Blessed Be the LORD | Exodus 18:1-12
We are two thousand years removed from being eye-witnesses to the crucifixion of Christ, to the breaking of His body and spilling of His blood to wash away our sins. Yet we still come each week to this spiritual manna as a means of tasting and seeing the goodness of God in the sacrifice of His only Son. Even as it sets our eyes upon Christ’s once for all sacrifice, it also gives us the opportunity to present ourselves as living sacrifices, laying down ourselves and taking up Christ as take of the bread and cup.
Exodus 18 is a positive unfolding of chapter 17. Exodus 17 began with Israel quarreling with Moses, placing God on trial, and God Himself taking Israel’s rightful judgment. It then ended with a nation of Gentiles attacking the weak and weary Israel. Exodus 18 is the reverse. In this first half, we begin with Jethro, an upright Gentile, hearing the good news of Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel and believing. The chapter will then conclude with the LORD using Jethro to instruct Moses in how to properly judge the people.
As for our present text, this family reunion of Moses and Jethro is filled to the brim with implications for how we ought to proclaim the gospel and what a proper response to the gospel looks like.
Reunited // Verses 1-7
Our text opens with the reintroduction Jethro, whom the text makes abundantly clear was Moses’ father-in-law. Verse 1 states that Jethro “heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.” Jethro probably heard of these things through the merchants and travelers coming from Egypt. We must, of course, remember that the ten plagues likely took place over a span of several months rather than the couple of weeks that we subconsciously tend to imagine. Thus, Jethro was likely learning about everything that was happening only a week or so after each event.
Furthermore, verse 2 tells us that Moses had sent Zipporah and his two sons back to Jethro’s house at some point. The majority of commentators seem to think that Moses sent his family away before actually arriving in Egypt or perhaps after Pharaoh’s first refusal in chapter 5. Some even believe that Moses had divorced Zipporah by sending his family away to Jethro’s house, but the arguments for such a thought are not at all compelling. While the text simply does not tell us when or why Moses sent his wife and sons back to Jethro, I tend to think alongside Calvin that he did so whenever Israel came into the wilderness. Perhaps Moses even sent them with the intent of Jethro coming to see him, since Moses clearly had a great respect for his father-in-law.
Verses 3-4 interestingly repeat to us the names of Moses’ two sons and their meanings, though previously only Gershom was named back in chapter 2. Gershom, which sounds like the Hebrew word for sojourner, was named during Moses’ new life in the wilderness of Midian, where he was separated from both Israel and Egypt, the peoples which were his home. Eliezer means God is my help, for Moses said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Eliezer’s name was a testimony from Moses that God had delivered him from Pharaoh’s desire to have him put to death for murdering the Egyptian. Indeed, even after living in Midian for forty years, Moses still clearly feared the sword of Pharaoh since God specifically told him in 4:19 that “all the men who were seeking your life are dead.”
But while Moses named his sons as a testament of God’s providence over his own life, I believe they are repeated here to help us see God’s providence over all of Israel through his servant Moses. Israel as a nation sojourned in Egypt for more than four hundred years, and they were brought out by the unilateral help of the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jethro’s coming to Moses at the mountain of God likely means that Israel was still camped at Rephidim, which was evidently near Horeb/Sinai but not yet at the base of the mountain. It is possible that Jethro sent word to Moses of his coming in order to give proper homage to Moses, for as Stuart notes:
Indeed, it can be argued that Jethro was actually using the presence of Zipporah and the boys to ensure his own acceptance by Moses, whom he now encountered not as an escaped Egyptian alone but as the leader of a great nation of people that had just distinguished itself by beating the Amalekites in war, something Jethro and his Midianites could not expect to do.
This is not so difficult to imagine, especially if Jethro was in fact scraping for every report he could find of Moses and his doings in Egypt. Recall that 12:3 said that after the first nine plagues, “the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.” So, before the night of the exodus, Moses was more respected by the Egyptians than Pharaoh himself, making Moses more popular than the most powerful man in the world. Such status can easily change a person for the worse. Thus, Jethro would not be a fool to wonder if Moses was still the meek sojourner that shepherded his flock for four decades.
Thankfully, Jethro had nothing to fear. In Numbers 12:3, Moses himself tells us, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.” Since the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write those words, we gladly affirm that they are true, and indeed they must be. To be able to write about how meek you are without taking pride in your meekness is meek indeed! Though Moses was the quite literally the most powerful man in the world, most significantly because he was the instrument of the Almighty Creator but from a worldly vision also because he overthrew Pharaoh, he “went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him.” Moses did not send servants out to greet Jethro and then aim to impress him with his power and prestige. No, Moses went out himself and gave great respect to his father-in-law.
Such genuine display of humility and love is what made Moses the great man of God and leader of Israel that he was. Indeed, it is the same sort of meekness and humility that Jesus continuously and perfectly displayed. Moses was displaying the mindset of Christ, which Paul described in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Proclaiming the Gospel // Verse 8
After Moses and Jethro asked each other about their welfare, they entered Moses’ tent and began to talk. What did they talk about? Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. Although Jethro had already heard the news about the exodus and the plagues, now he heard it from the horse’s mouth. Now Moses himself recounted everything that God had done. He shared his testimony with Jethro, that is, he told him the good news of how the LORD rescued Israel.
Take note of the three parts to this verse. First, Moses told Jethro of all that the LORD did to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians. This meant that Moses told his father-in-law the account of the plagues and Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Second, he told Jethro about their hardships along the way.