Blessed Be the LORD | Exodus 18:1-12

Exodus 18 is a positive unfolding of chapter 17. Exodus 17 began with Israel quarreling with Moses, placing God on trial, and God Himself taking Israel’s rightful judgment. It then ended with a nation of Gentiles attacking the weak and weary Israel. Exodus 18 is the reverse. In this first half, we begin with Jethro, an upright Gentile, hearing the good news of Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel and believing. The chapter will then conclude with the LORD using Jethro to instruct Moses in how to properly judge the people.

As for our present text, this family reunion of Moses and Jethro is filled to the brim with implications for how we ought to proclaim the gospel and what a proper response to the gospel looks like.


Our text opens with the reintroduction Jethro, whom the text makes abundantly clear was Moses’ father-in-law. Verse 1 states that Jethro “heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.” Jethro probably heard of these things through the merchants and travelers coming from Egypt. We must, of course, remember that the ten plagues likely took place over a span of several months rather than the couple of weeks that we subconsciously tend to imagine. Thus, Jethro was likely learning about everything that was happening only a week or so after each event.

Furthermore, verse 2 tells us that Moses had sent Zipporah and his two sons back to Jethro’s house at some point. The majority of commentators seem to think that Moses sent his family away before actually arriving in Egypt or perhaps after Pharaoh’s first refusal in chapter 5. Some even believe that Moses had divorced Zipporah by sending his family away to Jethro’s house, but the arguments for such a thought are not at all compelling. While the text simply does not tell us when or why Moses sent his wife and sons back to Jethro, I tend to think alongside Calvin that he did so whenever Israel came into the wilderness. Perhaps Moses even sent them with the intent of Jethro coming to see him, since Moses clearly had a great respect for his father-in-law.

Verses 3-4 interestingly repeat to us the names of Moses’ two sons and their meanings, though previously only Gershom was named back in chapter 2. Gershom, which sounds like the Hebrew word for sojourner, was named during Moses’ new life in the wilderness of Midian, where he was separated from both Israel and Egypt, the peoples which were his home. Eliezer means God is my help, for Moses said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Eliezer’s name was a testimony from Moses that God had delivered him from Pharaoh’s desire to have him put to death for murdering the Egyptian. Indeed, even after living in Midian for forty years, Moses still clearly feared the sword of Pharaoh since God specifically told him in 4:19 that “all the men who were seeking your life are dead.”

But while Moses named his sons as a testament of God’s providence over his own life, I believe they are repeated here to help us see God’s providence over all of Israel through his servant Moses. Israel as a nation sojourned in Egypt for more than four hundred years, and they were brought out by the unilateral help of the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jethro’s coming to Moses at the mountain of God likely means that Israel was still camped at Rephidim, which was evidently near Horeb/Sinai but not yet at the base of the mountain. It is possible that Jethro sent word to Moses of his coming in order to give proper homage to Moses, for as Stuart notes:

Indeed, it can be argued that Jethro was actually using the presence of Zipporah and the boys to ensure his own acceptance by Moses, whom he now encountered not as an escaped Egyptian alone but as the leader of a great nation of people that had just distinguished itself by beating the Amalekites in war, something Jethro and his Midianites could not expect to do.[1]

This is not so difficult to imagine, especially if Jethro was in fact scraping for every report he could find of Moses and his doings in Egypt. Recall that 12:3 said that after the first nine plagues, “the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.” So, before the night of the exodus, Moses was more respected by the Egyptians than Pharaoh himself, making Moses more popular than the most powerful man in the world. Such status can easily change a person for the worse. Thus, Jethro would not be a fool to wonder if Moses was still the meek sojourner that shepherded his flock for four decades.

Thankfully, Jethro had nothing to fear. In Numbers 12:3, Moses himself tells us, “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.” Since the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write those words, we gladly affirm that they are true, and indeed they must be. To be able to write about how meek you are without taking pride in your meekness is meek indeed! Though Moses was the quite literally the most powerful man in the world, most significantly because he was the instrument of the Almighty Creator but from a worldly vision also because he overthrew Pharaoh, he “went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him.” Moses did not send servants out to greet Jethro and then aim to impress him with his power and prestige. No, Moses went out himself and gave great respect to his father-in-law.

Such genuine display of humility and love is what made Moses the great man of God and leader of Israel that he was. Indeed, it is the same sort of meekness and humility that Jesus continuously and perfectly displayed. Moses was displaying the mindset of Christ, which Paul described in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” 


After Moses and Jethro asked each other about their welfare, they entered Moses’ tent and began to talk. What did they talk about? Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. Although Jethro had already heard the news about the exodus and the plagues, now he heard it from the horse’s mouth. Now Moses himself recounted everything that God had done. He shared his testimony with Jethro, that is, he told him the good news of how the LORD rescued Israel.

Take note of the three parts to this verse. First, Moses told Jethro of all that the LORD did to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians. This meant that Moses told his father-in-law the account of the plagues and Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Second, he told Jethro about their hardships along the way. He did not pass over telling his father-in-law about the bitter waters of Marah, Israel’s grumbling for bread, their placing God on trial, and battle with the Amalekites at Rephidim. Freedom as a nation had not been easy, and Moses did not bypass the difficulties that they had met in the wilderness. Finally, he emphasized the salvation of the LORD. We would do well to take each of these statements to heart because as followers of Christ, we each have a similar testimony whereby we can rightly proclaim the good news of the LORD’s salvation.

First, just as Moses declared God’s victory over Pharaoh and Egypt, every Christian is able to testify of Christ’s victory over their own sin. Sometimes that deliverance is as personally monumental as the exodus story. Paul’s conversion was certainly that dramatic, and other men like Augustine and Luther had powerful experiences in which they were remarkably converted in a moment. Yet far more common is the so-called “boring testimony.” That is, of course, the conversion that happens as a child and does not involve drugs and alcohol and sex but pride and legalism and unbelief. My conversion belongs to that latter category. I confessed Christ as Lord at age seven, wrestled with assurance particularly from about nine to twelve years old, all but walked away from the faith in high school, and truly tasted the goodness of the gospel at age 19. Such accounts are no less testaments of the goodness and grace of God than the more overt testimonies. Indeed, God was just as much at work in the deliverance of Joseph, of Ruth, and of Esther, though it was not with kinds of signs and wonders as seen in the exodus.

Second, Moses did not neglect to tell Jethro of all the hardships that Israel had already experienced as a fledgling nation. Likewise, a Christian’s testimony is not limited to how we first called upon the name of the Lord. Rather, our continual testimony ought to be, as the hymn says, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, how I’ve proved Him over and over!” Every hardship that we endure in this life ought to, in the end, become another testimony of the God’s deliverance and goodness. Stuart makes a great point saying,

A tendency exists in the modern evangelical “testimony” to emphasize only victorious, successful parts of one’s experience as a believer. Note how something of the opposite prevails in Moses’ discussion with Jethro: he told him “about all the hardships they had met along the way,” not to the exclusion of telling him “How the LORD had saved them” but with a proper balance of the difficulties and the deliverances, lest his potential convert wrongly think that God does not allow his people to face many dangers and trials in the process of their ultimate deliverance. “How the LORD had saved them” does not therefore refer specifically to salvation from sin in the present context but does help to establish the character of Yahweh as a saving, rescuing God who acts to keep his people from being destroyed.[2]

Of course, that is the key to any proper proclamation of the gospel; the sum of everything must be: “how the LORD had delivered them.” Moses rightly knew that he deserved none of the credit for all the events that had transpired, and we ought to remember the same. Testimonies of the pulled-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps variety give the glory to ourselves rather than to God. If we do not give all glory and praise to God when retelling the story of our conversion or of a particular hardship in life, then we have not yet properly seen the actual state of events.


Jethro’s reaction to Moses’ testimony of Yahweh’s faithfulness toward himself and toward Israel is astounding. In verse 9, he rejoices for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel. In verse 10, Jethro praises Yahweh. In verse 11, He declares that Yahweh is most certainly greater than all the other gods. And in verse 12, he sacrifices to the LORD and breaks bread with Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel.

Our previous encounter with Jethro in chapters 2 and 3 did not disclose to us his religious position. We know that he was “the priest of Midian” (2:16; 3:1). Was he a fully pagan priest to the idols, or did he worship the Most High God that was not yet known to him? We quite simply do not know because we are not told. I do tend to think that Jethro at least believed in an unknown supreme God, if only because he is presented quite similarly to Melchizedek from Genesis 14. Sailhamer points out many of the likenesses:

Just as Melchizedek the priest of Salem met with Abraham bearing gifts as he returned from the battle with Amraphel (Ge 14:18-20), so Jethro the Midianite priest came out with Moses’ wife and sons to offer peace (salom, 18:7; NIV “they greeted each other”) as he returned from the battle with the Amalekites. In Genesis 15:2 the “son of Abraham’s house” was Eliezar, whose name epitomized God’s help for Abraham, just as in the present narrative the “son of Moses” was Eliezar, whose name means “God is my help” (Ex 18:4). Melchizedek praised God for his rescue of Abraham form his enemies: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High…who delivered your enemies into your hand” (Ge 14:19), just as Jethro praised God: “Blessed be the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians…The LORD is greater than all other gods” (Ex 18:10). Melchizedek brought out bread and wine as a priest of God Most High, and Abraham tithed to him (Ge 14:18-20); Jethro brought out a burnt offering and other sacrifices and ate bread with Moses and Aaron. The Lord showed Abraham in a vision that his seed would be “a sojourner [ger] in another’s land” (Ge 15:13), and Moses’ other son is named Gershom because he said, “I have become a sojourner [ger] in a foreign land” (Ex 18:3). The purpose of these parallels appears to be to cast Jethro as another Melchizedek, the paradigm of the righteous Gentile. It is important that Jethro have such credentials because he plays a major role in this chapter, instructing Moses, the lawgiver himself, how to carry out the administration of God’s Law to Israel. Thus, just as Abraham was met by Melchizedek the priest (Ge 14) before God made covenant with him in Genesis 15, so Moses is met by Jethro the priest (Ex 18) before God makes covenant with him at Sinai (Ex 19).[3]

Thus, it would seem to me that this is Jethro’s conversion in the sense that his eyes are finally opened to see Yahweh as the Most High God. Indeed, Jethro’s response to the LORD’s defeat of Pharaoh, Egypt, and their gods is precisely why God made such an open mockery of them. God was making His great name, Yahweh, known to Pharaoh, to the Egyptians, to the Israelites, and ultimately to all the nations. Now here is Jethro, a Midianite, praising God by His holy name and rejoicing that He is supreme, that there is none greater than Yahweh.

This is, of course, the ultimate end of salvation: the knowledge and praise of God. Yes, we are rescued from our sin to have eternal life, but eternal life is knowing the Author of life (John 17:3; Acts 3:15). As Paul thoroughly notes in Ephesians 1:3-14, our salvation is all “to the praise of his glorious grace” (v. 6). Of course, the beauty of praise that it must arise from delight or else it becomes nothing more than false flattery. We can only truly praise God whenever we are first delighted by Him and in Him. Thus, in saying that our eternity will be spent knowing and praising the triune God we also mean that our eternity will be spent diving ever deeper into the knowledge and praise of Joy Himself. Indeed, Ryken notes that Jethro exhibited this deep joy:

He also responded with joy: “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians” (v. 9). The Hebrew word translated “delighted” (chadah) is unusual. This rare word conveys an overwhelming sense of joy, the kind of happiness that penetrates to a person’s very soul. Jethro did more than believe the good news about God. He celebrated it and rejoiced in it.

God gives the same joy to everyone who comes to Christ. There is great rejoicing in the knowledge that God has saved us and will love us forever and ever.[4]

We ought certainly to note the tragedy that Jethro, a Gentile, seems quicker to understand everything that the LORD is doing for Israel than Israel herself. As Henry comments, “While the Israelites were themselves murmuring, notwithstanding all God’s goodness to them, here was a Midianite rejoicing.”[5] As we have said before, let us not presume to have moral superiority over the Israelites, for we too are often the least able to see clearly the goodness of God in the midst of our hardships. Indeed, let us remind ourselves in fear and trembling that a grumbling, bitter spirit distorts our vision of reality, making it virtually impossible to notice the dazzling nuggets of gold given to us in the midst of our trials and afflictions. Jethro did not have such a mindset; thus, he was able to properly see the LORD’s goodness toward Israel, rejoicing and praising God for it.

Beyond delighting in Yahweh’s salvation and praising His name, our text concludes with Jethro sacrificing to the LORD and breaking bread with Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel. Stuart notes that “a ‘burnt offering’ was understood to atone for past sins and to appeal for forgiveness and acceptance. ‘Other sacrifices’ were offered by Jethro to be sure to cover for any adequacies in approaching such a powerful and, indeed, omnipotent God as Yahweh was, to ensure that Jethro would be accepted in genuine fellowship with God Himself.”[6] After making that act of fellowship with Yahweh as his God, Jethro then had fellowship with Yahweh’s people. The text does not tell us explicitly, but we would presume that the bread was manna. Thus, while Jethro believed the good news of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt firsthand, he was able to have a taste of God’s heavenly provision for them in the wilderness.

Interestingly, that is also how the Lord’s Supper works for us. We are two thousand years removed from being eye-witnesses to the crucifixion of Christ, to the breaking of His body and spilling of His blood to wash away our sins. Yet we still come each week to this spiritual manna as a means of tasting and seeing the goodness of God in the sacrifice of His only Son. Even as it sets our eyes upon Christ’s once for all sacrifice, it also gives us the opportunity to present ourselves as living sacrifices, laying down ourselves and taking up Christ as we take of the bread and cup.

[1] Douglas Stuart, Exodus, 407.

[2] Stuart, Exodus, 411.

[3] John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 280-281.

[4] Philip Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory, 441.

[5] Matthew Henry, Commentaries Vol 1: Genesis-Deuteronomy, 350.

[6] Stuart, Exodus, 413.


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