Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Exodus 18

Jethro recognizes Jehovah as supreme at this point, after the defeat of the Egyptians.  Some commentary suggests that the phrase "Jethro was delighted" in Ex. 18:9 means that he was circumcised.  While this would seem to be a logical development for a convert, this is far from evident from the text.  (

In this chapter, some fairly delicate family material is discussed indirectly.  Jethro had received Zipporah and her sons "after Moses had sent [them] away."  Since Jethro knows nothing of what transpired in Egypt, evidently Moses sent away his wife and recently-circumcised son at sometime after the lodging place of Exodus 4:24 and before Moses was established in Egypt. 
Presumably, Zipporah had to transport her sons back through the desert alone.  One hopes Moses let them use the donkey! 

At any rate, it appears that Zipporah and the sons stay with Moses, since the text says that Jethro returned to his own country.  Then Jethro provides advice which, while simple, is radical.  Moses has centralized all power in himself, making him a new Pharaoh (Jethro delicately suggests this in Ex. 18:10 by saying that God freed Moses from the Egyptians and Pharaoh, while the Israelites were freed only from the Egyptians).  Jethro suggests a system that is, at least by contrast, radically democratic, with judges appointed at four levels, ranging from what might be a typical extended family to judges of a full tribe. His suggestion further helps to create a system of "laws and not men."  By having Moses formalize God's statutes and teach the principles, the people become less dependent on Moses the man. The theme of decentralization of power (and its centralization by the later kings) is an important one in Israel's history. 


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