This chapter is concerning Moses himself, and the affairs of his own
I. Jethro his father-in-law brings to him his wife and children,
II. Moses entertains his father-in-law with great respect
with good discourse
with a sacrifice and a feast,
III. Jethro advises him about the management of his business as a judge
in Israel, to take inferior judges in to his assistance
and Moses, after some time, takes his counsel
and so they part,
|Jethro's Visit to Moses.
||B. C. 1491.|
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;
2 Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses'
wife, after he had sent her back,
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:
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
5 And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his
wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the
mount of God:
6 And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come
unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.
This incident may very well be allowed to have happened as it is placed
here, before the giving of the law, and not, as some place it, in
connection with what is recorded,
&c. Sacrifices were offered before; in these mentioned here
it is observable that Jethro is said to take them, not
Aaron. And as to Jethro's advising Moses to constitute judges
under him, though it is intimate
that the occasion of his giving that advice was on the morrow,
yet it does not follow but that Moses's settlement of that affair might
be some time after, when the law was given, as it is placed,
It is plain that Jethro himself would not have him make this alteration
in the government till he had received instructions from God about it
which he did not till some time after. Jethro comes,
I. To congratulate the happiness of Israel, and particularly the honour
of Moses his son-in-law; and now Jethro thinks himself well paid for
all the kindness he had shown to Moses in his distress, and his
daughter better matched than he could have expected. Jethro could not
but hear what all the country rang of, the glorious appearances of God
for his people Israel
and he comes to enquire, and inform himself more fully thereof (see
and to rejoice with them as one that had a true respect both for them
and for their God. Though he, as a Midianite, was not to share with
them in the promised land, yet he shared with them in the joy of their
deliverance. We may thus make the comforts of others our own, by taking
pleasure, as God does, in the prosperity of the righteous.
II. To bring Moses's wife and children to him. It seems, he had sent
them back, probably from the inn where his wife's aversion to the
circumcision of her son had like to have cost him his life
fearing lest they should prove a further hindrance, he sent them home
to his father-in-law. He foresaw what discouragements he was likely to
meet with in the court of Pharaoh, and therefore would not take any
with him in his own family. He was of that tribe that said to his
father, I have not known him, when service was to be done for
Thus Christ's disciples, when they were to go upon an expedition not
much unlike that of Moses, were to forsake wife and children,
But though there might be reason for the separation that was between
Moses and his wife for a time, yet they must come together again, as
soon as ever they could with any convenience. It is the law of the
relation. You husbands, dwell with your wives,
1 Peter 3:7.
Jethro, we may suppose, was glad of his daughter's company, and fond of
her children, yet he would not keep her from her husband, nor them from
Moses must have his family with him, that while he ruled the church of
God he might set a good example of prudence in family-government,
1 Timothy 3:5.
Moses had now a great deal both of honour and care put upon him, and it
was fit that his wife should be with him to share with him in both.
Notice is taken of the significant names of his two sons.
1. The eldest was called Gershom
a stranger, Moses designing thereby, not only a memorial of his
own condition, but a memorandum to his son of his condition also: for
we are all strangers upon earth, as all our fathers were. Moses had a
great uncle almost of the same name, Gershon, a stranger; for
though he was born in Canaan
yet even there the patriarchs confessed themselves strangers.
2. The other he called Eliezer
My God a help, as we translate it; it looks back to his
deliverance from Pharaoh, when he made his escape, after the slaying of
the Egyptian; but, if this was (as some think) the son that was
circumcised at the inn as he was going, I would rather translate it so
as to look forward, which the original will bear, The Lord is my
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. Note, When we are undertaking any difficult
service for God and our generation, it is good for us to encourage
ourselves in God as our help: he that has delivered does and will
7 And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did
obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their
welfare; and they came into the tent.
8 And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done
unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all
the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the
LORD delivered them.
9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had
done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the
10 And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered
you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of
Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the
11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in
the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
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.
I. The kind greeting that took place between Moses and his
Though Moses was a prophet of the Lord, a great prophet, and king in
Jeshurun, yet he showed a very humble respect to his father-in-law.
However God in his providence is pleased to advance us, we must make
conscience of giving honour to whom honour is due, and never look with
disdain upon our poor relations. Those that stand high in the favour of
God are not thereby discharged from the duty they owe to men, nor will
that justify them in a stately haughty carriage. Moses went out to meet
Jethro, did homage to him, and kissed him. Religion does not
destroy good manners. They asked each other of their welfare.
Even the kind How-do-you-do's that pass between them are taken notice
of, as the expressions and improvements of mutual love and
II. The narrative that Moses gave his father-in-law of the great things
God had done for Israel,
This was one thing Jethro came for, to know more fully and particularly
what he had heard the general report of. Note, Conversation concerning
God's wondrous works is profitable conversation; it is good,
and to the use of edifying,
Asking and telling news, and discoursing of it, are not only an
allowable entertainment of conversation, but are capable of being tuned
to a very good account, by taking notice of God's providence, and the
operations and tendencies of that providence, in all occurrences.
III. The impressions this narrative made upon Jethro.
1. He congratulated God's Israel: Jethro rejoiced,
He not only rejoiced in the honour done to his son-in-law, but in
all the goodness done to Israel,
Note, Public blessings are the joy of public spirits. While the
Israelites were themselves murmuring, notwithstanding all God's
goodness to them, here was a Midianite rejoicing. This was not the only
time that the faith of the Gentiles shamed the unbelief of the Jews;
Standers-by were more affected with the favours God had shown to Israel
than those were that received them.
2. He gave the glory to Israel's God
"Blessed be Jehovah" (for by that name he is now known), "who
hath delivered you, Moses and Aaron, out of the hand of
Pharaoh, so that though he designed your death he could not effect
it, and by your ministry has delivered the people." Note,
Whatever we have the joy of God must have the praise of.
3. His faith was hereby confirmed, and he took this occasion to make a
solemn profession of it: Now know I that Jehovah is greater than all
(1.) The matter of his faith: that the God of Israel is greater than
all pretenders, all false and counterfeit-deities, that usurp divine
honours; he silences them, subdues them, and is too hard for them all,
and therefore is himself the only living and true God. He is
also higher than all princes and potentates (who are called gods), and
has both an incontestable authority over them and an irresistible power
to control and over-rule them; he manages them all as he pleases, and
gets honour upon them, how great soever they are.
(2.) The confirmation and improvement of his faith: Now know I;
he knew it before, but now he knew it better; his faith great up to a
full assurance, upon this fresh evidence. Those obstinately shut their
eyes against the clearest light who do not know that the Lord is
greater than all gods.
(3.) The ground and reason upon which he built it: For wherein they
dealt proudly, the magicians, and the idols which the Egyptians
worshipped, or Pharaoh and his grandees (they both opposed God and set
up in competition with him), he was above them. The magicians
were baffled, the idols shaken, Pharaoh humbled, his powers broken,
and, in spite of all their confederacies, God's Israel was rescued out
of their hands. Note, Sooner or later, God will show himself above
those that by their proud dealings contest with him. He that exalts
himself against God shall be abased.
IV. The expressions of their joy and thankfulness. They had communion
with each other both in a feast and in a sacrifice,
Jethro, being hearty in Israel's interests, was cheerfully admitted
though a Midianite, into fellowship with Moses and the elders of
Israel, forasmuch as he also was a son of Abraham, though of a
1. They joined in a sacrifice of thanksgiving: Jethro took burnt
offerings for God, and probably offered them himself, for he was a
priest in Midian, and a worshipper of the true God, and the priesthood
was not yet settled in Israel. Note, Mutual friendship is sanctified by
joint-worship. It is a very good thing for relations and friends, when
they come together, to join in the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and
praise, as those that meet in Christ the centre of unity.
2. They joined in a feast of rejoicing, a feast upon the sacrifice.
Moses, upon this occasion, invited his relations and friends to an
entertainment in his own tent, a laudable usage among friends, and
which Christ himself, not only warranted, but recommended, by his
acceptance of such invitations. This was a temperate feast: They did
eat bread; this bread, we may suppose, was manna. Jethro must see
and taste that bread from heaven, and, though a Gentile, is as welcome
to it as any Israelite; the Gentiles still are so to Christ the bread
of life. It was a feast kept after a godly sort: They did eat bread
before God, soberly, thankfully, in the fear of God; and their
table-talk was such as became saints. Thus we must eat and drink to the
glory of God, behaving ourselves at our tables as those who believe
that God's eye is upon us.
|Jethro's Advice to Moses.
||B. C. 1491.|
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
14 And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the
people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the
people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand
by thee from morning unto even?
15 And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people
come unto me to enquire of God:
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.
17 And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou
doest is not good.
18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that
is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art
not able to perform it thyself alone.
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:
20 And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt
show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they
21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men,
such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place
such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of
hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
22 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall
be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but
every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for
thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.
23 If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then
thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go
to their place in peace.
24 So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and
did all that he had said.
25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them
heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds,
rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
26 And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes
they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged
27 And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way
into his own land.
I. The great zeal and industry of Moses as a magistrate.
1. Having been employed to redeem Israel out of the house of bondage,
herein he is a further type of Christ, that he is employed as a
lawgiver and a judge among them.
(1.) He was 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 them, concerning the sabbath, the man, &c., beside the laws of
nature, relating both to piety and equity,
They came to enquire of God; and happy it was for them that they
had such an oracle to consult: we are ready to wish, many a time, that
we had some such certain way of knowing God's mind when we are at a
loss what to do. Moses was faithful both to him that appointed him and
to those 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.
(2.) He was to decide controversies, and determine matters in variance,
judging between a man and his fellow,
And, if the people were as quarrelsome one with another as they were
with God, no doubt he had a great many causes brought before him, and
the more because their trials put them to no expense, nor was the law
costly to them. When a quarrel happened in Egypt, and Moses would have
reconciled the contenders, they asked, Who made thee a prince and a
judge? But now it was past dispute that God had made him one; and
they humbly attend him whom they had then proudly rejected.
2. Such was the business Moses was called to, and it appears that he
(1.) With great consideration, which, some think, is intimated in his
posture: he sat to judge
composed and sedate.
(2.) With great condescension to the people, who stood by him,
He was very easy of access; the meanest Israelite was welcome himself
to bring his cause before him.
(3.) With great constancy and closeness of application.
[1.] Though Jethro, his father-in-law, was with him, which might have
given him a good pretence for a vacation (he might have adjourned the
court for that day, or at least have shortened it), yet he sat, even
the next day after his coming, from morning till evening. Note,
Necessary business must always take place of ceremonious attentions. It
is too great a compliment to our friends to prefer the enjoyment of
their company before our duty to God, which ought to be done, while yet
the other is not left undone.
[2.] Though Moses was advanced to great honour, yet he did not
therefore take his case and throw upon others the burden of care and
business; no, he thought his preferment, instead of discharging him
from service, made it more obligatory upon him. Those think of
themselves above what is meet who think it below them to do good. It is
the honour even of angels themselves to be serviceable.
[3.] Though the people had been provoking to him, and were ready to
yet still he made himself the servant of all. Note, Though others fail
in their duty to us, yet we must not therefore neglect ours to them.
[4.] Though he was an old man, yet he kept to his business from morning
to night, and made it his meat and drink to do it. God had given him
great strength both of body and mind, which enabled him to go through a
great deal of work with ease and pleasure; and, for the encouragement
of others to spend and be spent in the service of God, it proved that
after all his labours his natural force was not diminished. Those that
wait on the Lord and his service shall renew their strength.
II. The great prudence and consideration of Jethro as a friend.
1. He disliked the method that Moses took, and was so free with him as
to tell him so,
He thought it was too much business for Moses to undertake alone, that
it would be a prejudice to his health and too great a fatigue to him,
and also that it would make the administration of justice tiresome to
the people; and therefore he tells him plainly, It is not good.
Note, There may be over-doing even in well-doing, and therefore our
zeal must always be governed by discretion, that our good may not be
evil spoken of. Wisdom is profitable to direct, that we may neither
content ourselves with less than our duty nor over-task ourselves with
that which is beyond our strength.
2. He advised him to such a model of government as would better answer
the intention, which was,
(1.) That he should reserve to himself all applications to God
Be thou for them to God-ward; that was an honour in which it was
not fit any other should share with him,
Also whatever concerned the whole congregation in general must pass
through his hand,
(2.) That he should appoint judges in the several tribes and families,
who should try causes between man and man, and determine them, which
would be done with less noise, and more despatch, than in the general
assembly wherein Moses himself presided. Thus they must be governed as
a nation by a king as supreme, and inferior magistrates sent and
commissioned by him,
1 Peter 2:13.
Thus many hands would make light work, causes would be sooner heard,
and the people eased by having justice thus brought to their
(3.) An appeal might lie, if there were just cause for it, from these
inferior courts to Moses himself; at least if the judges were
themselves at a loss: Every great matter they shall bring unto
Thus that great man would be the more serviceable by being employed
only in great matters. Note, 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, whom therefore they should
not despise. The head has need of the hands and feet,
1 Corinthians 12:21.
Great men should not only study to be useful themselves, but contrive
how to make others useful, according as their capacity is. Such is
Jethro's advice, by which it appears that though Moses excelled him in
prophecy he excelled Moses in politics; yet,
3. 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
they must be able men, &c. It was requisite that they should be
men of the very 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 and religion--such as fear God, as believe there
is a God above them, whose eye is upon them, to whom they are
accountable, and of whose judgment they stand in awe. Conscientious
men, that dare not do a base thing, though they could do it ever so
secretly and securely. The fear of God is that principle which will
best fortify a man against all temptations to injustice,
[3.] For integrity and honesty--men of truth, whose word one may
take, and whose fidelity one may rely upon, who would not for a world
tell a lie, betray a trust, or act an insidious part.
[4.] For noble and generous contempt of worldly wealth--hating
covetousness, not only not seeking bribes nor aiming to enrich
themselves, but abhorring the thought of it; he is fit to be a
magistrate, and he alone, who despiseth the gain of oppressions, and
shaketh his hands from the holding of bribes,
(2.) That he should attend God's direction in the case
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. Note, Advice must be given with a humble submission to
the word and providence of God, which must always overrule.
Now Moses did not despise this advice because it came from one not
acquainted, as he was, with the words of God and the visions of the
Almighty; but he hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law,
When he came to consider the thing, he saw the reasonableness of what
his father-in-law proposed and resolved to put it in practice, which he
did soon afterwards, when he had received directions from God in the
matter. Note, Those are not so wise as they would be thought to be who
think themselves too wise to be counselled; for a wise man (one
who is truly so) will hear, and will increase learning, and not
slight good counsel, though given by an inferior. Moses did not leave
the election of the magistrates to the people, who had already done
enough to prove themselves unfit for such a trust; but he chose them,
and appointed them, some for greater, others for less division, the
less probably subordinate to the greater. We have reason to value
government as a very great mercy, and to thank God for laws and
magistrates, so that we are not like the fishes of the sea, where
the greater devour the less.
III. Jethro's return to his own land,
No doubt he took home with him the improvements he had made in the
knowledge of God, and communicated them to his neighbours for their
instruction. It is supposed that the Kenites (mentioned in
1 Samuel 15:6)
were the posterity of Jethro (compare
and they are there taken under special protection, for the kindness
their ancestor here showed to Israel. The good-will shown to God's
people, even in the smallest instances, shall in no wise lose its
reward, but shall be recompensed, at furthest, in the resurrection.