18:7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him; 4 they each asked about the other’s welfare, and then they went into the tent.
18:12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought 5 a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, 6 and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat food 7 with the father-in-law of Moses before God.
18:14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this 8 that you are doing for the people? 9 Why are you sitting by yourself, and all the people stand around you from morning until evening?”
18:15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire 10 of God. 18:16 When they have a dispute, 11 it comes to me and I decide 12 between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the decrees of God and his laws.” 13
1 sn This chapter forms the transition to the Law. There has been the deliverance, the testing passages, the provision in the wilderness, and the warfare. Any God who can do all this for his people deserves their allegiance. In chap. 18 the Lawgiver is giving advice, using laws and rulings, but then he is given advice to organize the elders to assist. Thus, when the Law is fully revealed, a system will be in place to administer it. The point of the passage is that a great leader humbly accepts advice from other godly believers to delegate responsibility. He does not try to do it all himself; God does not want one individual to do it all. The chapter has three parts: vv. 1-12 tell how Jethro heard and came and worshiped and blessed; vv. 13-23 have the advice of Jethro, and then vv. 24-27 tell how Moses implemented the plan and Jethro went home. See further E. J. Runions, “Exodus Motifs in 1 Samuel 7 and 8,” EvQ 52 (1980): 130-31; and also see for another idea T. C. Butler, “An Anti-Moses Tradition,” JSOT 12 (1979): 9-15.
2 tn This clause beginning with כִּי (ki) answers the question of what Jethro had heard; it provides a second, explanatory noun clause that is the object of the verb – “he heard (1) all that God had done… (2) that he had brought….” See R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 81, §490.
4 sn This is more than polite oriental custom. Jethro was Moses’ benefactor, father-in-law, and a priest. He paid much respect to him. Now he could invite Jethro into his home (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 496).
5 tn The verb is “and he took” (cf. KJV, ASV, NASB). It must have the sense of getting the animals for the sacrifice. The Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate have “offered.” But Cody argues because of the precise wording in the text Jethro did not offer the sacrifices but received them (A. Cody, “Exodus 18,12: Jethro Accepts a Covenant with the Israelites,” Bib 49 : 159-61).
6 sn Jethro brought offerings as if he were the one who had been delivered. The “burnt offering” is singular, to honor God first. The other sacrifices were intended for the invited guests to eat (a forerunner of the peace offering). See B. Jacob, Exodus, 498.
7 tn The word לֶחֶם (lekhem) here means the sacrifice and all the foods that were offered with it. The eating before God was part of covenantal ritual, for it signified that they were in communion with the Deity, and with one another.
8 tn Heb “what is this thing.”
9 sn This question, “what are you doing for the people,” is qualified by the next question. Sitting alone all day and the people standing around all day showed that Moses was exhibiting too much care for the people – he could not do this.
10 tn The form is לִדְרֹשׁ (lidrosh), the Qal infinitive construct giving the purpose. To inquire of God would be to seek God’s will on a matter, to obtain a legal decision on a matter, or to settle a dispute. As a judge Moses is speaking for God, but as the servant of Yahweh Moses’ words will be God’s words. The psalms would later describe judges as “gods” because they made the right decisions based on God’s Law.
11 tn Or “thing,” “matter,” “issue.”
12 tn The verb שָׁפַט (shafat) means “to judge”; more specifically, it means to make a decision as an arbiter or umpire. When people brought issues to him, Moses decided between them. In the section of laws in Exodus after the Ten Commandments come the decisions, the מִשְׁפָּטִים (mishppatim).
13 tn The “decrees” or “statutes” were definite rules, stereotyped and permanent; the “laws” were directives or pronouncements given when situations arose. S. R. Driver suggests this is another reason why this event might have taken place after Yahweh had given laws on the mountain (Exodus, 165).
14 tn Heb “the thing.”
15 tn The verb וַיְשַׁלַּח (vayshallakh) has the same root and same stem used in the passages calling for Pharaoh to “release” Israel. Here, in a peaceful and righteous relationship, Moses sent Jethro to his home.
16 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Jethro) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
17 tn The prepositional phrase included here Gesenius classifies as a pleonastic dativus ethicus to give special emphasis to the significance of the occurrence in question for a particular subject (GKC 381 §119.s).
18 sn This chapter makes an excellent message on spiritual leadership of the people of God. Spiritually responsible people are to be selected to help in the work of the ministry (teaching, deciding cases, meeting needs), so that there will be peace, and so that leaders will not be exhausted. Probably capable people are more ready to do that than leaders are ready to relinquish control. But leaders have to be willing to take the risk, to entrust the task to others. Here Moses is the model of humility, receiving correction and counsel from Jethro. And Jethro is the ideal adviser, for he has no intention of remaining there to run the operation.