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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). 

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.
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. 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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.  

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.