Bible Commentaries
Exodus 18

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-27

Exodus 18:5. Jethro came to Moses at the mount of God. Horeb and Sinai, where God resided in glory, wrought miracles, and published his law. It would seem that Jethro stayed with Moses till the law was promulgated on Mount Sinai; and that Moses inviting Jethro to go with them to Canaan was at the parting, for he adds, I will return, &c. See Numbers 10:0. But he advised him to appoint judges and military officers, the day after his arrival.

Exodus 18:6. I am come to thee. The LXX relieve us of the awkward reading of this verse, in the English and Latin version. “It was told Moses, behold thy father-in-law Jethro is coming to thee, and thy wife, and thy two sons with him.” This occurrence comes in properly here, because Jethro’s flocks grazed near Horeb. How consolatory for Jethro to find Moses conqueror of Pharaoh, and king in Jeshurun!

Exodus 18:11. The Lord is greater than all gods. To compare the Lord with idols, or with princes, is shocking. The translator was not aware that the Hebrews form their comparative degree by prefixing מן or מ min or mem, sometimes to the adjective, and sometimes to the substantive; מכל michcol, great above all gods. The translators of 2 Chronicles 2:5, and of Psalms 95:3, have given us the true reading: “The Lord is a great King above all gods.”


We have a fine example of mutual love and relative affection in Jethro and Moses. Jethro had received the Hebrew exile into his house; but he knew not that he had received the greatest of prophets, and the wisest of kings. He had proved his fidelity as a servant, and rewarded it with the gift of a daughter; now he could rejoice in the highest fruits of his hospitality. How happy when good men, and religious families have known one another for forty years, and can bless God that his providence led them to friendship, and that his grace united their hearts.

By the emancipation of Israel, Jethro’s faith was greatly increased in the belief and worship of the one true and eternal God. He entered into all the wonders of the Lord, and despised the gods of the heathen. How good it is when the heart properly appreciates the mercies of the Lord, and when we can find friends to aid our weakness by their mutual faith. It is good to associate with those whose hearts are full of heaven and full of love.

Mark also the respect with which Moses received his father-in-law. He went to meet and embrace him, and he made him a feast with all the elders of Israel. The Lord had now raised Moses from pastoral life to regal dignity; but he was still a son, and relative duties are not superseded by elevation and honour. Jethro had most kindly received Moses as a stranger; and now Moses wished Jethro to accompany Israel, and to share in the blessings of their covenant. This overture he declined, being a priest of Midian; but where grace prevails in the heart, where happiness reigns in the house, the bonds of religious friendship are so pure, that however distant in situation, the recollection and attachment remain for ever.

Jethro having participated in the joy of Israel, is in return made useful to them by his advice. He saw the fatigue of Moses in judging the people; and advised him to elect, if God should approve, the sanhedrim or national council of seventy members. And God did approve, and he anointed and qualified the judges for their office, by the spirit of prophecy. This grand council existed throughout all the vicissitudes of the Jewish nation, till long after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans; and it often proved a source of salutary counsel, and contributed both to the support of religion and the defence of the state. Civil government is a divine ordinance, and an infinite blessing to a nation. It defends the lives and property of men by a grand chain of magistracy, from the prince to the people; and every magistrate holding his commission of God, as well as the king, should be superior to bribery and corruption, and to all respect of persons. Being called to the high duties of giving effect to the law, of protecting the oppressed, of tracing the mysteries of iniquity and maintaining the rights of God, he has need to be endued with an excellent spirit, and with the wisdom from on high. What but the grace of God can render him superior to passion, to party, and every private consideration? What but the anointing which fell on the seventy elders, or the genuine spirit of virtue and religion can divest him of the fear of man, and enable him to act as in the sight of God?

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 18". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.