This passage is deep and rich. It would take many hours to explore adequately everything contained in the first twelve verses of Chapter 18 of Exodus. Therefore, I am going to introduce you to many of its riches, but you will need to study and meditate on them after you leave to mine their depths.
Two Gentile nations are contrasted in chapters 17 and 18 of Exodus. AMALEK rejects the things of God and fights against God’s people while a MIDIANITE embraces the things of the God and rejoices with God’s people. Exodus 18:1—
Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.
Israel’s deliverance is a testimony to the power and the glory of God. It is already spreading throughout the world. But the world’s reaction to this testimony is divided. The Amalek represents the negative response in the world and Jethro the Midianite represents the positive response. And so it will be with the Good News of God’s salvation in Christ Jesus.
After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become an alien in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
AFTER MOSES HAD SENT AWAY HIS WIFE ZIPPORAH is an obscure reference. We are not told in the Bible when Moses sent his family back to Jethro. Later tradition reports that Moses had sent back his wife at Aaron’s request. Possibly, for their safety this occurred before the brothers engaged Pharaoh in the Battle of the Gods.
Another possibility is that while camped at Rephidim, Moses sent his family to Midian for a visit in order to encourage Jethro to come to Rephidim.
This is the last time Zipporah is mentioned in the Bible. It is hard to be the wife of a famous man. No one seems to take any notice of Zipporah or her sons after this event. From a human perspective, most historians have been males, so that males have come to have an exaggerated opinion of their own importance in history. On the other hand, the Scriptures are God breathed and we are told exactly what God wants us to know.
Interestingly, the Jewish Talmud says that Moses turned first to the women when he needed help in making the people obey the Law. It reports that Moses said, “Adam would never have sinned, if God had only given Eve the directions instead of Adam,” thus showing how much he had learned from Zipporah of the wisdom and tact of women. This embellishment makes for good reading, but little else can be said for it.
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.”
Commentators on the Bible view this passage as foreshadowing the restoration of Israel prior to Christ’s millennial kingdom. It is possible to take it as typical since the previous chapters are filled with types. Certainly, we can make an allegory of this passage (as Paul did with Sarah and Hagar in Chapter 5 of Galatians) to teach truths about future.
Zipporah restored to Moses represents Israel coming back to the LORD after a period of absence. Zipporah played an important role in Moses’ mission. When Moses started out for Egypt to bring God’s people out of bondage, his wife acted to fulfill the God’s law. We read in Exodus 4:25—
But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.
Zipporah who embraces God’s Law is eventually sent away by her husband along with her two sons. The two sons of Zipporah represent two kingdoms (Northern and Southern) that come out Israel at Solomon’s death. Eventually, these two kingdoms are banished from the land. GERSHOM means AN ALIEN THERE or BANISHED and ELIEZER means MY GOD IS HELPER.
Thus, the two sons’ names speak of Israel’s history after the kingdom is divided. Though scattered throughout the world, Israel has been marvelously helped of God—He has preserved them all through the centuries, preventing the Jews from being either annihilated or assimilated by Gentiles.
Notice that when Moses is about to become the Lawgiver and Ruler at THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD, his wife and sons are restored to him. That is exactly what will happen at the end of this age. Before Christ reigns over His kingdom, Israel will come to Him.
MOUNTAINS in Scripture often appear as a type for KINGDOM. For instance, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of a large, enormous, dazzling statute, whose feet is shattered by a Rock and becomes a huge mountain in Daniel 2:35—
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing-floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.
The interpretation of the Rock and Mountain is given in Daniel 2:44-45—
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure for ever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.
THE ROCK is CHRIST and THE MOUNTAIN is His Kingdom. The kingdoms of earth will be sweep away and cease to exist. Revelation 11:15 looks into the future and records the certainty of this—
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Allegorically, Exodus 18 speaks of all Israel (represented by Zipporah and her two sons) just prior to the millennial kingdom coming back to the Bridegroom of Blood (who is Christ) along with Gentiles (represented by Jethro). Today, Christ’s blood is a reproach to the Jews, but all that will change prior to His kingdom. The prophet Zechariah records the LORD’S prediction—
They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son . . . On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity (Zechariah 12:10 13:1).
Zechariah 13 goes on to predict that the wounds the LORD is given came at the hands of Israel, who would be scattered and finally restored prior to the LORD coming to reign.
Let’s leave the allegory and return to the historical text. Jethro announced his arrival by means of a messenger and Moses went out to meet him and to exchange the usual ANE greetings in Exodus 18:7-8—
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.
Moses’ meeting with Jethro was marked by gestures of respect (BOWED DOWN) and gratitude (KISSED) as they greeted each other. Then Moses brought Jethro to his tent.
Undoubtedly, Moses recounts to Jethro everything we have seen in the Book of Exodus thus far. We have seen God, in the exercise of His perfect grace, visiting and redeeming His people, bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt, delivering them first from the hand of Pharaoh and then from the hand of Amalek.
Furthermore, we have seen, in MANNA, a type of Christ come down from heaven; in the ROCK, a type of Christ smitten for His people; and in the gushing water, a type of the Holy Spirit given.
Wouldn’t you like to have been in the tent that night as Moses told Jethro everything that the LORD had done on behalf of Israel? If I had a choice, this would be my second conversation in all of history to ease drop on. My first choice took place on the Road to Emmaus after the resurrection of Christ, when Jesus begins with Moses and all the Prophets to explain to two of His disciples what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.
Don’t you wonder what Moses told Jethro that he did not record in the Pentateuch? Jethro must have asked many questions with Moses filling in the details. Words of the GREATNESS and GOODNESS of Yahweh filled the air!
Christ’s disciples asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” How did Jethro’s respond? Exodus 18:9-11—
Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”
Moses declared the Good News to Jethro concerning all that God had done on behalf of Israel. “Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (according to Numbers 12:3); so he takes no credit for his own considerable role.
Possibly, it was at this time that Jethro became a convert to the religion of Yahweh. Ancient legend adds details to emphasize the joy of God over his conversion, by saying that manna began to fall around him as a blessing from heaven.
On the other hand, Jethro may have been a priest of Yahweh in Midian and he came to instruct Moses in two areas: first, how a sacrifice to Yahweh should be offered; and second, how judicial affairs should be arranged.
In either case, Jethro’s faith is made more certain by what he has heard about the LORD.
Jethro is DELIGHTED—He rejoiced and was glad. What was your reaction to the Good News of Jesus Christ the first time you heard it?
The Greek OT states that Jethro was ASTONISHED or OVERCOME by this GOOD NEWS. The Word of God should bring DELIGHT and ASTONISHMENT every time we hear it. Jesus said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Those who are spiritually dead and rebellious find no delight in God’s Good News.
What a delight it is to learn something decisively new about the LORD! The Good News evoked from Jethro the instinctive “PRAISE THE LORD” and a confession: NOW I KNOW THAT THE LORD IS GREATER THAN ALL OTHER GODS.
Bible students disagree to whether or not Jethro’s confession of faith is true or not since it contains the phrase IS GREATER THAN ALL OTHER GODS. Those who see no faith point out that Jethro did not stay with Israel, but went back to his own people. Neither the phrase nor departure of Jethro rule out faith..
The word THOSE, in Exodus 18:11, refers to the GODS OF EGYPT. Other gods were worshiped in OT times and often compared to the LORD. Even Yahweh Himself begins the Ten Commandments with “You shall have no other gods before me.” Therefore, Jethro’s comparison of the LORD to other gods cannot rule out faith.
It only makes sense that Jethro would want to go and tell his people what he learned from Moses. Certainly, Moses typifies Christ and possibly Jethro is typifying the Great Commission—By going and sharing the Good News with his people.
If Jethro does not believe, his advice in the second part of this chapter may be classified as WORLDLY WISDOM instead of spiritual. For many reasons, I do not believe this is the case.
Exodus 18, a unified account, that witnesses to the two central aspects of what it means to be a people of God: DECLARATION AND CONFESSION in verses 1-12 followed by COMMUNITY STRUCTURES THAT GIVE SHAPE TO THE LIFE OF FAITH in verses 13-27. The unity of this account explodes if Moses’ father-in-law remains an unbeliever.
Let’s look closer at what Jethro said. NOW I KNOW is an important phrase since it is a confession formula. It is used by two other Gentile believers in the Bible: The Widow at Zaraepath when Elijah raised her son from the dead and Namaan the Assyrian when he was cured by God of leprosy.
THAT THE LORD IS GREATER THAN ALL OTHER GODS indicates that whatever faith Jethro may have had before, there is now a new content to his confession in view of God’s creation of a new people.
For Jethro his faith is not in vain! Yahweh has proven Himself to be the Great God by rescuing the Israelites from the hand of the Egyptians. Jethro understood the reason why God did what He did to Egyptians—FOR HE DID THIS TO THOSE WHO HAD TREATED ISRAEL ARROGANTLY. Jethro’s insight looks back to the promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3—
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Jethro’s wisdom is on display throughout this chapter. At the very heart of his wisdom is Proverbs 9:10—
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Jethro’s fear of the LORD, wisdom, knowledge and understanding are manifested in Exodus 18:12—
Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.
Chapter 17 of Exodus ends with Moses building an ALTAR and calling it THE LORD IS MY BANNER in response to the victory Yahweh gave Israel over the Amalekites. Now the altar is used as a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God are made.
THE BURNT OFFERING was a sacrifice of THANKSGIVING, in which the offering was completely consumed by fire. Notice that sacrifice to the LORD was instituted before the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. In fact, sacrifices to God reach all the way back to the very beginning of the human race with Cain and Abel.
The OTHER SACRIFICES would have been FELLOWSHIP OFFERINGS shared by Jethro, Aaron and the elders of Israel as a communal meal. Such a meal shared together could have been the making of a covenant or peace agreement. Israelite and Gentile shared together in the sacrifice and offerings to the same LORD. This foreshadows Romans 10:12—
For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.
Certainly, Jethro is the subject of all of this activity except for the crucial element of witness on Moses’ part in verse 8. Jethro hears, visits the community of faith, rejoices, gives thanks, confesses, presents an offering and worships. I expect to see Jethro in heaven!
What Moses has done for Jethro, Israel and all of God’s people are also called upon to do. Psalm 96:3-4 says—
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.
Indeed what Moses has done will be repeated “throughout all the earth.” The Israelites are to stand forth as the great earthly witness of Yahweh’s greatness and goodness—His faithfulness, His mercy, and His power.
At the heart of all this activity is the Good News of what God has done.
Thus, just before the Ten Commandments is given to Israel, the basic principle of sharing with others the Good News of God’s unmerited and undeserved grace lies at the heart of what God is doing on behalf of Israel. The nation is not only to be the custodian of the Law, but the messengers of God’s Grace as well.
If it were not for God’s grace, the Law would have no demand on the lives of people. Grace than Law is at the core of Jesus’ statement in John 14:15—
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
God first demonstrated His love to Israel by saving them. They did not deserve or merit His salvation— His grace to Israel was an act of love on His part. God’s love is to be responded to with love that is shown by obeying what He commands.
Jethro foreshadows the Gentiles coming to salvation. Jethro conversion repeats itself in the Church made up of Jew and Gentile and then during the Tribulation Period when countless multitude from every nation is saved. It is also noteworthy that Jethro offers a sacrifice to God before Aaron is appointed by God as High Priest and he offers sacrifices. The writer of the Hebrews stresses the subordination of Abraham to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Here Aaron is subordinate to Jethro’s priesthood. This is additional evidence that the Aaronic priesthood was only temporary. With the first coming of Christ, the Church of Jew and Gentile is made a royal priesthood according to 1 Peter 2:9—
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Are you DELIGHTED by the Good News of Jesus Christ? Does it make you want to declare the praises of God? There are countless millions in darkness, and you have God’s wonderful light! Will you hide it or share it? DELIGHT the heart of someone this week! Let them hear all the good things the LORD has done for you in rescuing you from the hand of Satan. God has chosen you to declare His praises!