Jethro’s Visit

Exodus 18:1-27

Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, hears the news of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and decides it is time to reunite his son-in-law with his family, whom he had evidently sent away. Overjoyed, Moses and Jethro spend the evening catching up, with Moses filling his father-in-law in on the details of God’s miraculous intervention. Jethro brings sacrifices of appreciation to God, saying he now understands the God of Israel is greater than all other gods. The men break bread together, along with Aaron and the elders of Israel.

 

After a night of celebration, Jethro is stunned to find that Moses spends his time all day, every day, judging cases for the people. He points out the inefficiency of the system: “Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” (18:18) Instead, Jethro suggests, Moses should appoint representatives, wise and honest men, to judge straightforward cases, coming to him only when the matter is beyond them. Moses should spend his time teaching and guiding the people in the ways of God so that they know what is expected of them.

 

Moses takes his father-in-law’s wise advice, appointing leaders over tens, hundreds and thousands of men. Matters that cannot be decided by a lower judge get passed up the ranks until the truly complicated cases are brought before Moses. When Moses himself doesn’t know the answer, we discover later in the Torah, he turns to God Himself.

 

When Jethro advises Moses on setting up what is essentially a court system, he tells Moses, “If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace.” (18:23) The Israel Bible cites Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, who points out the asymmetry in the verse: if the verse were merely telling us the people would go home faster, it should say “their places” (the homes of the individuals), rather than “their place” (implying a common location). The Rabbi explains that the verse is actually hinting that this system of justice will allow the nation to arrive in its place — the Land of Israel — in peace, as the verse in Isaiah states, “Zion shall be redeemed with justice” (1:27).

 

Virtual Classroom Discussion

Jethro is identified as “the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law” (18:1), clearly indicating he is considered a gentile. However, he makes a significant contribution to the system of Torah law that continued as long as the Jewish people had their own court system. Based on this story, how does the Torah envision the relationship between the Children of Israel and the other nations? What made Jethro so respected?

Comments ( 17 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • I think that Jitro was a descendant of Avraham so to say far family . Also his status was: to be family of Moshe and to have given a wife to Moshe. Further he indirectly proposed the ”responsibility plan” to Moshe.
    It testified of his wisdom and maybe his knowledge of HaShem (knowledge passed on from Avraham’s time) .The Asseret HaDibrot are given for all peoples. Jitro , a foreigner applying them already, received great respect in Israel.

  • Thank you all for those comments. The Torah envisions that all nations will honor and serve Yahweh and anyone today in the nations who decides to serve Yahweh today is in-grafted into Israel. In answer to your other question, Yithro was so respected because the Torah tells us in one of the past portions that he was a priest of the Most High Elohim (a priest of Yahweh).

    • A correction to my comment above: Yithro prior to his acknowledgement and worship of Yahweh in Exodus 18:10-12, was a priest of Midian, not a priest of Yahweh.

  • Even though Yitro was a gentile his advice allowed the Israeiites to enter the land in relative peace.

  • Donna

    ps. And, OH YES, I have to give a shout-out to the Power in The Telling of what HaShem Has Done!!!

  • Donna

    This is SO Amazing and SUCH a Wonderful Picture of How Powerful HaShem Has Designed the Hebrew/Gentile Relationship and How Critical the Gentile (=our) response is to Israel. In reading the comments (Toda Raba posters!!!) I Gleaned a glimpse of the Magnitude of the contrast depicted between Amalek’s response to the Israelites and Yitro’s = SUCH a Clear contrast of Blessings vs. curses, Life vs. death, Being Produced individually and Corporately and even globally (the Birthing of our current Judicial system…) in how we CHOOSE to respond and treat Israel. And, Beyond that even, I See that this Cooperative Relationship Produces Miracles – even Rippling through the line of Messiach!!! OH!!! And, to Confirm that I was just Reminded at the end of the account with Amalek, Moshe built an altar and called it Adonai-nissi, which I understand to mean “HaShem is my Banner,” (Lifted Up through Moshe’s and even now our arms in Worship :),) but I believe nissi also means Miracle!!!
    HaShem Is the Same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so…. there is SUCH a HUGE Message for us today. I am SO thankful for Rabbi Tuly’s heart and Vision and all of the Riches he and his team are making available to the Nations!!! FULFILLING Isaiah 2 & Micah 4 and we get to be a part of this!!! I can’t wait to See The Miracles Produced!!!

  • Jesse

    I think that this once again shows the power of your personal witness and experience of being delivered by the Mighty One of Israel. I think that this also shows the closeness of the relationship between him and Moshe in that Yitro merely speaks once and Moshe immediately begins this process. I suppose spending forty years together had a big impact on both Moshe and Yitro and the climax of that relationship is found right here.

  • Diana Brown

    What I focused on how Yitro blessed HaShem. Sounded wonderful in verse 9 and verse 10 until we get to verse 11. When Yitro said….”Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: yea, for that they shall dealt proudly against them.” I thought, “Oy! Just having been delivered from Egypt and now Babylon is creeping in.” The Babylonian lie came out shrouded in a praise…for our Lord is the Only True, Living G-d and there are no other gods… only idols people make and desire to worship.
    Whenever men counsel together first failing to go before the Lord with the matter and seek His answer….we risk building in our own name (idolatry) instead of His Name.
    Easier to be delivered from Egypt than to come out of Babylon because Babylon is unified humanity doing in the strength and knowledge of men but not always trusting faithfulness in HaShem. That which does not glorify G-d, should be left in the half-truth plain of Shinar where it comes from. This also is a lifelong struggle for us, along with warring against Amalek.
    Thankfully, I see our Living Lord works in light and in darkness, yet there is no darkness (half-truths or lies) within Him. He can show up for us at any time. His Purpose is too work through His People to bring about the redemption and restoration of the world. The Holy Scriptures aren’t just history for us….it is HIS STORY and we are blessed to be grafted into His Story which, according to Zechariah has a very Blessed, Happy ending! Baruch HaShem!

  • Kenneth Osterman

    He might be considered a gentile, but Jethro was a descendant of Abraham through Keturah. He was already a believer in the God of Abraham, but the account of events from Moses confirmed this even more (NOW i KNOW).
    Then he offered sacrifices unto God. This was no ordinary priest from Midian, for he actually had a relationship with the true God. Recall his priestly name is Reuel (friend of God). As you mention the importance of names, Jethro had two names, a common name and a holy name. This man had a special right to offer sacrifices to God, why is not stated, but it appears to be so written.

  • Ellyn

    Based on this story I see the relationship between Israel and other nations as one of mutual respect when what unifies them is their common understanding of Who is HaShem. I appreciated how Moses told Jethro all about what HaShem had done and Jethro genuinely listened; like a sincere father or friend would do. And Moses listened to Jethro when he had wise council to give. I like how Jethro submitted his council to the affirmation of HaShem (18:23) before expecting Moses to employ it. I believe Jethro is respected because he is wise.

    • Shalom Ellyn and Martin! Welcome to the discussion. You both made excellent points. The famous commentator, known as the Or HaChaim (1696-1743), points out that one of the reasons Yitro was the one to bring the ‘judicial system’ was to teach the future generations of the Children of Israel that they have no monopoly over wisdom, but that God gives wisdom to people of all faiths, and we must search to discover this wisdom. This would necessitate friendly relationships and mutual respect between Jew and non-Jew.

  • Martin

    It seems that the Gentiles are to have a real part of G-d’s redemptive work of Israel. We soon see that Jethro makes sacrifices to HaShem, so that he is seen as righteous enough to be considered a partner with Israel in the worship of the One True G-d of all. Christians call this “Grafted in.”

  • Drew

    As early as the second century C.E., it was recognized that this chapter is not in its proper chronological sequence and that the episode took place after the revelation at Sinai. The internal evidence for this judgment is set forth in Zevahim 116a and in the Mekhilta (Yitro 1:1). It is summarized in the commentary
    of Abraham ibn Ezra as follows:
    The people are already encamped at “the mountain of God” (v. 5), that is, at Sinai, whereas
    the notice about their arrival there does not appear until 19:1–2; Jethro brings burnt offerings and
    sacrifices (v. 12), so that an altar must by this time exist; the only such mentioned so far was located
    at Rephidim, not Sinai, and was purely commemorative, not functional; therefore, the altar
    on which sacrifices are brought must be either that mentioned in 24:4 or the one in the
    Tabernacle, both belonging to the period following the theophany; Moses and his father-in-law
    refer to “the laws and the teachings of God” (vv. 16, 20), a phrase that is far more appropriate
    following the giving of the Torah than before it; the account in Numbers 10:11, 29–32 testifies
    to Jethro’s presence in the camp of Israel in “the second month of the second year after the Exodus”;
    accordingly, the report of his departure given here in Exodus 18:27 must be dated to that
    time; finally, the story about the establishment of the judicial system is repeated in Deuteronomy
    1:9–17 and is immediately followed by the notice that the people set out from Horeb. All this
    strongly suggests that the events took place toward the end of the sojourn at Sinai.
    That the order of the narratives in the Torah need not necessarily be chronological was well
    recognized in rabbinic times. Radak, who subscribes to the view that this particular narrative is out of
    sequence, explains, in his comment to Judges 1:16, its intrusive position in the Torah as intending to
    contrast the treacherous behavior of the Amalekites with the friendliness of the Midianites/Kenites. It
    is to be noted that 1 Samuel 15:6 can be adduced in support of this explanation.
    From the JPS commentary

    • Martin

      The Torah is not presented as a chronological account. Hashed is not just relating history, He is relating relationship building…

      • It is definitely true that sometimes stories can be written ‘out of order’ chronologically, but there is still order-the order God chose to have it told. As Martin said, the Torah is not just a chronological account, there are great messages to be learnt from both the narrative and instructive portions of the Torah. As Drew pointed out, though, when something seems to be ‘out of order’ it is important to ask why. What message are we being taught by having this episode juxtaposed with another, instead of how it actually occurred? Thank you Drew for bringing our attention to the idea from the JPS commentary, that Yitro’s behavior is, in fact, juxtaposed to the episode with Amalek-teaching us about the nations’ different ‘reactions’ to the wondrous events in Egypt-there were those who attacked God and His people, and those who saw the Hand of God and came to strengthen His people. I think the same reactions can be seen today. Throughout history, when God has shown His mighty hand, there have been those who have been angered by it, and turned against the Jewish people, and there have been those who have come closer to God and His people through His ‘hidden’ miracles.

        • I agree, thank you for the insights.

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