“With a Little Help from My Friends” is one of my favorite songs. Though John Lennon and Paul McCartney originally wrote it, I prefer Joe Cocker’s version:
This song came to mind as I was reading Exodus 18 the other day.
In this chapter, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, sees the burden Moses is carrying, and offers a system of organization to help alleviate the load. Jethro’s new structure transforms the Israelites from a jumbled tribal band into a more centralized people, preparing them for the covenant that Yahweh initiates in chapter 19. While this is the chapter’s main function in the narrative, it also speaks to the relationship between Jethro and Moses, and how God uses others to encourage us when we most need it.
By the time we get to chapter 18, Moses has been the recipient of numerous complaints from the very slave mob he helped liberate. While the Israelites momentarily rejoice in chapter 15, this is swiftly replaced with doubt, and a desire to return to Egypt in chapters 16 and 17. Moses, their liberator and leader, is now blamed and criticized for their present situation in the wilderness. When Jethro appears on the scene, Moses is bogged down by his responsibilities, fatigued by the Israelites’ grumbling, and unknowingly, needs advice on how to navigate this next phase in Israel’s journey.
Upon hearing all that God had done for the Israelites, Jethro travels to the wilderness to meet Moses. After their initial greeting, Moses shares his story, reiterates what God has done, and in contrast to the Israelites’ recent protests, Jethro rejoices. He shares Moses’ joy and responds with praise for Israel’s God.
However, the next day, when Jethro sees Moses struggling under the weight of his duties, he expresses concern for his son-in-law, and the Israelites who are under his leadership:
In this statement, Jethro acknowledges the mission Moses has been charged with; he affirms the task to which God has called him; he knows there’s a long road ahead. He doesn’t tell Moses to back down, or take a vacation, but rather, he offers an insightful perspective on the situation. He illuminates a way forward, a new way of doing things that will ease Moses’ burden, allowing him to more effectively, and faithfully, fulfill his responsibilities.
Moses heeds and implements Jethro’s advice, and the chapter closes with Jethro returning to his country.
This text reminds me that we need Jethro-like friends. Friends who are committed to and invested in our calling; who sit and rejoice with us when we witness God’s movement in our lives; who genuinely grieve when they see us struggling; and ultimately, who can shed a new perspective and offer a way forward, when they see our present (or impending) defeat and doubt.
This text also reminds me that we’re not meant to carry out our calling alone. Per Jethro’s advice, others are the solution to Moses’ problem—others will help bear Moses’ burden, allowing him to endure (18.22-23).
More often than not, we fruitlessly spin our wheels, thinking we can manage by ourselves. In doing so, we not only harm ourselves, but those we’re called to minister to, teach, or lead. Like Moses, others are a safeguard against burnout; others will help bear our load and allow us to endure.
As believers, there’s no doubt that we all carry a heavy burden. The Christian life is not easy. As such, we all need a little help to get by.