"And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. Now he had said to Moses, 'I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.' So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent. And 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 on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them" (Exo. 18:5-8).
Moses had been separated from his immediate family for several months now at least. It is good for him to be reunited with them. He treats his father-in-law, Jethro, with great respect. They spend time together catching up on what had happened. Moses told of the plagues in Egypt, God's deliverance through the Red Sea, and the challenges of their journey thus far.
"Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians. And Jethro said, 'Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.' Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God" (Exo. 18:9-12).
Jethro was a priest (cf. Exo. 2:16ff) and this great news from his son-in-law inspired him to rejoice and sacrifice. Moses' narrative convinced him all the more that Jehovah is the true God! Evidently Moses had shared specific details about the plagues and Jethro realized that God was showing his dominance over the major Egyptian deities with each plague (cf. 12:12). In our prior studies of the plagues, we noted how each miracle from God denigrated a false god in Egypt (cf. archived lessons starting on 10/30/2012).
"And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, 'What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?' And Moses said to his father-in-law, 'Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws'" (18:13-16).
Moses was doing what came natural to him at this point--leading the people in God's way and solving all of their problems to the best of his ability. What he was doing was not wrong, but it wasn't the best situation. Jethro was wise to inquire about it and also provide some advice.
"So Moses' father-in-law said to him, 'The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.'" (Exo. 18:17-23).
Moses was trying to do it all, and he was struggling to keep up. Jethro offered some very good counsel. Moses needed help. He needed to delegate some responsibilities. He needed some other leaders to assist him in guiding the Israelites and resolving problems in a timely and orderly fashion.
We'll continue considering this context in our next lesson.