Notes for Exodus 18:1LEB

This chapter forms the transition to the Law. There has been the deliverance, the testing passages, the provision in the wilderness, and the warfare. Any Yahweh who can do all this for his people deserves their allegiance. In chap. 18 the Lawgiver is giving advice, using laws and rulings, but then he is given advice to organize the elders to assist. Thus, when the Law is fully revealed, a system will be in place to administer it. The point of the passage is that a great leader humbly accepts advice from other godly believers to delegate responsibility. He does not try to do it all himself; Yahweh does not want one individual to do it all. The chapter has three parts: vv. 1–12 tell how Jethro heard and came and worshiped and blessed; vv. 13–23 have the advice of Jethro, and then vv. 24–27 tell how Moses implemented the plan and Jethro went home. See further E. J. Runions, "Exodus Motifs in 1 Samuel 7 and 8, " EvQ 52 (1980): 130-31; and also see for another idea T. C. Butler, "An Anti-Moses Tradition," JSOT 12 (1979): 9-15.


This clause beginning with כִּי (ki) answers the question of what Jethro had heard; it provides a second, explanatory noun clause that is the object of the verb – "he heard (1) all that Yahweh had done… (2) that he had brought…." See R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 81, §490.


This is an important report that Jethro has heard, for the claim of Yahweh that he brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt will be the foundation of the covenant stipulations (Exodus 20).


Notes for Exodus 18:3LEB

"he"; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity (also in the following verse).


Notes for Exodus 18:4LEB

The referent (Moses) and the verb have been specified in the translation for clarity.


Now is given the etymological explanation of the name of Moses’ other son, Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר, ’eliezer), which means "my Yahweh is a help." The sentiment that explains this name is אֱלֹהֵי אָבִי בְּעֶזְרִי (’elohe avi ezri, "Yahweh of my father is my help"). The preposition in the sentiment is the bet (ב) essentiae (giving the essence – see GKC 379 §119.i). Not mentioned earlier, the name has become even more appropriate now that Yahweh has delivered Moses from Pharaoh again. The word for "help" is a common word in the Bible, first introduced as a description of the woman in the Garden. It means to do for someone what he or she cannot do for himself or herself. Samuel raised the "stone of help" (Ebenezer) when Yahweh helped Israel win the battle (1 Sam 7:12LEB).


The verb "delivered" is an important motif in this chapter (see its use in vv. 8, 9, and 10 with reference to Pharaoh).


Notes for Exodus 18:5LEB

"his"; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.


This is an adverbial accusative that defines the place (see GKC 373-74 §118.g).


The mountain of Yahweh is Horeb, and so the desert here must be the Sinai desert by it. But chap. 19 suggests that they left Rephidim to go the 24 miles to Sinai. It may be that this chapter fits in chronologically after the move to Sinai, but was placed here thematically. W. C. Kaiser defends the present location of the story by responding to other reasons for the change given by Lightfoot, but does not deal with the travel locations (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., "Exodus," EBC 2:411).


Notes for Exodus 18:6LEB

This verse may seem out of place, since the report has already been given that they came to the desert. It begins to provide details of the event that the previous verse summarizes. The announcement in verse 6 may have come in advance by means of a messenger or at the time of arrival, either of which would fit with the attention to formal greetings in verse 7. This would suit a meeting between two important men; the status of Moses has changed. The LXX solves the problem by taking the pronoun "I" as the particle "behold" and reads it this way: "one said to Moses, ‘Behold, your father-in-law has come….’"


Notes for Exodus 18:7LEB

This is more than polite oriental custom. Jethro was Moses’ benefactor, father-in-law, and a priest. He paid much respect to him. Now he could invite Jethro into his home (see B. Jacob, Exodus, 496).


Notes for Exodus 18:8LEB

A rare word, "weariness" of the hardships.


"found them."


Here "how" has been supplied.


Notes for Exodus 18:9LEB

The word חָדָה (khada) is rare, occurring only in Job 3:6LEB and Ps 21:6LEB, although it is common in Aramaic. The LXX translated it "he shuddered." U. Cassuto suggests that that rendering was based on the midrashic interpretation in b. Sanhedrin 94b, "he felt cuts in his body" – a wordplay on the verb (Exodus, 215–16).


Notes for Exodus 18:10LEB

This is a common form of praise. The verb בָּרוּךְ (barukh) is the Qal passive participle of the verb. Here must be supplied a jussive, making this participle the predicate: "May Yahweh be blessed." The verb essentially means "to enrich"; in praise it would mean that he would be enriched by the praises of the people.


"from under the hand of the Egyptians."


Notes for Exodus 18:11LEB

The end of this sentence seems not to have been finished, or it is very elliptical. In the present translation the phrase "he has destroyed them" is supplied. Others take the last prepositional phrase to be the completion and supply only a verb: "[he was] above them." U. Cassuto (Exodus, 216) takes the word "gods" to be the subject of the verb "act proudly," giving the sense of "precisely (כִּי, ki) in respect of these things of which the gods of Egypt boasted – He is greater than they (עֲלֵיהֶם, ̑alehem)." He suggests rendering the clause, "excelling them in the very things to which they laid claim."


Notes for Exodus 18:12LEB

The verb is "and he took" (cf. KJV, ASV, NASB). It must have the sense of getting the animals for the sacrifice. The Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate have "offered." But Cody argues because of the precise wording in the text Jethro did not offer the sacrifices but received them (A. Cody, " Exodus 18, 12: Jethro Accepts a Covenant with the Israelites," Bib 49 [1968]: 159-61).


Jethro brought offerings as if he were the one who had been delivered. The "burnt offering" is singular, to honor Yahweh first. The other sacrifices were intended for the invited guests to eat (a forerunner of the peace offering). See B. Jacob, Exodus, 498.


The word לֶחֶם (lekhem) here means the sacrifice and all the foods that were offered with it. The eating before Yahweh was part of covenantal ritual, for it signified that they were in communion with the Deity, and with one another.


Notes for Exodus 18:13LEB

"and it was/happened on the morrow."


This is a simple summary of the function of Moses on this particular day. He did not necessarily do this every day, but it was time now to do it. The people would come to solve their difficulties or to hear instruction from Moses on decisions to be made. The tradition of "sitting in Moses’ seat" is drawn from this passage.


Notes for Exodus 18:14LEB

"what is this thing."


This question, "what are you doing for the people," is qualified by the next question. Sitting alone all day and the people standing around all day showed that Moses was exhibiting too much care for the people – he could not do this.


Notes for Exodus 18:15LEB

The form is לִדְרֹשׁ (lidrosh), the Qal infinitive construct giving the purpose. To inquire of Yahweh would be to seek Yahweh’s will on a matter, to obtain a legal decision on a matter, or to settle a dispute. As a judge Moses is speaking for Yahweh, but as the servant of Yahweh Moses’ words will be Yahweh’s words. The psalms would later describe judges as "gods" because they made the right decisions based on Yahweh’s Law.


Notes for Exodus 18:16LEB

Or "thing," "matter," "issue."


The verb שָׁפַט (shafat) means "to judge"; more specifically, it means to make a decision as an arbiter or umpire. When people brought issues to him, Moses decided between them. In the section of laws in Exodus after the Ten Commandments come the decisions, the מִשְׁפָּטִים (mishppatim).


The "decrees" or "statutes" were definite rules, stereotyped and permanent; the "laws" were directives or pronouncements given when situations arose. S. R. Driver suggests this is another reason why this event might have taken place after Yahweh had given laws on the mountain (Exodus, 165).


Notes for Exodus 18:17LEB

"the thing."


Notes for Exodus 18:18LEB

The verb means "to fall and fade" as a leaf (Ps 1:3). In Ps 18:45 it is used figuratively of foes fading away, failing in strength and courage (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 166). Here the infinitive absolute construction heightens the meaning.


Gesenius lists the specialized use of the comparative min (ם) where with an adjective the thought expressed is that the quality is too difficult for the attainment of a particular aim (GKC 430 §133.c).


Here "a burden" has been supplied.


Notes for Exodus 18:19LEB

"hear my voice."


The line reads "Be you to the people before Yahweh." He is to be their representative before Yahweh. This is introducing the aspect of the work that only Moses could do, what he has been doing. He is to be before Yahweh for the people, to pray for them, to appeal on their behalf. Jethro is essentially saying, I understand that you cannot delegate this to anyone else, so continue doing it (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 219–20).


The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive; following the imperative it will be instruction as well. Since the imperative preceding this had the idea of "continue to be" as you are, this too has that force.


"words"; KJV, ASV "the causes"; NRSV "cases"; NLT "questions."


Notes for Exodus 18:20LEB

The perfect tense with the vav (ו) continues the sequence of instruction for Moses. He alone was to be the mediator, to guide them in the religious and moral instruction.


The verb and its following prepositional phrase form a relative clause, modifying "the way." The imperfect tense should be given the nuance of obligatory imperfect – it is the way they must walk.


This last part is parallel to the preceding: "work" is also a direct object of the verb "make known," and the relative clause that qualifies it also uses an obligatory imperfect.


Notes for Exodus 18:21LEB

The construction uses the independent pronoun for emphasis, and then the imperfect tense "see" (חָזָה, khazah) – "and you will see from all…." Both in Hebrew and Ugaritic expressions of "seeing" are used in the sense of choosing (Gen 41:33LEB). See U. Cassuto, Exodus, 220.


The expression is אַנְשֵׁי־חַיִל (’anshe khayil, "capable men"). The attributive genitive is the word used in expressions like "mighty man of valor." The word describes these men as respected, influential, powerful people, those looked up to by the community as leaders, and those who will have the needs of the community in mind.


The description "fearers of Yahweh" uses an objective genitive. It describes them as devout, worshipful, obedient servants of Yahweh.


The expression "men of truth" (אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת, ’anshe emet) indicates that these men must be seekers of truth, who know that the task of a judge is to give true judgment (U. Cassuto, Exodus, 220). The word "truth" includes the ideas of faithfulness or reliability, as well as factuality itself. It could be understood to mean "truthful men," men whose word is reliable and true.


"haters of bribes." Here is another objective genitive, one that refers to unjust gain. To hate unjust gain is to reject and refuse it. Their decisions will not be swayed by greed.


"over them"; the referent (the people) has been specified in the translation for clarity.


It is not clear how this structure would work in a judicial setting. The language of "captains of thousands," etc., is used more for military ranks. There must have been more detailed instruction involved here, for each Israelite would have come under four leaders with this arrangement, and perhaps difficult cases would be sent to the next level. But since the task of these men would also involve instruction and guidance, the breakdown would be very useful. Deut 1:9LEB, 13 suggest that the choice of these people was not simply Moses’ alone.


Notes for Exodus 18:22LEB

The form is the perfect tense with the vav (ו) consecutive, making it equivalent to the imperfect of instruction in the preceding verse.


"in every time," meaning "in all normal cases" or "under normal circumstances." The same phrase occurs in v. 26.


"great thing."




The vav here shows the result or the purpose of the instructions given.


The expression וְהָקֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ (véhaqel mealeykha) means literally "and make it light off yourself." The word plays against the word for "heavy" used earlier – since it was a heavy or burdensome task, Moses must lighten the load.


Here "the burden" has been supplied.


Notes for Exodus 18:23LEB

The form is a Piel perfect with vav (ו) consecutive; it carries the same nuance as the preceding imperfect in the conditional clause.


The perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive now appears in the apodosis of the conditional sentence – "if you do this…then you will be able."


"to stand." B. Jacob (Exodus, 501) suggests that there might be a humorous side to this: "you could even do this standing up."


Literally "this people."


The verb is the simple imperfect, "will go," but given the sense of the passage a potential nuance seems in order.


"his place."


"in peace."


See further T. D. Weinshall, "The Organizational Structure Proposed by Jethro to Moses (Ex. 18:17LEB)," Public Administration in Israel and Abroad 12 (1972): Exodus 9-13LEB; and H. Reviv, "The Traditions Concerning the Inception of the Legal System in Israel: Significance and Dating," ZAW 94 (1982): 566-75.


Notes for Exodus 18:24LEB

The idiom "listen to the voice of" means "obey, comply with, heed."


Notes for Exodus 18:26LEB

This verb and the verb in the next clause are imperfect tenses. In the past tense narrative of the verse they must be customary, describing continuous action in past time.


Notes for Exodus 18:27LEB

The verb וַיְשַׁלַּח (vayshallakh) has the same root and same stem used in the passages calling for Pharaoh to "release" Israel. Here, in a peaceful and righteous relationship, Moses sent Jethro to his home.


"he"; the referent (Jethro) has been specified in the translation for clarity.


The prepositional phrase included here Gesenius classifies as a pleonastic dativus ethicus to give special emphasis to the significance of the occurrence in question for a particular subject (GKC 381 §119.s).


This chapter makes an excellent message on spiritual leadership of the people of Yahweh. Spiritually responsible people are to be selected to help in the work of the ministry (teaching, deciding cases, meeting needs), so that there will be peace, and so that leaders will not be exhausted. Probably capable people are more ready to do that than leaders are ready to relinquish control. But leaders have to be willing to take the risk, to entrust the task to others. Here Moses is the model of humility, receiving correction and counsel from Jethro. And Jethro is the ideal adviser, for he has no intention of remaining there to run the operation.