By Edward Dennett
THIS chapter brings to a close the dispensation of grace in Israel 's history. From Egypt to Sinai all was pure grace. At Sinai they put themselves under law. Hence the special character of chapter 18. The manna, as explained, presented Christ in incarnation, the smitten Rock His death, the streams that flowed from it the gift of the Spirit; and now, following the dispensation of the Spirit, we find in figure the blessing of Jew and Gentile, and the establishment of governmental order in Israel. Indeed, the Church, the Jew, and the Gentile, are all typically delineated. This will be perceived if the several points of the following Scripture are indicated:
"When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel His people, and that the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back, and her two sons; of which the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: and the name of the other was Eliezer; For the God of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh. And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: and he said unto Moses, I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her.
"And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him and they asked each other of their welfare: and they came into the tent. And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel 's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh; who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them. And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt-offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God" (v.1-12).
Jethro, the priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moses, now appears. He had heard of all that God had wrought for His people, and thereon brought Zipporah and her two sons to Moses. The very names of the children explain the typical character of the whole scene. The first is Gershom; "for he said, I have been an alien" or a pilgrim "in a strange land:" It is reminiscent therefore of the weary days of Israel 's absence from their own land when they were scattered as strangers throughout the world. (See 1 Peter 1:1.) The name of the second is Eliezer; "For the God of my father was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh." This undoubtedly recalled the past; but it is also a prophecy of the future, and therefore, interpreted typically, speaks of the final deliverance of Israel, preparatory to their introduction into blessing under the reign of Messiah. The two names thus mark two distinct periods in God's dealings with Israel: the first covers the whole time that will elapse between their being carried away captive into Babylon; while the second points to that momentous hour in which the Lord will suddenly appear and snatch His people from the very jaws of the enemy, when He shall go forth and fight against those nations who will be gathered against Jerusalem to battle (Zechariah 14). But the sorrows of their dispersion, as well as their deliverance from the sword of Pharaoh, are looked upon in this scene as past, and they are now in possession, in figure, of their long-delayed and long-looked-for blessing,
The Church is seen in Zipporah. She was the Gentile wife of Moses, and as such prefigures the Church. All thus is in keeping with the millennial character of the picture; for when Israel is restored, and rejoices in the happy sway of Emmanuel, the Church will have her part in the gladness of that day, associated as she will be in the glories of the reign of the thousand years. It will be a day of unspeakable joy to Him who came of the seed of David, according to the flesh, and every pulse of His joy will awaken a response in the heart of her who will occupy the position of the Lamb's wife. He therefore, and she together with Him, whatever her lesser measure, will have fellowship in gladness over the day of Israel 's espousals.
Next we have the Gentiles, as symbolized by Jethro's blessing, and confessing Jehovah's name. And observe how this is produced. Moses, the Jew, declares to Jethro all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel 's sake, and the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them." This relation bows the heart of Jethro, and he rejoices because of the deliverance of Israel, praises the Lord for it, and confesses His absolute supremacy. We thus read in the Psalms, "Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; Thou hast made me the head of the heathen" (Gentiles): "a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me" (Ps. 18: 43,44).
Jethro then unites in worship with Aaron, and the elders of Israel, together with Moses, before God. Moses is here the king, and hence he with Israel, and the Gentiles (Jethro) eat bread before God. It is the union of Israel and the Gentiles in worship. It is the scene predicted by the prophet: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob: and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa.2:2,3).
In the remainder of the chapter the establishment of judgment and government is recorded:
"And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father-in-law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: when they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another; and I do make them know the statutes of God, and His laws. And Moses' father-in-law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to Godward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: and thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness: and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.
"And Moses let his father-in-law depart; and he went his way into his own land" (v.13-27).
Two things have to be carefully distinguished - the failure of Moses, and the thing symbolized by the appointment of the rulers over the people. To take the latter first, it is evident that this arrangement for judging the people emblematically portrays the order in government which the Messiah will set up when He assumes His kingdom. As the Psalmist speaks, "He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness" (Ps.72:2,3). Hence it is that this section closes with this account. But while this is divinely intended, the failure of Moses in listening to Jethro must not be concealed. Indeed, if it were, some most valuable instruction would thereby be lost. The first mistake he made was in listening to Jethro on such a matter. The Lord had given him his office; and it was to Him he should have had recourse on every subject that concerned His people. The pleas Jethro advanced were indeed specious and subtle. They were grounded upon his anxiety for the welfare of his son-in-law. "Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone." If Moses would but do as he advised, then he said, "So shall it be easier for thyself," etc.; and again, "Then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall go to their place in peace." It was not therefore concern for God, but for Moses, that actuated Jethro. But the arguments he advanced were those most calculated to influence the natural man. Who is there, even among the Lord's servants, that does not at times feel the weight of his responsibility, and who would not rejoice at the prospect of its being lessened? There is indeed no more seductive temptation presented at such a moment than that of the need of a little care for one's self and one's comfort. But, dangerous as it is, and as it was in the case of Moses, if he had remembered the source of his office, as well as his strength, he would not have yielded to it. For if his work in judging the people were of the Lord, and for the Lord, His grace would be all-sufficient for His servant He taught Moses this lesson, as we find in the book of Numbers, when Moses complained to the Lord, and in the very words that Jethro had instilled into his mind, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me" (11:14). The Lord heard his complaint, and directed him to associate seventy men with himself to aid him in his work, saying, "I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone" (v.17). Though, therefore, the Lord granted him his desire, there was no additional supply of strength for the government of Israel, but Moses was now called upon to share with the seventy the Spirit which he before possessed. According to man, the counsel of Jethro was wise and prudent, evincing much sagacity in human affairs; but according to God, its acceptance was characterized by doubt and unbelief. In reality it left God out of the calculation, and made the health of Moses its chief aim, losing sight altogether of the fact that it was not Moses, but the Lord through Moses, who bore the burden of the people; and hence that it was not a question of the strength of Moses, but of his resources in God. How apt are all to lose sight of this important truth - that in any service, if occupied in it for the Lord, the difficulties in it should be measured, not by what we are, but what He is. We are never sent to warfare at our own charges, but every true servant is sustained by the all-sufficiency of God. Moses might be despondent in the presence of such a task, and Paul might almost faint under the pressure of the thorn in the flesh, but to both one and the other the divine word is spoken, if the ear be but opened to hear, "My grace is sufficient for thee."
Several valuable instructions may be deduced from this narrative. First, it is always exceedingly dangerous to listen to the advice of a relative in the things of God. When our blessed Lord, together with His disciples, was exceedingly occupied with His ministry, "so that they could not so much as eat bread," His friends or relatives "went out to lay hold on Him: for they said, He is beside Himself." They thought not of the claims of God, and could not understand anything of that zeal which was consuming Him in the service which He came to fulfil. Relatives look through the medium of their claims, or their natural affection, and hence the eye, not being single, cannot judge aright in the presence of God. It no doubt called for much self-sacrifice and loss of ease and comfort for Zipporah, and Moses, too, in the work to which he was called. It was nevertheless no small honour and privilege to be thus engaged; and had he been fully alive to it, he would have resolutely closed his ears to the seductive voice of the tempter in the person of Jethro.
Secondly, we gather that when once a word of distrust or complaint is admitted into our hearts, it is not very easily dispelled. As we have seen from Numbers 11, Moses uses the very words in his complaint that were suggested by Jethro. It is exactly here that Satan is so successful. There may be but a half unformed thought, an insinuation, in our minds, and immediately he comes and puts it into words, and presents it to our souls. For example, feeling weary in service, and it may be despondent through weariness, how often will Satan suggest that we are doing too much, going beyond our strength; and if we accept the temptation the thought may hamper us for years, even if it does not find expression in murmurs before God; We need therefore to be very watchful over our hearts as not ignorant of the devices of the enemy.
Lastly, it lies on the surface that man's order by no means represents the mind of God. To human eyes the governmental system advised by Jethro was very orderly and beautiful, and far more likely to secure the administration of justice among the people. Man always thinks he can improve upon the order of God. This has been the secret of the ruin of the church. Instead of adhering to the Scriptures, which reveal the divine mind, man has brought in ideas, plans, and systems of his own; and hence the manifold divisions and sects which characterize the outward form of Christianity. The safety of the Lord's people lies in steadfastly cleaving to the word of God; and in the refusal therefore of all counsel and advice which may be given apart from it by man.
Jethro had done his work, and, by the permission of Moses, he went his way into his own land (v.27). What a contrast with Moses and the children of Israel ! They were going God's way and to His land; and, as a consequence, were pilgrims passing through the wilderness; but Jethro went his (not God's) way, and into his own (not God's) land. Instead, therefore, of being a pilgrim, he had a settled home, where he kept no sabbath, but found his own rest.