Yahweh has tested the people whom he delivered, to see what they’re made of, and the results were pretty ugly. Yet Moses has shown them that persevering allegiance—and not impossibly perfect obedience—is what will carry the day. How will he shepherd these disobedient people toward greater allegiance?
Observation of Exodus 18
Most repeated words: Moses (20 times), people (17x), all (14), father-in-law (13), God (12), Jethro (7), out (7), said (7), Israel (6), Lord (6), delivered (5).
- The narrator shows deep concern for Moses and the people. How will this man lead this nation toward the Lord God?
- Deliverance is most prominent in the first half of the chapter. All five occurrences of the word sit within Ex 18:4-10.
“Jethro” shows up only in this chapter, and right before (Ex 3:1) and after the burning bush (Ex 4:18)—which makes sense, since both events take place on the mountain of God, near Jethro’s home (Ex 3:1, 18:5).
- When Moses flees Egypt (Ex 2:16, 18), and when Moses departs Sinai (Num 10:29), the same man is named Reuel.
- When we first hear of him (Ex 2:16), and when he suddenly re-enters the narrative (Ex 18:1), he is labeled “priest of Midian.”
- This character plays a significant role in the narrative’s organization. He shows up; then God calls Moses from Sinai to deliver the people. He shows up again; then God gives Moses the law on Sinai. His final mention comes when Moses departs Mount Sinai for good. This guy is closely associated with this mountain and with God’s glorious revelation that takes place there.
When Moses and Jethro meet up, Jethro takes the lead in the narrative. He is the subject of most of the actions.
- Jethro hears, takes, comes, and sends (Ex 18:1-6).
- Moses goes out to meet him, bows down, and kisses. They ask each other of their welfare and go into the tent. Moses tells (Ex 18:7-8).
- Then Jethro rejoices, speaks, and brings lunch. Aaron and the elders join (Ex 18:9-12).
The rest of the chapter consists mostly of dialogue between Moses and Jethro, with Jethro’s closing speech being the longest by far (Ex 18:17-23).
- The resolution: Moses does everything his father-in-law said (Ex 18:24), and his father-in-law goes back home (Ex 18:27).
This chapter has two clear sections:
Interpretation of Exodus 18
Some possible questions:
- Why do we get so much detail just to describe the reunion between Moses and his father-in-law?
- Why does this chapter focus on Jethro as the chief actor?
- What is the point of Jethro’s advice?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- With Jethro’s character, the narrator invites us to pause once more and reflect on what’s taken place so far. This slow-mo montage signals the end of Act II. We reflect on Moses’ life experience through the names of his sons (Ex 18:3-4). As we meet Moses’ wife and sons again (Ex 18:5-6), we’re reminded of Moses’ personal Passover (Ex 4:24-26). As Moses recounts the Lord’s deliverance from the hand of Egypt (Ex 18:8), we relive the amazing stories and rejoice with Jethro (Ex 18:9-10) that Yahweh is greater than all gods (Ex 18:11). We, too, would love to sit together to share a meal before God (Ex 18:12). The details all drive us to remember the Lord’s deliverance and to sing unto him, for he has triumphed gloriously.
- Jethro is a priest (Ex 18:1), one who bridges the gap between men and God. He does this by directing their attention to Yahweh, causing them to rejoice in Yahweh, exposing their own insufficiency, and making them hungry for Yahweh’s laws. Perhaps the narrator wishes to move us to action through the figure of Jethro.
- If we focus on the need for delegation—an important point—we may actually miss the main point. Moses: “I decide…and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws” (Ex 18:16). Jethro: “You shall warn them about the statutes and the laws…Moreover, look for able men…and let them judge the people at all times” (Ex 18:20-22). In other words: “You, Moses, can teach. But you need others to decide.” (Yes, I understand this is all about delegation. But to what end?) “You are not enough for this people. You need God’s laws to be codified and written down so that others can continue the work you have begun.” The point: These people need able leaders, acquainted with God’s laws and able to apply them to everyday situations. Moses is a great leader. There must also be thousands of able leaders among the people, since they all hop right in place very quickly (Ex 18:25-26). Jethro’s advice exposes what is truly the missing ingredient: a codified body of instruction. The Law.
Train of thought:
- Remember where you came from; Yahweh has delivered you.
- Realize you are not enough; you need God’s words to direct your people from here.
Main point: Being God’s people means we constantly remember our deliverance and look to his instruction for our new life.
Connection to Christ: Jesus is our exodus, our deliverance (Gal 1:3-5, Luke 9:30-31, “departure”=”exodus”). Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to all who believe (Rom 10:4). Jesus is our life (Col 3:4).
My Application of Exodus 18
I have been struggling with treating the good news of Christ’s kingdom in a rote way, and this passage refreshes my joy in the Lord. I must not merely recite; I must remember and rejoice in his mighty deliverance.
And as I disciple and train others, I must resist the temptation to be the focus of their hope and trust. I will never be enough. My decisions, counsel, and insight will never be enough. They need Jesus, the Word made flesh, to guide them. They need to understand the Scriptures so they can apply its truths to their own lives and lead others.
One simple way I’d like to grow in this last point: Don’t answer questions for my advice. Instead, ask people what the Scripture says, and what they think the Lord would have them do. Then, if they still need help, I can direct them to some more passages or truths to consider.
Click here to see what I’m doing with this sample Bible study and why I’m doing it.