Exodus 18 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Exodus 18
Pulpit Commentary
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;
Verse 1. - Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law. Rather, "Jethro, priest of Midian, Moses' brother-in-law." See the comment on Exodus 3:1; and note that the Seventy use the ambiguous word γαμβρός, while the Vulgate has cognatus. And that. Rather "in that." The clause is exegetical of the preceding one.
Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back,
Verse 2. - After he had sent her back. Literally "after her dismissal." It is curious that the fact of the dismissal had not been previously mentioned, yet is here assumed as known. Some commentators (as Knobel) find, in what is said of Zipporah, the trace of two distinct writers who give two contradictory narratives; but the difficulties and obscurities of the history are sufficiently intelligible, if we hear in mind -

1. That Moses was addressing immediately those who knew the facts; and

2. That he was studious of brevity.
And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land:
Verse 3. - And her two sons. That Zipporah had borne Moses at least two sons before his return to Egypt from Midian, had appeared from Exodus 4:20. The name of the one, Gershom, and the ground of it, had been declared in Exodus 2:22. The repetition here may be accounted for by the present chapter having been originally a distinct and separate composition, written on a distinct roll, and subsequently incorporated by Moses into his great work.
And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh:
Verse 4. - Eliezer. Eliezer had not been previously mentioned by name; but he was probably the son circumcised by Zipporah, as related in ch. 4:25. We learn from 1 Chronicles 23:15-17, that he grew to manhood, and had an only son, Rehabiah, whose descendants were in the time of Solomon very numerous. For the God of my father, said he, was my help. Eliezer means literally, "My God (is my) help." It would seem that Zipporah, when she circumcised her infant son, omitted to name him; but Moses, before dismissing her, supplied the omission, calling him Eliezer, because God had been his help against the Pharaoh who had sought his life (Exodus 2:15), and of whose death he had recently had intelligence (Exodus 4:19). Thus the names of the two sons expressed respectively, the despondency natural to an exile, and the exultant gratitude of one who had just learned that by God's goodness, the term of his banishment was over.
And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God:
Verse 5.- The wilderness. This term, which has the article, seems to be here used in that wide sense with which we are familiar from Exodus 3:18; Exodus 4:27; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 7:16; etc. It is not" the wilderness of Sin," or "the wilderness of Sinai," that is intended, but generally the tract between Egypt and Palestine. Jethro, having entered this tract from Midian, had no difficulty in discovering from the inhabitants that Moses was encamped at the mount of God,—i.e; Sinai, and there sought and found him. There is no trace of any previous "engagement" to meet at a particular spot.
And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.
Verse 6. - And he said. It is suspected that the true reading here is, "and they said," - i.e., some one said - "to Moses, behold thy father-in-law" (or "brother-in-law"), "Jethro, is come unto thee." So the LXX., and many moderns, as Kennicott, Geddes, Boothroyd, Canon Cook, and others. But the explanation, that Jethro, on arriving in the vicinity of Moses, sent a messenger to him, who spoke in his name (Rosenmuller, Patrick, Pool, Kalisch, Keil, etc.) is at any rate plausible, and removes all necessity of altering the text.
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.
Verse 7. - Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. Oriental ideas of politeness require such a movement in case of an honoured or even of a welcome visitor (see Genesis 18:2; Genesis 19:1; Genesis 32:6; Genesis 33:1; Luke 15:20; etc.). It was evidently the intention of Moses to receive Jethro with all possible marks of honour and respect. He not only went out to meet him, but did obeisance to him, as to a superior. They asked each other of their welfare. Rather "exchanged salutations;" addressed each other mutually with the customary phrase "Peace he unto you." Came into the tent - i.e., went together into the tent of Moses, which had been already glanced at in the word "encamped" (verse 5).
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.
Verse 8. - Moses told his father-in-law. Jethro had heard in Midian the general outline of what had happened (verse 1). Moses now gave him a full and complete narrative (misphar) of the transactions. Compare Genesis 24:66; Joshua 2:23; where the same verb is used. All the travail. Literally, "the weariness." Compare Malachi 1:13, where the same word is used. The Lord delivered them. The Septuagint adds "from the hand of Pharaoh and from the hand of the Egyptians.
And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.
And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.
Verse 10. - Blessed be the Lord. Compare Genesis 14:20; Genesis 24:27. The heathen blessed God no loss than the Israelites; but Jethro's blessing the Lord (i.e. Jehovah) is unusual As, however, Moses had attributed his own deliverance, and that of Israel, entirely to Jehovah (verse 8), Jethro, accepting the facts to be as stated, blessed the Lord. Who hath delivered you. Kalisch takes the plural pronoun to refer to Moses and Aaron; but Aaron seems not to nave been present, since he afterwards "came" (verse 12). It is better to regard Jethro as addressing all those who were in the tent with Moses. From them he goes on in the last clause to "the people." And out of the hand of Pharaoh. - i.e., especially out of the hand of Pharaoh, who had especially sought their destruction (Exodus 14:6, 8, etc.).
Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
Verse 11. - Now know I that the Lord is greater than all gods. It would seem that Jethro, like the generality of the heathen, believed in a plurality of gods, and had hitherto regarded the God of the Israelites as merely one among many equals. Now, he renounces this creed, and emphatically declares his belief that Jehovah is above all other gods, greater, higher, more powerful. Compare the confessions of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:47; Daniel 3:26, 27) and Darius the Mede (Daniel 6:26). For in the thing wherein they dealt wickedly he was above them. There is no "he was above them" in the original, nor is the clause a distinct sentence from the preceding one. It is merely a prolongation of that clause, without any new verb; and should be translated, "Even in the very matter that they (the Egyptians) dealt proudly against them "(the Israelites). The superiority of Jehovah to other gods was shown forth even in the very matter of the proud dealing of the Egyptians, which was brought to shame and triumphed over by the might of Jehovah. The allusion is especially to the passage of the Red Sea.
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.
Verse 12. - Jethro took a burnt offering. Or "brought a burnt offering;" as the same verb is rendered in Exodus 25:2. It is not distinctly related that he offered the victim; but as no other offerer is mentioned, and as he was a priest (Exodus 3:1; Exodus 18:1), we may assume that he did so. Moses, Aaron, and the elders, partook of the sacrificial meal, regarding the whole rite as one legitimately performed by a duly qualified person, and so as one in which they could properly participate. Jethro, like Melchisedek (Genesis 14:18), was recognised as a priest of the true God, though it would seem that the Midianites generally were, a generation later, idolaters (Numbers 25:18; Numbers 31:16). To eat bread... before God. This expression designates the feast upon a sacrifice, which was the universal custom of ancient nations, whether Egyptians, Assyrians, Phenicians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans. Except in the case of the "whole burnt offering" (ὁλοκαύτωμα), parts only of the animals were burnt, the greater portion of the meat being consumed, with bread, at a meal, by the offerer and his friends and relatives

CHAPTER 18:13-26
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.
Verses 13-26. - JETHRO'S ADVICE TO MOSES, AND ITS ADOPTION. The office of ruler in ancient times, whether exercised by a king, a prince, or a mere chieftain, was always understood to include within it the office of judge. In the Greek ideal of the origin of kingly government (Herod. 1:96), the able discharge of judicial functions marks the individual out for sovereignty. The successors of Moses, like the chief rulers of Carthage, bore the title of "Judges" (shophetim, suffetes). Moses, it appears, had from the time when he was accepted as leader by the people (Exodus 4:29-31), regarded himself as bound to hear and decide all the causes and complaints which arose among the entire Israelite people. He had net delegated his authority to any one. This can scarcely have been because the idea had not occurred to him, for the Egyptian kings ordinarily decided causes by judges nominated ad hoc. Perhaps he had distrusted the ability of his countrymen - so recently slaves - to discharge such delicate functions. At any rate, he had reserved the duty wholly to himself (ver. 18). This course appeared to Jethro unwise. No man could, he thought, in the case of so great a nation, singly discharge such an office with satisfaction to himself and others. Moses would "wear himself away" with the fatigue; and he would exhaust the patience of the people through inability to keep pace with the number of cases that necessarily arose. Jethro therefore recommended the appointment of subordinate judges, and the reservation by Moses of nothing but the right to decide such cases as these judges should, on account of their difficulty, refer to him (ver. 22) On reflection, Moses accepted this course as the best open to him under the circumstances, and established a multiplicity of judges, under a system which will be discussed in the comment on verse 25. Verse 13. - On the morrow. The day after Jethro's arrival. Moses sat to judge the people. Moses, i.e., took his seat in an accustomed place, probably at the door of his tent, and. was understood to be ready to hear and decide causes. The people stood by Moses. A crowd of complainants soon collected, and kept Moses employed incessantly from the morning, when he had taken his seat, until the evening, i.e., until nightfall. It is conjectured that many complaints may have arisen out of the division of the spoil of the Amalekites.
And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?
Verse 14. - Why sittest thou thyself alone etc. A perverse ingenuity has discovered that the emphatic words in this passage are "sittest" and "stand," Jethro having blamed Moses for humiliating the people by requiring them to stand up while he himself sat! But the context makes it abundantly clear that what Jethro really blames, is Moses sitting alone and judging the whole people single-handed.
And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:
Verse 15. - And Moses said... Because the people come unto me, to inquire of God. To inquire of God is certainly not a mere "juridical phrase," meaning to consult a judge (Kalisch), nor, on the other hand, is it necessarily "to consult God through an oracle." It cannot, however, mean less than to seek a decision from some one regarded as entitled to speak for God; and it is certainly assigned by Moses as the reason why he judged all the causes himself, and did not devolve the duty upon others. They could not be supposed to know the mind of God as he knew it. Jethro, however, points out, that it is one thing to lay down principles, and another to apply them. Moses might reserve the legislative function - the inculcation of principles - to himself, and so still, "be for the people to Godward" (ver. 19); but he might find "able men" among the congregation, quite capable of applying the principles, and delegate to them the judicial function (vers. 21, 22).
When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.
Verse 16. - I judge... and I do make them know the statutes of God. As the israelites were, up to this time, without any code of written laws, Moses took the opportunity furnished by such cases as came before him, to lay down principles of law, and enjoin them upon the people; thus making them to know the statutes of God and his eternal unwritten laws. Such a practice would not have been necessary after the giving of the law on Mount Sinai; and its existence at the time of Jethro's visit helps to fix that visit as occurring before the giving of the law.
And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.
Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
Verse 18. - The thing... is not good - i.e., not expedient, and so not the right thing to do. It is a man's duty to have regard to his health, and not unnecessarily overtask his strength. Verse 18. - Thou wilt surely wear away. Literally, "Wasting thou wilt waste away," Thy strength, i.e., will not long hold out, if thou continuest this practice. Both thou, and this people. The people's strength and patience will also fail, if, owing to the number of the complaints, they have - some of them - to wait all day at the tribunal before they can obtain a decision.
Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:
Verse 19. - I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee. Rather - "And may God be with thee!" May God incline thine heart to accept my counsel and act upon it. Be thou for the people to God-ward, etc. "Continue," i.e., as at present, to be the intermediary between God and the people - still be the whole and sole source of legislative power (ver. 20), and still be the fount and origin of judicial authority; but commit the actual decision of the lighter causes to others chosen by thyself for the office (vers. 21, 22). The separation of the legislative and judicial functions was well known in Egypt, where the kings alone made new laws (Herod. 2:109, 136, 177, etc.), but causes were ordinarily determined by a body of judges. Bring the causes unto God. In difficult cases, Moses actually laid the cause before God, and obtained directions from God as to the manner in which he was to decide it. See Numbers 27:5-11.
And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
Verse 20. - Thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws. Or, "statutes and laws," as in ver. 16. It is not quite clear how these differ. Some regard "statutes" as connected with religion, and laws as regulations with respect to civil and social matters. Others explain the first as "specific" and the second as "general enactments." The way wherein they must walk. The general line of conduct which all axe bound to pursue. The work that they must do. The special task which each has to perform individually.
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
Verse 21. - Able men. Literally, "men of might" - i.e., of capacity or ability - men competent for the office of judge; who are further defined to be, such as possess the three qualities of piety, veracity, and strict honesty, or incorruptness. Jethro's conception of the true judicial character leaves little to be desired. If among every ten Israelites there was one such person, the moral condition of the nation cannot have been so much depressed by the Egyptian servitude as is sometimes represented. Place such over them to be rulers of thousands, etc. A decimal organisation naturally presents itself to men's minds as the simplest in a simple state of society, and was probably already in use among the Arab tribes with whom Jethro was familiar. The graduated series - rulers of tens, of fifties, of hundreds, and of thousands, implies a power of three-fold appeal, from the "ruler of ten" to the "ruler of fifty" - from him to the "ruler of a hundred" - and from him to the "ruler of a thousand." Whether there was an appeal from the last-named to Moses, is doubtful. Probably there was not; Moses deciding those cases only which the "rulers of thousands" reserved for him as being specially difficult or important.
And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.
Verse 22. - Let them judge the people at all seasons. Instead of occasional court-days, on which Moses sat from morning to evening hearing causes, judgments were to be given continually by the rulers of tens, fifties, etc., the accumulation of untried causes being thus avoided, and punishment following promptly on the committal of an offence. The elaborately minute organisation was only suited for the period of the wanderings, and was of a semi-military character, such as might have suited an army on the march When the Israelites became settled dwellers in Palestine, such a multiplicity of judges was unnecessary, and was discontinued. So shall it be easier. Literally, "So make it easier." Compare ver. 18.
If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.
Verse 23. - And God command thee so. Jethro does not suppose that Moses will take his advice without further consultation. He assumes that the matter will be laid by Moses before God, and God's will learnt concerning it. The entire narrative supposes that there was some established means by which the Israelite leader could refer a matter to Jehovah and obtain a decision upon it. This can scarcely have been as yet the Urim and Thummim. Probably Moses held frequent communication with Jehovah by means of waking visions. Thou shalt be able to endure - i.e., "the work will not be too much for thee - thou wilt be able to bear it." This people shall also go to their place in peace. The "place" intended would seem to be Palestine. Keil supposes that the word "peace" is to be taken literally, and concludes from it that breaches of the peace had previously been frequent, the people having "often taken the law into their own hands on account of the delay in the judicial decision;" but this is to extract from the words more than they naturally signify. "In peace" means "cheerfully, contentedly." If the changes which he recommends are carried out, Jethro thinks that the people will make the rest of the journey to Canaan quietly and contentedly, without complaint or dissatisfaction.
So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.
Verse 24. - So Moses hearkened. Moses took the advice tendered him, not immediately, but after the law had been given at Sinai, and the journeying was about to be resumed. See Deuteronomy 1:9-15.
And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
Verse 25. - Moses chose able men. It appears from Deuteronomy 1:13, that instead of selecting the men himself, which would have been an invidious task, Moses directed their nomination by the people, and only reserved to himself the investing them wit h their authority. Heads over the people. From the time of their appointment, the "rulers" were not merely judges, but "heads" of their respective companies, with authority over them on the march, and command in the battle-field (Numbers 31:14). Thus the organisation was at once civil and military.
And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.
Verse 26. - At all seasons. See the comment on verse 22. The hard causes they brought unto Moses. It must have been left to the discretion of the judges to determine whether a cause was hard or easy, a great or a little matter. Probably only those causes which seemed "hard" to the "rulers of thousands" were brought before Moses for decision.

And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.
Verse 27. - DEPARTURE OF JETHRO. The time of Jethro's departure, and indeed of his entire visit, has been matter of controversy. Kurtz is of opinion that Jethro waited till the news of Israel's victory over Amalek reached him, before setting out from his own country. Hence he concludes, that "a whole month or more may easily have intervened between the victory over Amalek and the arrival of Jethro," whose arrival in that case "would not even fall into the very earliest period of the sojourn at Sinai, but after the promulgation of the first Sinaitic law." Those who identify Hobab with Jethro find in Numbers 10:29-32 a proof that at any rate Jethro prolonged his visit until after the law was given, and did not "depart to his own land" before the removal of the people from the wilderness of Sinai to that of Paran, "in the 20th day of the second month of the second year" (ib, ver. 11). The position, however, of ch. 18, together with its contents - beth what it says and what it omits - are conclusive against this view. Jethro started on his journey when he heard "that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt" (ver. 1), not when he heard that Israel had been victorious over Amalek. His conversation with Moses (vers. 7-11) ranged over the entire series of deliverances from the night of the departure out of Egypt to the Amalekite defeat, but contained no allusion to the giving of the law. The occupation of Moses on the day after his arrival (ver. 13) is suitable to the quiet period which followed the Amalekite defeat, but not to the exciting time of the Sinaitic manifestations. It may be added that the practice of inculcating general principles on occasion of his particular judgments, of which Moses speaks (ver. 16), is suitable to the period anterior to the promulgation of the law, but not to that following it. The argument from Numbers 10:29-32 fails altogether, so soon as it is seen that Jethro and Hobab are distinct persons, probably brothers, sons of Reuel (or Raguel), and brothers- in-law of Moses. Verse 27. - Moses let his father-in-law depart. Literally, "dismissed him," "sent him away." This single expression is quite enough to prove that the Hobab, whom Moses made strenuous efforts to keep with him after Sinai was left, is not the Jethro whom he was quite content to let go. He went his way into his own land. He returned to Midian, probably crossing the Elanitic gulf, which divided Midian from the Sinaitic region. The exact time of the departure is uncertain; but it was probably before the main events related in ch. 19.

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