For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

18:1.  “When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt;”


Jethro, meaning a remnant: excellence, is also called Reuel, see 2:18, and meaning associate ye with God: tend ye God.  Midian means contention: strife.  The difference between the meanings of his name and that of the people whose priest he was, are so contrary and enigmatic as to make it difficult to determine whether he was a believer, or simply a heathen priest, though the former seems the more likely.  His admiration of what God had done for Israel indicates that he was a true believer in Jehovah.


18:2.  “Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back,”


Zipporah means a sparrow, and since the sparrow is the biblical symbol of what is of little value, see e.g., Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” her name seems to imply that when she was born her father may have considered her of little worth.  Perhaps he had wanted a son rather than a daughter.


“... after he (Moses) had sent her back.”  There is no record of Moses’ having sent her back, but most scholars believe that it was probably at the time when God sent him (Moses) to Egypt to effect the deliverance of the Hebrews, his sending her and her sons back to her father being for their safety.


18:3.  “And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land:”


18:4.  “And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my Father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh:”


Gershom means a stranger there: a stranger desolate; and Eliezer God of help.  The meanings of these names indicate very clearly that in choosing them Moses was seeking to perpetuate his expression of gratitude to God for His sustaining grace and delivering power.  Since however, Moses is a type of Christ, it isn’t difficult to see in his thanksgiving a foreshadowing of what was undoubtedly in the mind of Christ when He, having finished the work the Father had given Him to do, rose in triumph on the resurrection morning, as the mighty Victor over Satan, sin, death, and hell.


18:5.  “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his (Moses’) sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God:”


The “mount of God” was Horeb, for the spiritual significance of which see comments on 17:6.


18:6.  “And he said unto Moses, I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.”


18:7.  “And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.”


18:8.  “And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them.”


In the present context “travail” means hardship: weariness: distress, and it is instructive to note that Moses was careful to glorify God by declaring how He had brought Israel safely through every trial.  We tend to dwell much on the hardships of our pilgrim way, while forgetting to give God credit and thanks for his sustaining grace and delivering power, those blessings being the guarantee of our ultimate safe arrival in heaven.


18:9.  “And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.”


There would be happier hearts amongst God’s people if we were also to relate more often the instances of His gracious care, rather than to be dwelling on the adversities of life, those trials being but the means by which He develops our faith, and affords us opportunity to acquire a greater eternal reward as we accept them all in the trusting spirit of knowing that “all things work together for good to those who love God,” Romans 8:28.


As has been noted already, the Egyptians represent the men of the world, so that God’s deliverance of Israel from their power is the symbolic assurance that we too have been delivered from the power of the men of the world, they being able to do to us only what God permits, and that being for our present instruction and eternal blessing.


18:10.  “And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.”


18:11.  “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.”


Jethro’s “now I know” may indicate that he had been an idolater, but that this display of Jehovah’s power had resulted in his conversion.


18:12.  “And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.”


That feast of thanksgiving is an OT type of the Lord’s Supper, the victory over Pharaoh being but a foreshadowing of the Lord’s great victory over Satan at Calvary, which obedient believers celebrate in the Lord’s Supper on the first day of each week, the burnt offering being the primary biblical type of the thanksgiving, praise, and worship presented by believers at that memorial feast.


The specific mention of the presence of Aaron, Israel’s High Priest,  at that feast, reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, is present at every scriptural observance of the Lord’s Supper, He Himself declaring, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.


18:13.  “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.”


Moses acted as arbiter in connection with the people’s disputes, a work that employed him from morning till evening.


18:14.  “And when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people?  Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee, from morning unto even?”


Jethro, seeing that this work was not only too much for one man, but that it also required many of the litigants to waste a whole day waiting for their causes to be heard, strongly disapproved of it.


18:15.  “And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:”


18:16.  “When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.”


Clearly it was God Who had assigned Moses this work, and Who had enabled him to do it, but it seems that the time had come when the faithful servant was to be given others to help him because the task was becoming too much for one man.  God never imposes an unbearable burden on any of His servants, the Lord Himself declaring, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Matthew 11:29-30.


18:17.  “And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.”


The validity of Jethro’s advice is attested by his qualifying condition recorded in verse 23 “... and God command thee so,” that  command being implied in the fact that there is no indication of Divine disapproval when Jethro’s suggestion was implemented.


18:18.  “Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.”


There is no question that with God’s enablement Moses could have continued alone, but neither is there any question that Jethro’s words appear to have been Divinely impelled, for there is no indication of God’s disapproval of his suggestion, but rather His approbation.


18:19.  “Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:”


“... for the people to God-ward” is also translated Be thou to the people as the Oracle of God: you be the people’s advocate with God: you be the people’s representative before God.  Moses was to lay their cases or disputes before God; and as the sequel discloses, He would endow the appointed leaders with wisdom relative to the settlement of their problems.


18:20.  “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.”


“... ordinances and laws” is also rendered statutes and laws: rules and laws: teachings and laws: statutes and decisions.


Neither in the OT dispensation nor the New has God left His people to live according to the vagaries of their own minds.  He has declared specifically in His Word what is right and what is wrong.


It is to be noted also that there was a way wherein they were to walk, and a work in which they were to be employed, the walk speaking of the passive, and the work, of the active aspects of their lives.  Those same principles apply also to this present age.  As we walk the narrow way, which we entered by the straight (narrow) gate of faith, the work the Lord has assigned us is recorded in Mark 16:15, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”


18:21.  “Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:”


The prominent factors in all these numbers are five and ten, five being the biblical number of responsibility; and ten, the number of Divine government, the lesson being that we are responsible to walk in obedience before God. 


The authority of rulers, ranging all the way from jurisdiction over ten to thousands, is the symbolic declaration of the truth that the measure of the gift of oversight in the Church also varies.  Some overseers (elders) are given their gift in greater measure than are others.  This however, doesn’t mean that there are differing degrees of authority vested in elders.  Each elder is as much an overseer as is his fellow elders.  There is no such thing as a head elder in any church.


The qualification of elders is the same in the churches as it was in Israel.  Such a man is to be God-fearing, truthful, not covetous of wealth or power, and it is instructive to note that his attitude to covetousness is not to be merely passive: he is to hate it.  Lust for wealth or power automatically disqualifies a man from being an elder.  The love of money is declared in 1 Timothy 6:10 to be “the root of all evil.”


18:22.  “And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.”


“... judge” in the present context means to administer justice; and “great matter” means major dispute: important case: a matter that is too high for them: extremely difficult case. 


18:23.  “If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.”


That Jethro was speaking as God’s amanuensis seems to be clearly implied in his qualifying statement “and God command thee so.”  In other words he desired God to give Moses some clear proof that he, Jethro, was indeed God’s spokesman in this instance.  The present day counterpart of this is that every man who undertakes to speak as God’s representative should be certain that what he says is confirmed by Scripture.


“... to endure” is also translated stand the strain: endure the weight: be able to go on without weariness.


“... this people shall also go to their place in peace” is also rendered will go home satisfied: shall go into their dwellings contented: there will be peace and harmony in the camp.


18:24.  “So Moses hearkened unto the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.”


18:25.  “And Moses choose 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.


18:26.  “And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.”


18:27.  “And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land.”


The meaning of these four verses is so clear as to make comment unnecessary.

[Exodus 19]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough