Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 26, 2008

Even Moses Needed a Father

Exodus 18 & the “fathering” of Moses

The only mention of Amram, the father of Moses, is in
the geneology of Moses & Aaron, beginning with Reuben, firstborn of
Jacob/Israel (Ex 5: 14-20). 

Beyond that, the duties of father/advisor are taken over by Moses’ father-in-law Jethro. Surprisingly, it’s wise old Jethro’s idea that they divide up the nation into manageable groupings, and to appoint judges over them, to spare Moses’ strength for more essential matters concerning the whole nation. This chain of events shows me several things:

1) Even Moses himself had the “father hunger“, and a need to be mentored and
trained in the proper use of authority. Thus the need for Jethro to
step in and help. We are sometimes called to parent people other than
our blood relatives. Many men even receive this gift of guidance/mentoring more
easily from someone other  than their parent, and this may have always been the case within human societies to some extent.

2) Jethro says, “Teach them the statutes… show them the way they
must follow and what their course must be. But choose… capable &
God-fearing men, trustworthy and incorruptible, and appoint them (as the Judges).”
Here we may perhaps see a basic point of human nature: when possible, a teacher should not also act as judge.

A teacher sets down, hands down, or communicates the
rule or the main ideas. He or she should be trusted implicitly and only in extreme cases
should he/she “take sides” in determining people’s following of that
rule. Thus the need for an administrator, or judge, to apply, interpret and enforce the rule.
By implication then, when one person is forced to be both advisor and
judge — the enlightening, trusted, building-up voice and yet also the
“tough-loving”, distinction-making, correcting minister/policeman–
there are bound to be potential problems or confusion.

Gender of the guide/judge probably does not matter much in
this equation (in a marriage, or in life), but for sake of clarity we
can call the teacher role a “feminine” one, and the judge role a
“masculine” one. The best families and systems, therefore, should have effective separation of these two important and distinct roles (guide/judge). Each is informed by the other, but their task and purpose are not the same. Partners/colleagues may even trade off the roles based on circumstances and specific personal strengths, but the taking of both roles by one person does most likely present unique challenges.

3) Finally, a more personal take on the above subject:

After reading the passage about Moses, for some reason I asked my six-year-old son what he wants to be when he grows up. His reply included three distinct roles or professions: a movie & tv “director” (which is my own sometime vocation, a combination administrator/judge and creative artist), a “teacher” (my wife’s 20+ year vocation, and at times my own) and “a dad”. My son’s expressed aspirations certainly don’t close the subject on nature vs. nurture, or gender stereotypes, but they’re at least amusing in light of what I’ve suggested above about parenting, gender, and issues of authority and responsibility.

Maybe finally our children’s generation, if handled carefully, can have easier access than we did to the “deep masculine” and “deep feminine” parts of their True Self (more terms I’m borrowing here from Fr. Richard Rohr). Let’s hope so, and let’s do what we can to teach them the balance that is needed.



  1. Until reading this, I’d never really realized the non-mention of Moses’ father, at least as far as actually teaching and guiding him. Jochabed (hope I’m spelling that right), Aaron, and Miriam are mentioned quite freqently but not his father. Hmmm. Interesting.

    I also appreciate your insightful comments on the nature of the feminine and masculine roles, especially in the rearing of a family.

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