Bible Commentaries
Exodus 18

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verses 1-5

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 ... came ... unto Moses ... It is thought by many eminent commentators that this episode is inserted out of its chronological order, because it is described as occurring when the Israelites were "encamped at the mount of God." And yet they did not reach it until the third month after their departure from Egypt (Exodus 19:1-2: cf. Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 1:9-15). Besides, there is internal evidence that this visit took place a considerable time after at Sinai, not only from the fact that the social organization suggested by Jethro could not have been accomplished during the brief and tumultuary encampment at Rephidim, and from the distinct references that are made (Exodus 18:12; Exodus 18:15-16; Exodus 18:19) to the promulgation of the law and the establishment of the divine oracle, but from the settled tranquillity and order which appear among the Israelites. It is clear (Exodus 18:5) that they had left Rephidim and were encamped before Sinai: but at what particular period the visit was paid, the inspired record gives no information.

It could not have occurred, as Lepsius suggests, during the first three days after the arrival at Sinai; but a presumption arises, from the altered position of Miriam in consequence of the arrival of Moses' wife, that it was shortly before the singular outbreak against the leader caused by her jealousy, (Numbers 12:1-16). How, then, did this episode come to be inserted out of its proper chronological place in the history? Just in conformity with the usual manner of the writer when about to enter upon a continuous narrative, to dispose of collateral matters of interest, as in giving the genealogy of Judah's family (Genesis 38:1-30) before commencing the story of Joseph's life and policy in Egypt; so he adverts to this visit of Jethro, important both on private and public grounds, before commencing the lengthened details of the Sinaitic legislation, (cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b.

iii., ch. 3:)

Verse 2. Then Jethro ... took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back. There is no express mention (Exodus 4:27) of Zipporah and her sons having been sent back to remain with her father. But it is certain that she was sent back; and whether, as the Jewish rabbis say, this was done by the advice of Aaron; whether the motive for it was a tender regard for the safety of the family, to keep them away from the intensely agitating and engrossing scenes of the exodus, or, as some suppose, a domestic feud, caused by the circumcision of the younger son, had produced a sudden strife and alienation between Moses and Zipporah, there is no doubt that she returned to sojourn under her father's roof. It may be assumed with confidence that Moses had, at departure, informed Jethro that he would certainly bring his people to a particular spot, whither, on hearing a report of his arrival, his father-in-law repaired.

Verse 3. Gershom (see the note at Exodus 2:22).

Verse 4. Eliezer - [ 'Eliy`ezer (H461), my God helps, or God is my helper.] Scarcely anything is known of these sons of Moses. His genuine and remarkable disinterestedness led him, instead of advancing his family, to keep them back, and fill public offices of honour and responsibility with others.

Verse 5. Jethro ... came ... unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God. Those who identify Rephidim and Feiran, suppose that from Husseiyeh-the scene of engagement with the Amalekites-they moved to their next encampment, only two miles distant, at the base of Serbal, the grandeur and rugged majesty of which render it a conspicuous object in passing through the extensive Wady Feiran, near the end of which it stands, and is approached through the lateral Wady Aleyat. It is assumed to have been "the mount of God" - a high place sacred to religious rites long before the Mosaic period and pilgrimages made to it by the Phoenicians and Amalekites. Its name, Serbal, signifies the palm groves of Baal; and hence, it is concluded that it was called "the mount of God," to which those writers consider Exodus 3:1; Exodus 4:27, as referring. But that name is applied to a different mountain, where the train God appeared (Exodus 19:2-3; Exodus 24:13; 1 Kings 19:8); and hence, Ritter maintains that there were two high places called "the mount of God." But this view is inadmissible. Not to dwell on the circumstance that a camp containing upwards of two million people must, in a narrow valley, have covered the whole of the two miles' space from Husseiyeh to Serbal, and therefore would not require to remove to the latter as a new encampment, is it conceivable that the leader should have been allowed to set the people down at so early a stage before those luxurious palm groves of Baal, which proved so fatally seductive to them on the plains of Moab (Numbers 25:1-18) at a subsequent period of their history? Besides, it is observable that the name is [ har (H2022) haa-'Elohiym (H430)], 'the mount of the God,' the definite article marking it out as applied to Yahweh Himself in contradistinction from idol deities.

Verse 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.

Thy wife, and her two sons (see the note at Exodus 4:20.

Verse 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.

Moses went out ... Their salutations would be marked by all the warm and social greeting of Oriental friends (see the note at Exodus 4:27) - the one going out to "meet" the other-the "obeisance," the "kiss" on each side of the head, the silent entrance into the tent for consultation; and their conversation ran in the strain that might have been expected of two pious men, rehearsing and listening to a narrative of the wonderful works and providence of God.

Verses 8-10

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 11

Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods. The reference is to the momentous events which had reduced the country and kingdom of Egypt to the verge of destruction. In those transactions Jethro, as a calm, intelligent, reflecting observer at a distance, had seen a controversy carried on by Yahweh less with the sovereign than the idols of Egypt, and that the extraordinary series of miracles had produced the effect of exposing the insignificance or nothingness of all her gods.

Verse 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.

Jethro ... took a burnt offering, [ `olaah (H5930) uwzbaachiym (H2077)] - a holocaust and victims. This friendly interview was terminated by a solemn religious service-the burnt offerings were consumed on the altar, and the sacrifices were offerings, used in a feast of joy and gratitude, at which Jethro, as priest of the true God, seems to have presided, and to which the chiefs of Israel were invited. This incident is in beautiful keeping with the character of the parties, and, in the spirit of it, is well worthy of the imitation of Christian friends when they meet in the present day.

Verses 13-26

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.

On the morrow ... Moses ... We are here presented with a specimen of his daily morning occupations; and among the multifarious duties his divine legation imposed, it must be considered only a small portion of his official employments He appears in this attitude as a type of Christ in his legislative and judicial characters.

People stood ... - governors in the East seat themselves at the most public gate of their palace or the city, and there, amid a crowd of applicants, hear causes, receive petitions, redress grievances, and adjust the claims of contending parties. In Egypt the Hebrews had been governed by the patriarchal rule of their elders. But the divine legation of Moses having invested him with the character and authority of a sovereign, the jurisdiction of the elders had become virtually superseded, and the judgment of Moses was looked up to as supreme; so that an overwhelming accumulation of secular business was thrown upon his hands. Verse 17. Moses' father-in-law ... The thing ... is not good - not good either for Moses himself, for the maintenance of justice, or for the satisfaction and interests of the people. Jethro gave a prudent counsel as to the division of labour, and universal experience in the Church and State has attested the soundness and advantage of the principle.

Verse 21. Thou shalt provide ... able men ... to be rulers. The arrangement was an admirable one, and it was founded upon a division of the people which was adopted not only in civil but in military affairs; so that the same persons who were officers in war were magistrates in peace. In both cases the people were divided into thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens; and the chiefs of these numbers are in this passage, as well as in Numbers 31:14, distinguished by the same term [ saareey (H8269); Septuagint, chiliarchous, kai hekatontarchous, kai pentikontareechous, kai dekadarchous].

Care was thus taken by the minute subdivision to which the judicial system was carried, that, in suits and proceedings at law, every man should have what was just and equal, without going far to seek it, without waiting long to obtain it, and without paying an exorbitant price for it. Certainly, with a judiciary constituted in this manner, justice could be administered promptly, while provision was made against the evils of hasty decisions, in the right of appeal to higher courts-in important cases-even to the venerable council of the Seventy, composed of the gravest, the ablest, the most upright, and trustworthy men of the nation' (Deuteronomy 7:8-9) (Wines' 'Commentaries on the Laws of the Ancient Hebrews').

The institution of those civil officers, however, as suggested by Jethro, would suit the state of the people only in their associated capacity as tribes in the wilderness. When they obtained possession of the promised land, and were settled in towns, a different arrangement became necessary (Deuteronomy 16:18). 'This constitution of the tribes, with the subordinate degrees of shiekhs, recommended to Moses by Jethro, is the very same which still exists among those who are possibly his lineal descendants, the gentle race of the Towara (Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine').

Verse 23. If thou shalt ... Jethro's counsel was given merely in the form of a suggestion-it was not to be adopted without the express sanction and approval of a better and higher Counsellor; and although we are not informed of it, there can be no doubt that Moses, before appointing subordinate magistrates, would ask the mind of God, as it is the duty and privilege of every Christian in like manner to supplicate the divine direction in all his ways.

Verse 27

And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.

Moses let his father-in-law depart ... into his own land. This statement confirms the view formerly taken of Rephidim, that it was not in Feiran, otherwise there was no occasion for Jethro to depart, for his way into Midian, and that of Moses to Sinai, lay in the same direction.

Lepsius, who maintains that Rephidim was in Wady Feiran, is obliged, in support of this theory, to resort to the hypothesis that the two first verses in this chapter did not originally form part of the sacred composition, Exo. 19:27 of Exodus 16:1-36 being followed by Exodus 19:3 of this chapter. In my opinion, the narrative ran thus: 'And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land. And Moses went up unto God,' etc. But there is no ground whatever for concluding that there was any interpolation.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 18". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.