a great President but the power brokers don't like him. The real President was a crook and when that fact comes out Dave is in hot water. So Dave comes before Congress and confesses the wrong doing. And in his speech he says these great words, "I also want to apologize to the American People. I forgot that you hired me to do a job  . . . and a temp job at that. I forgot that I work for you."

Too many leaders forget that they work for the Lord. He calls the shots . . . not us. 

Every Leader Needs Help From Time to Time

Twice in these chapters we see Moses in need of help.  First, we see it during the battle. Moses is unable to hold his hands up for that long. The blood rushes out of his arms and they begin to hurt and then go numb. So, Moses has to pull his hands down and rest. But whenever Moses took down his hands, the Amalekites gained power of Israel.  So, Moses has to rely on Aaron and Hur.  They have Moses sit on a rock and then they hold up his arms for him. These men came and gave Moses the strength he did not have in Himself.

Leaders need those who hold them up in the times when they are overwhelmed. At times every leader gets a little burned out and run down. The pressure wears on them and they wonder if they are doing any good at all. It doesn't matter what your position . . . at times, every leader gets discouraged.  At these times a leader needs those who

But there is a second lesson in chapter 18. Here we read about the visit of Moses' father-in-law.  We are not sure when Zipporah and the boys left the company of Egypt. But now they return and bring dad with them. Moses tells Jethro about all the things that God has done and Jethro shares His joy.  (It's wonderful when someone will rejoice with us rather than rain on our parade.)

The next day Moses goes back to work and Jethro observes.  When the day is over, Jethro has some advice on how Moses can do his job better.  

Moses could have said, "Look, Jethro, you are experienced with sheep but you don't know anything about leading this group of people."  He could have said, "Look you've been here one day and you're going to tell me how to lead this group that I have been leading for two months!" Or maybe he could have said, "Look, if God doesn't like the way I'm doing things, He can tell me Himself or get someone else!"  The wise leader realizes that wise counsel often comes from the most unlikely places. The best thing a leader can do is stop being defensive every time someone makes a suggestion that doesn't agree with them. Learning from others is not a sign of weakness . . . it is a sign of wisdom. 

Wise leaders work to surround themselves with people who will counsel them and will tell them the truth, even if it stings.  The best friends a leader has are those who will tell them when, 

Practically this means,

  1. Leaders need to recognize that they can't do it by themselves. They need help. We all want to appear competent and capable but if you give people the idea that you don't need their help . . . .you won't have their help!
  2. Leaders need to learn to listen to those around them. The best wisdom often comes from the most unlikely places. That wisdom may come from a child, it may come from a Grand-parent.  It may come from an opponent or a friend; a co-worker or someone you've never met before. A wise leader is one who is willing to be led.

A Leader Is Surrounded By Valuable Resources

The last lesson for leaders is perhaps the hardest one. It is the importance of sharing the load of ministry.  We are told that Jethro watched Moses work for a day.  We are told that the people lined up all day long to bring their matters to Moses for judgment.  One would imagine that there were domestic issues, property issues, and interpersonal conflicts brought to Moses.  All day long Moses dealt with these issues. By the end of his long day he was exhausted. 

Jethro's recommends that Moses set up a series of judges and then have only the most difficult cases sent to him.  This, according to Jethro would free Moses to concentrate on teaching the people the ways of God. In other words, Jethro suggests that Moses delegate some of the responsibility.

It is surprising how hard a thing this is to do.  And I think there are several reasons it is so hard,

There were several things that Jethro understood.

  1. Jethro understood that no one can do everything. . . for very long. Maybe you remember the old story about the football game where one team came out on the field to play the coach of the other team. The coach felt he knew the plays better, he knew the technique better, he understood the other team better. So . . . it only made sense that he should be the one to go out on the field. 

    The coach got the ball first and made a valiant effort to run the ball back. But he was tackled hard. He tried to run the ball but never got anywhere. By the time the first series of plays was over the coach could barely get up.

    Many leaders are like that. They are talented but they are just one person. They try to do everything but before long the demands bury them. They burn out and leave the leadership position feeling defeated. Jethro told Moses, "you will wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you. you cannot handle it alone." (18:18)

  2. Jethro also understood that a leader should focus on what they can do uniquely. If they don't, the important things will get lost in the shuffle. It wasn't that Moses wasn't busy. He certainly was. But in his busyness he didn't have time to listen and learn from the Lord. Jethro doesn't tell Moses to stop acting as a judge . . . instead he tells him to concentrate on the cases that are appealed. This will free Moses to teach the people the "decrees of God and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perfom." (v. 21). Good leaders know that things that others can do are things others should do. This frees the leader to do the things they are called to do.
  3. Jethro also understood that delegation gives others the chance to know the joy of serving. A shared ministry is a strong ministry.
  4. Jethro understood that delegated leadership is more efficient and effective leadership. In vers 23 we read, "If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."


So, let's wrap things up.  Let's conclude with some questions to help us evaluate our own lives and where this message needs to be applied. To those who Lead

It boils down to this, "Do you want to be known as a leader, or do you want to BE a leader?

And to those who Follow

The topic of leadership admittedly is not a particularly flashy or exciting subject. But it is intensely practical. These lessons are things you can apply to your life over and over again. And if you do, don't be surprised if God calls you to lead His troops into battle.

©August 5, 2001 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche, LaHarpe, IL. 61450 www.unionchurch.com