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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Exodus 18

Verses 1-12


Exodus 18:1. Midian.]—If we mar assume that these Midianites were descendants of Midian, son of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:2), our wonder will be lessened that among this Arabian people we should find the knowledge and worship of Jehovah had been preserved, as seen in this narrative. Thus this episode may be added to other incidental proofs of the continuance of pure religion among Gentile nations.

Exodus 18:6. Am come.] More exactly, “Am coming;” i.e., “Am on my way; am at hand.” This intelligence, sent forward by a messenger, would give Moses time to go forth to meet his father in-law, as we find he did. We have here a beautiful picture of Eastern manners. The relatives meet, embrace each other, and, after due inquiries as to each other’s welfare, turn at the head of their groups of attendants, and move on in conversation towards the camp of Israel and the tent of Moses. Nor may we takes the absence of any remark on the meeting of Moses and Zipporah as implying anything unfavourable to their cordial relationship to each other. It is much in the manner of the Eastern delicacy of feeling to pass by the matrimonial connection without remark. It is pleasant to find Zipporah restored to her husband. They have been parted but for a few months at most: in the interval, “What hath God wrought!”



IT seems that Jethro, the priest of Midian, had heard of all that God had done for Moses, and became anxious again to see his son-in-law. It is well when men have their ears open to the tidings of God’s providential mercies to the good. The senses should be avenues of the Divine to the soul. Jethro was a Gentile, and resided at a distance, but national peculiarities and distance from great events will not silence the voice of heaven to a faithful soul. Gentiles hear of God when Jews will not. The distant magi come to seek Him when they at Jerusalem are ignorant of Him. Now we see the little party setting out on their glad journey. There is the old father, the wife, and two sons of Moses going to meet the relative from whom they had been a long time separated. The journey is long, but they are sustained in it by the glad prospect of reunion. We have heard tidings of the world beyond the grave; thither are we travelling, and shall soon join those who have gone before us.

I. That this family gathering was permitted after long absence and after the occurrence of great events. Moses had parted from his father-in-law some forty years ago, in order that he might go to Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites. He had not seen his wife and sons since the day he had sent them back, when a great peril threatened his life. Moses had left all behind that he might with greater fidelity and zeal execute the great work intrusted to him. During these years of absence God had done great things for the Israelites. He had manifested His omnipotent power on their behalf in the dire plagues which had fallen on Egypt. He had shown His faithfulness and mercy in their deliverance from bondage, and in the supply of their needs in the wilderness. He had given manna from the skies. He had given water from the rock. He had given the cloud to guide them. Now the tent is pitched. It is a time of rest. Families are often separated on earth, sometimes by stern need, in order to win daily bread; sometimes by the call of the Gospel, in order thereby to promote the welfare of God’s word and kingdom; and one separation awaits all families, even that occasioned by death. These separations are fraught with pain. But the time of meeting draws near; then what histories will there be to narrate, and what joys will compensate the sorrow past. Christ is gathering His family to the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

II. That this family gathering was characterised by courtesy, by a religious spirit, and by devout conversation.

1. There was true courtesy. “And he said unto Moses, I, thy father-in-law, Jethro, am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her” (Exodus 18:6). Thus Jethro sent a message to herald his advent to the tent of Moses. He might justly have approached Moses without this, but he had respect unto the official position and to the moral history of his son-in-law; hence the modesty which characterised his approach. A due respect for social position, for mental attainment, for moral character, and for providential circumstance, should exist even amongst members of the same family. The respect we pay to strangers is much more due to our nearest relatives. Discourtesy is never more out of place than in the midst of the tender relationship of life. This old priest of Midian would not be guilty of it. Reverence is due to authority.

2. There was a deeply religious spirit. Moses did not receive his father-in-law with proud and stately manner. He kissed him. The honours of office had not frozen up the tender feelings of his nature. He did not laud his own skill as a commander; he gave God the praise of all his victories. He indulged in no idle talk. He indulged no spirit of levity. In the midst of this family there was sacred joy, pure gratitude, and devout worship. There was no word of murmuring uttered at the long separation or in review of severe trials; but all hearts in that tent were true to that God who had watched over and brought them together once more. Family gatherings should be pervaded by a religious spirit; then the tent will become a sanctuary.

3. There was devout conversation. Moses told his father-in-law of all that God had done for Israel, also of the “travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.” The Great Leader did not forget the sorrowful experiences of his life; great trials make a deep impression on the soul. But he remembered his God-wrought deliverances. We should not talk more of trials than of the aid we have received in them. We should not indulge gloomy conversation, but a conversation which derives gladness from its mention of Divine help. What happy communings will there be amongst the redeemed as the members of the heavenly family come from the east and the west to their great home.

III. That this family gathering derived its highest joy from the moral experiences with which it was favoured. “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. 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. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods.’ ” Thus the supreme joy of this united family was not derived from its merely social intercourse, not from intellectual and pleasing conversation, not from the coming together of congenial souls, but from the moral experiences of each and from the devotion of all to the great God. This is the ideal of social intercourse. Not a cant reference to the mercy of God, but a sincere reference to God in the unfoldings of the heart to each other. Such intercourse can never fail to give joy, as the Infinite is the source of its rejoicing.

IV. That this family gathering was made the occasion of a sacramental offering to God. “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.” Jethro was not content to express his joy and gratitude in mere words, but in specific and solemn action. He was a worshipper of the true God; he had come to learn that none other was worthy of praise. The family had communed with each other; it now communes with God. Earthly communion should naturally suggest Divine communion. Jethro was joined by Aaron and the elders of Israel. Here is sweet concord in worship. Prayer intensifies the family relationship; it also enlarges it. All the elders of the Church will one day worship God together. Sweet is the bread broken at the table of the Lord. Let us thus worship before God. LESSONS:—

1. That God can watch over the interests of a separated family.

2. That God unites families in a providential manner.

3. That united families should rejoice in God.

4. That the families of the good will meet in heaven, never more to part.

5. Let us pray for the completion of the Divine family in the Father’s house.


Exodus 18:1-12. God moved strangers and heads of nations sometimes to listen after His providences to His Church.

The fame of God’s stupendous works to His Church may affect strangers to come and see them.
Relations hearing of God’s goodness to their loved ones are justly moved to visit them.
Friends to Israel’s good cannot but be moved with the tidings of God’s great works for them.
The fame of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt may justify men to inquire after God.
Prudence may send away the dearest pledges from hindering God’s work.
As children are great mercies, so it is good to make them the memorials of God’s mercies to us.
The mercies of pilgrimage must not be forgotten by God’s servants.
Wilderness condition do not deter the true relations of the Church from coming to them.
In the wilderness God may have His mount, His stony place for His Church.
It is sweet meeting of Church relations after the defeat of enemies.
It is not unbecoming the highest places or persons in the Church of Christ to give due respect to their relations.
Grace does not unteach men manners and civil respect unto men.
It is a natural duty for relations to inquire of each other’s peace.
God’s servants filled with a sense of mercies cannot but declare them to others.
The friends of Israel are the fittest to hear of God’s wondrous works.
Great distress may befall God’s Church in the way of its redemption.
The friends of the Church rejoice in all the good that is done for it.
As Jehovah is the cause of good to the Church, so He is the object of joy and gratitude.
The great works of God set Him above all other gods. Holy teaching is consistent with holy worship.

Exodus 18:12 (last clause).

I. A common and necessary act.
II. A common and necessary act done in a social spirit.
III. A common and necessary act done in a pious manner

Leaving now this illustrious example of friendship, we may proceed to make a few general observations. One obvious one is, that this world is not a scene adapted or intended to afford the pleasure and benefit of friendship entire. Jethro was to lose his inestimable friend, after long, and what must have been the happiest intimacy, was to see him once again; again to lose him, to see him on earth, probably, no more. What a measure, we may almost say, of his vital existence, he was to lose! Providence has, in numerous instances, interposed wide spaces of land, or even sea, between persons who might be inestimable to one another in near and habitual association. The one mind, and the other, and the third, and many more are filled with exercises of thought, with emotions, with affections which would glow with social and sympathetic animation, if they could be one another’s companions. But they have each their own assigned positions to occupy—their own moral track to cultivate, their own duties, labours, trials—and sometimes little happy in their actual associates; they have to fulfil their vocation amidst coldness, perversity, or imbecility, thinking, sometimes, how different the case would be if such-and-such were their companions and co-operators.
Inquisitiveness. “Asked each other.” And the mutual inquiries respecting “welfare” are made in a spirit very different from unmeaning complacence. When a friend is far away, it will sometimes occur to wonder and to imagine how he may be situated—how employed. What at this time is the exercise of his mind? what part is he in of the process of an undertaking? what evil dispositions of his fellow-mortals is he conflicting with? what temptations is he beset by? When they meet the inquiry goes back over things, and it is gratifying to give the history to one who is so kindly interested in it at every step. And friendship will suggest many comments which would not occur to the thoughts of an indifferent person. It may be very advantageous for the instruction and improvement of the friends that they have moved a great deal apart, so as to have had a very different experience, different views of the world and of providence. Thus they bring in a much larger store to the combined account, enlarge one another’s knowledge, correct and mature one another’s judgment.
The last thing is serious anticipation. Each meeting should admonish them that their life is shortened (sometimes much shortened) since they met before. Sometimes they are forcibly struck by the change in each other’s appearance. After a considerable absence they can hardly meet without having to name some one who has shared their society, but meets them no more. When they part confessedly for a considerable absence, how possible is it they are looking at each other for the last time! Let it be considered what a melancholy thing any friendship would be that should be destined to expire with all its pleasures and advantages at death. That is worthy and happy friendship, and that alone where the parties are zealously preparing and have a good hope to meet in a nobler scene.—(John Foster.)



Jethro and Moses! Exodus 18:1-12. Here we have

1. Family gatherings, their
(1) Causes, and
(2) Customs.
2. Friendly greetings, their
(1) Courtesy, and
(2) Communion. These are capable of illustration from the Scripture histories of Job’s family and the prodigal son. Christmas festivities suggest another source of illustration in their (a) Pleasant and (b) Profitable aspects. Illustrations may also be drawn from the life of Bishop Crowther, or of Uncle Tom, or of Jesus and His disciples on the Galilean shore and in the upper room, or of Joseph and his brethren;—when the pent-up thoughts

“Of many years flow’d from his eager lips,
As waters from a secret spring unseal’d.”

Family Gatherings! Exodus 18:7. In the year 1690, the Vaudois fugitives from De Catinat and Fenguieres received tidings, as they lay encamped in Angrogna, the loveliest and most romantic of all the valleys of Piedmont, from the Duke of Savoy’s ambassadors that peace was theirs unconditionally. Day after day the prisons, in which hundreds of the sufferers had for years scarcely seen the light of the sun, were emptied of their captives, who were restored to liberty. A detachment was deputed to proceed to the Swiss canions, to bring back the female refugees who had been left behind. Never can that night be forgotten in the annals of Lucerna, when, under a bright setting sun, the returning wanderers were seen wending their way up the lovely valley. Wives restored to the embrace of their husbands, children to parents, brothers to sisters, friends to friends! Gratitude for present mercies softened and alleviated the bitter recollections of the past. Not unlike were the circumstances of Jethro’s visit to Israel, with Zipporah and her children. Such questionings

“Of things that had befallen him since last
They met, and of his pathway thitherwards,
And of the freed host he had led behind:
Words with embraces interspersed.”

Friend-Communion! Exodus 18:8-12. In March 1878 the Duke of Sutherland gave a complimentary banquet to Baker Pacha, on his return from the recent seat of war in the East, at Stafford House, St. James’s. Amongst the noblemen and gentlemen who accepted the Duke’s invitation were Musurus Pacha (the Turkish Ambassador), Field Marshal Lord Strathnairn, G.C.B.; Lord Houghton, Lord Eglinton, General Sir Alexander Horsford, G.C.B.; General Sir Charles Ellice, K.C.B., Major-General Sir Henry Green, K.C.S.I., C.B., General Foster, C.B., General S. Brownrigg, Major-General Hon. James Macdonald, Major-General Marshall, Colonel Wellesley, Sir Samuel Baker, Colonel J. Baker, Mr. W. H. Russell, and the Marquis of Stafford. After dinner, at the Duke’s invitation, a number of guests assembled expressly to meet the guest of the evening, including the Duke of Teck, Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, the Persian Minister, Prince Ibraham, Midhat Pacha, the Marquis of Exeter, the Earl of Feversham, the Earl of Denbigh, the Earl of Orkney, Baron Hy. de Worms, and many others. It is noteworthy that when Moses entertained Jethro, everything was ascribed to the goodness of God. It is interesting to consider how far friends in holding communion praise God for past mercies. Moses acknowledged the hand of God in all the events which had befallen Israel. May we not here contrast this joyful feast before God, with such meetings for pleasure and social intercourse which take place in all ranks of life, but in which too often the element of lasting satisfaction is wanting—we mean, recognition of the Divine Providence.

“ ‘Not unto us!’ How sweet to join the strain,
In self-deliverance blissful and complete;
And all our toils, successes, failures, pain,
To lose, O Christ Jehovah, at Thy feet.”


Christian Converse! Exodus 18:9. In a house in the city of Zurich which crowns the northern extremity of the “lake of blue waters” sat a family group. The house-room was long and low, occupying the entire centre of the house—one large window looked into the street, two others into the garden at the back. Through these the last crimson rays of the sun were streaming upon a singular group. Some of the members of this family had been absent in God’s service for several years; and this was the family’s earth-reunion. Sweet fellowship was theirs, but not without its tinge of shadow. They communed of the past—of the wonderful works of God in Germany and Switzerland, and the Low Countries, and of the gracious deliverances vouchsafed to themselves personally. Then came the song of praise to God for the mercies of the past; blended with prayer to Him for grace in the future to press onwards towards the mark. Such Christian converse was that of Jethro and Moses, in which hearts thrilled with holy joy, and spirits gushed over with grateful song.

“Children and kith and friends; all in a breath
Ask of his welfare, and with joyous tongues
Pour all their love into his thirsty ear.”

Mutual Sympathy! Exodus 18:9. A gentleman travelling on one of the river steamers to Philadelphia mentions his sensations over the rescue of a fellow-passenger from a watery grave. It was a cold winter night, and every one was impatient to be ashore. Before the boat reached the wharfs a man slipped into the water. The icicles had frozen on the wharf and they had frozen on the steamer. The ropes were lowered, and all stood with anxiety lest the man should not be able to grasp the rope owing to the cold. When he grasped it and was pulled on to the deck and we saw he was safe, although we had never seen him before, how we congratulated him. A life saved! With what fervency, then, must Jethro have congratulated Moses and his liberated host! The greater the peril, the fuller the tide of exultancy! The more hopeless the prospect of success and reunion, the deeper the fount of gladness!

“Their streaming tears together flow
For human guilt and mortal woe;
Their joyful songs together rise
Like mingling flames in sacrifice.”


Life Lessons! Exodus 18:11. In Singapore, that wonderful emporium of the commerce of the East, established by the sagacious foresight of Sir Stamford Raffles, stood a house surrounded by an open verandah fenced with large tree ferns. At the time, a group of friends, the long-sundered members of an English family, sat together narrating their adventures, Separated by shipwreck from one another, sundered by the terrible typhoon of Indian seas, they had once again been united, after several of them had succeeded in escaping from the clutches of Malay pirates. All felt, as the hairbreadth escapes were related and the remarkable deliverances recounted, that truly the special Providence of God had guided and interposed. It was the first night of their reunion, and they sat holding fellowship one with the other. “Should we not return thanks to Him who has preserved us!” Then together they knelt in thankful acknowledgment of the Divine mercy. On rising, one of the family said that he had that night learned more about God—that He was indeed a personal God caring for each, while He cared for all. Jethro here acknowledges that the recital by Moses of Divine deliverance and direction had given him a new view of Jehovah, “Now I know that the Lord Jehovah is greater than all gods.”

“O Thou Eternal One, whose presence bright
All space doth occupy, all motion guide;
Unchanged through time’s all-devastating flight;
Thou only God! There is no God beside.”


Family Religion! Exodus 18:12. Religion not only hallows and brightens the joys of life; it is also the true basis and crown of them all. Hence the gladness of Jethro. His gladness was not because of any advantage he himself had gained, “but because of all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel.” Here we see the sympathy which flows from a heart ruled by the love of God. In this spirit Jethro offered sacrifices to God in the sight of the vast multitude. Thus the host of Israel shared in the family-joys of Moses. Even so in Paradise,—all will share the feast of one another’s gladness. Not that love can be

“Without the chosen specialties of love,
The nearest to the nearest most akin.
But none are strangers there,—none sojourners;
And as the cloudless ages glide away,
New fountains of delight to them—to all,
Will open in the fellowship of hearts.”


Verses 13-27


Exodus 18:27. Moses let his father-in-law depart.] The departure of Jethro may or may not have taken place prior to the law-giving from Sinai. It is quite possible, as Kalisch suggests, that this verse is here added for the sake of completeness, after the manner of Exodus 16:35, leaving us free, notwithstanding, to believe that Jethro remained some time with Moses, as for many reasons he would be likely to do. It is to be borne in mind, however, that Midian was not far from the desert of Sinai, as Moses was hereabouts feeding the flock of Jethro when first commissioned from the burning bush. “It is most probable,” says Murphy, “that, during the eleven months and twenty days of the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai, there were frequent interviews between Moses and his relations by marriage, as they were in the immediate neighbourhood.” This deserves all the more attention by reason of the record contained in Numbers 10:29-32.



Jethro was not only a man of deep piety; he was likewise a man of sound judgment. He could not merely offer a sacrifice to God; he could also give advice to Moses. He combined the mental and moral qualities in a high degree. Intelligent men are generally the most devout. Hence we listen with keen interest to the old priest’s advice to his son-in-law. It is not given in querulous spirit, but with kindly intent, and at the most opportune time. It would be well if rulers in Church and State would consent to follow the advice so wisely given. Solitary Rulership:—

I. That it is foolish because it causes an undue strain upon the solitary individual. “And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him, ‘The thing that thou doest is not good. 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.’ ” Moses was supreme judge in Israel. The whole weight and responsibility of the judicial function rested upon him. Judges are necessary in the present conditions of society; they are a great help and blessing; they should command respect; they should not tax themselves with undue responsibilities or work; they must be diligent; they must be equitable; they must be courageous; they must be reverent. But one man was not equal to such a wide administration as that assumed by Moses. His physical strength was not equal to it. Our best physical energy should be spent in the service of God and humanity; but in this respect we are to be careful to do ourselves no harm. Moses could not endure the fatigue of continuing so long in the seat of judgment, from morning until evening listening to and deciding the queries and disputes of that vast people. He was thus ignorantly and needlessly sacrificing his physical energy. His mind would be wearied. His soul would exhaust its vitalities. Wicked men sometimes kill themselves by excess of pleasure. Good men should not kill themselves by excess of work even in the service of God. Many great lives are lost to the Church through excessive toils. The Divine Judge can never grow weary in His administration of the universe.

II. That it is foolish because it interferes with the execution of the higher part of the judicial office. “Be thou for the people God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” Thus Moses was not to vacate the judicial chair, but was to take upon himself the higher duties pertaining to it. He was not to settle any little quarrel that might arise in the nation. He was to attend to the moral and spiritual aspects of justice rather than to the legal. How many great and good men are employed in meaner tasks than they ought to be, and are wasting their energies in plans which feebler minds could execute with equal skill, to the neglect of great spiritual works. How often are ministers engaged with the technical and local when they might be engaged in the spiritual and universal. Justice needs more than administrative power; it needs spiritual discernment and those qualities of moral character which are the outcome of moral meanness to God; hence it requires men to be for the people God-ward. Jesus Christ is now for the people God-ward, the one Mediator between God and man.

III. That it is foolish because it leaves unutilised a vast number of able men quite equal to the ordinary requirements of justice. “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.” There were men in the ranks of Israel who were competent to undertake the work by which Moses was overburdened. They were competent for it. They were truthful in life. They were self-sacrificing in spirit. They were judges in all but name. They wanted the authoritative call to bring them into judicial duty. They were simply waiting opportunity to become influential leaders. As it is, they are unutilised. There are crowds of men in the world, in society, and in the Church who are great in themselves, but do not become so in relation to society because they are not awakened by any call to great tasks. It is not well that a few men should monopolise official positions, thinking that they are alone equal to the work. Ministers should not do all the work of the Church; they should call out latent talent for it. Society has many unrecognised judges.

IV. That this folly is evident to wise old men who see solitary judgeships in operation. Jethro, the old Priest of Median, saw the meaning and issue of the work of Moses, as Moses did not. He saw that he was engaged in a task for which he could not long be equal. He spoke faithful words on the matter. He did not pander to any love of supreme power that there might be in Moses. He did not fear giving offence. He spoke wisely and kindly. Others can form a more correct estimate of our work than we can. We are too near it to take the perspective of it. We are too much interested in it to form unprejudiced judgments concerning it. Let us be open to the voice of wise old men who often speak to young men as in the fear of God. LESSONS:—

1. That positions of trust should not be monopolised by the few.

2. That the common crowds of men have unsuspected abilities.

3. That good men should not be prodigal of their physical and mental energy to the shortening of their lives.


“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: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.”—Exodus 18:19-20.

Of some very great persons very little is said in Scripture. An instance of this, in the case of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. His general information, his wisdom, his aptitude for government, are all signally indicated in this chapter. The meeting is most interesting (Exodus 18:5-6)—their mutual salutation, conversation, &c. He sympathises with the onerous work of Moses—gives him counsel (Exodus 18:13, &c, Exodus 18:18). Then the text. Equally important is it now for Christian ministers and pastors.

I. The beautiful exhibition of the pastor’s work. “Be thou for the people to God-ward,” &c. That is, be God’s mouth—God’s servant—mediator—really, for so Moses was, revealing God’s will—bring to God their wants and interests. See Exodus 20:18. Then we have—

II. The pastors and churches. Encouragement—“God shall be with thee.” Repeated by the Lord Jesus, “Lo, I am with you,” &c. This presence of God is,

1. Essential—no substitute, &c.—essential to all, and for all.
2. Is pledged. Promise upon promise.

3. Has never failed. All God’s servants can testify, &c. In regard to Moses. See Deuteronomy 30:1; Deuteronomy 30:4. Belongs to the entire Church of God. He is in it—its foundation—light—glory, &c.

III. The pastor’s duty to the people (Exodus 18:20). Ovserve—

1. He is to teach them. Being taught of God—teach them what God reveals—teach them things about religion. Not science; but the fear and service of God.

2. Teach them ordinances. The services of God had fixed—instituted offerings, sacrifices, &c.; of course God’s ordinances, and His only—all of them—not to abate, or add, or change. So now Christ, &c. Ordinances.

3. Moral precepts. “Laws.” God-ward laws first, man-ward laws next, self-ward laws also. All the Divine precepts. Practical religion, as well as ceremonial and doctrinal—all conjointly.

4. The exhibition of public religion. “Called the way”—open. Observe the right way, old way, good way, way of life and salvation, way to Heaven.

5. Religious work. “The work that they must do.” Now religious work.

(1.) Is very diversified. Various kinds—public—home, &c.
(2.) Religious work is obligatory—must be done—no evasion permitted—no neglect excused.
(3.) Religious work must be done by all God’s people. For their own sakes. It is their health, happiness, &c. For the sake of the Church. Every member of the body. Of the family. For the world’s sake.—(Dr. J. Burns.)


Exodus 18:13-27. The morning brings its own work from God unto His servants, not every day the same.

God’s servants are careful as to worship Him, so to do justice to His people.
Good rulers sit close to deal justice to their people.
Providence sometimes puts hard work upon God’s ministers from morning to evening.
It is just to be wearied in giving and receiving judgment when God calls.
Observant fathers may see inconveniences in acting judgment, which judges do not perceive.
Nature and affection may well move to question works of superiors in order to good.
The best rulers may overburden themselves.
The greatest and best rulers disdain not to give an account of their judgment to reasonable inquisitors.
God’s laws are the best rule to order judgment between men.
God may use men of meaner calling and endowment to help in the government of His Church.
Good and righteous work may be too heavy for the strongest shoulders.
It is the mediator’s work to teach the ways proper to the Church.
Supreme governors have need of subordinate agents to administer justice.
Men intrusted with government should be eminently qualified with wisdom, knowledge, and courage.
Matters of greatest moment have a just way of appeal from lesser to superior judges.
Prosperity to prince and people may be well expected by keeping God’s commands.
Wise and sage counsellors after their work is done to others, betake themselves to their own charge.

Exodus 18:17.

I. Others view our acts.
II. Others can often see faults where we cannot.
III. Others reproving us may lead to a better course of action.


I. Men should interest themselves in the acts of their relatives.
II. Men should be faithful in giving reproof and advice.


I. The wisest have some defects in their conduct.
II. The wisest may be benefited by the advice of others.

Exodus 18:19 (last clause).

I. Moses was a Divine manifestation.
II. Moses was Israel’s mediator.
III. Moses was a type of Christ.

Talent requires to be evoked. It is true indeed that genius asserts itself, and clears for itself space and prominence equal to its measure of supremacy; on the other hand, it is equally true that much sound ability may become dormant, simply because the leaders of society do not call it into responsible exercise. The counsel which Moses received from Jethro inspired Israel with new life. From the moment that it was acted upon, talent rose to the occasion, energy was accounted of some value, and men who had probably been sulking in the background came to be recognised and honoured as wise statesmen and cordial allies. There is more talent in society than some of us have suspected. It needs the sunshine of wise encouragement in order to develop it. There is a lesson in this suggestion for all who lead the lives of men. Specially, perhaps, there is a lesson to pastors of churches. It is a poor church in which there is not more talent than has yet been developed. When Saul saw any strong man and any valiant man, he took him to himself. This is the law of sure progress and massive consolidation in church life. Let us keep our eyes open for men of capacity and good-will, and the more we watch the more shall our vigilance be rewarded. We should try men by imposing responsibilities upon them. There is range enough in church organisation for the trial and strengthening of every gift. Better be a door-keeper in the house of God than a sluggard, and infinitely better sweep the church-floor than lounge upon the Pew top, and find fault with the sweeping of other people. Every man in the church ought to be doing something. If the pattern be taken from the case described in the context, there need be no fear of rivalry or tumult. The arrangement indicated by Jethro was based upon the severest discipline. The position of Moses was supreme and undisputed; every great case was to be referred to his well tried judgment, and in all cases of contention his voice was to determine the counsels of the camp. There must be a ruling mind in the Church, and all impertinence and other self-exaggeration must be content to bow submissively to the master will. Very possibly there may be danger in sudden development of mental activity and social influence; but it must be remembered, on the other hand, that there is infinitely deadlier peril in allowing spiritual energy and emotion to fall into disuse. In the former case, we may have momentary impertinence, conceit, and coxcombry; but in the latter we shall have paralysis and distortion more revolting than death itself.—(City Temple.)

Now, my text suggests that no man can do everything. If a minister of the Gospel has on one shoulder the spiritual affairs of a church, and on the other shoulder the financial affairs of a church, his feet are on the margin of an open grave, clear to the bottom of which he can look without moving. Let all ministers of the Gospel, so far as possible, gather around them sympathetic men and women upon whom they can throw much of the care and responsibility and trouble. “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.” Standing before you this morning, preaching my sixth anniversary sermon as your pastor—a style of sermon in which the preacher is generally expected to be more than usual personal—I have to tell you that the burdens of life are getting to me less and less, and that as the years pass on I have fewer and still fewer anxieties. In beautiful Belleville, on the banks of the Passaic, where I began my Christian ministry, it seemed as if all the work came down on my young shoulders. Going to the West, the field was larger and the care less. Going to Philadelphia, the field was still larger and the care still less. And standing to-day, as I do, among hundreds of warm personal friends, whose hands and feet and hearts are all willing to help, I have less anxiety than I ever had. I have taken the advice of Jethro in the text, and have gathered around me a great many with whom I expect to divide all the care and the responsibility; and though sometimes, what with the conduct of this Church where we have a perpetual religious awakening, and the conduct of a religious weekly newspaper, and the conduct of the lay College, people have often addressed me in words similar to those of my text, saying, “Thou wilt surely wear away; this thing is too heavy for thee,” I am glad to know that this morning I am in perfect health, and ready to recount to you what the Lord has been doing in all these days of our sojourn together, between 1869 and 1875.—Dr. Talmage.



Moses Burdened! Exodus 18:13-26. We may glance at—

1. Fatiguing government—its
(1) Care, and
(2) Constancy.
2. Faithful guests—the
(1) Counsel, and

(2) Compliance. It was no easy thing to govern Israel, as may be enforced by illustrations from “Robinson Crusoe,” or from the Missionary at Metlahkatlah. The unselfishness of Moses to benefit Israel may be paralleled with that of Jesus, in often denying Himself food and sleep for the sake of His followers, &c. The “Mayflower” Pilgrim Fathers from England furnish an excellent parallel to Jethro’s farewell in Exodus 18:27. The difficulties of government may be referred to by a poetic quotation—

“Each petty hand

Can steer a ship becalm’d; but he that will
Govern and carry her to her ends must know
His tides, his currents, how to shift his sails;
What she will bear in foul, and what in fair weather.”


Faithful Friend! Exodus 18:17. In one of the lovely homes of the Susquehannah sat an anxious careworn mother, whilst grown-up daughters lounged or pored over books, &c. Day after day did she undertake all the responsibilities of a large American farmhouse hold. Whilst she toiled, her children idled. They had the ability, but not the opportunity. The mother was too anxious to do everything herself, fearing its failure otherwise. An old friend absent for years in England had just returned. During his long absence, the little children have grown up to manhood and womanhood, only to increase the fatigues of their over-anxious mother. He has noted with pained heart this weary and exhausted look; and knowing where the shoe pinches, he has been counselling the mother to adopt another plan. He points to her overtaxed powers of body and mind,—explains how this may be avoided without injury to family interests, by allowing her daughters to do all but the most important household matters, and assures her that a trial of his method will satisfy her of its wisdom. She can still retain the general superintendence. Jethro observes the overstrain of mind and body which Moses allows from day to day, and like a faithful friend interposes.

“The true friend is not he who holds up flattery’s mirror,
In which the face to thy conceit most pleasing hovers;
But he who kindly shows thee all thy faults,
And helps thee mend them ’ere an enemy discover.”


Divine Consultation! Exodus 18:23. Jethro advises Moses to take his advice to the throne of grace, and ask God whether it was good or bad. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct thy paths.” So felt Ebezer, Samuel, David. Balaam consulted God; but with no intention of compliance. Not so Moses. On receiving an affirmation from God, Moses at once carries the suggestion into practice. A parallel more or less exists in the case of the apostles and their Divine consultation as to the wisdom of selecting Stephen and the other deacons in the Pentecostal Church. Professor Caird sees here the ideal of the Presbyterian government, by which the pastors are relieved from many needless self-imposed cares and burdens in the appointment of elders and deacons. By the co-operation of Christian laymen in the practical work of the Church, the clergy are enabled to give more time and thought to the work of public instruction. In all plans suggested to ourselves, or suggested to us by others, let us consult God.

“Implore His aid, in His decisions rest
Secure; whate’er He gives, He gives the best.”

Samuel Johnson.

Farewell Considerations! Exodus 18:27. During the stormy days, when Cavaliers and Roundheads swept England with the incessant tide of war, many a “Farewell” had to be uttered by English families. How solemn was the “adieu” which Paul paid to the elders at Miletus, where we are told that he knelt down and prayed with them all—that they all wept sore and fell on Paul’s neck, and that they kissed him, sorrowing most of all at the thought of no more beholding his face on earth! (Acts 20:0) And are we not reminded of that affecting scene between David and Jonathan, whose tender, conscious farewell David never afterwards forgot! (1 Samuel 23:14) Yet another “Farewell scene “suggests itself—the most sweet and solemn of all adieus, viz., that of the Lord Himself: “I go away.” Then followed that interval of most solemn and delightful converse, in which the disciples, bowed down with sorrow at what they had heard, were assured that He would not leave them comfortless, and that He would come again to them (John 17:0). No such consolation could Jethro give. Probably he realised that, like Simeon, he would soon depart, having seen the “salvation of Jehovah.” Still, Jethro and Moses were Christians, and had both respect unto the recompense of reward. Both knew that there was a land in which the everlasting epitaph “Farewell” had no place.

“Wherein may be nor pageantry, nor pride,
Nor altars, save the pure one of the heart,
Nor tombs, except for sorrow; and no tears!
The fadeless world of God, where human lips
Need say ‘Farewell!’ no more.”


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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.