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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Organization in the Wilderness

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Organization in the Wilderness

Johnson pointed out the Israelites’ need for structure as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. The three organizational paradigms offer a balanced perspective of the subsequent organization of the children of Israel.

Rational Perspective

An effective analysis of Moses’ post-Exodus organization of the Israelites begins with his father-in-law Jethro’s observation of Moses’ daily operations. Lenart-Gansiniec and Sułkowski stated that “Personal experiences of individuals in the organization allow them to recognize patterns and see new opportunities and answer two questions: how to do it and how to do it differently? This allows us to recognize the current situation and reference it to past patterns and create new connections and see innovative possibilities.”

Jethro watched as Moses judged the children of Israel from morning until evening, and Jethro told Moses in Exodus 18:17-18 (NKJV), “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.” Jethro recognized that Moses required organization to complete the task set before him. Scott and Davis similarly stated that “organizations can achieve goals that are quite beyond the reach of any individual.”

Discussing the rational paradigm, Önday stated that “Highly formalized structure provide[s] participants with explicit and certain rules and roles relations that manage their interactional behavior…, …make participants interactional behavior more predictable by standardizing and regulating it…, …[and] allows stable expectations to be formed by each member of the group as to the behavior of the other member under specific conditions.” From the rational perspective, there was a clearly defined structure as Jethro advised Moses to assign “rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus 18:21). Jethro also clearly defined two goals for Moses in Exodus 18:23, “endure, and all this people will go to their place in peace.” Moses was to avoid burnout and lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Natural Perspective

DeWaal drew attention to the distinction between what an organization does and what it is.” Swanson acknowledged that “the behavior of individuals or of human aggregates” helps one to best understand organizations. Toward these ends, it is vital to remember that those Israelites whom Moses led were just free from 400 years of slavery. Compare their plight to that of emancipated American slaves, whom Booker T. Washington described as follows: “The great responsibility of being free, of having charge of themselves, of having to think and plan for themselves and their children, seemed to take possession of them. It was very much like suddenly turning a youth of ten or twelve years out into the world to provide for himself. To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing that they had expected to find it.”

The Israelites were so accustomed to someone telling them what to do that they continually brought the smallest of problems before Moses like helpless children. They were certainly not prepared for freedom, but this organization of Jethro’s was unlike God’s instructions for government contained elsewhere in scripture. It is within God’s nature to bring chaos into order, but His system of order and preferred unit of government is the family, not overseers of groups. However, God is merciful, and allowed Moses to implement Jethro’s plan.

Open System Perspective

The Israelites alternate between functioning as a cybernetic system and an open system. Scott and Davis defined a cybernetic system as one that self-regulates based on a program and an open system as one that self-regulates using the environmental throughput. Moments of divine intervention and human failures, those situations where the system (the Israelites) is regulated by the program (God) or fails to self-regulate make up the cybernetic system. Those rare instances of human success comprise the open system. The occasions when the Israelites functioned as an open system were scarce indeed. Merida explained Israel’s trajectory from the time they entered the Promised Land: “Judges, as a whole, shows the nation of Israel in a downward spiral, in need of a godly king… …The message of 1 Kings is decline and 2 Kings is fall.”


De Waal, A. (in press). The high performance organization: Proposed definition and measurement of its performance. Measuring Business Excellence, 1-15.

Lenart-Gansiniec, R. & Sułkowski, Ł. (2018). Crowdsourcing—A new paradigm of organizational learning of public organizations. Sustainability, 10(10), 3359-3392.

Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered exposition commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.

Önday, Ö. (2018). The relationship between concepts of rational, natural, and open systems: Managing organizations today. International Journal of Information, Business and Management, 10(1), 245-258.

Scott, W. R. & Davis, G. F. (2016). Organizations and organizing: Rational, natural, and open system perspectives (6th ed.). Routledge.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.


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