Bible Commentaries
Exodus 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 22-27

A. God’s preparatory instruction of Israel 15:22-18:27

The events in this section of the text record God’s preparation of His people for the revelation of His gracious will for them at Mt. Sinai.

Verses 1-12

The names of Moses’ sons (Exodus 18:3-4) reflect his personal experiences in the providence of God. However, not all biblical names carry such significance.

"It is a very precarious procedure to attempt to analyze the character or disposition of an Old Testament character on the basis of the etymology of his name alone." [Note: Davis, p. 187.]

Many names were significant (e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, etc.), but not all were.

The mount of God (Exodus 18:5) is the mountain where God revealed Himself and His law to Israel, Mt. Sinai. The wilderness was the wilderness near Sinai.

"Moses’ summary [Exodus 18:8-10] is a proof-of-Presence summary, a confession of Yahweh’s powerful protection of and provision for Israel." [Note: Durham, p. 244.]

Jethro acknowledged the sovereignty of God (Exodus 18:11). This does not prove he was a monotheist, though he could have been. Jethro was a God-fearing man, evidently part of a believing minority in Midian. He gave evidence of his faith by offering a burnt offering and by making sacrifices to Yahweh (Exodus 18:12). The meal that Moses, Aaron, and the Israelite elders ate with Jethro was the sacrificial meal just mentioned. Eating together in the ancient Near East was a solemn occasion because it constituted the establishment of an alliance between the parties involved. That is undoubtedly what it involved here. The fact that Aaron and all the elders of Israel were also present demonstrated its importance.

Verses 13-23

Moses experienced a crisis of overwork (cf. Acts 6:1-7). Previously he had had to cope with a lack of food and a lack of water. This section explains how he overcame the present crisis. It also explains the beginning of Israel’s legal system. Here we see how the requirements and instructions of the Mosaic Covenant became accessible to the ordinary Israelite and applicable to the problems that arose as the Israelites oriented their lives to that code. [Note: Ibid., p. 248.]

Clearly Israel already at this time had a body of revealed law (Exodus 18:16; cf. Exodus 15:26). I shall say more about older ancient Near Eastern law codes in my comments on Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 23:19. God greatly expanded this with the giving of the Mosaic Covenant.

Evidently the people were becoming unruly because Moses was not dispensing justice quickly (Exodus 18:23). Jethro’s counsel was wise and practical, and he presented it subject to the will of God (Exodus 18:23). Moses may not have realized the seriousness of the problem he faced. He seems to have been a gifted administrator who would not have consciously let Israel’s social welfare deteriorate. However, his efficiency expert father-in-law pointed out how he could manage his time better.

Notice the importance of modeling integrity in Exodus 18:21. Integrity means matching walk with talk, practicing what one preaches. This has always been an important qualification for leaders.

"Mr. [Dwight L.] Moody said shrewdly: It is better to set a hundred men to work, than do the work of a hundred men. You do a service to a man when you evoke his latent faculty. It is no kindness to others or service to God to do more than your share in the sacred duties of Church life." [Note: Meyer, p. 210.]

Verses 24-27

Moses allowed the people to nominate wise, respected men from their tribes whom he appointed as judges (Exodus 18:25; cf. Deuteronomy 1:12-18). These men handled the routine disputes of the Israelites, and this kept Moses free to resolve the major problems.

Jethro returned to his native land (Exodus 18:27), but he visited Moses and his daughter and grandchildren again (cf. Numbers 10:29), perhaps often during the following 40 years.

"In times of great crises God always provided men to lead the way to deliverance. Moses is an eloquent example of this very fact. The hand of God providentially prepared this man for this very moment. He was cognizant of Egyptian manners and was therefore able to articulate demands before the King of Egypt. Moses had been trained in military matters and was therefore capable of organizing this large mass of people for movement across the deserts. His training in Egypt had given him the ability to write and therefore provided a means by which these accounts would be recorded for eternity. Forty years of desert experience had given Moses the know-how of travel in these areas as well as the kind of preparation that would be needed to survive the desert heat. All of this a mere accident of history? No indeed. The history before us is a supreme example of God’s sovereign ability to accomplish His purposes for His people. Those who belong to Him have every reason to be confident that that which God has promised He will perform." [Note: Davis, pp. 189-90.]

"The present narrative has many parallels with the accounts in Genesis 14, 15. Just as Melchizedek the priest of Salem (salem) met Abraham bearing gifts as he returned from the battle with Amraphel (Genesis 14:18-20), so Jethro the Midianite priest came out with Moses’ wife and sons to offer peace (salom, Exodus 18:7; NIV ’they greeted each other’) as he returned from the battle with the Amalekites. . . . The purpose of these parallels appears to be to cast Jethro as another Melchizedek, the paradigm of the righteous Gentile. It is important that Jethro have such credentials because he plays a major role in this chapter, instructing Moses, the lawgiver himself, how to carry out the administration of God’s Law to Israel. Thus, just as Abraham was met by Melchizedek the priest (Genesis 14) before God made a covenant with him in Genesis 15, so Moses is met by Jethro the priest (Exodus 18) before God makes a covenant with him at Sinai (Exodus 19)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., pp. 280-81.]

Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-24)Jethro (Exodus 18:1-27)
He was a Genesis 14:18 riest of Salem (Genesis 14:18).He was a Gentile priest of Midian (Exodus 18:1).
He met Abraham bearing gifts as Abraham returned from defeating the Mesopota-mians (Genesis 14:18).He met Moses as Moses returned from defeating the Amalekites (Exodus 18:5).
He brought gifts to Abraham (Genesis 14:18).He brought Moses’ wife and sons to Moses (Exodus 18:2-6).
He was king of peace (Heb. salem, Genesis 14:18).He offered Moses peace (Heb. salom, Exodus 18:7).
Abraham’s heir was Eliezer ("God is my help," Genesis 15:2).Moses’ heir was Eliezer ("God is my help," Exodus 18:4).
Melchizedek praised God for rescuing Abraham from the Amalekites (Genesis 14:19-20).Jethro praised God for rescuing Moses from the Egyptians (Exodus 18:10-11).
He offered bread and wine (Genesis 14:18).He offered sacrifices and ate bread with Moses (Exodus 18:12).
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.