Meeting with Jethro. 1Now Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel: how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2So his father-in-law Jethro took along Zipporah, Moses’ wife—now this was after Moses had sent her back—* 3and her two sons. One of these was named Gershom;a for he said, “I am a resident alien in a foreign land.” 4The other was named Eliezer; for he said, “The God of my father is my help; he has rescued me from Pharaoh’s sword.” 5Together with Moses’ wife and sons, then, his father-in-law Jethro came to him in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God,* 6and he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, along with your wife and her two sons.”
7Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and then kissed him. Having greeted each other, they went into the tent. 8Moses then told his father-in-law of all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for the sake of Israel, and of all the hardships that had beset them on their journey, and how the LORD had rescued them. 9Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness that the LORD had shown Israel in rescuing them from the power of the Egyptians. 10“Blessed be the LORD,” he said, “who has rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh. 11Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for he rescued the people from the power of the Egyptians when they treated them arrogantly.” 12Then Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, brought a burnt offering* and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to share with Moses’ father-in-law in the meal before God.
Appointment of Minor Judges. 13The next day Moses sat in judgment for the people, while they stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he asked, “What is this business that you are conducting for the people? Why do you sit alone while all the people have to stand about you from morning till evening?” 15Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. 16Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s statutes and instructions.”
17“What you are doing is not wise,” Moses’ father-in-law replied. 18“You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. The task is too heavy for you;b you cannot do it alone. 19* Now, listen to me, and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. Act as the people’s representative before God, and bring their disputes to God. 20Enlighten them in regard to the statutes and instructions, showing them how they are to conduct themselves and what they are to do. 21But you should also look among all the people for able and God-fearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and set them over the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.c 22Let these render decisions for the people in all routine cases. Every important case they should refer to you, but every lesser case they can settle themselves. Lighten your burden by letting them bear it with you! 23If you do this, and God so commands you,* you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people, too, will go home content.”
24Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25He picked out able men from all Israel and put them in charge of the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26They rendered decisions for the people in all routine cases. The more difficult cases they referred to Moses, but all the lesser cases they settled themselves. 27Then Moses said farewell to his father-in-law, who went off to his own country.
* [18:2] Moses had sent her back: a later gloss which attempts to harmonize Zipporah’s presence with Jethro here in this story and the account of Moses’ return to Egypt with Zipporah in 4:20.
* [18:5] The allusion to meeting Moses encamped at the mountain of God, prior to the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai in chap. 19, might well suggest a different narrative context for this story from an earlier stage of the biblical tradition’s development. It is noteworthy that immediately after the Sinai pericope (Ex 19:1–Nm 10:28), recounting the theophany at Sinai and the giving of the law, the narrative of Israel’s march through the wilderness resumes with an apparent doublet of the visit by Moses’ father-in-law (Nm 10:29–32).
* [18:12] That a non-Israelite, such as Jethro, should bless Israel’s God by way of acknowledging what God had done for Israel (v. 10) is not entirely surprising; but the Midianite priest’s sacrifice to the God of Israel, including his presiding over a sacrificial meal with Aaron and the elders of Israel, is unusual, suggesting that he was himself already a worshiper of Yhwh, Israel’s God. Note further in this connection the role Jethro takes in the following narrative (vv. 13–27) in instituting a permanent judiciary for the Israelites. Burnt offering: a sacrifice wholly burnt up as an offering to God.
* [18:19–20] By emphasizing Moses’ mediatorial role for the people before God in regard to God’s statutes and instructions, this story about the institution of Israel’s judiciary prepares for Moses’ role in the upcoming revelation of the law at Sinai.
* [18:23] And God so commands you: i.e., and God approves.
c. [18:21, 25] Dt 1:15; 16:18.