Jethro

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: . . . 

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.

And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the land of the Egyptians. 

Exodus 18:5, 8-9

Many months had passed by since Moses had made his departure from the home of his father-in-law, Jethro, in the wilderness of Midian. So many events had taken place that it seemed like years. First there had been the daring approach to Pharaoh with the demand that he should let the children of Israel go to serve Jehovah in the wilderness. When Pharaoh had emphatically refused, there were the judgments of the plagues proving that Jehovah was God and that He did have the right and authority to demand of Pharaoh what He did. But Pharaoh, before these plagues, had only hardened his heart the more until they reached their culmination in the pestilence of death upon the firstborn of the land at the very time when Israel was partaking of the paschal feast in preparation for their promised departure. With a high hand Israel left the land, and by a miracle of salvation they passed through the depths of the Red Sea while the Egyptians attempting to follow them were drowned. Now for several months, the Israelites had been making their way through the wilderness still experiencing again and again the gracious and miraculous powers of their God in the repeated wonders that supplied their food and drink. All of these things had so completely occupied the time and attention of Moses that he hardly had opportunity to dwell on the absence of his wife and children.

For forty years Moses had lived in the house of Jethro. God graciously had brought him there, for Jethro was a God-fearing man. He was of the sons of Abraham through Keturah and had carried on the faith as a prophet and priest in his family. With him Moses had experienced the communion of saints; and of his daughters, Moses had taken Zipporah to wife. Two sons were born to them, Gershom and Eliezer.

In one thing, however, Moses’ communion with Jethro fell short. Neither Jethro nor Zipporah could appreciate the predominant position which the children of Israel held in the covenant of God. After all, the Israelites were nothing more than slaves to the Egyptians while they were free men. Why should the children of Jacob hold a more important position in the covenant than that which was held by them? They considered it nothing more than self-centeredness on Moses’ part to consider his own family and tribe to be especially precious in the sight of God. This difference of opinion between them eventually developed into a great breach. Especially when Moses returned from Horeb with the conviction that he should go to Egypt because the time of Israel’s salvation was drawing near, they found it hard to consider it as anything more than the working of his own imagination. First Zipporah intended to go with him; but when she was forced to circumcise her son, it was more than she could take. Wisdom dictated that it would be best for her to return to her father with the children while Moses went on alone.

But Moses’ return to Egypt had been an act of faith, and the true basis for its hope soon was completely manifested. Israel was precious unto God, and a great and glorious salvation from bondage was realized for them. God poured forth upon them blessings such as the world had never before seen. It became perfectly clear to all that the Lord of heaven and earth was their God. This was established beyond dispute. The reports of this did not take long in returning to Jethro and Zipporah. At first they were quite amazed, for this they had not anticipated. But soon they began to realize that Moses had been right after all. Being children of God they did not continue futilely to defend their original conviction. They acknowledged their error, and in the works &at God wrought through Moses they found occasion to give glory to God.

Finally, it was heard by Jethro that Moses and the children of Israel had come to Horeb, not a great distance from where he was making his home. He took with him Zipporah and Moses’ two sons and made the journey to the camp of Israel. It was an occasion of great joy. A messenger was sent ahead to Moses with the announcement, “I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.” With due oriental formality Moses went out to meet them. First he bowed before Jethro, and then he arose to kiss him. He asked of their welfare, and then brought them into his tent.

With a new basis of understanding, there was much for them to discuss. Carefully Moses recounted all that had transpired in the months gone by. The events in themselves were wonderful, defying the human imagination, and Moses possessed a spiritual understanding of their real significance far surpassing that of any other. There was enthusiasm in Moses’ voice; there was richness in his description. Moses clearly loved the truth of that which he expressed. Slowly he unfolded the account of all that had taken place, not just as amazing events, but as revelations of the greatness of Jehovah in His infinite love for His people. Attentively Jethro listened. He was already an old man, full of years and experience, but he listened with the attention of a learning child. He was the pupil being instructed by the prophet of God. He felt a new depth of understanding flooding his heart, a new warmth of feeling overwhelming his soul. In all that had transpired, the truth of the Gospel was contained in Old Testament type and shadow. All of this was undoubtedly expounded by Moses until Jethro broke forth in the joyful expression, “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: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.” Solemnly they went forth from the tent. Aaron and all of the elders of Israel were summoned to a great feast at which Jethro, a priest in his own right, offered a sacrifice of burnt offerings unto the Lord.

On the days that followed, Jethro went throughout the camp of Israel to make his acquaintance with the people and with their situation in the wilderness. Immediately he saw with what complete dedication Moses was giving his life to those whom he led. He was the authority in almost everything that took place in the camp. He had to instruct the people. He had to give instructions for all of the affairs of the nation. He had to judge the people in every disagreement that arose, both big and small. It was especially this latter which consumed his time. From morning to evening people were coming to him for the purpose of airing all of their grievances. Many of these troubles were petty; yet they took time to relate and immeasurable wisdom to settle. Patiently Moses had to explain to each party the way of Godly life in which they should walk with their individual problems. Day after day this went on without end, for in a nation that large there were always countless occasions for trouble. For a time Jethro stood by watching and listening to all that was taking place. He could hardly help but admire Moses’ dedication and concern. For a man who had been so impetuous in his youth, such patience was marvelous. There was love in the patience with which he listened. There was gentleness even in his rebukes. Moses was a shepherd, willing to do all for the welfare of his sheep. Still, Jethro was displeased.

Finally he spoke. “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?”

To Moses the answer was perfectly evident. He answered, “Because the people come unto me to inquire of God: 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 law.”

But Jethro was a man of experience, and the answer of Moses did not satisfy him. He knew the limitations of a man who would serve as a leader and a ruler among men. Carefully he answered again, “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. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee; be thou for the people Godward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: 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. 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. 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. 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.”

There was a very great amount of wisdom in what Jethro said. Moses was a prophet of God. He was to be to the people Godward, that is, his primary purpose was to bring the Word of God to them and to set before them the will of the Most High. In the application of these principles to individual life, there were, of course, numerous problems that arose. These too were spiritual problems. However, Moses was making the mistake of taking over these problems for the people. In this, he had not only taken on an impossible task, but he was preventing the people from learning to handle their problems themselves. He was actually hindering their spiritual development. This is a lesson that every spiritual leader must learn. The children of God must be encouraged to understand and apply the Word of God to their own lives as much as possible by themselves.

But there was also another side to Jethro’s advice that was good, for there do arise problems in life that one can not settle by himself. Thus various wise and spiritual men were to be appointed over different groups of families in an ascending order of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. The problems of life could be passed along according to their importance, and only the greatest of them would have to be heard by Moses. In this way the children of Israel would learn to share each other’s burdens.

Moses wisely went with this matter to God, and he was commanded to do as Jethro said. Soon capable men were appointed, and Israel was organized into a body able to live in the practice of Godly love.

We may be sure that there was sorrow in the camp of Israel and especially in the heart of Moses when the time came for Jethro to depart. With him Moses had experienced a spiritual communion in the love of God. As true communion should always be, it had been mutually beneficial to both. With a prayer of thanksgiving Moses and his father-in-law parted, never on this earth to meet again, but with the assurance of a final reunion that would endure forevermore.

—B.W.