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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 18

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-12

Exodus 28:1-12 . Jethro as Priest. Exodus 18:1 a (“ Midian” ) J, Exodus 18:1 b E, Exodus 18:1 c (supply “ heard” ) J, Exodus 18:2-4 Rje, Exodus 18:5 E, Exodus 18:6 a(b) – Exodus 18:7 J, Exodus 18:8 ab (“ was” ) E, Exodus 18:8 c – Exodus 18:9 a (“ Israel” ) J, Exodus 18:9 b E, Exodus 18:10 a(b) – Exodus 18:11 a(b) J, Exodus 18:12 E.— The analysis of Exodus 18:18 as shown here is that of Gressmann. In J, Jethro hears of Israel’ s deliverance by Yahweh ( Exodus 18:1 ac), and sends to announce his arrival ( Exodus 18:6). Moses welcomes him with Eastern courtesy ( Exodus 18:7), and tells him the good news fully ( Exodus 18:8 c). Jethro rejoices ( Exodus 18:9 a), and pronounces a solemn priestly ascription of praise to Yahweh ( Exodus 18:10 a, Exodus 18:11 a), as though he were a bishop visiting some place within his diocese. Similarly in E, but with the additional reason that he might bring his wife and two sons (contrast Exodus 2:22), “ Moses’ father-in-law,” hearing of all that God had done, comes and hears the story more fully ( Exodus 18:8, read “ God,” Exodus 18:9 b), and then ( Exodus 18:12) “ 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,” i.e. to share in a solemn sacrificial feast. What does all this mean, but that the Midianitish priest acted as it were as godfather to Moses and Israel, and that, as the N. Israelite priest ( 2 Kings 17:26 ff.) taught the settlers in Samaria the manner of the God of the land,” so Jethro imparted to Israel the ritual customs and rules of the God of Sinai, Horeb, Seir, Edom, Teman or Paran ( Judges 5:4 f., Deuteronomy 33:2, Hebrews 3:3), for all these places are named as the early centres of Yahweh’ s presence. Midian, geographically close, may also have been thus named, but, if so, was omitted by the final priestly editors for reasons of prejudice ( Numbers 25:6-18, Numbers 3:1), which show the strength of the tradition which retained so much about Moses’ s relations with Midian ( cf. Exodus 2:18 *).

Verses 13-27

Exodus 18:13-27 . Moses as Judges Exodus 18:13 (should begin a new paragraph) J, Exodus 18:14 a E, Exodus 18:14 b J, Exodus 18:15 E, Exodus 18:16 a (“ neighbour” ) J, Exodus 18:16 bf. E, Exodus 18:18 a J, Exodus 18:18 b – Exodus 18:19 a (“ voice” ) E, Exodus 18:19 b (“ council” ), Exodus 18:19 c E (“ God-ward” ), Exodus 18:19 d J, Exodus 18:20-21 a (“ gain” ) E, Exodus 18:21 b (including “ able men” ) J, Exodus 18:22 a (“ seasons” ) E, Exodus 18:22 b J, Exodus 18:23-24 a E, Exodus 18:24 b J, Exodus 18:25 f. Rje, Exodus 18:27 E.— A second pair of narratives relating to the visit of Jethro unite in describing him as the sagacious and experienced counsellor who taught Moses as judge to delegate the bulk of the work to subordinates. J tells how Jethro watched Moses sitting all day among a crowd of suitors ( Exodus 18:13-14 b, Exodus 18:15 b), wearing out his own strength and theirs ( Exodus 18:18). When evening came the astonished visitor gave his counsel ( Exodus 18:19 b) , not all of which has been preserved. It seems to have been twofold: first, in appeals and graver matters to “ bring the causes unto God” ( Exodus 18:19 d) , i.e. to resort to the sacred oracle ( cf. 1 Samuel 14:41 *), and so relieve himself of the load of unshared responsibility; and, secondly, to appoint “ able men” ( cf. Genesis 47:6 b J) as delegates in descending grades to sift out the greater matters and settle the minor affairs ( Exodus 18:21 b, Exodus 18:22 b), advice which Moses took ( Exodus 18:24 b) . E, to which it has been usual to assign the whole passage, is rather more explicit in any case. In reply to his father-in-law, Moses asserts that the people already come to him “ to inquire of God” ( Exodus 18:15 a): i.e. the plan of consulting the oracle is already in operation. Further, he “ makes them know the statutes of God” ( i.e. those already formulated), “ and his laws” (or directions, i.e. those called forth by fresh circumstances, Exodus 18:16 b, cf. Exodus 18:20). The statutes must be those given on the mount ( Exodus 24:12, cf. Exodus 18:3), this passage being out of place. The advice ( Exodus 18:19 a) Moses receives is that he shall still himself “ be for the people to God-ward” ( Exodus 18:19 c), i.e. solve the graver problems by resort to the oracle ( cf. pp. 100f.), “ warn them of the statutes and laws, and make them know their way and work” ( Exodus 18:20), but that he shall also appoint suitable delegates ( Exodus 18:21 a) to be always accessible ( Exodus 18:22 a), and so “ be able to endure” ( Exodus 18:23). This Moses did ( Exodus 18:24 a, Exodus 18:25 f. being a gloss), and let his father-in-law go ( Exodus 18:27). It is a vivid and moving picture that is brought before us: the amazing energy of Moses, his sense of duty, his judicial capacity, his possession in full measure of all the qualities his deputies needed— ability, piety, truth, integrity. So, and with good reason in this instance, Israel looked back to Moses as at once the organ of Divine justice and the organiser of its due administration. Another parallel variant is to be found in Numbers 11:14; Numbers 11:16 f., Numbers 11:24 b f. E s on the 70 elders. There is also a sequel to J in Numbers 10:29-32 J, where Hobab (=Jethro) refuses to act as guide in the original story, possibly indicating the Ark ( Numbers 10:33; Numbers 10:35 f.) as the pledge of Yahweh’ s ` ( cf. the cloud in Numbers 10:34 P).

Exodus 18:21 b. rulers: better “ captains” ( cf. Exodus 1:11, gangmasters or labour-captains as Deuteronomy 1:11, where alone the sequence 1000, 100, 50, 10 is found). The grading seems impracticably minute, unless the reference is simply to the varying size of the clan-units. The Dt. passage, based as usual on E, confirms the dating of Exodus 18 after the giving of the Law and the departure from Kadesh.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 18". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/exodus-18.html. 1919.
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