V 1-4 Jethro and Zipporah are mentioned in 2:18-21; 3:1; 4:18-26. Jethro was a priest in Midian, most likely similar to Melchizedek of Gen. 14. Moses was led to them after fleeing Pharaoh when he was 40 years old. Zipporah, his daughter became Moses’ wife and bore him two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moses left Zipporah with her father while he went back to Egypt at the Lord’s command at the burning bush. Word had spread through caravan’s and travelers of the events of the Passover. Jethro came to Sinai probably because Moses told him to bring his family there after the Lord delivered them from Egypt. Gershom means “foreigner” and Eliezer means “God is my help”.
V 5-7 Jethro came to bring Zipporah to Moses and bring his blessings of peace and encouragement. They are still located at Rephidim where the events of God providing water from the rock and the defeat of the Amalekites & Midianites occurred as discussed in Chap. 17. Rephidim is located near Mt. Sinai, which is the mountain of God. Moses had great respect for Jethro and the Rabbis likewise have great regard for him as well, considering him a prophet of God. The parashah Yitro, named for Jethro, a non-Jew, is credited as being a contributor to the Torah with his counsel to Moses in this chapter.
V 8-12 Moses shared with Jethro all that God had done on behalf of Israel in Egypt and in the wilderness up to that point. Jethro’s response demonstrates even greater faith than many of the Israelites. It is believed by many that it was at this point that he came to faith in the God of Israel. His actions demonstrate that he no longer worshiped the gods of the Midianites (Num. 25:17–18 31:2–3, 16), but the God of Israel. His faith most likely came from the testimony of Moses about God’s deliverance of Israel both from the bondage of Egypt and through their trials in the wilderness. Jethro praised God twice for His deliverance of His people. That along with seeing the entire nation brought to Sinai just as Moses had earlier told him of the Lord promise. This is what evangelism or in Hebrew “besorah” is; sharing good news about God’s deliverance of His people. In response, Jethro offers a sacrifice to the God of Israel and is joined with Moses, Aaron and the elders of Israel in worship and breaking bread together with him. The Law had yet been given so there was some idea about the shedding of blood, but the Torah clarified it (Lev. 17:11).
V 13-14 The next morning Jethro observes Moses acting as the judge of God’s people deciding the various issues that God’s people needed answered. Kings and Priests would sit in the gate and listen to cases and render judgment. Jethro saw that Moses sat in judgment into the evening. Jethro saw that Moses would not be able to keep this up indefinitely. Since he was a priest in Midian he may have had personal experience at this. Nothing was wrong with Moses’ serving as a judge; what was wrong was his serving as the only judge for simple cases as well as for complex ones. Moses’ going alone was that he functioned as a prophet, who dispensed God’s revelation.
V 15-16 Moses as a prophet conveyed God’s truth and will to God’s people, He inquired God on their behalf. Through this God revealed His decrees and laws. Moses understood himself to be the sole mediator for the people. God through Moses was preparing his people’s thinking for the Law which was going to be given to them shortly.
V 17-18 Jethro’s practical wisdom benefited Moses greatly and remains an example of delegation and management organization still in use today. V. 23 indicates that Jethro recognized that Moses needed God’s permission to implement his advice (v. 23). Jethro’s argument for his advice was that all were being frustrated and exhausted. Jethro’s argument is an early version of the popular legal saying “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
V 19-20 Jethro’s suggestion did not call for Moses to discontinue judging or stop serving as a representative of the people’s problems to God, or that he end teaching God’s decrees and laws. Jethro did not say he was speaking for God but making suggestions subject to God’s confirmation (“and may God be with you” in the first sentence of v. 19 and “if you do this and God commands” in v. 23).
V 21-23 Jethro called for a faithful judicial system manned by “trustworthy men who hate bribes.” These judges would be appointed on the basis of honesty and ability rather than by being born into the role. The judges would serve over “thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” The lower court judges would be available “for the people at all times”, taking the simple cases leaving Moses to deal only with the more difficult cases. Those cases were those that needed his intercessory role requiring God’s counsel. Jethro did not presume that his counsel was directly from God but appealed to Moses to seek the Lord regarding it. If God approved Moses will be able to endure in his calling and God’s people will also experience peace and blessing.
V 24-27 These verses summarize what was suggested, we can assume that Moses learned from God that Jethro’s advice was either acceptable or what God had intended all along but given to Jethro to convey to Moses. The Rabbis believe that Jethro was a divinely used person to give godly wisdom to Israel’s greatest teacher. So, it appears that by the time Israel arrived to Mt. Sinai/Horeb, three months after leaving Egypt, Israel had a court system using judges selected by the people as judges, with Moses as the supreme court.