Exodus 18

1 It is not said whether Jethro heard the news "through the grape vine" or whether Moses has sent a specific message. It the former case is true then it is apparent that God's fame was indeed spread as He intended.
2 Moses had originally taken his wife and sons with him to Egypt (Exo 4:20), but had apparently sent them back "home" at some point. He may have wanted to spare them the plagues of Egypt, but we have a hint earlier that Zipporah was not supportive of her husband's calling (Exo 4:25). There is also the possibility that the family was sent back to Midian due to prejudice from the Israelites. Zipporah was not an Israelite, and Israelites would see this as a tarnish on Moses (Num 12:1).
3 Refer to Exo 2:22.
4 We are not told when Eliezer was born. Exo 4:20 indicate that Moses had "sons," plural, but in Exo 4:25, only one son was circumcised. The name Eliezer would also indicate that he was named after Moses had met God at the burning bush if, as I suspect, Moses did not really know God before that time.

One possible solution to this question is that Eliezer was a newborn when Moses met God and it was Eliezer that was circumcised. Moses may have given the name Eliezer just after his encounter with God or at some point after the return to Egypt. This scenario is highly speculative.

5 Since Exo 4:20 indicates that Moses went to Egypt with his family, we can conclude that at some point the family returned to their homeland. The reason is unknown. I can only speculate that Moses may have wanted to spare his family the hardships of the plagues. It is also possible that Moses' wife was not supportive (Exo 4:25) or because of the Israelites' prejudices (Num 12:1).
6 A messenger that Jethro had sent ahead of him would have delivered this message.
7 Moses had deep respect and love for his father.
10 We don't know what kind of priest Jethro was (Exo 3:1), but it seems unlikely that he was a priest of God.
11 Jethro is impressed at God's works and recognizes that God is more powerful than any other "god" he has heard of (or perhaps served).
12 After Moses had "witnessed" to his father-in-law, Jethro repents of his sins and offers a sin offering as well as other sacrifices to God. It is apparent that Jethro "converted" to faith in God. He became a member of Israel and participated in a fellowship offering before God.
13 The head of a family or camp typically handled judgement and arbitration. Since Moses was God's spokesman, he became the de facto judge for the entire Israelite community.
14 Obviously, this kept Moses very busy. Surrounded by over a million people that were often discontented, there was plenty of work for Moses.

Jethro could instantly see that this was not a good situation. Moses was headed for rapid burnout. We still see this kind of situation in Christian churches today. The ministers are often called upon to teach, serve, and arbitrate far beyond their physical capacity to do so. Many enthusiastic ministers end up retiring early and those who "make it" may be less effective than they could be if their duties were not so numerous.

16 The Ten Commandments and the other laws had not been written down yet. So how did Moses know what God required? Between the time Moses met God in the burning bush and the flight from Egypt he had developed a deep relationship with God. Certainly in those times God would have informed Moses of some of His requirements either specifically in Moses' life or more generally about life.
17 This seems like a bold statement since Jethro is "just" a new convert and Moses is God's special servant. However, there are a few reasons to take these comments seriously:
  1. Moses would get burned out if he kept this up
  2. It would appear to the people that Moses had exclusive access to God
  3. The people would not learn how to pray or use their own minds
  4. When Moses died, no one would know how to make a good judgement
  5. The people might eventually get tired of listening "to Moses"
20 Jethro suggests that Moses start an education program. The Israelites did not know God's ways, which is why they came to Moses. But teaching so many people on a case-by-case basis is inefficient. Instead, Moses should tell the law to all the people at the same time.
21 As with any kind of education, the students will sometimes have problems either understanding the teacher or applying the lessons. A teacher of a large class can not physically answer all the questions, so they often obtain teaching assistants.

Not just anyone could be a teaching assistant. For instance, you would not ask someone who does not know how to add to be a teaching assistant in mathematics. Likewise, you can not have men who do not know God or truth to speak on God's behalf.

Next Jethro suggests dividing up the responsibility so that the people can get as much personal attention as possible. In education we often want small class size because this gives the teachers and students more interaction. Thus, from a Biblical perspective, class sizes should be limited to about ten. However, monetary constraints in public schools often mean that class sizes be much larger.

One benefit of having leadership so close to the people is that these leaders would have a much better idea of the actual circumstances surrounding a particular case.

It is interesting to note that it should be possible to find at least one out of ten or eleven men that meet the requirements of knowing God, knowing the Truth, and having the ability to lead. In large families the father or grandfather of a group would discharge these responsibilities. Since member participation in church ministry is generally so low I often wonder if modern U.S. churches even have this capacity. Often times we do not even see men willing to be an active spiritual leader in their own families. I can hardly imagine the possibilities if even ten percent of church members took an active leadership role in their church or community. Family lives would also be much better if the fathers would place a high priority on teaching their family God's ways.

Even if ten percent of the people did not meet the requirements for being a leader, they could be trained to do so by those who were qualified (2 Tim 2:2). However, it is up to the individuals to seek such training. Remember that Christians are a "kingdom of priests" (Exo 19:6, Rev 1:6). God probably will not appear to you to describe what you should do in the Church, but He has given you talents and abilities. It is up to you to find out how to apply them to ministry.

22 Because this proposed leadership would be so wide spread, the "common" person would be able to obtain advice or judgement nearly 24 hours a day and without waiting in line!

Relatively easy questions could be answered at the level closest to the case. If the immediate judge did not know how to advise in a particular situation it cold be brought to a "higher" judge. Moses would act like the "Supreme court."

It seems unlikely that cases by "lower" courts would be appealed to "higher" ones. My feeling from reading about Eastern culture is that a judgement rendered by a lower judge would be final. Thus, if a lower judge did not know how to answer a question he would have to have enough integrity and humility to ask someone who would know. In the same way, if someone asks us for advice and we don't know how to answer we should refer him to someone else rather than making up an answer.

23 Even though Jethro was a new convert, he immediately recognized the importance of praying to God about all things. So why didn't God tell Moses to do this earlier? We can not know for sure. Perhaps God wanted Moses to see that he was not some kind of superman. When Moses wouldn't or couldn't admit his limitations God may have used Jethro to point out the problems.

Throughout the Bible we see these themes many times: we all need God and we all need help from other people (especially fellow believers). Even when it is evident that God is working directly through someone, that person should not become blinded to his own weaknesses and limitations. Everyone needs help and accountability. The most effective leaders will give everyone the opportunity to contribute to a cause.

27 Jethro apparently had been "adopted" into the Israelite camp, but he did not continue on with them into the promised land. Jethro's mission had been to reunite Moses with his family and he probably was not prepared to travel on to the promised land and fight battles. Also, because Jethro was a "foreigner," and likely a former pagan, his presence might have been a distraction to those Israelites who would have been prejudiced against him. In the Christian community we must strive hard to not limit or destroy someone's ministry because of his heritage or pre-Christian lifestyle (Eph 2:12, 13, 1 Cor 6:9-11).