Exodus 18


Jethro, called the father-in-law of Moses, hearing of the

deliverance which God had granted to Israel, 1,

took Zipporah and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, and brought

them to Moses, when the Israelites were encamped near Horeb, 2-5.

He sends to Moses, announcing his arrival, 6.

Moses goes out to meet him, 7,

and gives him a history of God's dealings with the Israelites, 8.

Jethro greatly rejoices, and makes striking observations on the

power and goodness of God, 9-11.

He offers burnt-offerings and sacrifices to Jehovah, and Aaron and

all the elders of Israel feast with him, 12.

The next day Jethro, observing how much Moses was fatigued by being

obliged to sit as judge and hear causes from morning to evening, 13,

inquires why he did so, 14.

Moses answers, and shows that he is obliged to determine causes

between man and man, and to teach them the statutes and laws of

God, 15, 16.

Jethro finds fault, and counsels him to appoint men who fear God,

love truth, and hate covetousness, to be judges over thousands,

hundreds, fifties, and tens, to judge and determine in all smaller

matters, and refer only the greater and most important to himself,


and shows that this plan will be advantageous both to himself and to

the people, 23.

Moses hearkens to the counsel of Jethro, and appoints proper officers

over the people, who enter upon their functions, determine all minor

causes, and refer only the most difficult to Moses, 24-26.

Moses dismisses Jethro, who returns to his own country, 27.


Verse 1. When Jethro, the priest of Midian, &c.] Concerning

this person and his several names,

See Clarke on Ex 2:15; "Ex 2:16"; "Ex 2:18"; "Ex 3:1";

See Clarke on Ex 4:20; "Ex 4:24".

Jethro was probably the son of Reuel, the father-in-law of Moses,

and consequently the brother-in-law of Moses; for the word

chothen, which we translate father-in-law, in this chapter means

simply a relative by marriage. See Clarke on Ex 3:1.

Verse 2. After he had sent her back] Why Zipporah and her two

sons returned to Midian, is not certainly known. From the

transaction recorded Ex 4:20, 24, it seems as if she had been

alarmed at the danger to which the life of one of her sons had

been exposed, and fearing worse evils, left her husband and

returned to her father. It is however possible that Moses,

foreseeing the troubles to which his wife and children were likely

to be exposed had he taken them down to Egypt, sent them back to

his father-in-law till it should please God to deliver his people.

Jethro, now finding that God had delivered them, and totally

discomfited the Egyptians, their enemies, thought it proper to

bring Zipporah and her sons to Moses, while he was in the vicinity

of Horeb.

Verse 3. The name of the one was Gershom]

See Clarke on Ex 2:22.

Verse 5. Jethro-came with his sons] There are several reasons

to induce us to believe that the fact related here is out of its

due chronological order, and that Jethro did not come to Moses

till the beginning of the second year of the exodus, (see

Nu 10:11,) some time after the tabernacle had been erected, and

the Hebrew commonwealth established, both in things civil and

ecclesiastical. This opinion is founded on the following


1. On this verse, where it is said that Jethro came to Moses

while he was encamped at the mount of God. Now it appears, from

Ex 19:1, 2, that they were not yet come to Horeb, the mount of

God, and that they did not arrive there till the third month after

their departure from Egypt; and the transactions with which this

account is connected certainly took place in the second month; see

Ex 16:1.

2. Moses, in De 1:6, 9, 10, 12-15, relates that when they were

about to depart from Horeb, which was on the 20th day of the

second month of the second year from their leaving Egypt, that he

then complained that he was not able to bear the burden alone of

the government of a people so numerous; and that it was at that

time that he established judges and captains over thousands and

hundreds and fifties and tens, which appears to be the very

transaction recorded in this place; the measure itself being

recommended by Jethro, and done in consequence of his advice.

3. From Nu 10:11, 29, &c., we find that when the cloud was

taken up, and the Israelites were about to depart from Horeb, that

Moses addressed Hobab, who is supposed to have been the same as

Jethro, and who then was about to return to Midian, his own

country, entreating him to stay with them as a guide while they

travelled through the wilderness. It therefore seems necessary

that the transaction recorded in this chapter should be inserted

Num. x. between the 10th and 11th verses. Nu 10:10-11.

4. It has been remarked, that shortly after they had departed

from Sinai the dispute took place between Miriam, Aaron, and

Moses, concerning the AEthiopian woman Zipporah whom he had

married, (see Nu 12:1, &c.;) and this is supposed to have taken

place shortly after she had been brought back by Jethro.

5. In the discourse between Moses and Jethro, mentioned in this

chapter, we find that Moses speaks of the statutes and laws of the

Lord as things already revealed and acknowledged, which

necessarily implies that these laws had already been given,

(Ex 18:16,) which we know did not take place till several

months after the transactions mentioned in the preceding chapters.

6. Jethro offers burnt-offerings and sacrifices to God

apparently in that way in which they were commanded in the law.

Now the law respecting burnt-offerings was not given till after

the transactions mentioned here, unless we refer this chapter to a

time posterior to that in which it appears in this place.

See Clarke on Ex 18:12.

From all these reasons, but particularly from the two first and

the two last, it seems most likely that this chapter stands out of

its due chronological order, and therefore I have adjusted the

chronology in the margin to the time in which, from the reasons

above alleged, I suppose these transactions to have taken place;

but the matter is not of much importance, and the reader is at

liberty to follow the common opinion. As Moses had in the

preceding chapter related the war with Amalek and the curse under

which they were laid, he may be supposed to have introduced here

the account concerning Jethro the Midianite, to show that he was

free from that curse, although the Midianites and the Kenites, the

family of Jethro, were as one people, dwelling with the

Amalekites. See Jud 1:16; 1Ch 2:55; 1Sa 15:6. For although the

Kenites were some of those people whose lands God had promised

to the descendants of Abraham, (see Ge 15:18, 19,) yet, in

consideration of Jethro, the relative of Moses, all of them who

submitted to the Hebrews were suffered to live in their own

country; the rest are supposed to have taken refuge among the

Edomites and Amalekites. See Calmet, Locke, &c.

Verse 6. And he said unto Moses] That is, by a messenger; in

consequence of which Moses went out to meet him, as is stated in

the next verse, for an interview had not yet taken place. This is

supported by reading hinneh, behold, for ani, I,

which is the reading of the Septuagint and Syriac, and several

Samaritan MSS.; instead therefore of I, thy father, we should

read, Behold thy father, &c.-Kennicott's Remarks.

Verse 7. And did obeisance] vaiyishtachu, he bowed

himself down, (See Clarke on Ge 17:3; and "Ex 4:31";)

this was the general token of

respect. And kissed him; the token of friendship. And they asked

each other of their welfare; literally, and they inquired,

each man of his neighbour, concerning peace or prosperity; the

proof of affectionate intercourse. These three things constitute

good breeding and politeness, accompanied with sincerity.

And they came into the tent.] Some think that the tabernacle is

meant, which it is likely had been erected before this time;

See Clarke on Ex 18:5. Moses might have thought proper to

take his relative first to the house of God, before he brought him

to his own tent.

Verse 9. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness] Every part

of Jethro's conduct proves him to have been a religious man and a

true believer. His thanksgiving to Jehovah (Ex 18:10) is a

striking proof of it; he first blesses God for the preservation of

Moses, and next for the deliverance of the people from their


Verse 11. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods]

Some think that Jethro was now converted to the true God; but it

is very probable that he enjoyed this blessing before he knew any

thing of Moses, for it is not likely that Moses would have entered

into an alliance with this family had they been heathens. Jethro

no doubt had the true patriarchal religion.

Wherein they dealt proudly] Acting as tyrants over the people

of God; enslaving them in the most unprincipled manner, and still

purposing more tyrannical acts. He was above them-he showed

himself to be infinitely superior to all their gods, by the

miracles which he wrought. Various translations have been given

of this clause; the above I believe to be the sense.

Verse 12. Jethro-took a burnt-offering] olah. Though it

be true that in the patriarchal times we read of a burnt-offering,

(see Ge 22:2, &c.,) yet we only read of one in the case of

Isaac, and therefore, though this offering made by Jethro is not

a decisive proof that the law relative to burnt-offerings, &c.,

had already been given, yet, taken with other circumstances in

this account, it is a presumptive evidence that the meeting

between Moses and Jethro took place after the erection of

tabernacle. See Clarke on Ex 18:5.

Sacrifices for God] zebachim, slain beasts, as the

word generally signifies. We have already seen that sacrifices

were instituted by God himself as soon as sin entered into our

world; and we see that they were continued and regularly practised

among all the people who had the knowledge of the only true God,

from that time until they became a legal establishment. Jethro,

who was a priest, (Ex 2:16,) had a right to offer these

sacrifices; nor can there be a doubt of his being a worshipper of

the true God, for those Kenites, from whom the Rechabites came,

were descended from him; 1Ch 2:55. See also Jer 35:1-19.

And Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel to eat bread] The

burnt-offering was wholly consumed; every part was considered as

the Lord's portion, and therefore it was entirely burnt up. The

other sacrifices mentioned here were such that, after the blood

had been poured out before God, the officers and assistants might

feed on the flesh. Thus, in ancient times, contracts were made

and covenants sealed; See Clarke on Ge 15:13, &c. It is

very likely, therefore, that the sacrifices offered on this

occasion, were those on the flesh of which Aaron and the elders of

Israel feasted with Jethro.

Before God.] Before the tabernacle, where God dwelt; for it is

supposed that the tabernacle was now erected.

See Clarke on Ex 18:5;

and see De 12:5-7, and 1Ch 29:21, 22, where the same form of

speech, before the Lord, is used, and plainly refers to his

manifested presence in the tabernacle.

Verse 13. To judge the people] To hear and determine

controversies between man and man, and to give them instruction in

things appertaining to God.

From the morning unto the evening.] Moses was obliged to sit

all day, and the people were continually coming and going.

Verse 15. The people come unto me to inquire of God] To know

the mind and will of God on the subject of their inquiries. Moses

was the mediator between God and the people; and as they believed

that all justice and judgment must come from him, therefore they

came to Moses to know what God had spoken.

Verse 16. I do make them know the statutes of God, and his

laws.] These words are so very particular that they leave

little room for doubt that the law had been given. Such words

would scarcely have been used had not the statutes and laws been

then in existence. And this is one of the proofs that the

transaction mentioned here stands out of its due chronological

order; See Clarke on Ex 18:5.

Verse 18. Thou wilt surely wear away] nabol tibbol, in

wearing way, thou wilt wear away-by being thus continually

employed, thou wilt soon become finally exhausted. And this

people that is with thee; as if he had said, "Many of them are

obliged to wait so long for the determination of their suit that

their patience must be soon necessarily worn out, as there is no

one to hear every cause but thyself."

Verse 19. I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee]

Jethro seems to have been a man of great understanding and

prudence. His advice to Moses was most appropriate and excellent;

and it was probably given under the immediate inspiration of God,

for after such sacrificial rites, and public acknowledgment of

God, the prophetic spirit might be well expected to descend and

rest upon him. God could have showed Moses the propriety and

necessity of adopting such measures before, but he chose in this

case to help man by man, and in the present instance a permanent

basis was laid to consolidate the union of the two families, and

prevent all future misunderstandings.

Verse 20. Thou shalt teach them ordinances] chukkim, all

such precepts as relate to the ceremonies of religion and

political economy. And laws, hattoroth, the

instructions relative to the whole system of morality.

And shalt show them the way] eth hadderech, THAT

very WAY, that only way, which God himself has revealed, and in

which they should walk in order to please him, and get their souls

everlastingly saved.

And the work that they must do.] For it was not sufficient that

they should know their duty both to God and man, but they must DO

it too; yaasun, they must do it diligently, fervently,

effectually; for the paragogic nun deepens and extends

the meaning of the verb.

What a very comprehensive form of a preacher's duty does this

verse exhibit! 1. He must instruct the people in the nature, use,

and importance of the ordinances of religion. 2. He must lay

before them the whole moral law, and their obligations to fulfill

all its precepts. 3. He must point out to each his particular

duty, and what is expected of him in his situation, connections,

&c. And, 4. He must set them all their work, and see that they do

it. On such a plan as this he will have full opportunity to show

the people, 1. Their sin, ignorance, and folly; 2. The pure

and holy law which they have broken, and by which they are

condemned; 3. The grace of God that bringeth salvation, by which

they are to be justified and finally saved; and, 4. The necessity

of showing their faith by their works; not only denying

ungodliness and worldly lusts, but living soberly, righteously,

and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope,

and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus


Verse 21. Able men] Persons of wisdom, discernment, judgment,

prudence, and fortitude; for who can be a ruler without these


Such as fear God] Who are truly religious, without which they

will feel little concerned either for the bodies or souls of the


Men of truth] Honest and true in their own hearts and lives;

speaking the truth, and judging according to the truth.

Hating covetousness] Doing all for God's sake, and love to man;

labouring to promote the general good; never perverting judgment,

or suppressing the testimonies of God, for the love of money or

through a base, man-pleasing spirit, but expecting their reward

from the mercy of God in the resurrection of the just.

Rulers of thousands, &c.] Millenaries, centurions,

quinquagenaries, and decurions; each of these, in all probability,

dependent on that officer immediately above himself. So the

decurion, or ruler over ten, if he found a matter too hard for

him, brought it to the quinquagenary, or ruler of fifty; if, in

the course of the exercise of his functions, he found a cause too

complicated for him to decide on, he brought it to the centurion,

or ruler over a hundred. In like manner the centurion brought his

difficult case to the millenary, or ruler over a thousand; the

case that was too hard for him to judge, he brought to Moses; and

the case that was too hard for Moses, he brought immediately to

GOD. It is likely that each of these classes had a court composed

of its own members, in which causes were heard and tried. Some of

the rabbins have supposed that there were 600 rulers of thousands,

6000 rulers of hundreds, 12,000 rulers of fifties and 60,000

rulers of tens; making in the whole 78,600 officers. But Josephus

says (Antiq., lib. iii., chap. 4) that Moses, by the advice of

Jethro, appointed rulers over myriads, and then over thousands;

these he divided into five hundreds, and again into hundreds, and

into fifties; and appointed rulers over each of these, who divided

them into thirties, and at last into twenties and tens; that

each of these companies had a chief, who took his name from the

number of persons who were under his direction and government.

Allowing what Josephus states to be correct, some have supposed

that there could not have been less than 129,860 officers in the

Israelitish camp. But such computations are either fanciful or

absurd. That the people were divided into thousands, hundreds,

fifties and tens, we know, for the text states it, but we cannot

tell precisely how many of such divisions there were, nor,

consequently, the number of officers.

Verse 23. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee]

Though the measure was obviously of the utmost importance, and

plainly recommended itself by its expediency and necessity; yet

Jethro very modestly leaves it to the wisdom of Moses to choose or

reject it; and, knowing that in all things his relative was now

acting under the immediate direction of God, intimates that no

measure can be safely adopted without a positive injunction from

God himself. As the counsel was doubtless inspired by the Divine

Spirit, we find that it was sanctioned by the same, for Moses

acted in every respect according to the advice he had received.

Verse 27. And Moses let his father-in-law depart] But if this

be the same transaction with that mentioned Nu 10:29, &c., we

find that it was with great reluctance that Moses permitted so

able a counsellor to leave him; for, having the highest opinion of

his judgment, experience, and discretion, he pressed him to stay

with them, that he might be instead of eyes to them in the desert.

But Jethro chose rather to return to his own country, where

probably his family were so settled and circumstanced that they

could not be conveniently removed, and it was more his duty to

stay with them, to assist them with his counsel and advice, than

to travel with the Israelites. Many others might be found that

could be eyes to the Hebrews in the desert, but no man could be

found capable of being a father to his family, but himself. It is

well to labour for the public good, but our own families are the

first claimants on our care, attention, and time. He who neglects

his own household on pretence of labouring even for the good of

the public, has surely denied the faith, and is worse than an


IT is strange that after this we hear no more of Zipporah! Why

is she forgotten? Merely because she was the wife of Moses; for

he chose to conduct himself so that to the remotest ages there

should be the utmost proofs of his disinterestedness. While

multitudes or the families of Israel are celebrated and dignified,

his own he writes in the dust. He had no interest but that of God

and his people; to promote this, he employed his whole time and

his uncommon talents. His body, his soul, his whole life, were a

continual offering to God. They were always on the Divine altar;

and God had from his creature all the praise, glory, and honour

that a creature could possibly give. Like his great antitype, he

went about doing good; and God was with him. The zeal of God's

house consumed him, for in that house, in all its concerns, we

have the testimony of God himself that he was faithful, Heb 3:2;

and a higher character was never given, nor can be given of any

governor, sacred or civil. He made no provision even for his own

sons, Gershom and Eliezer; they and their families were

incorporated with the Levites, 1Ch 23:14; and had no higher

employment than that of taking care of the tabernacle and the

tent, Nu 3:21-26, and merely to

serve at the tabernacle and to carry burdens, Nu 4:24-28.

No history, sacred or profane, has been able to produce a complete

parallel to the disinterestedness of Moses. This one

consideration is sufficient to refute every charge of imposture

brought against him and his laws. There never was an imposture in

the world (says Dr. PRIDEAUX, Letter to the Deists) that had not

the following characters:-

1. It must always have for its end some carnal interest.

2. It can have none but wicked men for its authors.

3. Both of these must necessarily appear in the very contexture

of the imposture itself.

4. That it can never be so framed, that it will not contain some

palpable falsities, which will discover the falsity of all the


5. That wherever it is first propagated, it must be done by

craft and fraud.

6. That when intrusted to many persons, it cannot be long


1. The keenest-eyed adversary of Moses has never been able to

fix on him any carnal interest. No gratification of sensual

passions, no accumulation of wealth, no aggrandizement of his

family or relatives, no pursuit of worldly honour, has ever been

laid to his charge.

2. His life was unspotted, and all his actions the offspring of

the purest benevolence.

3. As his own hands were pure, so were the hands of those whom

he associated with himself in the work.

4. No palpable falsity has ever been detected in his writings,

though they have for their subject the most complicate, abstruse,

and difficult topics that ever came under the pen of man.

5. No craft, no fraud, not even what one of his own countrymen

thought he might lawfully use, innocent guile, because he had to

do with a people greatly degraded and grossly stupid, can be laid

to his charge. His conduct was as open as the day; and though

continually watched by a people who were ever ready to murmur and

rebel, and industrious to find an excuse for their repeated

seditious conduct, yet none could be found either in his spirit,

private life, or public conduct.

6. None ever came after to say, "We have joined with Moses in a

plot, we have feigned a Divine authority and mission, we have

succeeded in our innocent imposture, and now the mask may be laid

aside." The whole work proved itself so fully to be of God that

even the person who might wish to discredit Moses and his mission,

could find no ground of this kind to stand on. The ten plagues of

Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the destruction of the king of

Egypt and his immense host, the quails, the rock of Horeb, the

supernatural supply by the forty years' manna, the continual

miracle of the Sabbath, on which the preceding day's manna kept

good, though, if thus kept, it became putrid on any other day,

together with the constantly attending supernatural cloud, in its

threefold office of a guide by day, a light by night, and a

covering from the ardours of the sun, all invincibly proclaim

that God brought out this people from Egypt; that Moses was the

man of God, chosen by him, and fully accredited in his mission;

and that the laws and statutes which he gave were the offspring of

the wisdom and goodness of Him who is the Father of Lights, the

fountain of truth and justice, and the continual and unbounded

benefactor of the human race.

Copyright information for Clarke