Bible Commentary

Exodus 18

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of Exodus 18)

Verse 1

[1] When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt;

Jethro to congratulate the happiness of Israel, and particularly the honour of Moses his son-in-law; comes to rejoice with them, as one that had a true respect both for them and for their God. And also to bring Moses's wife and children to him. It seems he had sent them back, probably from the inn where his wife's lothness to have her son circumcised had like to have cost him his life, Exodus 4:25.

Verse 3

[3] And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land:

The name of one was Gershom — A stranger, designing thereby not only a memorial of his own condition, but a memorandum to this son of his, for we are all strangers upon earth.

Verse 4

[4] And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh:

The name of the other was Eliezer — My God a help: it looks back to his deliverance from Pharaoh, when he made his escape after the slaying of the Egyptian; but if this were the son that was circumcised in the inn, I would rather translate it, The Lord is mine help, and will deliver me from the sword of Pharaoh, which he had reason to expect would be drawn against him, when he was going to fetch Israel out of bondage.

Verse 11

[11] Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Now know I that JEHOVAH is greater than all gods — That the God of Israel is greater than all pretenders; all deities, that usurp divine honours: he silenceth them, subdues them all, and is himself the only living and true God. He is also higher than all princes and potentates, who also are called gods, and has both an incontestable authority over them, and an irresistible power to control them; he manages them all as he pleaseth, and gets honour upon them how great soever they are. Now know I: he knew it before, but now he knew it better; his faith grew up to a full assurance, upon this fresh evidence; for wherein they dealt proudly - The magicians or idols of Egypt, or Pharaoh and his grandees, opposing God, and setting up in competition with him, he was above them. The magicians were baffled, Pharaoh humbled, his powers broken, and Israel rescued out of their hands.

Verse 12

[12] And Jethro, Moses' father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father in law before God.

And Jethro took a burnt offering for God — And probably offered it himself, for he was a priest in Midian, and a worshipper of the true God, and the priesthood was not yet settled in Israel. And they did eat bread before God - Soberly, thankfully, in the fear of God; and their talk such as became saints. Thus we must eat and drink to the glory of God; as those that believe God's eye is upon us.

Verse 13

[13] And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.

Moses sat to judge the people — To answer enquiries; to acquaint them with the will of God in doubtful cases, and to explain the laws of God that were already given.

Verse 15

[15] And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God:

The people came to enquire of God — And happy was it for them that they had such an oracle to consult. Moses was faithful both to him that appointed him, and to them that consulted him, and made them know the statutes of God, and his laws - His business was not to make laws, but to make known God's laws: his place was but that of a servant.

Verse 16

[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.

I judge between one and another — And if the people were as quarrelsome one with another as they were with God, he had many causes brought before him, and the more because their trials put them to no expence.

Verse 17

[17] And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

Not good — Not convenient either for thee or them.

Verse 19

[19] Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:

Be thou for them to God-ward — That was an honour which it was not fit any other should share with him in. Also whatever concerned the whole congregation must pass through his hand, Exodus 18:20. But, he appointed judges in the several tribes and families, which should try causes between man and man, and determine them, which would be done with less noise, and more dispatch than in the general assembly. Those whose gifts and stations are most eminent may yet be greatly furthered in their work by the assistance of those that are every way their inferiors. This is Jethro's advice; but he adds two qualifications to his counsel. (1.) That great care should be taken in the choice of the persons who should be admitted into this trust; it was requisite that they should be men of the best character. 1. For judgment and resolution, able men: men of good sense, that understood business; and bold men, that would not be daunted by frowns or clamours. Clear heads and stout hearts make good judges. 2. For piety, such as fear God, who believe there is a God above them, whose eye is upon them, to whom they are accountable, and whose judgment they stand in awe of. Conscientious men, that dare not do an ill thing, though they could do it never so secretly and securely. 3. For honesty, men of truth, whose word one may take, and whose fidelity one may rely upon. 4. For a generous contempt of worldly wealth, hating covetousness, not only not seeking bribes, or aiming to enrich themselves, but abhorring the thought of it. (2.) That he should attend God's direction in the case, Exodus 18:23.

If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so — Jethro knew that Moses had a better counsellor than he was, and to his counsel he refers him.

Verse 24

[24] So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.

So Moses hearkened unto the voice of his father-in-law. When he came to consider the thing, he saw the reasonableness of it, and resolved to put it in practice, which he did soon after, when he had received directions from God. Those are not so wise as they would be thought to be, who think themselves too wise to be counselled; for a wise man will hear, and will increase learning, and not slight good counsel, though given by an inferior.

Verse 27

[27] And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.

He went into his own land — It is supposed the Kenites mentioned 1 Samuel 15:6, were the posterity of Jethro, (compare Judges 1:16,) and they are taken under special protection, for the kindness their ancestor shewed to Israel.

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