Jethro arrives with Zipporah. — V.1. When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, his given name being Reuel and his official title Jethro, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, v.2. then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, which probably happened after the adventure in the inn, chap. 4, 24–26, v.3. and her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom (a stranger I am); for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land; v.4. and the name of the other was Eliezer (God my Helper ); for the God of my father, said he, was mine Help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh. These two sons had been born to Moses in the land of Midian while he lived with his father-in-law Reuel, chap. 2, 22; 4, 25. It seems that Moses had agreed with his wife that she should meet him when he would return with the children of Israel; for he had had, even at that time, the promise of the Lord that Israel would be delivered out of the house of bondage, and that they would worship God on Mount Horeb. As the news of the mighty deeds of God, therefore, went out into the surrounding countries, Jethro also heard it and acted accordingly. V.5. 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; for the children of Israel had now established their camp in the foot-hills of Mount Horeb. V.6. And he said unto Moses, sent him a message before reaching the camp, I, thy father-in-law Jethro, am come unto thee, and thy wife and her two sons with her. V.7. And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him, he welcomed him in a manner befitting his station; and they asked each other of their welfare, whether peace in the best sense of the word had been granted them. And they came into the tent. “Notice the delicate discretion which both men observe, with all their friendship towards each other. Jethro does not rush impetuously forward; he sends word of his approach. Moses receives him with appropriate reverence, but first leads him into his tent; for whether and how he may introduce him to his people is yet to be determined.” (Lange.) V.8. And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake while they were still in bondage in Egypt, and all the travail that had come upon them, that had found or struck them, by the way, since their departure out of Egypt, and how the Lord delivered them, how He had shown them His salvation in every instance, given them evidence of His almighty and gracious presence. V.9. 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. It was not the mere polite interest of a visitor, but the genuine, sympathetic rejoicing of a man who felt that the God of Israel was the true God. Jethro here appears as the representative of a heathen nation, of the Midianites or Kenites, the first heathen nation to show kindness to the people of God. V.10. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, Jehovah, the true God, 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; it had been a salvation from galling bondage. V.11. Now I know that the Lord, Jehovah, the God whom Moses and the children of Israel worshiped, is greater than all gods, having manifested Himself as being exalted above all so-called gods, the idols of the heathen; for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them. The Egyptians, foolishly trusting in their idols, had acted wickedly in all their dealings with the Israelites, but the Lord had shown His superiority in the plagues which He had sent, down to the final annihilation of Pharaoh’s host in the Red Sea. V.12. And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, the belief in whom he had so openly confessed, giving evidence of his faith by this act of sacrifice. And Aaron came and all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. The children of Israel could enter into both religious and social fellowship with the man who had so openly confessed his belief in the true God. Eating bread before God was said of the sacrificial meal, the Lord being present as the invisible Guest. As Jethro here partook of the blessings of Israel, so heathen nations in after-years were called to the enjoyment of the Messianic hope and promises.
Jethro’s advice to Moses. — V.13. And it came to pass on the morrow that Moses sat to judge the people, to hear cases, to adjust differences and give advice. And the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. The number of the people being so great, there were many matters to adjust and many difficulties to untangle, and it took a great deal of Moses’ time and energy. V.14. 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 sit test thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? In brief: What is the idea, what is the object of your doing all this work alone; why try to bear the great burden without assistance? V.15. And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God. Moses was God’s ambassador to the people, God’s visible representative, and so the people came to him for divine decisions in all matters of contention, and when they needed advice. V.16. 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. By giving advice in all difficult matters and by rendering decisions in all disputes, Moses made known to the people the ordinances and the laws of God. V.17. And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. The practice which had been inaugurated by Moses was not good policy. V.18. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee. Moses would use up, and thus waste, all his strength and energy, and the people would be worn out with the chafing of suspense as they waited. For this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. It was a plain case of the limitation of physical strength, and Jethro’s advice was good political wisdom, sound common sense. V.19. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee; Jethro knew that his advice would meet with the approval of God. Be thou for the people to God-ward that thou mayest bring the causes unto God; Moses was to represent the people in all cases in which they sought right and justice before God; he was to take the place of God toward the people, the visible representative of the real Ruler of Israel. V.20. And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them, let them know, teach them, the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moses was to retain for himself the instruction of the people, both as to their general behavior and mode of living and as to their course in individual matters; he was to be their teacher in all questions of principle. V.21. Moreover, thou shalt provide, look for, select, out of all the people able men, men of strength of body and men of energy, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, distinguished for their lack of selfishness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens, the decimal system probably being taken since ten represented the average size of a family. V.22. And let them judge the people at all seasons, according to the degree of importance and difficulty; and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, such as were too difficult for them to decide, but every small matter they shall judge; so shall it be easier for thyself, he would relieve himself of some of the burden resting upon him, and they shall bear the burden with thee, assist Moses in the business of having charge of such a great people. V.23. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, to hold out under the burden resting upon him, and all this people shall go to their place in peace, reach their destination in safety. V.24. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father — in-law, and did all that he had said. V.25. 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. This institution was only afterwards developed in greater detail, Num. 11, 16. 17. V.26. And they judged the people at all seasons, Moses having charged and obligated them to do their work with all considerate impartiality. The hard causes they brought unto Moses, as the final court of appeal, but every small matter they judged themselves. It is not the will of God that His servants should needlessly wear themselves out in the service of the Church. It is well-pleasing to Him that the work of the Church, both in general and in the individual congregations, be distributed according to the gifts which He has given. Thus the work will result in the benefit of all. V.27. And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land. He returned home a convert to the God of Israel, and it was doubtless due to his influence that at least a part of his people journeyed to Canaan with Moses’ brother-in-law, Num. 10, 29.