Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

When God repeats Himself

YOU MAY HAVE heard about the pastor who got complaints for preaching the same sermon on five consecutive Sundays. His response to the grumblers: he would say something new when people actually put into practice his repeated message.

Fact is, we may need to hear something more than once for it to really go in. But the problem may not be that we ignore what God says entirely, like the aforementioned congregation, rather that we make the mistake of thinking that we because we heard Him once we got it all. One and done.

Such appears to have been the case with Moses, who has been the subject of more than his fair share of books offering leadership lessons. Many people have pointed out how he learned the fine art of delegation from his father-in-law, Jethro, who was concerned that Moses was wearing himself out by trying to deal with everyone’s complaints.

“The thing is too heavy for you,” Jethro counseled, “you are not able to do it alone” (Exod. 18:18). So, taking Jethro’s advice, Moses set in place leaders to be responsible for thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, with him handling only the toughest cases. Problem solved, it would seem.

Not so much. Fast forward a year or so, to Numbers 11, and the Israelites were once again grumbling about their lot. This time, their negativity appears to have even rubbed off on Moses, who complained to God, “Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?” (verse 11).

Um, hadn’t he already learned this lesson? Not well enough, apparently.

It’s not clear what had happened in the intervening months, but after embracing Jethro’s advice, Moses seems to have slipped back into do-it-alone mode. Maybe the delegation system petered out, or maybe he stuck with the specifics of how Jethro had recommended he deal with complaints and missed the principle of getting others to help that could be adapted to this latest situation.

We can all probably name systems and procedures that were introduced to great fanfare—at church, at the office, at home—and then gradually forgotten over time, right? Or, those that we still follow religiously, long after their usefulness is over, failing to see how their essence could be applied to new situations and circumstances.

We find God’s answer to Moses’ dilemma in Numbers 11:16-17: “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (emphasis added).

Sound familiar?

God had to go over old ground with Moses, and He sometimes has to do the same with me, reminding me of something He has said but which I have lost sight of somewhere along the way.

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