Exodus 18:13-26 • The Old Testament Roots of Discipleship


Just in case it was never pointed out, the Great Commission Christ gave commands, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. (Matthew 28:16-19) This is very different from simply making “converts”. Jesus defines it in that same command as “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”. It’s a cycle of obligation to not just put into practice God’s Word in one’s own life, but pass that example of obedience to subsequent generations.

Up until this point in history, leadership was decided mostly by one’s age and birth sequence. The firstborn and/or eldest was most often the leader. Even before God would formally give His written Word in the form of the first 5 books of the Bible through Moses, God established a system of leadership rooted in discipleship. The measure of its success was the degree to which all its participants at every level put into practice God’s Word.

Read verses 13-16

Q: How would you summarize the core problem?

A: Only one man (Moses) knew “the statutes of God and His laws”. (v.16) There was no other choice other than to go to Moses because he was the only one that knew God’s Word.

Q: Why do you think that the problem affected the people as much as it did Moses?

A: Besides having to wait in a single line for one and only one judge, everyone was unproductive as they stood about awaiting their turn. They would not only be absent from whatever work needed to be done, but their emotions would “stew” as they were consumed by the anticipation during such long waits. It was therefore unproductive on a number of levels.

Q: What do you suppose they did BEFORE Moses? What changed?

A: It’s most likely that such disputes were taken to tribal elders. What changed is the presence of one equipped with the Word of God.

Read verses 17-20

Q: How does this old proverb apply to the advice given Moses: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”?

A: Instead of merely telling the people the outcome—literally, what to do for just the present situation—Moses is to teach them God’s Word and how to apply it for any similar situations that arise so that they will be able to settle or avoid the disagreement altogether.

Q: In v.20, what indicates that Moses is to teach how to apply God’s Word rather than just provide an answer to questions about God’s Word?

A: He is to “make known to them the way in which they are to walk”—to apply His Word as an agent of change in their attitude, behavior, and faith—and “the work they are to do”—the putting into practice God’s Word in their actions and service.

Q: From a leadership point of view, what is the best advice Moses was given as he carries this out?

A: Probably “and God be with you”. It’s important that the leader never lose his connection with God so that he never purposely or inadvertently replaces God as the ultimate authority figure. [Bonus Question: How do we know this is going to be an issue for Moses personally? Answer: When he replaces God’s name with “we” in providing the people water. See Numbers 20:9-13]

Read verses 21-23

Q: What are the qualifications of the judges/leaders that Moses appoints?

  1. able men”
  2. “…who fear God
  3. “men of truth
  4. “who hate dishonest gain

Q: How would you characterize these men? How is this a significant departure from the way leaders were designated prior to this time?

A: They’re not just people possessing superior skills and knowledge, but accompanied by superior spiritual and moral character. Prior to this, things such as age or who was the firstborn dictated who was in authority regardless of their personal qualities or character.

Q: Why do you suppose that “love” is not one of the listed requirements?

A: There is no true, biblical love without first being established in and living the truth.

Q: Do you see any similarities between this and the way Jesus operated His earthly ministry?

A: He trained and sent out an inner circle of 12 and a subsequent echelon of 70. When they could not address a need it was brought to Christ’s attention. But the overriding characteristic of their work was to preach the Gospel and teach people how to apply God’s Word to their life.

Q: Do you see any similarities between this and Paul’s teaching about the structure of the body of Christ?

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.

— 1 Corinthians 12:28

Read verses 24-26

Q: How do you suppose they determined whether something was “minor” or “difficult”?

A: Most likely the “difficult” issues are things that never came up before for which they have no reference to the Word of God on which to act, whereas the “minor” issues repeatedly fall into categories for which God’s Word was already made known.

Overall Application