וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרֹו כֹהֵן מִדְיָן חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱלֹהִים לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֹּו כִּי־הֹוצִיא יְהוָה 18:1
Exod. 18:1 Now Jethro, priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moses, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people, when the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.
וַיִּקַּח יִתְרֹו חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֶת־צִפֹּרָה אֵשֶׁת מֹשֶׁה אַחַר שִׁלּוּחֶיהָ 18:2
Exod. 18:2 And Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, took Zipporah, the wife of Moses, after her dismissal,
Pardon a momentary digression: “after her dismissal?” What is that supposed to mean? Most of the popular translations are based on the assumption that Moses had sent Zipporah back from the wilderness to Midain. But Moses may have sent her back when he arrived in Egypt to confront Pharoah. There is no way to know for sure.
וְאֵת שְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאֶחָד גֵּרְשֹׁם כִּי אָמַר גֵּר הָיִיתִי בְּאֶרֶץ נָכְרִיָּה 18:3
Exod. 18:3 and two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom for he said, “A stranger am I in a strange land,”
וְשֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֱלִיעֶזֶר כִּי־אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי בְּעֶזְרִי וַיַּצִּלֵנִי מֵחֶרֶב פַּרְעֹה 18:4
Exod. 18:4 and the name of the other was Eliezer, “For the God of my father was my help and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.”
Now I suspect that the meaning of the name Eliezer tells us something significant. It means God helps [or saves] or God is a Help or God will help [or save]. Moses did not know that he would be saved from the sword of Pharoah until he had learned that Pharoah had died. And as far as we know, he did not find that out until he was on his way back to Egypt. We learned that Pharoah had died, but did Moses know at the time? I think not (see Exod. 2:23). At least nowhere are we told that anyone informed Moses. That seems to be telling us that Eliezer was born on the way from Midian to Egypt, although we were told nothing about it. But that would explain why Eliezer wasn’t also circumcised in the episode described in Exod. 4:25.
וַיָּבֹא יִתְרֹו חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה וּבָנָיו וְאִשְׁתֹּו אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּר אֲשֶׁר־הוּא חֹנֶה שָׁם הַר הָאֱלֹהִים 18:5
Exod. 18:5 And Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, came with his sons and his wife to Moses, to the wilderness where he was encamped; there was the mountain of God.
Please note that according to this verse, when Jethro arrived, Moses and the Israelites were encamped at Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. We will discuss the significance of this later.
[Return to Exod. 19:1] [Return to Numb. 10:29]
וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֲנִי חֹתֶנְךָ יִתְרֹו בָּא אֵלֶיךָ וְאִשְׁתְּךָ וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ עִמָּהּ 18:6
Exod. 18:6 And he had said to Moses, “I, your father-in-law, Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.”
Realizing that they hadn’t met face to face as yet (see the next verse), I have to assume that Jethro did not speak to Moses directly, but had an advance messenger say this to Moses. We may assume for the moment (as mentioned above in the preceding verse, I’ll have more to say about this later) that this meeting was taking place as little as four or five months after Moses had left Midian, and at most one or two years afterward. So why does Jethro, in this verse, call the two boys Zipporah’s sons and not Moses’ sons? But he called them Moses’ sons in the previous verse. I assumed from these odd references that Moses may have hardly known the two boys.
וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה לִקְרַאת חֹתְנֹו וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ וַיִּשַּׁק־לֹו וַיִּשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ־לְרֵעֵהוּ לְשָׁלֹום וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֹהֱלָה 18:7
Exod. 18:7 And Moses came out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him, and they inquired each to the other regarding their welfare, and they went into the tent.
I take note that Moses apparently ignores both his wife and his sons. Or is that an unimportant detail that was omitted from the narrative? We may never know.
וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנֹו אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְפַרְעֹה וּלְמִצְרַיִם עַל אֹודֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כָּל־הַתְּלָאָה 18:8
אֲשֶׁר מְצָאָתַם בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיַּצִּלֵם יְהוָה
Exod. 18:8 And Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharoah and to the Egyptians for the sake of Israel, all the trouble that befell them along the way, and the Lord delivered them.
וַיִּחַדְּ יִתְרֹו עַל כָּל־הַטֹּובָה אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה יְהוָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הִצִּילֹו מִיַּד מִצְרָיִם 18:9
Exod. 18:9 And Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness that the Lord had produced for Israel, that He delivered it from the hand of the Egyptians.
וַיֹּאמֶר יִתְרֹו בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶתְכֶם מִיַּד מִצְרַיִם וּמִיַּד פַּרְעֹה אֲשֶׁר הִצִּיל אֶת־הָעָם מִתַּחַת 18:10
Exod. 18:10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord Who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharoah, Who delivered the people from under the hand of Egypt.”
עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־גָדֹול יְהוָה מִכָּל־הָאֱלֹהִים כִּי בַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר זָדוּ עֲלֵיהֶם 18:11
Exod. 18:11 “Now I surely know that the Lord is greater than all the gods, in destroying whoever presumed against them.”
The pronoun them must refer to the children of Israel, not to the gods.
וַיִּקַּח יִתְרֹו חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה עֹלָה וּזְבָחִים לֵאלֹהִים וַיָּבֹא אַהֲרֹן וְכֹל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֶאֱכָל־לֶחֶם עִם־חֹתֵן 18:12
מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים
Exod. 18:12 Then Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God, and Aaron came and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moses before He Who is God.
Very interesting! Jethro was probably an uncircumcised idol-worshipping pagan.
וַיְהִי מִמָּחֳרָת וַיֵּשֶׁב מֹשֶׁה לִשְׁפֹּט אֶת־הָעָם וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם עַל־מֹשֶׁה מִן־הַבֹּקֶר עַד־הָעָרֶב 18:13
Exod. 18:13 And it was the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood over Moses from the morning until the evening.
וַיַּרְא חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־הוּא עֹשֶׂה לָעָם וַיֹּאמֶר מָה־הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה לָעָם 18:14
מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה יֹושֵׁב לְבַדֶּךָ וְכָל־הָעָם נִצָּב עָלֶיךָ מִן־בֹּקֶר עַד־עָרֶב
Exod. 18:14 When the father-in-law of Moses saw all that he was doing for the people, then he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why are you sitting by yourself while all the people are standing over you from morning until evening?”
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנֹו כִּי־יָבֹא אֵלַי הָעָם לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים 18:15
Exod. 18:15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Then the people can come to me to inquire of God.”
כִּי־יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר בָּא אֵלַי וְשָׁפַטְתִּי בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ וְהֹודַעְתִּי אֶת־חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶת־ 18:16
Exod. 18:16 “When there may be a matter regarding them, it is coming to me and I can judge between one and the other, and make known the statutes of God and His laws.”
וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵלָיו לֹא־טֹוב הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה 18:17
Exod. 18:17 And the father-in-law of Moses said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good.” [Return to Deut. 1:13]
נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם־אַתָּה גַּם־הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ כִּי־כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר לֹא־תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ 18:18
Exod. 18:18 “You will surely wear away, both you and this people that is with you, for the task is too great for you. You will not be able to accomplish it by yourself.”
עַתָּה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי אִיעָצְךָ וִיהִי אֱלֹהִים עִמָּךְ הֱיֵה אַתָּה לָעָם מוּל הָאֱלֹהִים וְהֵבֵאתָ אַתָּה אֶת־ 18:19
Exod. 18:19 “Now listen to my voice; I will counsel you and God will be with you. You be for the people before He Who is God, and you will bring the matters to He Who is God.”
וְהִזְהַרְתָּה אֶתְהֶם אֶת־הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת־הַתֹּורֹת וְהֹודַעְתָּ לָהֶם אֶת־הַדֶּרֶךְ יֵלְכוּ בָהּ וְאֶת־הַמַּעֲשֶׂה 18:20
Exod. 18:20 “And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and you shall make known to them the path on which they shall walk, and the pursuit that they shall attend to.”
וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל־הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם שָׂרֵי 18:21
אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאֹות שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת
Exod. 18:21 “But you must visualize, from all the people, able men, reverent of God, men of truth, haters of dishonest gain, and place officials of thousands, officials of hundreds, officials of fifties, and officials of tens over them.”
Two thoughts about this: First, the term visualize. Moses is to think of all the men of the congregation and pick out those that are able, reverent, truthful, and non-corruptible, and appoint them as judges. Second, these men presumably must have had some idea about the practices and values that the Lord was teaching Moses. Apparently, he did not have to train them. [Return to Deut. 30:20]
וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת־הָעָם בְּכָל־עֵת וְהָיָה כָּל־הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ וְכָל־הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ־הֵם וְהָקֵל 18:22
מֵעָלֶיךָ וְנָשְׂאוּ אִתָּךְ
Exod. 18:22 “And they shall judge the people at all times, and it shall be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they shall judge themselves, so they will ease your burden and share with you.”
This verse contains an example of a reversal in the order of events being described. This observation relates to the discussion following Gene. 1:5. At the end of the above verse, Jethro says “… so they will ease your burden and share with you.” One should expect that it would have been written as “… so they will share with you and ease your burden.”
אִם אֶת־הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה תַּעֲשֶׂה וְצִוְּךָ אֱלֹהִים וְיָכָלְתָּ עֲמֹד וְגַם כָּל־הָעָם הַזֶּה עַל־מְקֹמֹו יָבֹא בְשָׁלֹום 18:23
Exod. 18:23 “If you will do this thing -- and God should command you -- then you will be able to endure, and this whole people will also go about its place in peace.”
וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה לְקֹול חֹתְנֹו וַיַּעַשׂ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אָמָר 18:24
Exod. 18:24 And Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.
וַיִּבְחַר מֹשֶׁה אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל מִכָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם רָאשִׁים עַל־הָעָם שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאֹות שָׂרֵי 18:25
חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת
Exod. 18:25 And Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them heads over the people, officials of thousands, officials of hundreds, officials of fifties, and officials of tens,
In vss. 18:24 and 18:25 we once again encounter the pattern of repetition and elucidation found before in vss. Gene. 1:12, 1:13, 1:15, 1:16, 1:20, 1:21, 1:24, 1:25, and Exod. 8:13. [Return to Exod. 19:22]
וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת־הָעָם בְּכָל־עֵת אֶת־הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל־מֹשֶׁה וְכָל־הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם 18:26
Exod. 18:26 so they would judge the people at all times. Every hard matter they would bring to Moses, but every small matter they would judge themselves.
וַיְשַׁלַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת־חֹתְנֹו וַיֵּלֶךְ לֹו אֶל־אַרְצֹו 18:27
Exod. 18:27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away himself to his land.
Does this mean that Jethro left Zipporah and Moses’ two sons behind? It may be so, but they are not mentioned again.
Another observation about the entire chapter. I wonder why the Lord used Jephro, a foreigner, to teach Moses an administrative lesson that He could have taught him Himself directly. The Lord let Moses struggle under the burden of judgment for two months before Jephro came into the scene. Why do you suppose He chose to do it this way? I believe that the Lord doesn’t necessarily make things easy for His servants. Difficulties may even be introduced in order to teach a particular lesson in an appropriate way. Sometimes an uncomfortable lesson might be provided to forestall a more difficult circumstance later. In my experience, many (all?) misfortunes I have encountered have resulted in a good learning experience and was, in hindsight, fortunate. Despite the import of this seemingly wise understanding, another possibility comes to mind. Perhaps this chapter may instead be intended as a lesson for us: Learn from anyone, with the understanding that he or she may be a divine messenger. It’s also possible that God doesn’t tell us how to do something, only what to do. That makes a lot of sense to me, but it could make some people quite uncomfortable.
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