In the Shadow of Sinai

Exodus 18:1–27
Two different responses to the work of the LORD: 1) Rejection, antagonism, aggression
2) Rejoicing, receptive, anticipation

I. Reunion with Moses’s Midianite family, 18:1-7.

Verse 1
Midian (Midianites) is the descendant of Abraham and Keturah.
At this time, Jethro and the Midianites seem to have a good relationship with Moses and Israel, the next generation of Israel saw the Moabites (descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew) and Midianites gang up against them, using Balak to cause them to sin against the LORD with the goal to destroy Moses and Israel.
This is a crisis point for Moses in that now Israel can see his relationship with a pagan leader, a pagan priest no less!
‘father-in-law’ is used repeatedly (13x) in this chapter to emphasize Moses’s and Jethro’s close relationship.
It is apparent that news of the exodus events traveled quickly through the desert wilderness; just as apparent that the responses to it were varied — Amalek arrogantly strove against Israel, where Midian, through Moses, was seeking more information about what happened.
Moses asked permission to return to his people from Jethro and they departed in peace. Jethro’s goodwill toward Moses began with the rescue of Jethro’s daughters at the well.
‘how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt’—Jethro had heard of Israel’s liberation by the LORD, not Moses.
Verse 2
Now Israel will find out that their leader is married to a pagan woman… and is a family man!
‘he had sent her away’ – in this particular context, this phrase cannot mean divorce; the point in the passage is not the relationship between Moses and Zipporah, but the response of Jethro to the recitation of the wonderful works of God.
Verses 3-4
The names of Moses’s sons emphasized Moses’s theological perceptions of his experience. Not every name in Scripture is significant as to meaning, but these are.
These two names call to mind the beginning and the ending of Moses’ years in the wilderness.
‘The God of my father was my help and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’ – The God who made the promises to the patriarchs is the same one who cared for Moses and delivered the sons of Israel.
Verses 5-6
‘in the wilderness where he was camped…’ – They were not at, but in the vicinity of where Moses first learned of the LORD. Now, Jethro comes to learn more about the LORD from Moses in the same area.
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Verse 7
Bowing down shows the respect paid to a parent; the kiss is a customary greeting; to ask about another’s welfare emphasizes the continuing peace that existed between Jethro and Moses and, by implication, between Israel, her God and Jethro.
‘the tent’ is pre-Sinai; a place serving as a holy place and space. It was a specific tent known to those at the time. It may or may not have been Moses’s tent…

II. Recounting the LORD’s deliverance, 18:8-12.

Verse 8
The story of the LORD’s deliverance is told to a non-Israelite; this anticipates the story being told in the tabernacle, then later in the temple.
This narrative of the events is given by one who lived it. Who is the hero in the narrative? The LORD!!
‘delivered’ – same Hebrew word used 5x in this chapter.
Verse 9-11
‘from under the hand of the Egyptians’(10) – emphasizes that Israel’s servitude was forced.
God is creating, preserving, and guiding His people that they may glorify Him, and others would see this work and also glorify Him.
Jethro’s response is happy rejoicing and belief, leading to covenant blessings (Genesis 12:1-3).
Genesis 12:1–3 NASB95
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Jethro hears the story, responds favorably, is blessed and in turn blesses the LORD, verses 11-12. This is how Pharaoh and Amalek should have responded.
Jethro is recognizing that the LORD is clearly the supreme God, based on Hid dealings with those who would deal proudly against the people (children of Israel).
Moses must have been delighted with Jethro’s response.
Verse 12
Jethro’s recognition of the LORD is seen through the burnt offering, which is completely burned up on the altar for acceptance and appreciation between the offeror and God, and sacrifices, which was essentially peace offerings, emphasizing the communal sharing and celebration of the worshippers.
Eating a meal together, especially a sacred meal such as this emphasized close, intimate fellowship.
Note that it was Jethro who offered these, not Aaron. The elders and Aaron all partook of the meal in celebration of all God had done with a pagan who believed in the LORD as a result of the story of Israel’s deliverance.

III. Role of Moses Observed, 18:13-16.

Verses 13-14
Comparing Exodus 2:14, the LORD has indeed made Moses a judge and prince over his people; in 11:3, Moses was “greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt.”
Exodus 2:14 NASB95
But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”
‘stood about’ – waiting; ‘morning until the evening’ – there is a great amount of time involved and it is tiring waiting on Moses.
Jethro’s question is a sincere attempt to learn about the purpose and reason for Moses’s practice, not criticism.
Verses 15-16
Moses’s purpose and the people’s need were real.
Verse 15-16 communicate the source of the statutes and law was the LORD. These were communicated through Moses and given in direct response to real cases presented by the people. These were given to guide the people through the realities of life, that they might become a holy nation and a people of God.
The Law began to be delivered by the LORD at Marah (Ex. 15:25).
Exodus 15:25 NASB95
Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.
Exodus 21:2-23:33 we see specific cases that become models on how to deal with similar cases.
We will see the beginning of the effort to consolidate the law with the provision for both preserving and adding to them as needed.
Moses has practically been God’s sole instrument of communication for God’s living instructions (Torah) during this time.

IV. Recommendation by Jethro to share the burden, 18:17-23.

Verses 17-18
Jethro is an astute observer and possessing the practiced hand of experience.
Note that the respectful relationship between Jethro and Moses in these verses. It is not easy to receive criticism, but it is far easier when you know the person is seeking to help out of love and concern for you and the work you do.
Moses is seen by Jethro as trying to do it all himself. Jethro will give him counsel, suggesting more efficiency, but not demanding change from Moses – he is concerned for the well-being of his son-in-law! He is also concerned about the people and their attitude as they wait their turn before Moses…
Verses 19-20
‘… and God be with you’ – “May God help you as you consider this counsel,” This places the counsel of Jethro under God’s authority; he leaves the door open for the LORD to cancel the arrangement, seen also in verse 23.
This is Jethro’s affirmation of Moses’s major function. He is to keep doing this.
“teach’ has the idea of ‘clarify.’
‘the way they are to walk (live) and the work they are to do’ – that is, Moses was to make known to them the life lived according to God’s instruction, impacting their very words and acts. This is “the way of the LORD.”
Verses 21-22
Now Jethro suggests a model of jurisprudence with the goal to help Moses with the burden of the people.
Moses is to discern those who have these qualities to serve:
‘able men’ is speaking of men of ability, who are competent and influential.
‘who fear God” establishes them as men of character and truth.
‘those who hate dishonest gain’ are men who are not corruptible by bribing; otherwise, the whole system would be compromised, becoming useless and void.
These men were to be stalwarts who embody living in ‘the way of the LORD,’ for if they did not, the people would suffer.
These men are to be responsible for different sized groups, based on their ability.
They were to judge the people whom they lead, dealing with every dispute except the ones these strategically placed men could not solve. These would come before Moses for his decision; thus, these other men would share the burden of Moses.
Verse 23
Jethro was respectful and appealed to the word of God (‘God so commands you’)
Benefits perceived by Jethro: Moses would not be overwhelmed by the labor; the people would be at peace because their need of resolution to their issues is being met quickly.

V. Response to the counsel by Moses, 18:24-27.

Verse 24
‘did all that he had said’ – this phrase used throughout Exodus to describe the obedience of Moses to the LORD’s instructions. Moses considered the advice from Jethro as if it were from the LORD.
We see Moses in humility, willing to listen and learn from the LORD and from Jethro. Moses serves as a model of the wise man in this (Proverbs 1:5), always desirous of learning more.
Proverbs 1:5 NASB95
A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
Verses 25-26
Moses lets others share the authority, allowing God to call the shots.
Note that Jethro said nothing concerning the content or teachings of the LORD; he only gave input as to the form or structure of the system.
Verse 27
As one who stood before the LORD and blessed His people, Jethro was worthy of a blessing and a share in Israel.
Numbers 10:29-32 tell us that Hobab the son of Reuel (another name of Jethro) stayed behind with the children of Israel.
Numbers 10:29–32 NASB95
Then Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out to the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you’; come with us and we will do you good, for the Lord has promised good concerning Israel.” But he said to him, “I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives.” Then he said, “Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us. “So it will be, if you go with us, that whatever good the Lord does for us, we will do for you.”
This would include him as well as the family who traveled with him or joined up with the Israelites later in their travels. These are the Kenites.
The Kenites (a clan of Midianites) stayed with Israel during the wanderings in the desert, took part in the conquest of the promised land under Joshua, and settled to live among the tribal land of Judah, living in the desert of Judah near Arad, west of the southern end of the Dead Sea.
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