Exodus 18

Jethro and Israel’s Administration
Exodus 18
Exodus 18. In this chapter we have a unique set of circumstances, and there is typical significance to it. In chapter 16 we have the manna, which speaks of Christ in incarnation; Christ come down to earth as a man (John 6). In chapter 17 we have two things. First, we have the smitten rock which speaks of the cross: Christ smitten in death, and the out-flowing of the Spirit of God as a result (rivers of living water, John 7). Also in chapter 17 we have Moses on the hill acting as intercessor for his people, which is a type of Christ gone to heaven and living for us at God’s right hand. In chapter 18 we have a type of a future day, when the Gentiles (Jethro a type) will be brought in and linked with the Jews under the reign of Messiah, of whom Moses is a type. In fact Deut. 33:5 refers to Moses as a king by saying of him at this time, “he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together”. Further, Moses is joined by his wife Zipporah, as a type of the Church, a Gentile bride. Exodus 18 presents a Millennial scene, where Christ will have His bride at His side, ministering to Israel as Messiah on earth, and honored by the Gentiles who own Israel’s God as greater than all others (see Zech. 2:11; 8:22; Isa. 56:3-7; 60:3; 61:5-9). We see these three groups (1 Cor. 10:32) in type distinguished: Jew (Israel), Gentile (Jethro), and church of God (Zipporah). In addition to this rich dispensational picture we have helpful practical instructions concerning administration.

Jethro Brings Moses’ Family (18:1-12)

And Jethro the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done to Moses, and to Israel his people; that Jehovah had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, 3 and her two sons, of whom the name of the one was Gershom — for he said, I have been a sojourner in a foreign land, 4 — and the name of the other, Eliezer — For the God of my father has been my help, and has delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh. vv.1-4 Moses’ Family. We are introduced to Moses father-in-law after Moses fled from Pharaoh after his slaying of the Egyptian was discovered. Jethro was “the priest of Midian”, and this means he was a leader of a large tribe. The heads of large eastern families in those days would function as priests. He was a Gentile, and thus was a stranger to Jehovah until meeting Moses. Zipporah (a Gentile bride) was a comfort to Moses in the time of his rejection, and is one of seven Old Testament types of the Church. Zipporah is a type of the bride of Christ as His companion in the wilderness, and Asenath is a type of the bride as His companion in exaltation. The reasons for Moses sending Zipporah back are not stated (in Exodus 4 we read of her unwillingness to circumcise her son), yet Zipporah had stood by Moses in the time of his rejection, and she was dearly loved by him. Her name means “little bird”, and it brings out thoughts of tender affection. In type, Zipporah send away pictures the Church hidden while Christ undertakes the deliverance of Israel during the great tribulation. Moses had two sons with Zipporah, and their names have special meaning. Gershom means ‘stranger’ picturing Israel’s condition of being scattered among the Gentiles. Eliezer means ‘my God has helped’ and it pictures the deliverance of Israel in the tribulation. After Israel is restored, the Church is seen again with Christ, sharing His inheritance!
5 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came to Moses with his sons and his wife into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mountain of God. 6 And he sent word to Moses: I, thy father-in-law Jethro, am come to thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. 7 And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other after their welfare, and went into the tent. 8 And Moses told his father-in-law all that Jehovah had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake; all the trouble that had befallen them on the way, and how Jehovah had delivered them. vv.5-8 Reunion. Moses was reunited with Jethro, his wife, and his two children after many months! What a joyful reunion that would have been. So will be the joy of the Millennial earth when Jew, Gentile, and Church of God are united in the worship of Christ!
9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness that Jehovah had done to Israel; that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. 10 And Jethro said, Blessed be Jehovah, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh; who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that Jehovah is greater than all gods; for in the thing in which they acted haughtily 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 in the presence of God. vv.9-12 Jethro’s Praise. The result of hearing the wonders that Jehovah had done for Israel caused Jethro rejoice and to praise Him! What we have here is a picture of what the Gentiles will do in the Millennium (Isa. 56:6-7). When Christ as king, of whom Moses is a type in this chapter, sets up His righteous kingdom, the Gentiles will acknowledge that the God of the Jews is “greater than all gods” and they will rejoice with Israel, and offer sacrifices with Israel to Jehovah. What happy relations will then exist between Jew and Gentile! “And Jehovah shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Jehovah, and his name one” (Zech. 14:9).

Administrative Structure Set Up (18:13-27)

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 to the evening. 14 And Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did with the people, and said, What is this thing which thou art doing with the people? why dost thou sit alone, and all the people are standing by thee from morning to evening? 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, Because the people come to me to enquire of God. 16 When they have a matter, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known to them the statutes of God, and his laws. 17 And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, The thing that thou art doing is not good. 18 Thou wilt be quite exhausted, both thou and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee: thou canst not perform it alone. 19 Hearken now to my voice: I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee. Be thou for the people with God, and bring the matters before God; 20 and teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. 21 But do thou provide among all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place them over them, chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens, 22 that they may judge the people at all times; and it shall be that they shall bring to thee every great matter, and that they shall judge every small matter, and they shall lighten the task on thee, and they shall bear it with thee. 23 If thou do this thing, and God command thee so, thou wilt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. vv.13-23 Jethro’s Advice. The issue that Jethro noticed was that the burden of administration over the tribes of Israel was exhausting Moses. He suggested that the work be spread out among honest and capable men set over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. This would better serve the people and it would better serve Moses. The role of lawgiver would still belong to Moses, and he would still judge the major issues that arose, but the smaller things could be handled by the lower judges. In a similar way the Church is here in this world as a traveling people with many needs, and as such administration is required because we are still part of the earthly sphere. Administration is nothing to be ashamed of! There will be no need for elders and deacons in heaven! The principle here is applicable to the assembly: it is not healthy for one man to have sole responsibility in assembly oversight. In the New Testament we always have a plurality of elders and deacons. What we have here is not worldly wisdom, but rather Jethro giving fatherly recommendations to Moses. Notice that Jethro says “If thou do this thing, and God command thee so”. I prefer to see these events and the course of action as all in due order.1 However, I would call attention to Numbers 11 where responsibility was taken from Moses and given to the seventy elders. That occasion was a distinct loss for Moses due to his unbelief. Jethro here is simply the mouthpiece of God, describing to Moses what distributed oversight would look like. Moses was not to “do this thing” unless God commanded him. What we see here is the wisdom of God in establishing the foundation of oversight, like we have in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.
24 And 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, chiefs of thousands, chiefs of hundreds, chiefs of fifties, and chiefs of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times: the hard matters they brought to Moses, but every small matter they judged. 27 And Moses sent away his father-in-law, and he departed into his land. vv.24-27 Distributed Oversight. We see that Moses took the advice of his father-in-law and appointed the capable men to share the administration with him. This is perhaps a faint type of how Christ will share the administration of His Millennial kingdom with others who have shown themselves faithful during the time of His rejection (Eph. 1:18; Rev. 21:12, 14; Luke 19:11-27; 1 Cor. 6:3).
  1. C.H. Macintosh sees this as a failure on Moses’ part, but F.B. Hole and J.N.D see it as all in due order.