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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–6
Verses 1–6

This incident may very well be allowed to have happened as it is placed here, before the giving of the law, and not, as some place it, in connection with what is recorded, Num. 10:11, 29 Sacrifices were offered before; in these mentioned here (Exod. 18:12) it is observable that Jethro is said to take them, not Aaron. And as to Jethro’s advising Moses to constitute judges under him, though it is intimate (Exod. 18:13) that the occasion of his giving that advice was on the morrow, yet it does not follow but that Moses’s settlement of that affair might be some time after, when the law was given, as it is placed, Deut. 1:9. It is plain that Jethro himself would not have him make this alteration in the government till he had received instructions from God about it (Exod. 18:23), which he did not till some time after. Jethro comes,

I. To congratulate the happiness of Israel, and particularly the honour of Moses his son-in-law; and now Jethro thinks himself well paid for all the kindness he had shown to Moses in his distress, and his daughter better matched than he could have expected. Jethro could not but hear what all the country rang of, the glorious appearances of God for his people Israel (Exod. 18:1); and he comes to enquire, and inform himself more fully thereof (see Ps. 111:2), and to rejoice with them as one that had a true respect both for them and for their God. Though he, as a Midianite, was not to share with them in the promised land, yet he shared with them in the joy of their deliverance. We may thus make the comforts of others our own, by taking pleasure, as God does, in the prosperity of the righteous.

II. To bring Moses’s wife and children to him. It seems, he had sent them back, probably from the inn where his wife’s aversion to the circumcision of her son had like to have cost him his life (Exod. 4:25); fearing lest they should prove a further hindrance, he sent them home to his father-in-law. He foresaw what discouragements he was likely to meet with in the court of Pharaoh, and therefore would not take any with him in his own family. He was of that tribe that said to his father, I have not known him, when service was to be done for God, Deut. 33:9. Thus Christ’s disciples, when they were to go upon an expedition not much unlike that of Moses, were to forsake wife and children, Matt. 19:29. But though there might be reason for the separation that was between Moses and his wife for a time, yet they must come together again, as soon as ever they could with any convenience. It is the law of the relation. You husbands, dwell with your wives, 1 Pet. 3:7. Jethro, we may suppose, was glad of his daughter’s company, and fond of her children, yet he would not keep her from her husband, nor them from their father, Exod. 18:5, 6. Moses must have his family with him, that while he ruled the church of God he might set a good example of prudence in family-government, 1 Tim. 3:5. Moses had now a great deal both of honour and care put upon him, and it was fit that his wife should be with him to share with him in both. Notice is taken of the significant names of his two sons. 1. The eldest was called Gershom (Exod. 18:3), a stranger, Moses designing thereby, not only a memorial of his own condition, but a memorandum to his son of his condition also: for we are all strangers upon earth, as all our fathers were. Moses had a great uncle almost of the same name, Gershon, a stranger; for though he was born in Canaan (Gen. 46:11), yet even there the patriarchs confessed themselves strangers. 2. The other he called Eliezer (Exod. 18:4), My God a help, as we translate it; it looks back to his deliverance from Pharaoh, when he made his escape, after the slaying of the Egyptian; but, if this was (as some think) the son that was circumcised at the inn as he was going, I would rather translate it so as to look forward, which the original will bear, The Lord is my 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. Note, When we are undertaking any difficult service for God and our generation, it is good for us to encourage ourselves in God as our help: he that has delivered does and will deliver.