This family reunion is not merely an interlude in the book of Exodus, but demonstrates how Jethro, the priest of Midian came to realise that Moses’ God, “The LORD,” was greater than all other “gods”. Volumes have been written concerning exactly when Moses had sent Zipporah and their son’s home in view of Exodus 4:20, or when exactly this took place considering Numbers 11:16-30. Nevertheless Jethro’s blessing and offering direct our thoughts to a more essential theme in the book of Exodus, that we might know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who declared. “I am the Lord.” Importantly, we also see a part of the Lord’s plan of salvation for Gentiles as well as Israel, His chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 14:2).
Jethro had heard of all that God had done for Moses and his people, which he would have been learnt in part from Zipporah and her two sons. He was able to send word to Moses in v6, so they had some means to communicate and furthermore the events concerning the Exodus would have been of great significance to people in that time, since Egypt was the oppressive superpower.
A stranger in a foreign land though the God of my fathers was my help
One of Moses’ sons was called “Gershom.” Undoubtedly he was as his name suggests, “a sojourner in a foreign land” and whilst that might have been the case for him in Midian, which was also the experience of the Israelites as they made their way through the wilderness. This is also the experience of the believer. The believer is neither called to live a monastic existence akin to the Essene community in Qumran, although we are blessed with the scrolls they preserved, nor assimilate with their surroundings, resulting in what they believe and who they identify with becoming indistinguishable. The believer is called to be “in the world, but not of the world.”
Moses’ other son was named “Eliezer”, meaning “The God of my fathers was my help.” Moses and the children of Israel could testify of that since they were delivered from Egypt and they were led towards the Promised Land. Like Gershom, the believer is on a pilgrimage and is a stranger in a foreign land but like Eliezer they can testify that despite hardships experienced in an ungodly environment, the God of his fathers had helped him. The believer is not spared the trials that are common to mankind or even the afflictions of the unrighteous, but they do have the Lord to help and guide them with every step of their journey.
Nothing is mentioned concerning Moses’ meeting Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer, although we are given information concerning the warmth of Moses and Jethro’s reunion. We must be careful not to speculate concerning the relationship of Moses with his immediate family. We know that Jethro brought them with him to meet Moses and we must keep in mind what is included in view of the book of Exodus as a whole. Moses showed great respect and affinity when they met, despite his considerable burden of responsibility.
Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the other gods
On hearing Moses’ account of how the Lord had delivered them, Jethro rejoiced for all the good that God had done in Israel. This enabled him to see that the God of Israel is the one true God. This speaks of an inner response to God and would mean he could share deep and real fellowship with Moses. The joy of the Lord is the strength of the believer and it is good to rejoice in the Lord always. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and the experience of someone trusting in the Lord despite hardships.
Jethro declared, “Blessed be the LORD” recognising who had delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians. Here he was not using, “Elohim” but the “Tetragrammaton” (HaShem) recognising Moses’ God (cf. Exodus 3:14) and His name. To elucidate his statement, he continued, “Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people” (Exodus 18:11).
Moreover, Jethro brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. In addition, Aaron and all the elders of Israel ate bread with Moses’ father-in law. A central theme of Exodus is that Israel and Egypt might know that “I am the LORD”(Exodus 7:5). Furthermore, God hardened Pharoah’s heart so that “My name may be declared in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Therefore, as well as the redemption of the Israelites from Egypt and serving God, Exodus demonstrates the essential importance of God being glorified.
When Moses married Jethro’s daughter, Jethro was already the “priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16) and Exodus 18:1 confirms that was still the case. It seems most likely that Jethro trusted in God when Moses testified of what God had done. Sforno wrote that the burnt offering and sacrifice was symbolic of Yitro (Jethro) accepting the yoke of heaven and aptly compares that with Naaman in 2 Kings 5:17 to undertake never to offer sacrifices other than to the G’d in heaven.[i] Similarly, Tur Haarokh considered that the purpose of the meal was to honour Yitro’s conversion and circumcision.[ii]
Jewish and Gentile believers in the Tanakh and in God’s future plans
The motif of Gentile and Jewish believers is revisited several times in the Tanakh. We have already mentioned Naaman. Noticeably there was a mixed multitude delivered in the Exodus (Exodus 12:38) and probably the most well- known example is that of Ruth the Moabite, who in addition to being the great-grandmother of David (Ruth 4:18-22) stated emphatically, “Your people shall be my people and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Psalm 117 may be the shortest psalm though it is of great significance concerning the above.
“Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great towards us, and the truth of God endures forever. Praise the LORD!”
Thinking eschatologically, Peter Enns notes that in Isaiah 19:18-25, Isaiah views an era when even Egypt, Israel’s great and national enemy will come to know God.[iii] How can that be and how will it happen? Only through the Messiah who is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Like Jethro, the Gentiles were formerly strangers to the covenants of promise and alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no hope and without God in this world, but through Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah, they have been brought near by the blood of Messiah, that out of the two he might create in Himself one new man in place of the two and bring shalom, bring real and lasting peace (Ephesians 2:11-22).
[i] Sforno on Exodus 18 https://www.sefaria.org/Sforno_on_Exodus.18.12.2?lang=bi
[ii] Tur Haarokh on Exodus 18 https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaArokh%2C_Exodus.18.12.2?lang=bi
[iii] Peter Enns Exodus The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2000; Grand Rapids), p375