Exodus 18


‘Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, ‘I have become a foreigner in a foreign land’; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, ‘My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.’ Exodus 18:1-6

Jethro Visits Moses

Moses meets with Jethro, his father in law, in the desert of Midian. He is reunited with his wife Zipporah, Exodus 4:18-26, and his two sons Gershon and Eliezer, remember he had sent his family back to Midian, Exodus 4:24-26.

His sons, Gershom and Eliezer, were born while he lived with Jethro during the forty years he was in Sinai before going to Egypt, Exodus 2:22 / Exodus 4:25.

Moses had a special relationship with Jethro, though he had been raised in all the wisdom and education of Egypt. Moses no doubt learned more about real leadership from the priest and shepherd Jethro, whose flocks Moses tended until his call at Sinai.

‘So, Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them. Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, ‘Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’ Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.’ Exodus 18:7-12

Jethro glorifies God when Moses reports what the Lord has done, it’s possible Jethro knew this before, he was the priest of Midian, Exodus 18:1. But hearing of God’s great works over the gods of Egypt brings this truth more clearly than before.

There was obviously a great relationship between Moses and his father-in-law. Though Moses had just brought a great nation of people out of Egypt to the land of Jethro, he was humble enough to bow down and show respect to his father-in-law.

Fields, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Moses respected Jethro for his wisdom, as well as his age, and for being his father-in-law. Such humility and respect for age is not popular in our times, but it is highly commended in the Scriptures, and needs to be restored.’

We don’t know how much Jethro understood about the one true God of heaven, but we do know that he gave all glory to God for all that had transpired during Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Egypt.

It is possible that he was a descendant of one of Abraham’s other children through Keturah named Midian, Genesis 25:1-2. This is one possible reason he is aware of who God is, Exodus 2:16 / Exodus 3:1 / Exodus 18:1.

Though the Midianites were later portrayed as the enemies of God, Numbers 31, Jethro, a priest of Midian, stood as a light of righteousness in an evil nation, Genesis 14:18-20 / Genesis 20:6 / Job 1:1 / Job 1:8.

‘The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?’ Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.’ Exodus 18:13-16

Jethro observes Moses as he settles disputes among the children of Israel. Moses, because he knew the statutes of God and His laws, was fit to settle disputes among the children of Israel but taking all this responsibility to himself was a massive burden.

It’s not surprising that there would be many disputes and questions about where they settled, especially since there were a lot of people. Moses here acted as a judge from morning until evening, obviously dealing with one case at a time.

‘Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.’ Exodus 18:17-23

Jethro advises Moses to delegate the job of settling disputes. The problem was simply that the job was too big for Moses to do, his energies were being spent unwisely. Moses must delegate, even as in Acts 6:2-4, the apostles insisted they needed to delegate so they would not leave the Word of God and serve tables.

Much to Moses’ credit, he is teachable, when Jethro says the thing that you do is not good, he listens to Jethro. Moses knew how to not bow to the complaints of the children of Israel, Exodus 17:3, but how to hear the godly counsel from a man like Jethro.

For Moses to effectively delegate, he must first stand before God for the people, that is, he must pray for the people delegation will not work if the blessing of God is not upon it.

For Moses to effectively delegate, he must teach them the statutes and the laws, that is, he must educate not only those who will hear the disputes but also those who might dispute in God’s Word.

If the people knew God’s Word for themselves, many disputes could be settled immediately. Also, if the people knew God’s Word for themselves, they would not be discouraged if they could not bring their case to Moses himself, they would know one of Moses’ delegates could give them counsel from God’s wisdom.

For Moses to effectively delegate, he must next select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth. Delegation fails if the job is not put into the hands of able, godly men.

Not just anyone was fit for this job, Moses needed. Men of ability, able men. Men of godliness, such as fear God. Men of God’s Word, men of truth. Men of honour, hating covetousness. Paul gave the same counsel to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2.

For Moses to effectively delegate, he must still have oversight and leadership over those under him, every great matter they shall bring to you. Delegation is the exercise of leadership, not the abandoning of it.

If Moses effectively delegates, the result will be a blessing for all you will be able to endure, Moses will be able to do his job better than ever, and all these people will also go to their place in peace, the people will be effectively ministered to.

This method also had the advantage of settling problems quickly, people didn’t need to wait in line for Moses. Jesus said we should agree with our adversary quickly, Matthew 5:25.

Meyer, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The longer a controversy lasts, the worse the tangle becomes, the more hot words are spoken, the more bystanders become involved.’

‘Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.’ Exodus 18:21-27

Moses wisely follows Jethro’s suggestions, and Jethro departs.

D L Moody says the following.

‘It is better to set a hundred men to work than to do the work of a hundred men.’

We should note that the actual appointment of the judges came later in Deuteronomy 1:12-18, where it appears that Moses also added a refinement of his own. He charged the people with the responsibility of picking out their judges, much in the same way as the apostles instructed the people to choose the seven, Acts 6:1-6.

In Moses’ method of administration, some had a higher position than others, but only in the eyes of men, God honoured the faithful service of the man over tens as much as the service of the man over thousands.

After Jethro had given his advice, and the organization of judgment was put into place, he returned to his own land. Zipporah, and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer remained with Moses as the nation moved on to Mount Sinai.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The last verse of the chapter tells of the departure of Jethro. A moment’s reflection will emphasize what an important and significant visit he had made.

1. He restored Moses’ family to him, after their having been separated for about one year.

2. As a legitimate priest of the Highest One, Jethro no doubt encouraged Moses, mentioning their peaceful entry into Canaan.

3. Through his timely suggestion of a system of judges, he made a significant contribution to all subsequent history of Israel.

4. By the same device, he also greatly alleviated the heavy burden of administration which until then had rested upon Moses, and

5. He also offered burnt offerings and sacrifices to the true God and enjoyed a wonderful meal of religious fellowship with the leaders of God’s Chosen People.’

Go To Exodus 19


"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship."