Moses: A Case Study in Leadership Burden and Burnout

Moses is indeed a case study in leadership. Are leaders born or developed? Probably both in most cases. Moses spent his first 40 years being raised as a son of Pharoah’s daughter in Egypt. Acts 7:22 22 Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds. BTW that contradicts Moses’ claim that he was “slow of speech” when God called him in the burning bush. We don’t know how he learned that he was a Hebrew, like the slaves: probably from his mother or sister? At the age of 40, he was ready to lead the slaves in an uprising, like Spartacus. Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator, led a successful slave uprising against the mighty Romans in 73 BC, although he eventually was killed by them. Acts 7 23 But when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his [o]mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. 24 And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. 25 And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them [p]deliverance [q]through him, but they did not understand. Moses obviously planned to lead the slave uprising against the Egyptians using the sword, but the next day, he realized the salves weren’t with him on that idea. Acts 7: 26 On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ 27 But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? 28 You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?’ 29 At this remark, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of [r]Midian, where he became the father of two sons.

He fled to Midian, met his future father-in-law Jethro, became a shepherd, married Zipporah, had 2 sons, and apparently would have been totally content to spend the rest of his life in Midian. At the age of 80, God appeared to him in the burning bush and told him to go tell Pharoah to let His people go. Moses did not want to go. After making several excuses and objections, he finally agreed to go. But this time, he would lead with a staff instead of a sword. God would provide the miraculous power to free the slaves, not the power of Moses or the slaves. God would get the glory for defeating the Egyptians and humiliating the gods of the Egyptians. No one mentions who the god of Spartacus was, if indeed he worshiped a god. They only mention the bravery and leadership of Spartacus. Moses will get a lot of credit for freeing the slaves, but it is Moses’ God, YHWH, who gets the glory.

So he goes reluctantly goes back to Egypt to lead the slaves out. Pharoah refused to let the people go and made them make their brick quote finding their own straw, beating them. The slaves were angry at Moses. Moses complained to God: Exodus 5 22 Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? 23 Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all.” He has not “bought into” the process God is using to free the slaves. Instead of telling the people to trust God’s plan and be patient, he complained and questioned God’s plan himself. At a seminar I attended, Lynn Anderson said that leaders have to change the belief system of the church before they can implement new ideas. He said that in reference to changing an eldership from a board of directors to an empowering, shepherding group of men. The elders must be ready to give up a controlling, often dictatorship, style of leadership but the flock must be ready to buy into that. Many still think of the elders as God’s way of controlling the flock, a small group of men controlling the decisions for the entire flock. Lynn gave an example of a church who went from just a few elders to over 40 elders, who changed the model of leadership. Well, the belief system of the slaves had not changed, so they were angry at Moses. Moses had not bought into God’s plan either!

But let’s give Moses credit. He continued on his mission, using his staff to pour out God’s destructive power on the Egyptians in the plagues. He boldly confronted Pharoah over and over until Pharoah finally allowed the slaves to go free after the 10th plague. You would think that the slaves were now sold on God’s plan, but as they were trapped beside the Red Sea with Pharoah in pursuit, 11 Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, [ge]bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘[gf]Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:11-12).” Moses makes a great statement of faith: 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! [gg]Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent (Exodus 14:13,14).” I wonder what he was thinking the Lord was going to do to protect them from the pursuing Pharoah’s army? But at least, he believed that God was going to do something great to deliver them. He doesn’t turn to the Lord and question the Lord like he did when Pharoah first refused to let the slaves go.

 15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall [gh]go through the midst of the sea on dry land (Exodus 14:15,16).” It is as if the Lord is rebuking Moses for not coming up with the idea of parting the Red Sea with his staff! Great leaders will not only make a stand of faith when confronted with the enemy or problems, like Moses did, but they will also come up with innovative, God given, plans for “going forward” to overcome all obstacles and problems. Many congregations have split because of internal problems. The elders would not prayerfully come up with a God given plan to unite the flock in going forward to do the Lord’s work. Instead, it often became a power struggle over church politics and different ones pushing their own agendas and trying to control the flock. Maybe some suggested a plan to go forward, but the elders rejected that plan out of fear of losing control.

So they cross the Red Sea and maybe the people have finally bought into God’s power and plan. Exodus 14: 31 When Israel saw the great [gu]power which the Lord had [gv]used against the Egyptians, the people [gw]feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses. But they hadn’t really fully bought in. When Moses was in on Sinai getting the 10 commandments, they make the golden calf. Moses intercedes for them, convincing God to spare them. Exodus 32: 31 Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has [u]committed a great sin, and they have made [v]a god of gold for themselves. 32 But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” Instead of just complaining, reat leaders intercede for the failings and sin of the flock. Moses is bold in his intercession: “if you won’t forgive them, just blot me out of the book of life”.

God told Moses and the people to go on into the Promised Land but that He wouldn’t go with them. Exodus 33: When the people heard this [aa]sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are [ab]an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. It is as if the Lord is saying, “I will get you into Canaan, but my presence can’t be with you for fear that I will destroy you because of your obstinance. It is better that I back away from you, get you into Canaan to fulfill the promise to Abraham, but not be with you for even a moment.” What a depressing flock! How many congregations sounds just like that. They exist and continue the church business, but you can tell that God’s presence is not among them. They have left their first love.

But Moses struggles with the burden of leading a flock without God’s presence. Exodus 33: 12 Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. Do you hear what he is saying to God? “God, these are your people, not mine! We must have your presence.” An interesting passage in 1 Corinthians 14:24: 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an [l]ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. Leaders should be concerned that those who attend their assemblies see and feel the presence of God. Too often, leaders are concerned about the superficial things, like the style of worship, the ability of the preacher, the things they use to draw new members, etc. Those things might be good, but does a visitor sense that the members are truly seeking God and bowing in homage to God, that it is not just a big show to draw new members and money.

In Exodus 34:29-35, we read about Moses’ face shining. The Lord would speak to him in the tent face to face. When Moses would come out and tell the people what God had said, his face would shine, showing the glory of the Lord in the words he was speaking. As he would finish speaking, he would put a veil on so the people would not see the shining as it went away. He didn’t want them to lose sight of the glory of what he had just told them. He would take that veil off the next time the Lord spoke to him, and repeat the process. Paul uses this event in 2 Corinthians 3:13-17 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil [e]remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. The unbelieving Jews of his day would put a veil on so they could not see the fading glory of the old covenant of death as it was being replaced by the more glorious new covenant of life. The point I want to make out of this event is that Moses as a leader wanted the people to focus on the glory of the Lord in the word of God that he delivered to them. He didn’t want them to focus on his eloquence or appearance. When a leader has been in the word and in the presence of God, we should see a change in his countenance. He should be humbly moved by the words he is presenting, focused on God’s word and not fluffy illustrations or stories. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the [a]testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my [b]message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not [c]rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.

The peak of Moses’ frustration seems to come in the wilderness.The people continually complained about having only the manna to eat. They wanted meat and fish and other foods, especially the rabble of Egyptians who came out of Egypt with them. Numbers 11:10- 15 10 Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and [j]Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You [k]been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? 12 Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a [l]nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ 14 I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too [m]burdensome for me. 15 So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” Talk about leadership burnout! Talk about boldly telling the Lord just how you feel, boldly complaining to Him! The Lord does not rebuke him for this, but instead gives him some help. He takes of the miraculous Spirit power that Mosses has and puts it on 70 of the elders so they can take some of the load off of Moses. God will help leaders avoid burnout by giving gifts and ability to others who can help lead. But leaders must be willing and seek to delegate to others. That means giving up full control and power, which many leaders find difficult to do. Moses’ father in law Jethro had already given Moses advice in this matter. He met Moses as they came out of Egypt and saw that Moses was wearing himself out going all the judging in disputes among the people without any help. He told him in Exodus 18:18 18 You will surely wear out, both yourself and [m]these people who are with you, for the [n]task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. He persuaded him to appoint leaders over small and large groups and delegate authority to them to settle minor disputes, leaving only the major disputes or issues for Moses to deal with. Moses followed his advice. But even that was not enough, and God empowered the 70 elders to help Moses in Numbers 11. Paul told Timothy: The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Perhaps the most fulfilling ministry I have ever been engaged in was doing mission work in Trinidad, West Indies. There had been thousands of baptisms and many churches started, largely due to the work of Bob Brown. My co-worker and I went to Trinidad with a focus on training leaders for these new congregations. We conducted a full time school of preaching, but the best thing we did was probably the Saturday school where we taught indepth mini-courses to the local leaders, men and women who would continue their secular work but would be the leaders, preachers, and teachers in the congregations. After 3 years, we left. 45 years later, those men and women we helped train are still leading, and have trained other leaders, as Paul told Timothy to do. I am amazed at how we have built the American church around the paid professionals. One church had at least 4 great teachers who could have fled the flock on a rotating basis each month. So instead of using those men, that church hired a hundred thousand dollar plus preacher. After a few years, they replaced him with another professional. Big churches have become so dependent on very well paid professional youth ministers, worship leaders, etc. Then there is the support staff of paid secretaries, janitors, and all the things necessary to run the church business efficiently. And often churches do a great job of running the business. They even do a lot of good, teach the Bible, and do some mission work. But most of what they collect and spend is spent on themselves. There I am in Trinidad preparing leaders so they will not depend on paid preachers, which usually comes from money from the U.S., when we don’t even practice that in the U.S. We have gifted deacons who could work with the youth, but we hire professionals to do it. We assist them, but watch what happens when you change the professionals. Someone says, “but we are too busy to do all the leading without the professionals”. That tells you the problem right there. We have the wrong priorities. We are not developing and using leaders so we can use our assets to do the things the Lord really wants us to use them for. Children in 3rd world countries are dying for lack of clean water while we continue to expand and renovate our buildings. The salary of one preacher could drill many wells. I am obviously on a hobby of mine, so I guess I should stop here.

So the Lord told Moses to tell the people that he was going to give them meat, quail. Moses is still frustrated: Numbers 11 21 But Moses said, “The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, so that they may eat for a whole month.’ 22 Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient for them?” 23 The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s [o]power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will [p]come true for you or not.” Moses had another lesson to learn in leadership. The power of the Lord is not limited! Leaders should not plan based on the human assets, but on the Lord’s assets. The agony of the annual budget process. Deciding how much money the congregation will give and how it will be spent! Even haggling among some to get their share for their work or ministry. I guess that is necessary since it is a business and should be run efficiently. But leaders should envision what God wants the congregation to do, to prioritize, to spend their assets on. Then trust God to provide, and He will provide.

Leaders must be meek and humble. When Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses’ marriage to a foreigner (Zipporah, the Midianite), God struck Miriam with leprosy. Moses, instead of gloating over that, prayed for her and God only made her leprous for 7 days. I’m sure some other writer added this from Numbers 12: (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) I would say humility was the number one trait required of good leaders, wouldn’t you? They will be criticized. They will make mistakes. Moses actually was not supposed to marry a foreigner, so he was at fault here although Miriam’s main reason for criticizing was her envy over the authority God had given Moses. A great test of a leader is how do they handle criticism. Regardless of the motives of the one criticizing, they should see if the criticism is warranted, and if so, repent and correct it. If not, they should pray for the person and go to them to try to resolve it, but never take it personal.

Still during that 2nd year out of Egypt, Moses sent the 12 spies to spy out the land of Canaan. 10 of the spies came back saying Israel could not take the land because of the giants there; only Joshua and Caleb said they could. The people wanted to stone Moses and Aaron, choose new leaders, and return to Egypt. God told Moses that he was about to wipe out the whole bunch of rebellious, complainers and start over with Moses as the new seed line and nation. If Moses had not interceded for the people, God would have done that. Moses even made some arguments as to why God should not wipe them out, as if God didn’t think those things through already! He even reminded God that He had told him that He was forgiving (Exodus 34). So, instead of wiping them out, he sentenced all those over 20 to die in the wilderness wandering over the next 40 years. Leaders must be constantly in intercessory prayer, even for rebellious sheep. They must leave the judgment of sheep to God. But leaders should feel free to talk to God freely as Moses did, to even reason with God as to how they would like to see God act. Who knows how that might change God’s plans.

Don’t think that Moses was spineless, however. He became angry with Korah and the 250 men who rebelled against the authority of Moses and Aaron, especially Aaron’s special position with the priesthood. He did not intercede for them. He basically pronounced a death sentence from the Lord for them. Numbers 16 28 Moses said, “By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not [bw]my doing. 29 If these men die [bx]the death of all men or [by]if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord [bz]brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into [ca]Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord.” Sometimes leaders have to practice 1 Corinthians 5 withdrawal of fellowship over some repeat offender in the flock who refuses to repent in order to get rid of a bad influence that might spread to others. That would be a last resort, of course, but might be necessary to protect the flock. It takes courage and it might make them look like they are not compassionate to some, but Paul told the Corinthians to do it. Here’s an example. A married brother has an affair with his secretary. Instead of repenting, he divorces his wife and marries the secretary. In just a few months, he joins another congregation who welcome him in spite of what he has done. They might argue that grace covers us today, but shouldn’t the leaders of the congregation confront this brother with his adultery?

The aftermath of the killing of Korah and 250 Levites is found in Numbers 17 41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.” The people are blaming Moses and Aaron for the death of those men! The Lord said: 45 [cl]Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” But Moses again interceded for the people by getting Aaron to bring a censor with incense in it. He stood between the dead and the living and stopped the plague God was consuming the people with, but 14,700 died already.

But the peak of Moses’ frustration and burnout had to be in the 40th year after the condemned generation had died in the wilderness. Moses is now 120 years old. He just spent the last 40 years wandering around with these faithless, rebellious, complainers but now there is this new generation of those that were under 20 and those born during the 40 years. He is probably excited about finally going into the Promised Land. But then that new generation starts to complain about lack of water. He must have thought, “Here we go again. I can’t make it another 40 years in the wilderness punishing this group! Numbers 20 The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why then have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die [r]here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of [s]grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.” But God, in his patience, told Moses to speak to the rock, the rock which followed them and provided millions of gallons of water daily for them in the wilderness. Instead, Moses, to use common language, “lost it”. Numbers 20: 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Do you hear that? Shall “we” (Moses and Aaron) give you water? He was taking credit for it instead of giving God the glory. He not only hit the rock instead of speaking to it, but Psalm 106: They also provoked Him to wrath at the waters of [v]Meribah, So that it went hard with Moses on their account; 33 Because they were rebellious against [w]His Spirit, He spoke rashly with his lips. Numbers 20: 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” I wonder how many times that type of thing has happened among leaders. They get frustrated and impatient and pound the pulpit with anger, lambasting the flock. Paul told Timothy who was confronted with many false teachers: 2 Timothy 2 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive [i]by him to do his will. If a leader ever loses his temper, it’s a good sign that he is committing the same sin as Moses did.

Well, that was long! BTW, don’t fell sorry for Moses. Be glad for him. God told him in Deuteronomy 34: Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” He probably viewed the promise land with some disappointment, but he was truly blessed to be spared the next 7 years of fighting the Canaanites and the subsequent disobedience of the next generation. God buried him in an unknown spot and he went on to some form of hadean paradise to wait for his resurrection some day. The devil thought he should get the body of Moses for his sin, but Micheal the archangel rebuked him (Jude 1:9). He along with Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Moses was perhaps the greatest leader of God’ people in the Old Testament. Hebrews 3 pays him a compliment: Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant. We can learn so many lessons on leadership from Moses, especially we struggle with the burdens of leadership and when we are burned out.

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