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:

Blog Posts: April 19-24


God loved the children of Israel. He had heard their cries and had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. (See Exodus 3:7-8.) At Mount Sinai, after reminding them of all that He had done for them, He explained what kind of behavior would please Him: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I…

Thou Shalt Not Covet

The first nine commandments are all about our behavior, but the tenth commandment is about our desires. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.Exodus 20:17, Mosiah 13:24 The word “covet” can mean simply to…

Govern Ourselves

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw him judging the people “from the morning unto the evening,” he said, “The thing that thou doest is not good.” Moses explained to him that the people needed his help resolving disputes and that this was his opportunity to teach them about God’s laws. Jethro replied, “This thing is too heavy for thee;…

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

To ancient Israel, the Lord declared, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20, Mosiah 13:23). He subsequently elaborated on this commandment: You must not pass along false rumors. You must not cooperate with evil people by lying on the witness stand.You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are…


To ancient Israel, the Lord issued a challenge. “I am the Lord your God,” He said. “Ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, see also Leviticus 20:7). In 1831, shortly after revealing “the law of the Church,” the Lord reissued this challenge. By following this law, He said, “Ye shall…be sanctified by that which ye have…


After delivering the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Lord provided a rather surprising instruction regarding formal worship: If thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.Exodus 20:25 Hewn stones are stones that have been cut or shaped.…

The Seventh Day

Before God could teach the children of Israel to keep the Sabbath Day holy, He had to acclimatize them to a seven-day week. They had previously been slaves, with no control over their schedules. And in ancient Egypt, weeks were ten days long, not seven. (See Janice Kamrin, “Telling Time in Ancient Egypt,” February 2017,…

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