Exodus Chapter Eighteen
Jethro brings to Moses his wife and two sons. (1-6) Moses entertains Jethro. (7-12) Jethro's counsel to Moses. (13-27)
Commentary on Exodus 18:1-6
(Read Exodus 18:1-6)
Jethro came to rejoice with Moses in the happiness of Israel, and to bring his wife and children to him. Moses must have his family with him, that while he ruled the church of God, he might set a good example in family government, 1 Timothy 3:5.
Commentary on Exodus 18:7-12
(Read Exodus 18:7-12)
Conversation concerning God's wondrous works is good, and edifies. Jethro not only rejoiced in the honour done to his son-in-law, but in all the goodness done to Israel. Standers-by were more affected with the favours God had showed to Israel, than many were who received them. Jethro gave the glory to Israel's God. Whatever we have the joy of, God must have the praise. They joined in a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Mutual friendship is sanctified by joint worship. It is very good for relations and friends to join in the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and praise, as those that meet in Christ. This was a temperate feast; they did eat bread, manna. Jethro must see and taste that bread from heaven, and though a gentile, is welcome: the gentiles are welcomed to Christ the Bread of life.
Commentary on Exodus 18:13-27
(Read Exodus 18:13-27)
Here is the great zeal and the toil of Moses as a magistrate. Having been employed to redeem Israel out of the house of bondage, he is a further type of Christ, that he is employed as a lawgiver and a judge among them. If the people were as quarrelsome one with another as they were with God, no doubt Moses had many causes brought before him. This business Moses was called to; it appears that he did it with great care and kindness. The meanest Israelite was welcome to bring his cause before him. Moses kept to his business from morning to night. Jethro thought it was too much for him to undertake alone; also it would make the administration of justice tiresome to the people. There may be over-doing even in well-doing. Wisdom is profitable to direct, that we may neither content ourselves with less than our duty, nor task ourselves beyond our strength. Jethro advised Moses to a better plan. Great men should not only study to be useful themselves, but contrive to make others useful. Care must be taken in the choice of the persons admitted into such a trust. They should be men of good sense, that understood business, and that would not be daunted by frowns or clamours, but abhorred the thought of a bribe. Men of piety and religion; such as fear God, who dare not to do a base thing, though they could do it secretly and securely. The fear of God will best fortify a man against temptations to injustice. Moses did not despise this advice. Those are not wise, who think themselves too wise to be counselled.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Exodus》
 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;
Jethro to congratulate the happiness of Israel, and particularly the honour of Moses his son-in-law; comes to rejoice with them, as one that had a true respect both for them and for their God. And also to bring Moses's wife and children to him. It seems he had sent them back, probably from the inn where his wife's lothness to have her son circumcised had like to have cost him his life, Exodus 4:25.
 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:
The name of one was Gershom — A stranger, designing thereby not only a memorial of his own condition, but a memorandum to this son of his, for we are all strangers upon earth.
 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:
The name of the other was Eliezer — My God a help: it looks back to his deliverance from Pharaoh, when he made his escape after the slaying of the Egyptian; but if this were the son that was circumcised in the inn, I would rather translate it, The Lord is mine help, and will deliver me from the sword of Pharaoh, which he had reason to expect would be drawn against him, when he was going to fetch Israel out of bondage.
 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.
Now know I that JEHOVAH is greater than all gods — That the God of Israel is greater than all pretenders; all deities, that usurp divine honours: he silenceth them, subdues them all, and is himself the only living and true God. He is also higher than all princes and potentates, who also are called gods, and has both an incontestable authority over them, and an irresistible power to control them; he manages them all as he pleaseth, and gets honour upon them how great soever they are. Now know I: he knew it before, but now he knew it better; his faith grew up to a full assurance, upon this fresh evidence; for wherein they dealt proudly - The magicians or idols of Egypt, or Pharaoh and his grandees, opposing God, and setting up in competition with him, he was above them. The magicians were baffled, Pharaoh humbled, his powers broken, and Israel rescued out of their hands.
 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.
And Jethro took a burnt offering for God — And probably offered it himself, for he was a priest in Midian, and a worshipper of the true God, and the priesthood was not yet settled in Israel. And they did eat bread before God - Soberly, thankfully, in the fear of God; and their talk such as became saints. Thus we must eat and drink to the glory of God; as those that believe God's eye is upon us.
 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.
Moses sat to judge the people — To answer enquiries; to acquaint them with the will of God in doubtful cases, and to explain the laws of God that were already given.
 And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God:
The people came to enquire of God — And happy was it for them that they had such an oracle to consult. Moses was faithful both to him that appointed him, and to them that consulted him, and made them know the statutes of God, and his laws - His business was not to make laws, but to make known God's laws: his place was but that of a servant.
 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.
I judge between one and another — And if the people were as quarrelsome one with another as they were with God, he had many causes brought before him, and the more because their trials put them to no expence.
 And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.
Not good — Not convenient either for thee or them.
 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:
Be thou for them to God-ward — That was an honour which it was not fit any other should share with him in. Also whatever concerned the whole congregation must pass through his hand, Exodus 18:20. But, he appointed judges in the several tribes and families, which should try causes between man and man, and determine them, which would be done with less noise, and more dispatch than in the general assembly. Those whose gifts and stations are most eminent may yet be greatly furthered in their work by the assistance of those that are every way their inferiors. This is Jethro's advice; but he adds two qualifications to his counsel. (1.) That great care should be taken in the choice of the persons who should be admitted into this trust; it was requisite that they should be men of the best character. 1. For judgment and resolution, able men: men of good sense, that understood business; and bold men, that would not be daunted by frowns or clamours. Clear heads and stout hearts make good judges. 2. For piety, such as fear God, who believe there is a God above them, whose eye is upon them, to whom they are accountable, and whose judgment they stand in awe of. Conscientious men, that dare not do an ill thing, though they could do it never so secretly and securely. 3. For honesty, men of truth, whose word one may take, and whose fidelity one may rely upon. 4. For a generous contempt of worldly wealth, hating covetousness, not only not seeking bribes, or aiming to enrich themselves, but abhorring the thought of it. (2.) That he should attend God's direction in the case, Exodus 18:23.
If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so — Jethro knew that Moses had a better counsellor than he was, and to his counsel he refers him.
 So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.
So Moses hearkened unto the voice of his father-in-law. When he came to consider the thing, he saw the reasonableness of it, and resolved to put it in practice, which he did soon after, when he had received directions from God. Those are not so wise as they would be thought to be, who think themselves too wise to be counselled; for a wise man will hear, and will increase learning, and not slight good counsel, though given by an inferior.
 And Moses let his father in law depart; and he went his way into his own land.
He went into his own land — It is supposed the Kenites mentioned 1 Samuel 15:6, were the posterity of Jethro, (compare Judges 1:16,) and they are taken under special protection, for the kindness their ancestor shewed to Israel.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Exodus》
18 Chapter 18
I, thy father-in-law, Jethro, am come unto thee.
I. That this family gathering was permitted after long absence, and after the occurrence of great events.
II. That this family gathering was characterized by courtesy, by a religious spirit, and by devout conversation.
III. That this family gathering derived its highest joy from the moral experiences with which it was favoured.
IV. That this family gathering was made the occasion of a sacramental offering to God. Lessons:
1. That God can watch over the interests of a separate family.
2. That God unites families in a providential manner.
3. That united families should rejoice in God.
4. That the families of the good will meet in heaven, never more to part.
5. Pray for the completion of the Divine family in the Father’s house. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Character not deteriorated by honour
Nothing tests a man more than his bearing toward his former friends after he has passed through some experiences which have brought him great honour and prosperity; and when, as in the present instance, he comes back with his old frankness and cordiality, and is not ashamed of his old piety, he is a great man indeed. Too often, however, prosperity deteriorates character, and honour freezes the heart. The head swims on the giddy height, and the son returns a comparative stranger even to his father’s house; while the family worship, which used to be so enjoyed, is smiled at as a weakness of the old people’s, and avoided as a weariness to himself. Old companions, too, are passed without recognition; or, if recognized at all, it is with an air of condescension, and with an effort like that which one makes to stoop for something that is far beneath him. The development of character also estranges us from those whom we once knew intimately, and who were once, it may be, the better for our fellowship. But the consolation in all such cases is, that there can be no value in the further friendship of those who can thus forget the past. He is the really good friend--as well as the, truly great man--who, in spite of his deserved eminence, resumes with us at the point at which we separated, and carries us at length with him to the throne of grace, to acknowledge there our obligations to the Lord. There are men whom one meets from time to time with whom he has always to begin anew. They are like a book in which you never get fully interested, and which, whenever you take it up, you must commence to read again at the very preface; until, in absolute disgust, you cast it away from you, and never lift it more. There are others who are like a well-beloved volume, with a bookmark in it, which you can open at any moment, and resume where you broke off; and which, though you may be often interrupted, you contrive to read through to the end. Such a friend was Moses to Jethro, and Jethro to Moses; and though there came a final separation of the one from the other on earth, they would renew their conference in heaven. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Ashamed of parents
A fellow student of mine had very poor parents, but they had a great desire to give their son the very best possible education; and if you had looked into that home, you would have seen much pinching and self-denying on the part of those parents to give their boy a university training. Once, when he was away at college, they went up with proud hearts to see him, for was it not with great efforts on their part that he was there? He was walking in the street with a fellow student when he met them, and he tried to avoid them. You ask me, why? Because he was ashamed of them in their simple dress, and he was not going to own them until his friend had gone. That man reached the Presbyterian ministry, but he did not long stay in it, He fell from his position, and the brokenhearted parents followed him step by step. He went down lower and lower until a fellow minister and myself have rescued him again and again from police cells. Oh, the foulness of heart of one who is ashamed to own his mother, however poor. And yet there is still a greater sin; to be ashamed of That self-sacrificing love that nailed to the Cross the Son of God. (J. Carstairs.)
They asked each other of their welfare.
Friends meeting after separation
I. This world is not a scene adapted or intended to afford the pleasure and benefit of friendship entire. Men cannot collect and keep around them an assemblage of congenial spirits, to constitute, as it were, a bright social fire, ever glowing, ever burning, amidst the winter of this world. They cannot surround themselves with the selectest portion of humanity, so as to keep out of sight and interference the general character of human nature. They are left to be pressed upon by an intimate perception of what a depraved and unhappy world it is. And so they feel themselves strangers and pilgrims upon earth.
II. It is contrary to the design of God that the more excellent of this world’s inhabitants should form together little close assemblages and bands, within exclusive circles, detached as much as possible from the general multitude. On the contrary, it is appointed that they should be scattered and diffused hither and thither, to be useful and exemplary in a great number of situations; that there should be no large space without some of them. Thus it is a world that dissociates friends. Nevertheless, friends do sometimes meet; and then it is quite natural to do as Moses and Jethro did--“ask each other of their welfare.”
III. In the meeting of genuine friends, after considerable absence, these feelings will be present.
1. Kind affection.
3. Reflective comparison.
4. Gratitude to God for watching over them both.
5. Faithful admonition and serious anticipation. (J. Foster.)
I. As to the salutations at meeting.
1. Courteousness. This excludes--
2. A hearty welcome.
II. As to the subjects of conversation.
1. On public affairs.
2. On social matters.
3. With recognition of God.
4. Fit for mutual response (Exodus 18:10-11).
III. As to the mode of festivity.
1. That such festivity may not be confined to the family.
2. That it may be preceded by an act of worship.
3. That it should be with consciousness of the Divine presence.
To eat as before God, will make us--
1. It is not unbeseeming the highest places or persons in kingdom or Church of Christ to give due respect to relations.
2. Grace doth not unteach men manners and civil carriage respectively unto men.
3. Natural affection and expressions of it to friends beseemeth God’s servants.
4. It is a natural duty for relations to inquire of and wish each other’s peace.
5. Conduct to a tent for rest is suitable for travellers that visit their relations (Exodus 18:7). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Religious intercourse between parents and children
One Sunday night I said, “Ah! you mothers will say that your children are all in bed; never mind, go upstairs and wake them, and talk to them about their souls.” A mother (this I know to be true) went home, and her little girl was in bed and asleep. She woke her and said, “Jane, I have not spoken to you, dear child, about your soul. The pastor has been exhorting us to-night, and saying that even if you were asleep you should be wakened.” Then said Jane, “Mother, I have often wondered that you did not speak to me about Christ, but I have known Him these two years.” The mother stood convicted. She brought her daughter round on Monday and said, “Let this dear girl be baptized and lore the church.” I said to her, “Why did you not tell your mother?” “Well,” said she, “you know, mother never seemed to come up to the subject; she never gave me a chance.” Then the mother said, “Quite right; I have not been to my children what I ought to have been; but, please God, there shall never be another child of mine that shall steal a march on her mother, and find Christ without her mother knowing it.” God graciously rebuked that mother. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Among the means to be used in times of religious interest we may mention conversation. Many neglect it, but none can deny its power for good. Says Dr. Archibald Alexander, in his book on “Religious Experience”: “Religious conversation, in which Christians freely tell of the dealings of God with their souls, has been often a powerful means of quickening the sluggish soul and communicating comfort.” It is, in many cases, a great consolation to the desponding believer to know that his case is not entirely singular; and if a traveller can meet with one who has been over the difficult parts of the road before him, he may surely derive from his experience some salutary counsel and warning. The Scriptures are favourable to such communications. “Come and hear,” says David, “all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Dr. Watts thought so much of the “talent for parlour teaching,” that he declared that the man who had it could do more good than the minister by his public discourses. Said one who was under sentence of death: “When the minister spoke to me he seemed like one who was standing far above me; but when Alexander, that good man that everybody knows is the holiest man in the place, came in, he stood like one at my side, and when he classed himself with me, and said, ‘Sinners like me and you,’ I could stand it no longer.” Saurin, the great French preacher, said, in his sermon on Christian conversation: “Are we returning from a sermon? Why not entertain one another with the subjects we have been hearing? Why not endeavour to imprint on one another’s memories the truths that have been proved, and to impress upon one another’s hearts such precepts as have been enforced? Have we been visiting a dying person? Why not make such reflections as naturally occur on such occasions the matter of our conversations? Why not embrace such a fair opportunity of speaking on the vanity of life, the uncertainty of worldly enjoyments, and the happiness of a pious departure to rest? Have you been reading a good book? Why not converse with our companions on the information we have derived from it?”
Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness.
1. The Church’s friends rejoice in all the good done for it, and deliverance of it.
2. As Jehovah is the cause of good and deliverance to His Church, so He is the object of their joy (Exodus 18:9).
3. Joyful hearts for the Church’s good are thankful hearts to God for the same.
4. Deliverance of special relations, but especially of the Church, from powers of enemies is just matter of thanksgiving (Exodus 18:10).
5. Experience of the mighty works of God perfects the knowledge of Himself.
6. The great works of God set Him above all that are so called.
7. The pride of enemies exalts the power of God above them (Exodus 18:11).
8. Knowledge of God is best expressed in sacrificing and worship of Him.
9. Holy feasting is consistent with God’s holy worship.
10. God’s glory must terminate all sacrificing and eating among His people.
11. Eminent members of the Church may not disdain communion with true proselytes (Exodus 18:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Moses sat to Judge the people.
1. God’s providence joins work to sacrifice, and His servants do unite them.
2. The morrow brings its own work from God unto His servants, not every day the same.
3. God’s substitutes are careful as to worship Him, so to do judgment to God’s people.
4. Good rulers sit close to deal judgment to their people.
5. Providence puts hard work upon God’s ministers sometimes, from morning to evening.
6. It is just to be unwearied in giving and receiving judgment when God calleth (Exodus 18:13). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. The greatest and best rulers disdain not to give an account of their judgment to reasonable inquisitors.
2. The access of souls unto rulers to inquire of God, is a just ground for them to attend the work.
3. The appeal of souls to man’s bar in matters, is and should be inquiring after God (Exodus 18:15).
4. Duties of people and rulers are correlate, they come with matters, and these must judge.
5. God’s laws and statutes axe the best rule to order judgment between men.
6. It is duty to rulers to make people know the statutes and laws of God. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Consulting with God
My heavenly Father is my “other partner” in my business. I consult with Him. It is remarkable how I am relieved from the worry and anxiety so common to business men. Frequently, when I desire to “think over a matter,” it is really to consult with Him, after which my way is clear. And unto Him I render one-tenth. I often think this order should be reversed, and I take the tenth. (William A. Lay.)
Thou wilt surely wear away.
Undue application to laborious duties
Various lessons may be gathered from the fact that Moses was wearing himself away by undue application to the duties of his office, and that by adopting Jethro’s suggestion and dividing the labour he was able to spare himself and nevertheless equally secure the administration of justice.
I. We see the goodness of God in His dealings with our race in the fact that labour may be so divided that man’s strength shall not be overpassed, but cannot be so divided that man’s strength shall be dispensed with.
II. It is a principle sufficiently evident in the infirmity of man that he cannot give himself incessantly to labour, whether bodily or mental, but must have seasons of repose. We shrink from the thought and the mention of suicide, but there are other modes of self-destruction than that of laying hands on one’s own person. There is the suicide of intemperance; there is also the suicide of overlabour. It is as much our duty to relax when we feel our strength overpassed, as to persevere while that strength is sufficient.
III. God has, with tender consideration, provided intervals of repose, and so made it man’s own fault if he sink beneath excessive labour. What a beautiful ordinance is that of day and night! What a gracious appointment is that of Sunday! When the Sabbath is spent in the duties that belong to it, its influence gives fresh edge to the blunted human powers.
IV. Each one of us is apt to be engrossed with worldly things. It is well that some Jethro, some rough man from the wilderness, perhaps some startling calamity, should approach us with the message, “The thing that thou doest is not good; thou wilt surely wear away.”
V. At last we must all wear away, but our comfort is that, though the outer man perish, the inner man shall be renewed day by day. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Jethro’s advice to Moses; or, a word to ministers of the gospel
I. The power which ministers of the gospel should have. “Be thou for the people to God-ward.”
II. The work which ministers of the gospel should do.
1. Conduct Divine worship and establish suitable rules for the government of their people.
2. Give the right impetus to the moral and religious life of their people.
3. Explain to their people the duties devolving upon them.
III. The helps which ministers of the gospel have (Exodus 18:21-22).
IV. The qualifications which ministers of the gospel should possess.
1. Devout piety.
4. Freedom. (W. Edwards.)
1. God may use men of mean, calling, and endowments to help for prudentials, for government in His Church.
2. The most morally good government may not be good in natural or civil respects (Exodus 18:17).
3. Imprudential over-acting in doing judgment may consume rulers and people.
4. Good and righteous work may be too heavy for the best and strongest shoulders.
5. Solitariness in dealing judgment may carry great weakness in it.
6. It is good prudence to undertake burdens proportionable for strength and no more (Exodus 18:18). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Supreme governors had need of subordinate to carry on the burden of government.
2. Men entrusted with government should be eminently qualified with wisdom, knowledge, courage, etc. Each endowment may give a special observation.
3. Variety of bounds for power are requisite to the various capacities of rulers (Exodus 18:21).
4. Men so designed to rule ought all times reasonably to attend on judgment.
5. Matters of greatest moment have a just way of appeal from lesser to superior judges.
6. Smaller matters are reasonably to be concluded by lesser hands.
7. Such distribution of work in government maketh the burden more easy (Exodus 18:22).
8. Supreme rulers managing their affairs by others according to God’s command, walk safely.
9. Prosperity to prince and people may be well expected by keeping God’s commands (Exodus 18:23). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
The folly of solitary rulership
I. It causes an undue strain upon the solitary individual. Wicked men sometimes kill themselves by excess of pleasure. Good men should not kill themselves by excess of work even in the service of God. Many great lives are lost to the Church through excessive toils. The Divine Judge can never grow weary in His administration of the universe.
II. It interferes with the execution of the higher part of the judicial office. How often are ministers engaged with the technical and local when they might be engaged in the spiritual and universal. Justice needs more than administrative power; it needs spiritual discernment and those qualities of moral character which are the outcome of moral nearness to God; hence it requires men to be for the people God ward. Jesus Christ is now for the people God-ward, the one Mediator between God and man.
III. It leaves unutilized a vast number of able men quite equal to the ordinary requirements of justice. Ministers should not do all the work of the Church; they should call out latent talent for it. Society has many unrecognized judges.
IV. That this folly is evident to wise old men who see solitary judgeships in operation. Others can form a more correct estimate of our work than we can. We are too near it to take the perspective of it. We are too much interested in it to form unprejudiced judgments concerning it. Let us be open to the voice of wise old men who often speak to young men as in the fear of God. Lessons:--
1. That positions of trust should not be monopolized by the few.
2. That the common crowds of men have unsuspected abilities.
3. That good men should not be prodigal of their physical and mental energy to the shortening of their lives. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Lessons on Exodus 18:17
I. Others view our acts.
II. Others can often see faults where we cannot.
III. Others reproving us may lead to a better course of action.
I. Men should interest themselves in the acts of their relatives.
II. Men should be faithful in giving reproof and advice.
I. The wisest have some defects in their conduct.
II. The wisest may be benefited by the advice of others. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Jethro’s justice of peace
Here is the archetype or first draught of magistracy. Scripture is the best man of counsel for the greatest statesman in the world.
1. It first gives order for the care and circumspection in the choice. “Provide.”
2. Secondly, it directs the choice by four essential characters of magistrates:--
3. Thirdly, it applies these four to magistrates of all degrees, in aa exact distribution of them, by way of gradation, descending step by step, from the highest to the lowest. “And place such over them to be rulers”--
4. Fourthly, it prescribes to the magistrates, thus qualified and chosen, their offices, viz., to judge the people in the smaller causes, etc., and their assiduity and industry therein. “And let them judge the people at all seasons, etc. And it shall be that they shall bring every great matter to thee, but every small matter they shall judge.”
5. Lastly, it propounds the blessed fruit and emolument that will necessarily ensue thereupon.
Need of a heroic spirit in judges
What heroical spirit had he need have, that must encounter the Hydra of sin, oppose the current of the times, and the torrent of vice, that must turn the wheel over the wicked; especially such roaring monsters, and rebellious Korahs, such lawless sons of Belial, wherewith our times swarm, who stick not to oppose with crest and breast, whosoever stand in the way of their burnouts and lusts! Surely if Jethro called for courage in those modest primitive times, and among a people newly tamed with Egyptian yokes, what do our audacious and fore-headless swaggerers require? Our lees and dregs of time, not unlike to those wherein God was fain to raise up extraordinary judges to smite hip and thigh, etc. What Atlas shall support the state of the ruinous and tottering world, in these perilous ends of time? For all these fore-named purposes, how unapt is a man of soft, timorous, and flexible nature I for whom it is as possible to steer a right course, without swerving to the left hand or right, for fear or favour, as it is for a cock-boat to keep head against wind and tide, without help of oars or sails: experience ever making this good, that cowards are slaves to their superiors, fellow-fools to their equals, tyrants to their inferiors, and windmills to popular breath, not being able to any of these to say so much as No! (T. Brooks.)
Divine ordinances of labour
How valuable is a little common-sense--and how scarce! Here was Moses, a man trained in kings’ palaces, deeply skilled in all the wisdom of Egypt, and yet he has to wait till Jethro comes--a mere man of the desert, before to a self-evident evil he can apply a self-evident remedy. Labour is good; but if we labour unwisely, so as to overtask and enervate our faculties, the labour which in itself is good becomes, through our perversity, an evil.
I. Labour is an ordinance of God. There is work for all, and need for every man’s work, of whatever sort it may be--from thinking the thoughts or pursuing the scientific discoveries which clear the road along which the world is to advance, down to working a loom or digging a field; from managing a large estate so as to develop all its manifold capabilities of service, down to trimming its hedges or hauling its coal.
II. The division of labour is an ordinance of God. It is the wise division and distribution of labour to which we owe all the services and comforts of civilized life; and the wiser the distribution, the higher the civilization. It is this division of labour which multiplies the products of labour, and not only sets men free to invent improved methods of labour, but also puts them in the way of inventing them. If, for instance, one man could make a tent in ten days, ten men, each of whom was trained to make his separate part, would turn out not ten, but fifty or a hundred tents in the same time; and each of the ten, always handling the same tools and working on the same substance--canvas, or wood for poles and pegs, or palm fibre or hemp for ropes--would naturally improve his tools to save his pains, and discover qualities and capabilities in the substance which only long familiarity could detect. From such simple beginnings as these has risen that division of the whole civilized community into separate trades and professions, and these trades and professions again into many component elements and specialities, which multiplies its productive power to an almost infinite extent, and keeps the discovery of our means and appliances of labour up to the level of our growing numbers and wants.
III. The intromission of labour is an ordinance of God. Not only has He given us an inward monitor which warns us when mental or vital powers are overtasked, to seek out holiday mirth and recreative sports, to change the air we breathe and the scenes on which we look if perchance we may thus change the wearing current of our thoughts; He has also fixed the bounds to our labour beyond which we cannot or ought not to pass. Seven times a week the day draws to to an end, and the night comes on in which most of us, at least, are compelled to rest. Once every week, too, there returns the Day of Rest, on which we cease from our toils, and withdraw our minds from the noisy labours and corroding anxieties of traffic. And when we are over eager in our labours for present good, or what we think good, God sends some rugged Jethro--some warning sickness or calamitous loss, some sorrow that, passing through all our defences, smites and cleaves our very heart. Not because He grudges our prosperity, or would abate our happiness, but because He would have us rise to that sacred rest and satisfying peace which even adversity cannot take away, He often sends a chastening whose message, if we will hear it, is, “The thing thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear thyself away, and wastefully expend thy life on things which perish as you handle them. Turn ye at My reproof; for why should ye die?” (S. Cox, D. D.)
I. The giver of this advice. Jethro.
1. An old man. The father-in-law of Moses, who was now fully eighty years of age. Age has had experience of life. Time for observation. Old men have seen and noted causes of success and failure. Less likely than the young to give bad advice. Are less moved by passion. Taught by memory. Are near to eternity.
2. Thoughtful. His advice shows his thoughtfulness. Thought founded on observation. He saw the labour of Moses and the extent of the camp.
3. Affectionate. He was a relative of Moses. Looked kindly also on this great host of fugitives. Near relatives, amongst those who are most anxious for our welfare.
4. Disinterested. He had nothing to gain personally by giving it, save the satisfaction of his own mind and conscience.
5. Pious. Priest of Midian. Had a respect for the God of Israel. “Rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel” (Acts 11:22-24). The advice of men that fear God, who are men of prayer, and love the Bible, not to be slighted; it will be agreeable to the mind of God.
II. The receiver of this advice. Moses. He did not slight Jethro’s advice, although--
1. He was in direct communication with God. And we should respect the words of good men, although we have also the Word of God. We have need to be reminded of words, precepts, and promises, that we may overlook; or of laws, etc., that we may not understand.
2. He had been eminently successful. Such a man, if not humble, might have been very self-reliant; and have spurned the advice of another. Success makes some unmanageable and proud.
3. He was himself an aged man. Might have thought himself too old to be taught. As competent to give advice as Jethro. Inexperienced youth often puffed up by a little knowledge. The more one really knows the more one feels his ignorance.
4. He doubtless laid the advice he received before the Lord. Jethro made this a condition (Exodus 18:23). Are we willing that the advice we give should be tested by the Word of God? Do we so test the advice we receive?
5. He acted upon it, and benefited by doing so. Much good advice is lost in this world. Evaded, though good, because of trouble, or indifference, or pride. The character of the adviser, or his opinion on other matters, made an excuse for neglecting his words. Will God excuse the neglecter?
1. To do good by word and deed, as we have opportunity, unto all men.
2. To get good, from all men, as opportunity offers. (J. C. Gray.)
Dr. Holland, after Mr. Bowles’s death, wrote as follows: “As I think of my old associate and the earnest, exhausting work he was doing when I was with him, he seems to me like a great golden vessel, rich in colour and roughly embossed, filled with the elixir of life, which he poured out without the slightest stint for the consumption of this people. We did not know when we tasted it, and found it so charged with zest, that we were tasting heart’s blood, but that was the priceless element that commended it to our appetites. A pale man, weary and nervous, crept home at midnight, or at one, two, or three o’clock in the morning, and while all nature was fresh and the birds were singing, and the eyes of thousands were bending eagerly over the results of his night’s labour, he was tossing and trying to sleep. Yet this work, so terrible in its exactions and its consequences, was the joy of this man’s life--it was his life.” (H. O. Mackey.)
A proposal for the public good
After Marcus Valerius had gained two great victories over the Sabines, in one of which he did not lose a single soldier, he was rewarded with a triumph, and a house was built for him upon Mount Palatine. The doors of the Roman houses generally opened inwards, but this was built to open outwards, to show that he who dwelt there was ready to listen to any proposal made to him for the public good.
God-fearing men for responsible positions
One of Stonewall Jackson’s peculiarities was to select for his chief of staff, not a military man, but a Presbyterian clergyman, a professor in a theological seminary, and to clothe him with the power of carrying out his mysterious orders when he was temporarily absent. In this he acted as did the greatest of all English commanders--Oliver Cromwell; who always surrounded himself with men of prayer. ( H. O. Mackey.)
Setting others to work
One of the best qualifications of a minister is the ability to set the membership at work. It is said that Mr. Spurgeon asks every person seeking admission to membership in his church. “Well, if you are received, what individual work are you going to take up and carry on for the Lord?” As a result, he has now enrolled in his church register, 5,756 communicants, who represent just so many willing workers under his leadership. He saves his own strength by doing nothing that his hearers can do equally well. And every minister who tries can carry the same rule into practice with a membership of one hundred as well as five thousand. Many ministers fritter away valuable time in doing what the laity might do as well, and sometimes better, for them. (Christian Age.)
Justice to be done in small matters
In one of the police courts up town in New York, one morning not long since, a very small boy in knickerbockers appeared. He had a dilapidated cap in one hand, and a green cotton bag in the other. Behind him came a big policeman, with a grin on his face. “Please, sir, are you the judge?” he asked in a voice that had a queer little quiver in it. “I am, my boy. What can I do for you?” asked the justice, as he looked wonderingly down at the mite before him. “If you please, sir, I’m Johnny Moore. I’m seven years old, and I live in One Hundred and Twenty-third street, near the avenue; and the only good place to play miggles on is in the front of a lot near our house, where the ground is smooth. But a butcher on the corner, that hasn’t any more right to the place than we have, keeps his waggon standing there; and this morning we were playing at miggles there, and he drove us away, and took six of mine, and threw them away off over the fence into the lot. And I went to the police-station; and they laughed at me and told me to come here and tell you about it.” The big policeman and the spectators began to laugh, and the complainant at the bar trembled so violently with mingled indignation and fright that the marbles in his little green bag rattled together. The justice, however, rapped sharply on the desk, and quickly brought everybody to dead silence. “You did perfectly right, my boy,” said he, gravely, “to come here and tell me about it. You have as much right to your six marbles as the richest man in this city has to his bank account. If every American citizen had as much regard for his rights as you show, there would be far less crime. And you, sir,” he added, turning to the big policeman, “you go with this little man to that butcher and make him pay for those marbles, or else arrest him and bring him here.” You see this boy knew that his rights had been interfered with, and he went to the one having authority to redress his wrongs. He did not throw stones or say naughty words, but in a manly, dignified way demanded his rights. (S. S. Chronicle.)
Freedom of resort
It is an honourable memorial that James the Fifth, King of Scots, hath left behind him, that he was called the poor man’s king; and it is said of Radolphus Hapsburgius, that seeing some of his guard repulsing divers poor persons that made towards him for relief, was very much displeased, and charged them to suffer the poorest to have access unto him, saying, that he was called to the empire not to be shut up in a chest, as reserved for some few, but to be where all might have freedom of resort unto him. (J. Spencer.)
Spiritual vocation the highest
Jethro counselled Moses to be “for the people God-ward, that he might bring the causes unto God.” The highest of all vocations is the spiritual. It is greater to pray than to rule. Moses was to set himself at the highest end of the individual, political, and religious life of Israel, and to occupy the position of intercessor. He was to be the living link between the people and their God. Is not this the proper calling of the preacher? He is not to be a mere politician in the Church, he is not to enter into the detail of organization with the scrupulous care of a conscientious hireling: he is deeply and lovingly to study the truth as it is in Jesus, that he may be prepared to enrich the minds and stimulate the graces of those who hear him. He is to live so closely with God, that his voice shall be to them as the voice of no other man, a voice from the better world, calling the heart to worship, to trust, and to hope, and through the medium of devotion to prepare men for all the engagements of common life. The preacher is to live apart from the people, in order that he may in spiritual sympathy live the more truly with them. He is not to stand afar off as an unsympathetic priest, but to live in the secret places of the Most High, that he may from time to time most correctly repronounce the will of God to all who wait upon his ministry. When preachers live thus, the pulpit will reclaim its ancient power, and fill all rivalry with confusion and shame. Let the people themselves manage all subordinate affairs; call up all the business talent that is in the Church, and honour all its successful and well-meant experiments; give every man to feel that he has an obligation to answer. When you have done this, go yourself, O man of God, to the temple of the Living One, and acquaint yourself deeply with the wisdom and grace of God, that you may be as an angel from heaven when you come to speak the word of life to men who are worn by the anxieties and weakened by the temptations of a cruel world. Many a man inquires, half in petulance and half in self-justification, “What more can I possibly do than I am already doing?” Let the case of Moses be the answer. The question in his case was not whether he was doing enough, but whether he was not doing too much in one special direction. Some of the talent that is given to business might be more profitably given to devotion, Rule less, and pray more. Spare time from the business meeting that you may have leisure for communion with God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
How to receive counsel
He might have thought: “what presumption in this Midianite to dictate to the ambassador of Jehovah!” But Moses was a man of a very different spirit. In Montreal, some years ago, a certain English nobleman who had been recently converted, and was preaching the gospel to large multitudes who gathered to hear him, unfortunately had his heart lifted up within him, and began to speak bitterly and scornfully of the Churches of Christ in the city. An excellent and revered Presbyterian elder approached the young nobleman in the kindest way, spoke with great appreciation of the value of his work in preaching the gospel, but suggested that it would be better for the cause if he would cease abusing Christians and Christian Churches, and confine himself to the preaching of Christ. In reply he curled his lip in scorn, and said, “I take my counsel from the Lord!” What a contrast between the grand nobleman of the olden time, and the small one of yesterday. Moses might with some reason have claimed a monopoly of Divine counsel. God had chosen him out from all other men to make known His will to him; but when Jethro, though an outsider, and one who had only good common sense on his side, makes his suggestion, Moses does not scorn to listen to his advice, and take it too. And the event showed that the Lord fully approved His servant’s course. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
Division of labour
We recognize the value of the principle of division of labour in manufactures, because there it cheapens the manufactured article, but we fail to see its importance in our own work, because there, in the first instance, it involves additional outlay. We cannot get a man competent to be the head of a department without paying him a handsome salary; for responsibility means character, and character always commands its price. So, to divide our work into so many departments, and to put over each a thoroughly capable man whom we will hold to a rigid account, requires the immediate expenditure of a large amount of money, and we say we cannot afford it. But all this is a shortsighted policy, for, in the long run, the greater amount of business done will more than reimburse the original outlay; and, in addition, you can go home, not to fret and worry over trifles, but to be the companion of your wife and the guide and director of your children. Moreover, instead of breaking down hopelessly under the strain of carrying everything on your own shoulders, and requiring to go abroad for years, or, it may be, to leave business altogether, your strength remains unimpaired--nay, perhaps it even increases; and you have the satisfaction of seeing your home happy, and your children growing up to follow in your footsteps, and to declare that their God is dearer to them because He is the God of their father.. . . One said to me, when I began my ministry, “Never do yourself what you can get another to do for you as well as you can do it yourself”; and though I confess that I have not acted on the maxim as much as I ought to have done, I see the wisdom of it more clearly, the longer I live. “Divide et impera,” was the maxim of the old Roman general--divide and conquer; and by dividing our labour into many sections, and holding some one responsible for each, we shall do more, we shall do it better, and we shall work longer than would be otherwise possible. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》