This chapter brings to a close the Dispensation of Promise in Israel's history. This dispensation had begun with God’s call of Abraham and ended with the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.
Throughout this dispensation, God’s grace in dealing with His people was displayed. From Egypt to Sinai was all pure grace. Not one case of God’s judgment is recorded during this period nor the loss of one Israeli life. At Sinai they put themselves under the law. More on this fact later.
So far, we have seen that the manna represented Christ in incarnation, the smitten Rock His death, the streams of water that flowed from that rock as the gift of the Holy Spirit, and now, the Church, the Jew, and the Gentile, are all presented here in type and we also find, in figure, the Millennial blessing of both Jew and Gentile.
The re-establishment of governmental order in Israel also comes about in this chapter.
Exodus 18:1-12. “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; 2: Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back, 3: 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: 4: 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: 5: 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: 6: And he said unto Moses, I thy father in law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. 7: 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. 8: 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. 9: 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. 10: 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. 11: Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them. 12: 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.”
Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, now appears. He had heard about the things God had wrought for His people and he brought Zipporah, Moses’ wife, and their two sons for a visit.
The children’s names help explain the character of the whole scene. The first is Gershom. His name means "I have been an alien in a strange land." This suggests Israel's absence from their own land when they were scattered as strangers in Egypt and again, much later in history, throughout the world.
The second boy’s name is Eliezer, which means "the God of my father has delivered me from the sword." This undoubtedly recalls past events but it is also a prophecy of the future, and interpreted typically, speaks of the final deliverance of Israel in preparation for blessing under the Millennial reign of the Messiah.
The two names denote two distinct periods in God's dealings with Israel. The meaning of the first son’s name, "I have been an alien in a strange land," covers from the day they went to Egypt until they were safely in their own land and again later when they were carried away captive into Babylon. The second son’s name, “the God of my father has delivered me from the sword," points to the time of the Great Tribulation when the Lord will suddenly appear and rescue His people from the enemy, when “The Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem;” Zechariah 14:12.
Zipporah was the Gentile bride of Moses and as such she prefigures the Church. This is in keeping with the prophecy of the millennial reign of Christ when Israel is restored and rejoices in the rule of the Messiah. The Church will have her part in the blessings of that day and will partake of the glories of the thousand year reign of Christ.
Moses told Jethro “all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them." (verse 8)
Jethro seemed to realized that the God Moses served was the One true God. Verse 11: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.” His confession of Jehovah's name pictures the Gentiles who have been saved by confessing Christ as their Lord and Savior.
12: "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 rejoiced because of the deliverance of Israel and praised the Lord for it, and confessed God’s absolute supremacy.
Jethro, Aaron, Moses, and the elders of Israel gathered together and ate bread before God. Moses represents the nation of Israel, and Jethro represents the Gentile nations, picturing the eventual union of Israel and the Gentiles in worship of the One true God.
This is the forerunner of the scene predicted by Isaiah in chapter 2:2-3.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 3: And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
In the remainder of this chapter the establishment of judgment and government is recorded.
Exodus 18:13-27. “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. 14: 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? 15: And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: 16: 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. 17: And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. 18: 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. 19: Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to Godward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: 20: 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. 21: 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: 22: 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. 23: 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. 24: So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said. 25: 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. 26: And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves. 27: And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.”
Jethro observed that most of Moses’ time was taken up as the judge of the people, judging disputes of various nature and importance. They also depended on him to tell them what God’s will was. His qualifications to do so are listed in Deuteronomy 34:10. “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,”
This work that Moses was trying to do by himself proved to be too much of an overload for him so Jethro suggested a wise solution.
He warned Moses that he would soon be worn out from the sheer numbers he had to deal with and the people would be worn out from long waits to have their conversations with him.
He asked Moses, “why do you try to do it all yourself? You can’t possibly handle the problems of over two million people alone.”
I did some rough calculations and if each person in the nation came before Moses with just one question in 40 years it would amount to about 200 decisions on his part each day.
Jethro suggested that Moses delegate duties to some of the honest, reliable men to judge all but the hardest of cases. Moses was to be the supreme court judge, so to speak, and he still had the sole responsibility of teaching the people the law of God (verse 16) and how to live before Him.
He was also to appoint spiritually and morally qualified men as judges to implement the keeping of the Law. (verses 20-21) According to Deuteronomy 1:13-15, they were to be wise, respected, leading men in their tribes.
Moses was to remain the people’s representative before God and their teacher but most of the judicial matters were to be given to others who were qualified. These were to serve as officials over groups of various sizes from thousands down to tens and to hear cases of varying degrees of importance.
Moses took his father-in-laws advice and put this into practice a short time later, after the Law was given at Mt. Sinai, (sometimes called Horeb). That being the case, this was put in scripture here in Exodus at this time to complete the story of Jethro’s advice.
Moses words detailing the implementing of this system at the time of the giving of the Law are recorded in Deuteronomy 1:9-15. “And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: 10: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. 11: (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) 12: How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? 13: Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. 14: And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. 15: So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.”
The arrangement for judging the people portrays the order in government that the Messiah will set up when He assumes His kingdom. Psalms 72:2-3. “He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. 3: The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.”
Jethro had done his work, and, with Moses permission, he went to his own land in peace. The children of Israel were going God's way to God’s land and as such were pilgrims passing through the wilderness.
I have read in some commentaries written by well respected writers that Moses should have attempted to do all the work alone until God provided him some relief. However, in the extremely important work our Lord Jesus did here on earth, outlined in Isaiah 61 and quoted by Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus enlisted men to help with the preaching and healing and spreading the Gospel. Even with that, He was so occupied with His ministry at times that He couldn’t find time to eat. He even indicated that more could be used to spread the Gospel. Matthew 9:37: “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few;”
His disciples did take part in His work that He spoke of in Isaiah 61:1-2. “the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2: To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
They could not save souls by their death but they could assist in the work of telling others how to escape the judgment of God.
Moses had the unique privilege of speaking face to face with God. He alone could do that work but good men could assist in the other labors.
Jesus alone communed with God and He alone could do the work of the cross. Every believer can do the work of spreading the gospel to bring the unsaved to Christ.
The Israelites entered the desert of Sinai and camped by Mt. Sinai exactly three months after the exodus from Egypt. There the Law was given. (Deuteronomy 1:9-15). Moses received the Ten Commandments from God along with the instructions for worship by His redeemed people.
There is a major break here in the history of God's dealings with Israel that indicates a change in dispensations or administrations. God has divided human history into ages we call dispensations. What distinguishes them is not their length but the way God deals with mankind in them. While God Himself never changes, His methods do. He works in different ways at different times so we think of a dispensation as the way God deals with people during a particular period of time.
From Adam until this time, there had been no direct law of God. Man lived by the law of what seemed right in his own eyes. The Lord's dealings with His people had been predominantly in grace. Now He offered them a conditional covenant of law: “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; ... you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6.) If they would obey, He would bless them.
Not realizing their own sinfulness and helplessness, the people readily agreed and now entered the Dispensation of Law. This Dispensation of Law would continue until Christ was crucified and rose again, ushering in the Dispensation of Grace that remains today.
D. L. Moody comments: “They (the children of Israel) promised in bold and self-confident language "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." (Exodus 19:8.) The golden calf, the broken tablets, the neglected ordinances, the stoned messengers, the rejected and crucified Christ, are overwhelming evidences of man's dishonored vows.”
They remained at Mt. Sinai throughout the rest of the events recorded in Exodus 19:1 through Numbers 10:10. They were there 11 months and 6 days, from the 15th day of the third month of their first year of travel to the 20th day of the second month of their travels.
This is my last message in this series on the Children of Israel becoming a nation, their redemption from Egyptian rule, and it takes them up to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.
At Sinai, they were about to be tested in a new way. God had dealt with them in grace and had discovered nothing but disobedience, rebellion, and sin, and now they were to be tried by law. This is how God has worked in all His dispensations, testing and revealing what man really is. Each test has disclosed the incurable corruption of our nature and at the same time revealed the holiness of His character. He taught man that we are completely ruined and lost by nature and that help and salvation were to be found in Him alone. This is brought out again in the giving of the law from Mt. Sinai.
At Mt. Sinai, instead of clinging to God’s grace, they foolishly offered to make everything depend on what they could be for God. That’s the principle of law.
When man seeks to obtain blessing on the grounds of his own works, he rejects a salvation that is offered in pure grace. Man is not willing to be nothing, and grace makes God all in all.
God gave them the law to prove to them what was in their hearts. He used the Law to teach them their ruined and guilty condition and that they could not draw near to God in their sinful condition. Their salvation and ours is found only in God. If we succeed in weaving a robe of self-righteousness, the moment we are brought into the presence of God, that robe will appear as nothing but filthy rags in the light of His holiness.