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Chapter 18

Meeting with Jethro. Now Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel: how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. So his father-in-law Jethro took along Zipporah, Moses’ wife—now this was after Moses had sent her back—[a] and her two sons. One of these was named Gershom;(A) for he said, “I am a resident alien in a foreign land.” The other was named Eliezer; for he said, “The God of my father is my help; he has rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” Together with Moses’ wife and sons, then, his father-in-law Jethro came to him in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God,[b] and he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, along with your wife and her two sons.”

Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and then kissed him. Having greeted each other, they went into the tent. Moses then told his father-in-law of all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for the sake of Israel, and of all the hardships that had beset them on their journey, and how the Lord had rescued them. Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness that the Lord had shown Israel in rescuing them from the power of the Egyptians. 10 “Blessed be the Lord,” he said, “who has rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for he rescued the people from the power of the Egyptians when they treated them arrogantly.” 12 Then Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, brought a burnt offering[c] and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to share with Moses’ father-in-law in the meal before God.

Appointment of Minor Judges. 13 The next day Moses sat in judgment for the people, while they stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he asked, “What is this business that you are conducting for the people? Why do you sit alone while all the people have to stand about you from morning till evening?” 15 Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. 16 Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s statutes and instructions.”

17 “What you are doing is not wise,” Moses’ father-in-law replied. 18 “You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. The task is too heavy for you;(B) you cannot do it alone. 19 [d]Now, listen to me, and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. Act as the people’s representative before God, and bring their disputes to God. 20 Enlighten them in regard to the statutes and instructions, showing them how they are to conduct themselves and what they are to do. 21 But you should also look among all the people for able and God-fearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and set them over the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.(C) 22 Let these render decisions for the people in all routine cases. Every important case they should refer to you, but every lesser case they can settle themselves. Lighten your burden by letting them bear it with you! 23 If you do this, and God so commands you,[e] you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people, too, will go home content.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 He picked out able men from all Israel and put them in charge of the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 They rendered decisions for the people in all routine cases. The more difficult cases they referred to Moses, but all the lesser cases they settled themselves. 27 Then Moses said farewell to his father-in-law, who went off to his own country.

Footnotes

  1. 18:2 Moses had sent her back: a later gloss which attempts to harmonize Zipporah’s presence with Jethro here in this story and the account of Moses’ return to Egypt with Zipporah in 4:20.
  2. 18:5 The allusion to meeting Moses encamped at the mountain of God, prior to the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai in chap. 19, might well suggest a different narrative context for this story from an earlier stage of the biblical tradition’s development. It is noteworthy that immediately after the Sinai pericope (Ex 19:1–Nm 10:28), recounting the theophany at Sinai and the giving of the law, the narrative of Israel’s march through the wilderness resumes with an apparent doublet of the visit by Moses’ father-in-law (Nm 10:29–32).
  3. 18:12 That a non-Israelite, such as Jethro, should bless Israel’s God by way of acknowledging what God had done for Israel (v. 10) is not entirely surprising; but the Midianite priest’s sacrifice to the God of Israel, including his presiding over a sacrificial meal with Aaron and the elders of Israel, is unusual, suggesting that he was himself already a worshiper of Yhwh, Israel’s God. Note further in this connection the role Jethro takes in the following narrative (vv. 13–27) in instituting a permanent judiciary for the Israelites. Burnt offering: a sacrifice wholly burnt up as an offering to God.
  4. 18:19–20 By emphasizing Moses’ mediatorial role for the people before God in regard to God’s statutes and instructions, this story about the institution of Israel’s judiciary prepares for Moses’ role in the upcoming revelation of the law at Sinai.
  5. 18:23 And God so commands you: i.e., and God approves.

Jethro Visits Moses

18 Now Jethro,(A) the priest of Midian(B) 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.(C)

After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah,(D) his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons.(E) One son was named Gershom,[a] for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”;(F) and the other was named Eliezer,[b](G) for he said, “My father’s God was my helper;(H) he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain(I) 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.”

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down(J) and kissed(K) 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(L) they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved(M) them.

Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things(N) the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, “Praise be to the Lord,(O) who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods,(P) for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”(Q) 12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law,(R) brought a burnt offering(S) and other sacrifices(T) to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal(U) with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence(V) of God.

13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.(W) 16 Whenever they have a dispute,(X) it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”(Y)

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.(Z) 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.(AA) You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes(AB) to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions,(AC) and show them the way they are to live(AD) and how they are to behave.(AE) 21 But select capable men(AF) from all the people—men who fear(AG) God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain(AH)—and appoint them as officials(AI) over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case(AJ) to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share(AK) it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

24 Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. 25 He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders(AL) of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.(AM) 26 They served as judges(AN) for the people at all times. The difficult cases(AO) they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.(AP)

27 Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country.(AQ)

Footnotes

  1. Exodus 18:3 Gershom sounds like the Hebrew for a foreigner there.
  2. Exodus 18:4 Eliezer means my God is helper.

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