Exodus 18
Matthew Poole's Commentary
When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt;
Jethro cometh to Moses with his wife and his children; their names, Exodus 18:1-5. Moses going to meet his father, does obeisance, Exodus 18:7; and relates to him God’s providence, Exodus 18:8. Jethro’s joy and thanksgiving, Exodus 18:9,10; confesseth God’s power therein, Exodus 18:11. Jethro sacrificeth, Exodus 18:12. Moses’s judging the people, Exodus 18:13, disliked by his father, Exodus 18:14. Moses’s answer, Exodus 18:15,16. Jethro’s advice, Exodus 18:19-23. Moses hearkening to his father, Exodus 18:24, chooseth able men for rulers, Exodus 18:25; who always judged the people, Exodus 18:26. Jethro’s departure, Exodus 18:27.

No text from Poole on this verse.

Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back,
From the way to Egypt, upon the occasion mentioned Exodus 4:24,25, and because he found by experience that she was likely to hinder him from, or discourage him in, the discharge of his great and dangerous office, and to give an ill example to the Israelites.

And her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land:
No text from Poole on this verse.

And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh:
No text from Poole on this verse.

And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God:
Jethro came, not at this time, but after the delivery of the law at Mount Sinai; as it may appear,

1. Because he finds them encamped, as it here follows, at the mount of God, i.e. Sinai, whither they came not till Exodus 19:2.

2. Because the laws of sacrifices were given before his coming, as appears from Exodus 18:12.

3. Because the execution of this counsel here given about the choice of magistrates, Exodus 18:19, is related after the Israelites’ departure from Sinai, Deu 1:7, &c. And therefore here is a transposal in this history, which is also frequent in other places of Holy Scripture.

And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.
He spoke, not by word of mouth, as the next verse showeth, but either by a letter, or by a messenger, as that word is used, Matthew 8:6,8, compared with Luke 7:3,6.

And Moses went out to meet his father in law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.
Of their welfare, Heb. of their peace, i.e. prosperity and all happiness, which also they wished one to the other, as this phrase implies. See 1 Samuel 10:4 Psalm 122:6.

And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.
For Israel’s sake, or, concerning Israel’s business.

And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.
No text from Poole on this verse.

Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
Now I know, viz. more clearly and by certain experience; as that phrase signifies, Genesis 22:12 1 Kings 17:18,24. For otherwise it is more than probable that Jethro had the knowledge of the true God before this time, not only because he was the great-grandchild of Abraham, but also because of his long conversation with a person of so great knowledge, and wisdom, and piety, as Moses was.

Wherein they dealt proudly; either,

1. Their false gods, who wrought strange things in and by their servants the magicians, who contended with Moses, and proudly boasted of their skill as not a whit inferior to that of Moses, but at last were forced to yield up the cause, Exodus 8:19; or rather,

2. The Egyptians, spoken of Exodus 18:10, who dealt proudly, and scornfully, and tyrannically with the Israelites, but God showed himself to be above them, and above their king; though Pharaoh would not own him for his superior, Exodus 5:2, but lift up his horn against God, and against his people: but the Lord brought that proud prince upon his knees, and forced him oft to confess his faults, and to become suppliant to Moses for deliverance from the plagues; and at last, when he continued incorrigible, he drowned him in the sea.

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 before God.
Took a burnt-offering, i.e. gave, or offered; as that verb is used Psalm 68:18, compared with Ephesians 4:8; also Exodus 25:2. Which he did, that he might publicly testify both his embracing of the true religion, and his thankfulness to God for the great deliverance given to his people, wherein also himself and family were concerned. And he took or offered these, not immediately, or by himself, (which would have seemed a presumptuous and unwarrantable action for a stranger to undertake in the church of Israel,) but by those who were appointed to do it; in which sense David is said to have sacrificed, 2 Samuel 24:25, and Solomon, 1 Kings 8:63, and all those who brought their offerings to the priests to offer for them.

A burnt offering and sacrifices, to wit, of thanksgiving, as is expressed Exodus 24:5; for part of these the offerers, with others, did eat, Leviticus 7:15, whereas no man might eat of the burnt-offerings, Leviticus 1:9.

To eat bread, i.e. to feast together of the remainders of the sacrifices.

Before God; either before the cloudy pillar; or rather, before the altar, and in the place of public worship; for some such place undoubtedly they had, though the tabernacle was not yet built; and that was the place appointed for such feasts. See Deu 12:7 27:7 1 Chronicles 29:21 Psalm 116:17.

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.
Moses sat as a civil magistrate, by hearing and determining causes and controversies arising among the people.

And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?
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And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:
i.e. Of the mind and will of God, both as to his worship and service and as to their mutual duties to one another. 1 Samuel 9:9.

When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.
i.e. Do interpret and apply them to their several cases and circumstances.

And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.
Not convenient either for thyself or for the people.

Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
Thou wilt surely waste and destroy thy health and strength by excessive labour of mind and body;

and this people, by tedious attendance and expectation ere their turn comes for the decision of their matters.

Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:
God shall be with thee, i.e. I doubt not God will assist and bless thee, as well in the course which I propose to thee, as in that which thou now dost use, because God is a God of order, and loves order; and he is a God of mercy, and would not have thee destroy thyself in his work. Or it may be taken for a prayer, and God be with thee, i.e. bless and assist thee therein.

To Godward, Heb. before God, i.e. in hard and weighty causes, which the inferior judges cannot determine, as it is explained Exodus 18:22; where they need and seek direction from God, there thou shalt be as a mediator between God and them, to bring their matters to God, as it here follows, and to receive directions and commands from him. See Numbers 15:33,34 27:5,6.

And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
Thou alone shalt deliver and explain God’s law to them, which they may apply to their particular causes and occasions, and so end their differences among themselves without giving thee any trouble.

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
Able men, Heb. men of might, not for strength of body, but for greatness, resolution, courage, and constancy of mind, which is the best preservative against partiality and corruption in judgment, to which men of little minds, or narrow souls, are easily swayed by fears, or hopes, or gifts.

Such as fear God; which will restrain them from all injustice, even when they have ability and opportunity to do wrong so cunningly or powerfully that they may escape the observation and censure of men.

Men of truth, or, of faith, or faithful, such as love the truth, and diligently labour to find it out in all causes, and then pass a true and righteous sentence; not at all respecting persons, but only the truth and right of their causes; such as hate lies and slanders, and will severely rebuke and punish them. Hating covetousness: this, though included in the former, is particularly expressed, because gifts and bribes are the great corrupters of judges and judgments.

And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.
No text from Poole on this verse.

If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace.
If God approve of the course which I suggest, to whose wisdom I submit my opinion. For Jethro might well think that Moses neither would nor might make so great an alteration in the government without consulting God about it, and expecting his answer. Others render the place thus, both God will give thee his commands, i.e. thou wilt have leisure to ask and take his counsel in all emergencies, which now thou hast not,

and thou wilt be able to endure.

To their place; to their several habitations, which are called men’s places, Judges 7:7 9:55 19:28,29; where their calling and business lies, from which they are now diverted and detained by fruitless and wearisome attendances.

In peace, orderly and quietly, having their minds much eased by this course, and their contentions soon ended.

So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.
This is one evidence of that meekness for which Moses is justly magnified, that he disdained not to receive advice from one so much his inferior in wisdom, and learning, and knowledge of the things of God. And God would have this wise counsel to come from Jethro, not from Moses himself, to show how variously he distributes his gifts, and to teach all men not to think too highly of themselves, nor to despise the counsels even of their inferiors.

Moses did all that he had said, not immediately, but after he had received God’s approbation, Numbers 11:16, and the people’s consent, Deu 1:14.

And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
Moses chose them not solely, but together with the people, as appears from Deu 1:13.

And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.
No text from Poole on this verse.

And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.
i.e. Moses dismissed him honourably. See Numbers 10:29.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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