1 - 12 Jethro Visits Moses
1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Moses’ wife Zipporah, after he had sent her away, 3 and her two sons, of whom one was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” 4 The other was named Eliezer, for [he said], “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” 5 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God. 6 He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.” 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.
Jethro heard what God did for Moses and his people. This message is the reason for him to go to Moses with his daughter, the wife of Moses, and their two sons. The meeting at the mountain of God is very warm. They ask each other how things are going. That is not the fast questions we often ask, where we do not even wait for an answer or quickly answer that things are going ‘well’. When the question of how it is going is answered with a longer, more substantive answer, we sometimes feel overwhelmed by it. It is important to show a genuine interest in each other and to take time to do so. This requires trust that behind the question of how things are going there is real interest and not just formality.
After exchanging their mutual personal circumstances, they go ‘into the house’. There Moses testifies of all the dealings of the LORD for the benefit of his people. Jethro rejoices at this and praises the LORD. He acknowledges that the God of Israel is exalted above all gods. He offers and eats with the Israelites before God. It is nice to see that the subject of the conversation is the LORD’s goodness to Israel and that its effect is that He is honored. These are really built-up conversations.
That is how our conversations should be, with (also) that effect. Surely, we can also tell about the goodness of the Lord that we have experienced in our redemption and all His care for us afterwards, can’t we? This fellowship experienced in it will lead to expressions of joy and gratitude, in which others also participate, and above all God Himself. It happens “for God”, that is, He is present and rejoicing.
With this meeting the first part of this book ends. Many expositors see in this scene a prophetic reference to the joy of Christ (Moses) whom He shares with the nations (Jethro) and the people of Israel (Aaron with all the elders of Israel) at the beginning of the kingdom of peace.
The prophetic application we also see in the absence of the wife of Moses during the liberation of Israel. In the same way, the church will not be on earth in the time of the great tribulation that will come upon Israel. And just as the church will appear in the joy of the liberation of Israel, so Zippora now appears again on stage.
Both sons are mentioned and also the meaning of their names. Gersom means ‘sojourner ‘. He reminds us by his name that Christ, just like Moses, was a Sojourner on earth, just as the church is now. But in this difficult position Moses has been sure of the help of God, which is indicated in the name Eliëzer – that is, ‘my God is help’.
Besides the prophetic application there is also a practical application to make. If the Lord Jesus has shown His salvation in our lives, it will be noticed by others. How wonderful it is then when we can tell those others about this, so that they too would become worshippers of Him.
13 - 27 Jethro Suggests Delegation of Tasks
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. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. 26 They judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge. 27 Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land.
While Moses has his family visiting him, he continues his work. The people who need him stand before him. He is accessible to everyone of the people. He is the servant of them all. But it is a long queue. On the second day of his visit Jethro sees Moses at work. The scope of the work leads Jethro to do Moses a suggestion to give him enlightenment. He proposes that Moses should delegate tasks, while Moses himself is available for the difficult things and also represents the people with God.
This proposal is accepted by Moses. He appoints men in rank order as heads over the people. These men are always available when there is a problem that needs to be addressed. He himself continues to handle the difficult cases.
The prophetic application is that the Lord Jesus in the reign of the kingdom of peace, involves others in His reign. To the degree of faithfulness, the believers gain authority over a number of cities (Lk 19:16-19).
The question has been asked whether Moses had to accept Jethro’s proposal. According to Jethro, the task is too heavy for Moses. According to his judgment, Moses, if he continues like this, will become exhausted. Has God Himself not been able to make this clear to Moses? Jethro is not of the people. Nor does he go with the people (verse 27).
Although Jethro says in verse 23 that Moses should only respond to his proposal if “God [so] commands you,” the following verse speaks only of Moses doing according to what his father-in-law has recommended. We do not read about a commandment from God to act like this.
But it is also possible that God has used Jethro to introduce an order in the government in Israel. In connection with the prophetic application that has been made above, this is also a possibility. Jethro also says what kind of men it should be that can assist Moses. They must
1. be able, men with sound and determined judgment.
2. be God-fearing, men who act out of respect for God, to whom they are ultimately accountable in their jurisdiction.
3. be reliable, men who speak the truth.
4. hate dishonest gain, men who are not to bribe, who do not accept kickbacks.
The description of these qualities shows that Jethro has insight into who only Moses can help. He recommends that Moses discuss it with God and only do it if God commands him to do so. We can assume that Moses did the same. The fact that no mention is made of a commandment from God does not necessarily mean that God has not given His permission. Moses is a man who lives in communion with God.
We can apply the qualities required by Jethro to the ministry of the shepherds in the church (cf. 1Pet 5:2-3). In a broader application we see that God Himself has given different tasks or gifts in the church. He “has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1Cor 12:18). He did so in a way that “the members may have the same care for one another” (1Cor 12:25). It is important to point each other to that, so that not everything is done by just a few.