Moses, the man of God, freed the slaves and built a nation. He has much to teach.
By Mark D. Harris
Moses is the single most famous leader in the Old Testament and is respected by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. He was born a Hebrew slave, adopted by an Egyptian princess, raised as a prince of Egypt, exiled at age 40 after killing an Egyptian who beat a Hebrew slave. Fleeing to the tribe of Midian in the Sinai desert, Moses married, started a family, and became a shepherd, an occupation loathsome to the Egyptians, especially a prince. He was as low as a former prince of Egypt could go.
At age 80, when Moses probably felt that his life was nearly over, God met Moses on the slope of Mt. Sinai. God told Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites, God’s chosen people, out of slavery to the Egyptians. The rest of Moses life was a tremendous example of faithfulness to the commands of God and skill in building a nation as he led His people into their Promised Land.
Moses as the Administrative Leader
Moses was a blessed man. As a prince in Egypt, he would have learned much about leading people and administering the empire. Even though as a Hebrew he could not have become Pharaoh, Moses would have been destined for high office in Egypt, perhaps a regional chief or foreign minister. He would have learned how to drive a chariot, how to supply, march and lead an army, and the political skills necessary to succeed on the world’s stage. Moses would have learned how to retain and increase power, and he was probably proud of his background and accomplishments. Much was expected of Moses, and in his youth, Moses learned to expect much from himself.
In Exodus 18, Moses and the Israelites have experienced amazing things. The plagues devastated Egypt, the Israelites looted the Egyptians and escaped, Pharaoh’s army was wiped out in the Red Sea, and God miraculously brought manna, meat and water to sustain the people. A large raiding party of Amalekites even attacked the camp and God gave the Hebrews a great victory. Between these events, Moses was exhausting himself judging the people of Israel. When Moses’ father in law, Jethro, brought Zipporah, Moses’ wife, and his two sons to join Moses after the Exodus, he saw Moses judging Israel from sunrise to sunset. Realizing that this was unsustainable, Jethro advised him to organize the people into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, and appoint leaders over the groups to judge each. Only the most difficult cases would go to Moses. Moses, to his credit, listened to Jethro and did as he suggested. He didn’t select just anyone, but men who possessed godly wisdom, honored the truth, and were free of covetousness. Moses assigned them to positions of leadership by their ability. As a result of delegating the lesser cases to good men, justice was done and Moses was able to continue his leadership role among the Israelites.
Moses was a good example of administrative leadership in other ways. He built memorials and told stories to remind the people of the great things that God had done for them. Moses spent significant time communicating God’s commands and vision to and for the people. He did not have to face outdated procedures and policies but instead developed effective ones. He did not have to deal with an organization that was falling apart but rather built a nation from the ground up.
Moses as a Manager of People
Politics was a major portion of Moses’ training and as a prince in Egypt he undoubtedly had long experience in uniting disparate opinions and keeping everyone happy. As a shepherd, he had spent thousands of hours caring for his sheep, and certainly realized the striking resemblance between people and sheep (cf. Psalm 23). These skills, focused and directed by a strong relationship with God, made Moses a model leader of people.
Moses taught conflict resolution in many ways. He was first able to avoid becoming defensive during the conflict. The quickest way to fail to solve anything is to take conflicts personally. In Exodus 16, the people were grumbling about meat. Moses, a man who didn’t think much about himself, reminded them that they were grumbling against God because He was the real Deliverer. The Lord reminded him again or this truth in Deuteronomy 20:1-4.
Delegating decisions to others helped Moses excuse himself from conflicts that he did not need to be involved in, but the biggest and most important conflicts were for him to handle. He was a man of great character, having spent many a long night with his sheep studying at the feet of God. As a result, he was less concerned with assets, accomplishments, relationships with others and his future and more concerned about the honor of God and the well being of His people. In 2010, our sheer busy-ness prevents us from enjoying some of the sweetest and most powerful times with our Lord.
As noted in the Administrative Leader section, Moses listened to Jethro’s advice and organized the people into self-governing groups. In Exodus 35, he selected leaders and organized the people and the production processes as Israel created their most important objects, the Tabernacle and its furnishings. In both instances, Moses’ organized his resources for maximal efficiency.
Men who know the Lord will usually be men of peace and Moses was no exception. When battle was forced on him, as with the Amalekites in Exodus 17, he was an effective leader. When there was a choice, however, Moses preferred the peaceful approach (Deuteronomy 20:10).
Moses had a long term commitment, first to the Lord and second to His people, Moses’ people, the Hebrews. Moses was not about to flee, no matter how fierce the conflict got, how dangerous it was or how much it cost him personally. The Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32 is a classic example. Moses was utterly dedicated to the mission of God and nothing would stop him. As a result, he won most of the conflicts he was in. When Moses fought, he was thorough, and after he fought, Moses and the people celebrated the victory. Finally, he never compromised with the enemies of the Lord, as the open battles in Exodus 17 and Exodus 32 describe.
Moses and Conflict Resolution
One should also note the principles of conflict resolution throughout Moses’ life. He anticipates the inevitable conflict with the Egyptians and even with his people in Exodus 3. These conflicts had many sources. Some were about resources (Hebrew slaves were a great resource to the Egyptians), others ethnic or ideological (YHWH vs. the Egyptian gods and Pharaoh). Some were personality struggles between Moses and Pharaoh. The relationship between Moses, Aaron and others included competition for roles and responsibilities (territorial conflicts) and boundaries of each persons’ role (border conflicts).
Amidst these many conflicts, Moses used all three basic approaches, confrontation, collaboration and joint problem solving to address them. The episodes in Exodus 17, Exodus 32 and Numbers 16 (Korah’s rebellion) were direct confrontations. The rebellion of the people against Moses after receiving the report of the spies (Numbers 14) was confrontational for the most part, but with the faithful Joshua and Caleb it was almost joint problem solving. They all wanted to follow God and tried to get the people to do it. His direction of Aaron early in the ministry (Exodus 4-7) was more collaborative, but Moses was clearly the leader. His work with the craftsmen making the tabernacle (Exodus 36) was also collaborative and problem solving.
Moses faced conflicts within the people of Israel, within the leadership of Israel and within his own family, involving Aaron and Miriam. Numbers 12:1 states that Moses married a Cushite woman. This more likely means that Zipporah was part Cushite than that he took a second wife. Regardless, their grumbling escalated into a direct attack on his leadership. Moses immediate response is not mentioned, but usually in such circumstances he did not defend himself directly but took the issue directly to the Lord. The Lord intervened in a terrifying way, striking Miriam instantly with a deadly, disfiguring disease. Aaron then, always the weak willed one (cf. Exodus 32) begged for forgiveness. Moses betrayed not a touch of vengeance, but cried out to God to heal his sister. After several days, He did so. Moses’ display of many of the 10 commandments of leadership, including loving, understanding, integrity and kindness, is obvious here.
Moses was a great man of God and exercised effective leadership at a critical point in the history of Israel and of God’s salvation story. Christian leaders today do well to learn from his example.