While traveling, I often listen to Detroit’s AM radio station, WJR. Friday morning, one of the hosts shared his personal experience of having three fathers while he was young. Sadly, his mother divorced three times and when he was in his 20’s he had no father to help him with decisions. However, he came to the conclusion that despite his experience he had a heavenly Father that would help him through those times. If you were blessed with a good father or multiple fathers, thank God for the influence he/they had on your life.
During today’s message, we will be looking inside the personal life of Moses. Something we probably forgot was that Moses had a wife and two sons. While living in Midian, he had married and had children. But the Lord’s plan to use Moses in Egypt caused some difficulty for the family. In this chapter, we learn that Moses’ wife went back to her father while Moses was dealing with Pharaoh and leading the people through the wilderness.
If you compare Moses’ duties to that of a general during a war, you may better understand why his wife and children were waiting elsewhere. But when things settled down, Jethro reunited Moses with his family and spent some time with them before going back home. During the visit, several things happened that benefited both Moses and Jethro. Let’s begin with the first part of the chapter.
- Jethro plans to visit Moses (1-6).
[Read Exodus 18:1-6.]
a. Who exactly was Jethro?
“Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses and father of Zipporah. Jethro is first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 2:16 where he is described as ‘a priest of Midian.’ He is also referred to as Reuel (verse 18), which could indicate the equivalent of a last name. The name Reuel means “friend of God,” so the fact that the Bible calls him first by this name may mean that he was a priest of the Most High God, rather than a pagan deity as some have suggested. Many people in the Bible were called by two names such as Jacob (Israel, Genesis 35:10), Simon (Peter, Luke 6:14), Matthew (Levi, Mark 2:14; Matthew 9:9), and Paul (Saul, Acts 13:9). Sometimes the name change was due to an encounter with God. Other times it may have simply been a second name, in the way that a man named Ben Jones may be called both ‘Ben’ and ‘Jones'” (GotQuestions).
As we look through the chapter, let’s try to figure out if Jethro was a believer in the one, true God.
b. What did he hear?
Remember Rahab’s conversation with the two spies? In Joshua 2:9-10 she says, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt.” Rahab lived forty years after Israel left Egypt and the story was still traveling around the land.
What must it have been like when Jethro heard about it? Perhaps a traveling merchant stopped in and told him what someone had told him. Maybe the local newspaper had a vague story about it with just enough details to make him wonder what had happened. “Jethro apparently had followed the affairs of his son-in-law with interest so that when the Israelites camped at Rephidim Jethro determined to see him” (Hannah 136).
c. Why did he want to visit?
But this older man didn’t come just to hear Moses tell the story. He also came with a special purpose. While Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, his wife and sons had stayed with Jethro. “Though the reason for that action is not stated, Moses may have wanted to protect them from the horrors of the Egyptian bondage” (Hannah 136). Zipporah needed her husband and the sons needed their father. So why had the family been living separately?
Perhaps there was a rift between Moses and Zipporah.
Do you remember when the Lord was angry with Moses as he and Zipporah traveled to Egypt? (Ex. 4:24-26) Apparently, they had not circumcised one of the boys. After Zipporah completed her son’s circumcision, she called Moses a bloody husband. Perhaps this event caused a rift between the two that led her back to her father. Things like this have happened before. If this was the case, it would be a wise father who would seek to reunite his daugher and son-in-law.
Perhaps he knew that it was time.
It had been some time since Israel left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and had been traveling around the wilderness. At this point, it may have been a year since Moses first left. As a wise, older man, Jethro knew that Moses needed his wife and children … and they needed him.
While doing God’s business is important, so is family life. If you have the opportunity to provide for your family or to serve the Lord in some capacity, remember to take time for your family. They are also an important part of your life and service to the Lord. Love them and lead them. They are also your responsibility.
Perhaps he was wanting to hear more about the Lord.
In the precious description of Jethro, we got the idea that Jethro was a “friend of God.” But some of the things he says later in this chapter seem to show him coming to faith after hearing Moses’ story.
While Moses had known Jethro’s family for forty years, we are not told anything about his influence on them for the Lord. While he was noted as the one who pushed aside the other shepherds to help Jethro’s daughters water the flocks, what else did Jethro know about Moses? Was he someone who knew the Lord at that time? Did he speak of the Lord in the presence of this family? Whatever the case, Jethro wanted to know more about what the Lord had done since they last met.
APPLIC. I like this part of the chapter because it shows that someone was interested in what the Lord was doing. It would seem that the Lord had been working in Jethro’s heart and he was seeking to know more. As a Christian, this is encouraging to know that someone wanted to know more about the Lord. It gives us motivation to keep speaking for the Lord and hope that there will be people the Father is drawing to Jesus (John 6:44).
- Jethro responds to the Lord (7-12).
[Read Exodus 18:7-12.]
This part of the chapter is filled with a wonderful family reunion. Moses and his family are reunited. Jethro and Moses have a great conversation about what had happened in the last year. It was a meeting that they would not soon forget.
a. Why did Moses greet him in this way?
When his father-in-law arrived, Moses greeted him with great honor. “Moses’ meeting with Jethro was marked by gestures of respect (bowed down) and gratitude (kissed) as they greeted each other” (Hannah 136). In that part of the world, this was the proper way to greet your older relatives.
“Though a prophet and a judge in Israel, he does not forget the duties that grow out of his relations as a man. Instead of waiting in state till his visitors are admitted to pay homage … he goes with [cheerful readiness] to meet them… ” (Bush 225).
APPLIC. However highly the providence of God may have advanced us in rank or authority, yet we are bound to give honor to whom honor is due, and never to look with disdain upon our kinsmen or others in an humbler sphere of life” (Bush 225).
b. Why was he so joyful?
You know how it is when you see someone you haven’t seen for a long time. You talk non-stop and enjoy hearing what has happened since the last time you met. However, this meeting had something more than just what happened since the last meeting. They talked about what the Lord had done.
He finally heard a first-hand account of God’s mighty acts (8-9).
“If the most trifling incidents that befall a brother, a friend, a aparent, a child, are full of interest to the parties concerned, what must have been the emotions of Jethro in listening to the wondrous narrative of Moses?” (Bush 225-26).
As Moses saw all that the Lord had done for Moses and the Israelites, he rejoiced that God would treat them so well. It was amazing that they had been delivered from Pharaoh and his army.
He recognized the greatness of the Lord (10-11).
In these two verses, we see Jethro’s response to what the Lord did for Israel. He blesses the Lord for delivering His people. But then he says something very interesting. He said, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods.” This statement makes me wonder if this was the moment of his conversion.
We know that Jethro was a priest of Midian but don’t know if he was a priest of another religion or not. If he was not a believer before this time, it is apparent that he is now! And if he was already, Moses’ story reaffirmed his faith in God as the Almighty God.
- Jethro gives good advice (13-27).
After the evening’s festivities, Jethro notices that Moses was very busy as leader of the nation. What he saw caused him to ask questions.
[Read Exodus 18:13-16.]
a. What did Jethro see? (13-16)
“Jethro observed that much of Moses’ time was taken up in answering disputes and inquiries as the judge of the people, who sought through him to know God’s will” (Hannah 136).
“In so vast an assembly it is easy to conceive that the controverses and matters of reference would be very numerous” (Bush 227).
This gives us a bigger picture of what happened while Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness. It wasn’t a non-stop journey. They actually stopped in certain places for periods of time to live, worship, and handle civil disputes.
Jethro’s opinion was that what Moses was doing was not good. He “warned that Moses would become overexhausted. Also the people would be worn out (v. 18), waiting for their turns to present their cases” (Hannah 136).
Thankfully, Jethro didn’t just point out a problem; he also had an idea of how to correct the problem.
b. What did Jethro suggest? (17-23)
[Read Exodus 18:17-23.]
“Wisely Jethro urged Moses to delegate some of his responsibilities. … Moses was to be the people’s representative before God (Ex. 18:19) and their teacher but most judicial matters were to be given to others” (Hannah 136).
Jethro suggested that Moses assign a hierarchy of government which could handle the varying levels of problems. He suggested that these men have certain qualifications:
“The leading sense is that of men of strong character… . The second was that they should be … men deeply impressed with the conviction that there is a God above them, whose eye is upon them, to whom they are accountable… . The next qualification insisted on is that they should be … men whose word could be implicitly relied upon… . Finally, they were to be men hating covetousness … not only not seeking bribes, or aiming to enrich themselves, but cherishing a positive abhorrence of any such corruption” (Bush 229-30).
This is a good description of what a judge should be. And men with these characteristics would be able to help Moses carry out justice for the people who needed it. Note that even in this group of God’s chosen people there were trouble makers who needed to be held back. Until sin is completely removed, we will need to have capable and honest judges (and policemen) to wisely hold evil in check.
c. What did Moses do? (24-26)
Moses listened to the wise advice given by his father-in-law.
[Read Exodus 18:24-26.]
We learn later that Moses took this need to the people.
Deut. 1:9, 12-13 — “And I spoke to you at that time, saying: I alone am not able to bear you. … How can I alone bear your problems and your burdens and your complaints? Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.”
Sound familiar? “In like manner the deacons of the primitive church, Acts, 6. 3, were chosen by the people, and finally inducted into office by the apostles” (Bush 231).
God’s plan for government doesn’t involve just one person. Even a strong leader like Moses needed help. Even the disciples needed help. And so, in God’s perfect plan, there is a place for others to help with the work so that God’s work may continue and be successful.
[Read Exodus 18:27.]
“From all we can tell in the Bible, Jethro was a godly man of integrity who played a small part in God’s great story of deliverance for the Israelites. He is a good role model for in-laws. He offered wise counsel, stepped in to help when needed, and then got out of the way” (GotQuestions).
What do we learn from this chapter in the Bible?
1. Never get to the place that you are unwilling to listen to advice.
Moses was the one chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt, to talk to Pharaoh, and to be the one carrying out God’s miracles. Yet he was willing to humble himself and listen to his father-in-law’s advice.
None of us should think that we know everything about anything. While some of us have developed various skills and have accumulated experience and knowledge about subjects, we should remember that the Lord has given other people wisdom as well. Take a moment to listen and learn from others. It may help you to do things better.
2. Delegate responsibility when it makes sense.
Moses was given a great responsibility as God’s representative to Israel. But the task of dealing with the problems of an entire nation was too much for him. When he delegated some of his responsibilities to capable men, things went much better. More situations could be addressed and the wait time was decreased.
Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord put these ideas into the Bible for us? We, too, can become overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done. But when we find capable, trustworthy people to help us, the job gets done and may even get done more efficiently. Note that this is not telling us to be lazy. We must bear our own burdens. But there are times when adding more managers can make things run more efficiently.
This chapter shows us that the Lord cares about us and has a way to help us if we will only listen and follow His advice. Will you?
Bush, George, Notes on Exodus Vol. 1, Minneapolis: James & Klock, reprint 1976, orig. 1852, 223-31.
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 136-37.
“Who was Jethro in the Bible?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=17029 on 6/18/22.