Exodus 18:1-27, Key Verse: 18:23
“If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”
Summer is rapidly wrapping up and we are now facing our Fall semester. We went through a lot this summer including our hectic Exodus Bible study. In this study, we saw how God single-handedly delivered His people from the Egyptian bondage through the blood of the lambs. We also saw how the Israelites were full of praises and thanksgivings after passing through the Red Sea and yet their thankful heart quickly became bitter and sour when they faced the realities of their life namely lack of water and lack of food. Dr. Jason’s message last week vividly showed us how patient and considerate God was when he dearly trained them through the daily bread and Sabbath. So, at this time, we feel like some break before entering another phase of the Exodus study and our own. Today’s passage gives us just that as we see Jethro giving a break to Moses and his people. May God raise up many Jethro-like people among and through us.
I. Jethro’s Visit to Moses (18:1-12)
Look at verse 1. We see here how Jethro, the well-respected priest of Midian and Moses’ dear father-in-law, initiated his visit to Moses. He promptly decided to visit his son-in-law after hearing about everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how He delivered Israel out of Egypt. In those days, there was no such a thing like a phone or Internet, so it took a while for any news to reach a remote place like Midian. Nevertheless, as soon as Jethro heard about what was going on with Moses, he wasted no time to bring Moses’ family back to him.
To Moses, his family was very special. That is why he sent his wife and his sons to Jethro sometime after his family went to Egypt. Perhaps, he sent them to safety before confronting the most fearsome Pharaoh just like the movie the Untouchables (it is based on a true story) where the special agent Eliot Ness moved his wife and his daughter to a safe house before confronting the most feared kingpin Al Capone.
Now how special was his family to Moses? We can see that through the names of Moses’ two sons. Moses’ first son was named Gershom, which means, “a foreigner in a foreign land.” Perhaps, he realized who he really was by looking at his firstborn son. He was a helpless foreigner whose closest friends cannot be found except his son. Then, when he had the second son, he deeply realized how God helped and saved in the midst of troubles. So he named him Eliezer, meaning, “my God is helper.” Their presence reminded him of that of God and Moses was felt closer to God when they were around. Jethro exactly knew this special bond within Moses’ family and that was the reason why he tried to bring them to Moses risking all the inconveniences and dangers.
In verse 6, we see Jethro’s thoughtfulness toward Moses. As he came near his son-in-law, he sent word to him so that Moses might not be caught by surprise but be fully ready. It is like a courtesy call from the hotel front so that we may not miss our flight by oversleeping.
Look at verse 7. “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.” In response to Jethro’s thoughtfulness, Moses also showed his due respect to his father-in-law. Instead of meeting with his wife and his sons first, he used his precious time with Jethro in the tent. How did Moses use his time with his father-in-law?
Look at verse 8. Moses took time in sharing with Jethro everything God had done to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and all the hardships they encountered along the way and how God had saved them. Note that Moses did not mind talking about even hardships. Perhaps, Moses felt relieved as he found someone with whom he could share everything. It is essential to have such a friend at the time of need. Once David lost all confidence and hope of living because of the relentless hunting down of King Saul. But David had a true friend, Jonathan, with whom he shared everything and thus was greatly encouraged. Jesus calls us as his friends and as such he makes known to us everything he learns from the Father (Jn 15:15). Our UBF ministries have a similar bond and friendship in which we share almost everything with each other. In our Friday meetings, we share good things and bad, issues and concerns so that we might become one. And when friends from other chapters are visiting us, we treat them with special care and most importantly we share with them for a long time (like Msn. Anastasia talking with the guests from Ukraine or Russia or Msn. Mary Kim having a conversation with the guest from Washington DC for a record-breaking 7 non-stop hours). In this digital and app generation, making and maintaining genuine friendship becomes harder and harder. Yet may God bless our genuine friendship in our ministry.
How did Jethro respond to what Moses told him? In verse 9, we see that he was very much delighted to all the good things that the LORD had done. He then immediately gave praise to the God of Israel who rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. He even acknowledged that Israel’s God is greater than all other gods. He did not stop there. He brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a fellowship meal with him. This is the foreshadowing of the future church where regardless of races and social and spiritual status, we participate in the same worship and genuine fellowship.
II. Jethro’s Counseling to Moses (18:13-27)
As someone in our Friday meeting well pointed out, if our guests stay with us long enough, they begin to pick up our daily routine and sometimes even participate in it. That was what exactly happened to Jethro. After the gracious fellowship with Israel’s most important leaders, the next day, Jethro followed his son-in-law and observed what he was doing. Jethro was very much alarmed at what he saw. Moses was doing his judicial duty all alone from morning till evening. Those who needed Moses’ judgment formed a long line and waited for him from morning till evening. Perhaps, that was what Moses thought the best in serving his people. He had a good intention. He did not think about anything else. And the people who waited for long hours did not seem to complain too much.
However, Jethro did not think it was right. He wanted to help improve the situation. For that, he had to ask Moses the reason behind this backbreaking job. Look at verses 14-16. Jethro asked Moses. “Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him that it was because they wanted to seek God’s will that they came to him. In verse 16, we can see that there were lots of disputes among the Israelites. Think about it. There were around 600,000 men in the journey and if we include the women, children and the elderly, the total number of the people could be double or triple up to 2 million. Even though they were dubbed as God’s people (OT Christians so called), they were not trained or matured yet. Also pure number itself (2 million) gives us an idea how many hassles and petty quarrels they might have. On Friday, Msn. Gideon shared with us how as the supervisor of brothers’ makeshift monasteries he had lots of problems and issues. The total number of the brothers who lived together were around 100. Surely with 2 million, the Israelites had numerous disputes and yet Moses alone was trying to settle down those. Since Moses was regarded as the highest leader of the people of God, no one dared to say or discuss about his burdens.
Look at verse 17. Jethro said what Moses was doing was not good. In fact, Jethro was at an ideal position to give Moses some constructive advice. After all, he is the father-figure and the priest of the entire Midian who ministered his own people. And as a third person outside the inner community, he could objectively assess the situation and give him a fresh new insight. His final assessment was that the work was too heavy and that Moses could not handle it alone. Both Moses and the people would be burnt out.
Hence, Jethro suggested that while Moses would represent the whole people as the representative before God, he would select capable men so that they would be appointed as judges over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. The qualification for these positions would be three: first, he must fear God; second, he must be trustworthy; third, he must hate dishonest gain. Particularly, the third item is very important because unless you make up your mind to hate some form or any form of bribery you are going to be easily influenced by the enforcer with the bribes. That is the beginning point of the government becoming utterly corrupt.
What do they have to do? They would decide simple cases by themselves with the wisdom and discernment given to them from God. If their case is a little too difficult, then they are to bring it to the higher ranking person who could possibly handle more adequately. It goes until Moses takes the most difficult case. It is like a hierarchical court system. In this system, every capable leader would participate in the burden and share it so that the load would be lightened and everyone would be satisfied. One thing we may not forget in this matter is that we do not need to compare with each other and have either pride or inferiority complex. Remember great power comes with great responsibility. So an official over a thousand may not necessarily mean a better figure than an official over ten. It actually means having to have more burdens.
Finally, note Jethro’s attitude in verses 19 and 23. He was never presumptuous. In suggesting his ideas to Moses, he always included the lines such as “may God be with you,” “if God so commands.” He emphasized that if it were God’s will, Moses could agree to it and do it. Jethro could be bold enough to insist on something as Moses’ father-in-law. Nonetheless, he was very humble and compassionate in every matter.
Some may say it was because he was the father-in-law to Moses that he did what he did. But this is not a matter of family-line or not. Any person can be like Jethro, a humble mentor or father-like figure. I was told that Dr. John Jun in the Headquarters has functioned like Jethro giving numerous UBF members a genuine but wise advice such as giving an advice to Dr. Jason to continue to pursue his PhD program at Rutgers or serving many delicious meals to Msn. Gideon when he was suffering as a supervisor to many brothers’ common life places.
Look at verse 24. Moses accepted Jethro’s counsel and did everything he said. Moses was also humble enough to swallow his own pride but genuinely accept his father-in-law’s help. Jethro returned to his own country and yet his son, Hobab, would reappear to help the Israelites as the guide in the book of Numbers (Nu 10:29). Surely, Jethro’s line helps God’s people abundantly as his name means “abundance.”
In conclusion, we learned how special our family is in our life through Moses’ naming his sons and Jethro’s eager desire to bring them to him. We also saw how Jethro genuinely praised God of Israel and participated in offering the sacrifices. Jethro became a great mentor and helper when Moses did not have wisdom to handle the work. May God raise up many Jethro-like people along with many capable men who would fear God and do the right job.