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Deeper Commentary

Exo 18:1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, how that Yahweh had brought Israel out of Egypt-
Israel were "brought forth" from Egypt by God; they had been unwilling to leave Egypt, preferring to serve the Egyptians rather than Yahweh (Ex. 14:12). God had as it were forced through His project of saving Israel by bringing them out of Egypt. And He had done so largely for the sake of Moses, by whose faith the Red Sea parted and they were delivered (Heb. 11:28,29). Therefore Yahweh's bringing Israel out of Egypt was what He did for Moses, and only thereby for His people. We too are brought out of this world towards God's Kingdom by His grace alone, with His consistently taking the initiative in our hearts and life circumstances, in accord with the loving intercession of the Lord Jesus [represented by Moses]. Thus Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 18:1; 19:1; Lev. 23:43; 25:55; Num. 26:4; 33:1,3,38; Dt. 4:45,46; ), but Moses did (Ex. 3:10,11). 

Jethro was a Kenite (Jud. 1:16; 4:11), and the Kenites lived among the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15 tells them to separate from them lest they also be destroyed). This explains why this incident follows the victory over Amalek and their threatened obliteration in Ex. 17. Yet Jethro returned to his place when urged to remain with Israel. He allowed an argument over divorce and remarriage and the related family feelings to stop him joining God's people. This continues the theme of openness, which we.noted when discussing how God said He would destroy Amalek, and yet that task was given to Israel- and they failed to do so. Likewise Jethro could have come out from the condemned Amalekites and avoided their judgement, but he chose to return. Despite coming at this point to Moses in homage because of his victory over Amalek. This is why Balaam's prophecies specifically condemn the Kenites in Num. 24:21,22. But they could have avoided that by joining in with Israel as they were here invited to. Just as if Saul had destroyed Amalek as asked, there would have been no Haman. 

Exo 18:2 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, received Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her away,-
Moses "sent / put away" his wife- Ex. 18:2 LXX is the same "put away" as in 1 Cor. 7:11-13. Moses allowed divorce for the hardness of Israel's hearts (Mt. 19:8) and yet he himself appears to have divorced her- for the hardness of his heart? Her anger with him is seen over the circumcision of their sons, the night when she saved him from the Angel who sought to slay him.

Exo 18:3 and her two sons. The name of one son was Gershom, for Moses said, I have lived as a foreigner in a foreign land-
Moses' children had names which showed some faith, and a recognition he was a stranger in the land where he was living; he lived as a stranger in Midian. Few people live in a country for 40 years without feeling they belong to it. But his mind was in the past, in how God had been good to his father, and how God had saved him from Pharaoh's death threat. He hardly felt Egypt was his homeland, and neither was Midian. Like us, he was set up by God's hand in life experiences to desire "another country", the Kingdom of God.

Exo 18:4 The name of the other was Eliezer, for he said, My father’s God was my help and delivered me from Pharaoh’s sword-
Although Moses had little contact with his father, he praises his father's God. Moses was only with his parents in babyhood and maybe very early childhood. They inculcated in him the faith of Yahweh at that early age. They likely died whilst he was still in the court of Pharaoh and looked like an ungrateful child who had gone the way of the world and forgotten his God and his people and their efforts to raise him in the faith. Moses here and in Ex. 15:2 pays tribute to them. What a surprise awaits them in the Kingdom! 

Exo 18:5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses into the wilderness where he was encamped, at the Mountain of God-
Moses is described as encamping in the wilderness, when the reference clearly is to all Israel. He, like the Lord Jesus, was clearly the representative of God's people. See on Ex. 34:27.

Exo 18:6 He said to Moses, I, your father-in-law Jethro, have come to you with your wife, and her two sons with her-
This is not in chronological sequence. Moses speaks in Ex. 18:16 of how "I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws". Those laws were not given at the time of Ex. 18, so the passage there is out of chronological order. For the people only arrived at Horeb ("the mountain of God", Ex, 18:5) at the time of Ex. 19:1,2. It was only when they left Horeb on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year that Moses established the system of judges as Jethro had advised (Dt. 1:12-15). At the time of Num. 10:11,29, Moses asks Jethro ["Hobab"] to remain with the people as a guide through the desert. I suggest that the events of Ex. 18 should be inserted after Num. 10:10 and before Num. 10:11. In this case the argument between Moses, Aaron and Miriam about Zipporah in Num. 12:1 would have occurred after Zipporah had been accepted again by Moses as his wife.

The children are described as belonging to Moses in :5. But Jethro says the children belong to Zipporah his daughter. This is the petty politics of divorce and family politics. He came with an agenda.

Exo 18:7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and bowed and kissed him. They asked each other of their welfare, and they came into the tent-
"The tent" could refer to the tabernacle, which at that time was effectively Moses' own personal tent. The Septuagint tells us that Moses "pitched his own tent" and called it the tabernacle (Ex. 33:7 LXX); in which case we can speculate that the Angel as it were lived with Moses in his own tent. 

Exo 18:8 Moses told his father-in-law all that Yahweh had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had come on them on the way, and how Yahweh delivered them-
God "delivered" His people from Egypt and Pharaoh, just as He delivered Moses personally from the sword of Pharaoh (Ex. 18:4,8 s.w.). Moses was the representative of his people, they were saved "in" him, and baptized into him (1 Cor. 10:1,2). They were apostate idolaters (Ez. 20:8), and were in a way only saved "in" Moses, just as we are saved "in Christ". They were saved really for Moses' sake, for the sake of his faith Egypt had been judged (Heb. 11:28,29), but with characteristic humility, Moses says that this had all been for their sakes.

Exo 18:9 Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which Yahweh had done to Israel, in that He had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians-
The phrase "delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians" is used three times by Jethro here and in :10. It could be that he sung a little ditty about it, in his evident joy.

Exo 18:10 Jethro said, Blessed be Yahweh, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh; who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians-
See on :9. This is the phrase used for how Moses had delivered his wife from the shepherds, perhaps Egyptians related to the shepherd king dynasty. Israel rejected Moses as their deliverer, they failed to see in that dead Egyptian the ability of Moses to save them completely from the life of slavery. And so Moses fled away from them, he came to Gentile, pagan Midian, and rescued a Gentile woman from the persecution of men, married her, and started a new life in the wilderness- to return many years later in the power of  the Holy Spirit and redeem Israel when they were in truly desperate straits. All this naturally points ahead to the work of Jesus after Israel failed to respond to his work on the cross. The word used to describe Moses rescuing his future wife from the shepherds is the same used concerning God rescuing Israel from Egypt (Ex. 2:19; 18:10). Thus Moses was manifesting the redemptive work of God when he saved his wife. But the marriage broke up, as it did between God and Israel- but was apparently restored.

Exo 18:11 Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all gods because of the thing in which they dealt arrogantly against them- 
This implies Jethro thought Yahweh was only one of many gods. Midian, where Jethro lived, were idolaters (Num. 25; 31:16), and Jethro was a priest of Midian, who "returned to his own country" (:27)- all very much identifying him with Midian. Yet he apparently came to respect Yahweh as the greatest of them all. Likewise over time in the Lord's ministry, and in the whole NT, reference to demons becomes less and less, as His preaching of Truth by example and miracle made the point that these things really don’t exist. Likewise the gods of Egypt were not specifically stated to not exist: but through the miracles at the Exodus, it was evident that Yahweh was unrivalled amongst all such ‘gods’, to the point of showing their non-existence (Ex. 15:11; 18:11). See on Ex. 20:3.

Exo 18:12 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God. Aaron came with all of the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God-
The usage of the word "God" rather than "Yahweh" could suggest that Jethro still saw Yahweh as one of many gods, although the greatest of them (see on Ex 18:11). And yet the elders of Israel ate bread with him "before God", clearly an expression of religious fellowship. They were not at all caught up with the idea of a closed table. They were happy to fellowship with Jethro where he stood, although he didn't ever fully identify with the covenant people, and returned to his own home.

Exo 18:13 It happened on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from the morning to the evening-
We are hereby given the impression that the people were endlessly arguing with each other. They were not wholly devoted to Yahweh, and this was reflected in their disunity and animosity between each other. In Ex. 17, Moses had sat down with the people around him, and interceded for them unto exhaustion. In Ex. 18 he is presented doing just the same, but this time he gives in to the easy way out. We likewise may pass one test but then fail an identical one.

Exo 18:14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that you do for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning to evening?-
Surely what Jethro suggested had already occurred to Moses. The fact was that he probably didn't consider that there were many who were able to be judges, because they were still idolaters and not familiar with Yahweh's laws.  Moses was alone because he was the sole mediator between the people and God at the tent of meeting with God. But Jethro didn't get that. For him, democracy trumped spirituality. The statutes and commands (:16) he made known to them were later codified into the "law of Moses". And Jethro wanted to stop that process. "It will be easier for you..." (:22) was the reasoning of the flesh, and it's one of Moses' negative traits that he often spiritually gave in when under pressure. And I suggest this is an example of that. Even in :23, Jethro ventures that his advice should only be followed if God confirmed it: “If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure". God didn't confirm it, but Moses still did it. And despite that, he did endure and his natural strength was not abated even at 120 years old.

Exo 18:15 Moses said to his father-in-law, Because the people come to me to inquire of God-
Although they were idolaters (Ez. 20:8), they still wanted to have Yahweh's opinion, and sought to prove that they had Him on their side in their disputes with their brethren. This is absolutely imaginable and true to observation of human behaviour when it comes to this kind of thing. "Inquire" is the same word translated "require". The judgment will be the time when God 'requires' of us our behaviour. And yet the Hebrew word is used about our enquiring / searching to God in prayer now (Gen. 25:22; Ex. 18:15; Dt. 4:29; 12:5; 1 Kings 22:5), as well as His 'requiring' / searching of us at the last day (Dt. 18:19; 23:21; Josh. 22:23; 1 Sam. 20:16; 2 Chron. 24:22; Ez. 3:20; 33:6,8). There is a mutuality between a man and his God.

Their enquiry of God suggests the people were coming to Moses to hear God's word. Jethro reasons from a secular perspective, separating church from state. He reasons as if the other judges would all judge rightly; but surely Paul had the situation in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians that likewise there was not one wise man amongst them. But they didn't know Yahweh's law. The law of Moses was revealed to Moses and he had to reveal it to the people. So what Moses was doing was not wrong but necessary at the time. We note in :7 a reference to "the tent", and wonder if this refers to the tent of meeting where Yahweh met with Moses and gave him His laws- for "the tent" is usually used in this way in Exodus. The terms "all the people" and "the tent" are used like this in Ex. 33:8-10: "It happened that when Moses went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up, and stood, each one at their tent door, and watched Moses, until he had gone into the Tent. It happened, when Moses entered into the Tent, that the pillar of cloud descended, stood at the door of the Tent, and spoke with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the door of the Tent". This hunch is then confirmed when in :15 we read that all the people came to Moses to enquire of God. This is just what they did at the tent of meeting: "It happened that everyone who sought Yahweh went out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp" (Ex. 33:7). "The tent" spoken of in Ex. 33 is the same "the tent" of Ex. 18:7. The law of Moses had not yet been given, but it was surely in this process that the principles and judgments contained in it were first communicated to Israel. The people came to Moses to hear him speak God's word to them, given to him by the Angel in the tent, regarding their various practical issues. Jethro was therefore wrong to urge this to cease and instead for people to listen to human wisdom and teaching on their issues. And he was obviously inappropriate to suggest that in an apostate, rebellious Israel as they were, there would be righteous, spiritually wise men of integrity in such abundance. There was hardly a wise man amongst them. I suggest Jethro was jealous that Moses had suddenly risen to be leader of millions of people, after having spent 40 years as Jethro's underdog. And he was obviously upset about Moses having divored Zipporah and returned her to Jethro's house along with the children. But Amalek, amongst whom he lived, had just been defeated by Moses. He wanted peace, and yet wanted to undercut Moses' authority. The whole incident is often used by those who argue for a broad based, democratic system rather than a single strong leader; but the fact is, the system Jethro proposed failed. By the time of Num. 11:16,17, it was again the Spirit which was critical in being a teaching elder, and not the system of Jethro: "Yahweh said to Moses, Gather to 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, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit which is on you, and will put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you not bear it yourself alone". It was being Spirit filled which was the qualification for leadership, not simply being randomly appointed by democratic process.

Exo 18:16 When they have a matter, they come to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws-
I suggested on :6 that this incident is inserted here out of sequence, and refers to a time after God had given His laws to Moses. Moses had perhaps delayed appointing judges over the people because he was using the ceaseless stream of cases as an opportunity through which he could teach God's law to the people. Jethro's suggestion had surely already occurred to him, but he was doing as he did in order to introduce God's laws to the people. But he accepts Jethro's suggestions because he concluded that perhaps he had for long enough been teaching them personally.

Exo 18:17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, The thing that you do is not good-
As explained on :18, Jethro's advice and statements was not quite as "good" as may appear.

Exo 18:18 You will surely wear away, both you, and this people that is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to perform it yourself alone-
Moses accepts Jethro's advice on the basis that he will "surely wear away"; even though his natural strength never abated (Dt. 34:7), and God surely would not have asked him to do the impossible. So Jethro is presented as wrong on this point, and perhaps Moses need not have taken his advice. Jethro at this time seems to have seen Yahweh as only one of many gods; he was a pagan priest. He prophesied that if Moses followed his advice, "all this people shall go to their place in peace"(:23)- which they didn't.

Exo 18:19 Listen now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You represent the people before God-
Moses like the Lord Jesus did indeed represent the people before God; the basis of their redemption by him was predicated upon him being their representative. When he later offered his eternity as a substitute, that was not accepted. Moses therefore obeyed the voice of Jethro rather than God's words of judgment. "Listen to my voice" recalls the bad advice of Eve and Rebekah. But in Dt. 1, at the end of his life, Moses rewrites the narrative. He justifies what he did, although he carefully omits reference to Jethro: "I spoke to you at that time saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone; Yahweh your God has multiplied you and behold, you are this day as the stars of the sky for multitude. May Yahweh the God of your fathers make you a thousand times as many as you are and bless you, as He has promised you! How can I myself alone bear your encumbrance and your burden and your strife? Take wise men of understanding and well known according to your tribes and I will make them heads over you. You answered me and said, The thing which you have spoken is good to do. So I took the heads of your tribes, wise men and known, and made them heads over you, captains of thousands, captains of hundreds, captains of fifties and captains of tens and officers, according to your tribes. I commanded your judges at that time, saying, Hear cases between your brothers and judge righteously between a man and his brother and the foreigner who is living with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike; you shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me and I will hear it, I commanded you at that time all the things which you should do". Here Moses wishes to claim that he had the idea and the people agreed it and liked it. He is not at all penitent for listening to man over God. And in Dt. 1 we are at the end of Moses' life. If a man of his spiritual stature had a way of rewriting his own narrative- how much more do we have this tendency? It's like his way of always blaming his bar on entry to the land upon the people, "for your sakes", rather than accepting it was a judgment for his own sin.

And bring the causes to God-
From :22,26, we are to read him as meaning "the more important or difficult cases".

Exo 18:20 You shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do-
Moses had been using the various interpersonal difficulties amongst the congregation as an opportunity to teach Yahweh's newly given laws to the common people, on an individual basis. Jethro suggests just teaching them to their elders, and allowing the laws to filter down that way. Moses accepts this, but we wonder whether that was God's ideal intention. We may compare this with the way that God wanted to speak His words to all the people, but they backed away from Him, wanting Moses to tell them what God had said. So we see the theme continued here, of the ordinary people being increasingly isolated from the direct engagement with God's word which He ideally wished. And this is a theme which has continued amongst God's people to this day.

Exo 18:21 Moreover you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens-
If indeed 600,000 men left Egypt (although see on Ex. 12:37), this would have meant at the very least 600 rulers of thousands, 6000 rulers of hundreds, 12,000 rulers of fifties and 60,000 rulers of tens; making in the whole 78,600 officers. Were there really such a huge number of men of integrity in the congregation? All the evidence is that there were not. This again leads us to consider that Jethro's advice had secular common sense to it, but was not God's ideal desire.

Exo 18:22 Let them judge the people at all times. It shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves. So shall it be easier for you, and they shall share the load with you-
"The load" of God's people was carried by Moses; yet it had been carried by Yahweh; for He was the One who had carried Israel out of Egypt and through the desert (s.w. Ex. 19:4; Is. 46:3). Moses was carrying the people too, through patiently bearing with their petty squabbles and trying to help them see through them by wise judgment.

But in Num. 11:14 Moses laments: "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me". This complaint of Moses had supposedly been answered by Jethro's suggestion to appoint elders "to share the load with you" (Ex. 18:22); and I suggested that Ex. 18 is out of chronological sequence, and should be inserted between Num. 10:10 and Num. 10:11 (see note there, and on Ex. 18:6). So in reality, Jethro's secular advice hadn't worked.  

Exo 18:23 If you will do this thing, and God commands you so, then you will be able to endure, and all of these people also will go to their place in peace-
Jethro perceived the vital personal role of Moses in Israel’s salvation; if Moses 'endured', then he would bring the people to Canaan. This is the power of just one man's faith, and indeed so much in Israel's salvation was predicated upon Moses' faith (Heb. 11:28,29). But "these people" did not come in peace to their place of inheritance; that generation perished in the wilderness. Jethro's advice didn't really work. See on :18.

Exo 18:24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said-
As discussed on :18, not all that Jethro said was true, nor was it true that his plan would succeed in bringing Israel to their inheritance in peace. It didn't. So we wonder whether Moses was correct in just accepting his advice; perhaps he did it in order to achieve reconciliation with his wife, Jethro's daughter. Even Jethro advised that his suggestions should only be accepted if "and God commands you so" (:23). There is no statement to the effect that Moses did await God's commands, and there were various problems with the entire suggestion, as noted in this section.

Exo 18:25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens-
There is no evidence that this system really worked. However we do read the same word translated "ruler" used of the "captains" of Dt. 1:15; and whenever we later read of "rulers / captains of thousands", it refers to captains of military divisions (1 Sam. 8:12; 2 Kings 1:9). So it could be that this system was used not for judgment but for military organization. Again we see that Jethro's secular advice, much as it made good common sense, was not really God's way- and it didn't work. If the suggested system had been put in place, there would've been no need for Moses to later command in Dt. 16:18 "You shall make judges and officers in all your gates which Yahweh your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment". 

Exo 18:26 They judged the people at all times. They brought the hard causes to Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves-
Here we have another example of how the record of Israel at this time is very positive about them. For as noted throughout this section, the vision of Jethro didn't really work well in practice. But in His love, God saw no iniquity in Israel, He saw them as the wonderful, attractive young women whom He fell in love with in the desert. And the Divinely inspired record reflects that.

Exo 18:27 Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way into his own land-
We note from 1 Chron. 23:15-17 that there were descendants of Moses through Gerhsom and Eliezer in Israel at David's time, who could demonstrate their pedigree. They were given designated roles of service within David's plans for the new temple system; which is why they are mentioned in 1 Chron. 23. So we can deduce from this that they did not remain in Midian but identified themselves with Israel. In Num. 10:29 we read that Jethro turned down Moses' invitation to remain with Israel and be their guide in the desert. But Ex. 18:27 says that "Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way into his own land". Here we have another example of where we need to put the scriptures together in order to get a full picture of what really happened. Perhaps the Biblical narrative is constructed in this way so that we must indeed read and meditate upon it all, respecting it all as God's word, in order to more fully see the entire narrative as God wishes us to.

Num 10:29-32 appears to be relevant to this point in the history. Moses begs Jethro to remain with them and be to them instead of eyes, a rather faithless request because the Angelic "eyes" of Yahweh were to go ahead of Israel in the pillar of fire and cloud and seek out a resting place for them. So this is not Moses at this spiritual best at all:  "Moses [had] said to Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, We are journeying to the place of which Yahweh said, ‘I will give it to you’. Come with us, and we will treat you well; for Yahweh has spoken good concerning Israel. He said to him, I will not go; but I will depart to my own land, and to my relatives.  He said, Don’t leave us, please, because you know how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and you can be to us instead of eyes. It shall be, if you go with us, yes, it shall be, that whatever good Yahweh does to us, we will do the same to you". But Jethro refused, and the good Yahweh did to His people didn't apply to Jethro- as he didn't want it. We see here the same basic weakness- Moses preferred his ex-father in law to guide them, rather than relying upon the Angel in the pillar of cloud, with whom he spoke face to face as a man speaks to his friend. And likewise he preferred Jethro's idea of secular judges rather than giving people individual judgments from God's word. The essence of this failure is in us all. If it was in a man of Moses' spiritual stature, how much more will it be with us.

Had Jethro joined Israel, perhaps the judgment of the Kenites spoken of by Balaam need not have happened. God stated there that He would destroy the Kenites along with the Amalekites (Num. 24:20,21); yet in 1 Sam. 15 He tells the Kenites to depart from amongst the Amalekites so they wouldn't be destroyed. We see here how God hates to judge and condemn people, and will ever seek not to do this.