7 Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the LORD had delivered them. 9 Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 So Jethro said, "Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 "Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people." 12 Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses' father-in-law before God. 13 It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. 14 Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." 17 Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. 18 "You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 "Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people's representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, 20 then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. 21 "Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. 22 "Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 "If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace." 24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
In our previous study, we encountered Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. Jewish history says Jethro was a priest of many gods. Other historians say Jethro was a priest of the LORD (Yahweh/Yehovah) since he was from the line of Midian, Abraham’s son. We will not know exactly whom Jethro worshipped before Exodus 18:9-10. Verse 11 invites us to believe that Jethro was not a priest of Yahweh before since he was now convinced “Yahweh is greater than all the gods.” What we do know is that from verse 10 Jethro worshipped the Yahweh of the Hebrews. Let us now look at this passage closer.
The Hebrews left Egypt a few days or weeks before Exodus 18. They learned the LORD cared enough for them that He provided food (manna) and water. Yahweh also provided a pillar of fire before them and a cloud behind them. In chapter 18, we meet them at the “mountain of God,” Mount Sinai/Horeb. The Hebrews were in the Sinai Peninsula. They were in the area where Moses shepherded Jethro’s sheep before and where Moses met the LORD in the burning bush (Exodus 3).
As the Hebrews and Moses camped there, Jethro sent word to Moses saying he would soon arrive at the camp with Moses’ wife and sons. In our day, that might not have been a meeting to look forward to since Moses put his wife aside, basically, divorced her. Yet, we find in this chapter Moses greeted Jethro with honor and love. He bowed down to and kissed Jethro. Moses humbled himself before his father-in-law and, thus, recognized Jethro’s superiority. Readers of the Bible read of these actions also occurring with Joseph and his brothers and parents in Genesis 37:7, 10; 42:6, 9; and 43:26, 28. It occurred when Laban met Jacob (Genesis 29:13), Esau met Jacob (Genesis 33:4), and Aaron met Moses (Exodus 4:7). Bowing and kissing a person in greeting showed respect, humility, and love in their culture. Before retiring to their tents, Moses and Jethro asked each other of their welfare. This word “welfare” comes from the Greek word “shalowm,” meaning completeness in number, safety, and soundness of body, welfare, health, and prosperity. It included peace within themselves, with others, and with God (their relationship with God).
In verse 8, Moses told Jethro all God did for the Hebrews. Yehovah (the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible) proved His might and majesty to Pharaoh and his advisers by sending plagues and killing first born children (Exodus 4:23, 7:4-5) for Israel’s sake. Moses told Jethro of the hardship – toil, distress, and weariness – they encountered on the journey. He told him how Yehovah delivered them, how He rescued and saved them. (Moses and Nehemiah recounted these stories for the Israelites for generations to come in Numbers 20:4 and Nehemiah 9:32.) Moses told Jethro how the people sang praises to Yehovah (Exodus 15) declaring God’s power and His creating terror in their enemies. During and after Moses relayed these stories about Yahweh to him, Jethro realized the size of this powerful and compassionate God. We find this to be the case in verses 9 and 10.
Jethro rejoiced over the goodness of the Lord for what He did to and for Israel. Jethro took notice of what God did and rejoiced over all the goodness the Lord did for Israel. God brought Israel from the Egyptian army, provided food and water, and loved the people. Jethro recounted God’s goodness to the people. He also blessed the Lord. The word “bless” in the Hebrew means to bless and kneel, which means to praise and pay homage to someone. Jethro praised and paid homage to Yahweh because He delivered them from a foreign land, slave drivers, and oppression.
Jethro kept declaring God’s goodness and blessing Him; he declared the “LORD greater than all other gods” (vs. 11). God showed His goodness and love. He also showed His power and greater knowledge when He dealt with those who “dealt proudly against the people.” Pharaoh (who declared himself a god), his magicians, under-rulers, and priests could not explain away what they thought was magic by Moses. God proved their pride in knowing all things as ignorance and folly. They could not do what God did and could not explain it. When Pharaoh made life harder for the Hebrews, God did not stop proving to them in even greater capacity that He is God almighty. God dealt with the leaders and showed them His strength and majesty. God could not be ignored and must be praised. Since Jethro acknowledged that other cultures and, possibly, he worshipped other gods and since he declared the God of the Israelites more powerful and majestic, this said much to his people – his family, tribe, and culture – as well as to the Israelites. Yehovah is the greatest who overshadows all other gods as if they are no gods at all. There are no other gods, which Yehovah proved.
What occurred next, in chapter 12, reminds us of Melchizadek, the priest to whom Abraham gave a tithe in Genesis 14. Remember, the time of Jethro and Moses occurred before the Ten Commandments and before God set aside a tribe of Israel to be priests for Him. Jethro took burnt offering and sacrifices for God and ate a meal with Aaron and the elders of Israel before God. Look at this carefully. The “burnt offering” in Hebrew is “olah” which means a whole burnt offering not meant as a sacrifice, but solely for God. Jethro gave it as a devotional offering to God to honor Him. This offering also signified complete surrender to God’s service. Jethro signified his complete submission to God’s will. Jethro cast aside all other gods to recognize and serve the one true God. The term “sacrifice” used in this verse comes from the Hebrew word “zebach.” A zebach sacrifice was an offering of peace as thanks to God. People offered it freely, often after making a vow to God. This sacrifice had nothing to do with sin. Jethro declared God’s goodness and greatness then burned an offering for God’s honor and gave a sacrifice to make a vow to God offering himself in submission to Him. Jethro’s priesthood according to the order of Melchizadek arose from this action. He offered himself and a sacrifice to honor God and place himself in God’s will for His service.
The remaining verses of this study give glimpses into how societies and cultures arrived at their form of government. Jethro saw Moses at work the following day. He saw Moses judge disputes between the Israelites, as well as, lead them by teaching everything Yahweh told to him. In essence, Moses was legislator and judiciary. He proclaimed God’s words, taught them God’s ways, and judged their disputes (vs. 16). “Judge” in the Hebrew meant to govern, vindicate, punish, and decide controversy. This kept him very busy. Verse 13 says, “The people stood about Moses from morning until evening.” Moses spent the productive hours of the day judging between people. When Jethro saw this, he asked Moses, “What is this thing you are doing for the people? Why do you do it alone?” Historians figure the Israelites numbered over one million, 600,000 men plus women and children. Jethro cared for Moses’ health, concerned that he would become worn out (“nabel” means to be made senseless and foolish) by the task of being the sole leader for so many people (vs. 18). He, being older and more experienced, imparted wisdom to his humble and loved son-in-law.
Jethro counseled Moses by suggesting a seemingly commonplace method. His advice appears to be common knowledge to us in the 21st century, yet, for Moses, it came as a new idea. Did Moses ignore Jethro’s advice? We do not read that occurring. Instead, we read that Jethro advised Moses to be the representative before God for the people and bring the big disputes before God. Moses discussed matters with God that affected all the people. In essence, Moses listened to God, brought disputes before Him, and then taught the Israelites God’s rules, laws, and statutes. Moses had a relationship with God. He recognized God’s voice. Moses approached God humbly and in submission. He obeyed God. They knew each other already and how their relationship worked. Jethro continued his counsel. He told Moses to select men from all the people who feared God, were truthful, and hated dishonest gain. These selected men were to lead groups of people - thousands, hundreds, and tens. Jethro said they were to lead and judge the people in every minor dispute (vs. 22) so that it would be less of a burden for Moses to bear. By doing this, Moses would be less worn out, justice would be meted out quicker, and Moses could focus more on God and His plan for the Israelites. This brings to mind the old adage, “Many hands make light work.” This passage also reminds me of the New Testament parable of the talents. The master gave to each servant a trusted sum of money in the amount he thought the servant could manage (Matthew 25:14-30). In the end, the master’s impression of each man proved correct.
In Exodus 18, Moses would have to decide which men could rule the larger numbers and which the smaller numbers of people. These kinds of decisions are made best with wisdom, insight, and experience with people. One other factor shows itself here. By choosing leaders for smaller groups, leaders train people to become leaders. If Moses did all the work himself, he would be worn out and others would not have been trained to lead. What would have happened when Moses died if he had not appointed and trained other leaders?
This concept of training future leaders is worthy of note today. This story is not only about governments; it is about training others to become future leaders. The leader whom God appoints must stay in a living relationship with Him. He must know God’s heart, His plan, and His laws. This leader must also share these things with other potential leaders and, with God’s guidance, using His principles, appoint and train new leaders to lead God’s people to go out and bring people to Him.
Jethro gave Moses a life lesson so that he would not become worn out. He also gave a lesson we can apply today and tomorrow. Being a child of God means we follow God and tell the world about Him. In that going, we are teaching and growing others; therefore, we are training others to go out to preach and teach, to be leaders. To do this, we must have a living relationship with Yahweh. We must know Him, His plan, His heart, and His laws. This makes us humble and submission servants of God’s going into the world preaching, teaching, and training others to be humble and submissive to the one true, great, and good God. This is what Jethro proclaimed after hearing what Yehovah did for the Hebrews. Today we proclaim this and the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah to redeem and save the world.
Moses listened to Jethro. He heard God’s lesson for himself through His father-in-law’s wise teaching. Moses was an obedient child of God. He recognized God’s voice and the humility required of him. He obeyed. He learned. He led and taught. At what part in this process are you? Have you stopped to hear and recognize God’s voice? Have you listened to and obeyed Him? Have you learned from Him? Maybe you are in the stage of preaching and teaching. Are you training others to lead? Moses learned much from Jethro that day, all God-appointed learning. What is God teaching you today?