Exodus 18-20: “All That the Lord Hath Spoken We Will Do” (April 18-24)

Decalogue parchment by Jekuthiel Sofer (1768), Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, Amsterdam

“Thou wilt surely wear away.”

Although Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s court, and although he had led the children of Israel out of Egypt by the power of God, he still had a lot to learn about leadership. When his father-in-law, Jethro, visited him in the wilderness, he was shocked to see Moses sitting in judgment, “from the morning to the evening” (Exodus 18:13). “What is this thing that thou doest to the people?” he asked. Moses explained that, when any of the people had a dispute which they couldn’t resolve, they would bring it to him, and he would render a judgment. He said that this was an opportunity for him to teach them. (See Exodus 18:14-16.)

Jethro responded, “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

If we’re going to implement sustainable processes, we have to recognize our limitations and not try to do more than we can. Jethro taught Moses how to share the workload: teach principles to everyone, choose leaders who can judge smaller matters, have them escalate the hard ones to him. (See Exodus 18:20-22.)

The prophet Alma followed a similar pattern when he organized the church at the waters of Mormon. He ordained priests—one priest for every fifty people—and he instructed them to teach the same principles he was teaching. It would have been impossible for him to personally provide the care and guidance each church member needed, but he could share the burden with other good leaders. (See Alma 18:18-20.)

Here are some blog posts about effective delegation:

“A kingdom of priests”

As the children of Israel approached Mount Sinai, God made a remarkable invitation. He told them that He wanted them to be “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” He commanded them to sanctify themselves for three days, after which He would “come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:6-11).

Yet in spite of their attempts to sanctify themselves, they were not ready. God told Moses on the third day that the people should not approach Him. Only Moses and Aaron should come up. The people were not ready. (See Exodus 19:16-25.)

It’s easy to read this event as a failure, but I’ve been thinking about it differently today. God knew that the people weren’t ready, but He also knew that it was important for them to understand the long-term goal. Even if they couldn’t sufficiently sanctify themselves in three days, it was still good for them to try, if only to make incremental progress toward the ultimate goal of being prepared to enter His presence.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned from Exodus 19:

“I am the Lord thy God”

The Ten Commandments which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai establish a basic standard of behavior for His people. The first four commandments teach us how to demonstrate our love to God (worship Him only, don’t worship idols, use His name respectfully, keep the sabbath day holy). The other six teach us how to show our love for other people (honor our parents, don’t kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet).

When Abinadi discovered that the priests of King Noah needed a refresher in basic standards of behavior, he quoted the Ten Commandments to them, saying, “I perceive that they are not written in your hearts” (Mosiah 13:11). Ultimately, God wants us to internalize these commandments, to understand why each is important, and to live in a way that is consistent with the spirit of these instructions.

Here are some blog posts about some of these commandments:

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