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Exodus 18 – Dave Bish

The bluefish himself - the blogger who needs no introduction!  I so appreciate Dave's heart for Christ-centred, grace-filled biblical theology.  Here is a brilliant example of it...

Read Exodus 18

Exodus 18 is a wonderful passage in this "greatest prophecy of the cross" (Blackham). So unspeakably wonderful that most seem to skip over it,, straight to the fireworks and commandments of Sinai. Spurgeon passed it by and seemingly so have many others.

Here for a moment the action stops and its time for some administration.


V1. Jethro. Midianite. An Abrahamite, not not an inheritor, an outsider with some Christian connections.  V1. There has been a global event. Do you fight like Amalek? Melt like Canaan? Or come and find out how this small ethnic group overthrew a superpower? V2-6. He comes with GERSHOM and ELIEZER. Their names prophesy the story of God's salvation.  V7. Met with a friendly welcome. Like Jesus' welcome, and so too his disciples love one another - the anti-narcissm that Jesus makes possible.

But Jethro hasn’t just come for conversation, he wants to find out what’s the LORD is doing, and Moses is the man to tell him. V8. Moses tells all that the LORD had done - how the LORD had delivered them. It’s Theology! It’s talk about God and what he has done. It’s good to talk Theology. Christians are a people who love to talk about Jesus who is God. Moses loves to speak of Jesus’ rescue of his people. Notice what Jethro didn’t hear. It wasn’t a message about Jethro’s needs or Jethro’s sins. Moses told what the LORD had done.

Adam Crozier was Chief Exec of the Football Association.: “What was interesting when I arrived was how little time people spent talking about football.” As for Moses, Jesus should be our subject. For Moses it must be like telling the story of Wilberforce ending the slave trade, but on a greater scale, with greater significance. Deliverance of Israel from Egypt is only a picture, painted on the canvas of international politics of a greater deliverance… God the Father sent his Son into the world to set us free from our slavery to sin, in the process displaying his love and his justice to his creation. This is what He has done. How should we respond to such news?

V9, V10, Jethro REJOICES for all the good that the LORD had done, and blessed the LORD. God’s people are a singing people, and Jethro joins the choir, pointing away from himself to the LORD. V11. Jethro says: Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods…A true Christian confession, turning from idols at Narcissus' pool to the LORD.

V7-12. BURNT OFFERING IN THE TENT. 1st picture – the story Moses has told a Passover Lamb and passing through the Sea of Reeds. 2nd picture - The burnt offering. Hardly normal life for us!?

The next book of the Bible, Leviticus, explains it.. A burnt offering isn't part of the normal pattern of our lives, but we can consider and understand it. This comes with much help from Andrew Bonar's Geneva Commentary on Leviticus:

1. Male animal without blemish - We’re all stained by the rebellion of our first parents, Adam & Eve, and by our own rebellion against God. All humanity is marred and corrupted – not necessarily as bad as we might be, but marred in every part, opposed + unwilling to turn back to God. An unblemished sacrifice dies in the place of the guilty.

2. Before the LORD - Sacrifice given to God, because God has a problem. His anger must be turned asider, or we perish.

3. Leans on it - Jethro identifies himself with this substitute – it represents him. Neil Armstrong represented us all as he took a giant leap for mankind 40 years ago - "we went to the moon". Jethro leans on “It will be accepted in my place”. But can the blood of an animal take away sin?

4. It is killed - The life is laid down, helpless. Death is horrible, it is the curse of sin - "you will surely die". The LORD leans on the animal to bring death. Everyone will see the warm crimson blood, its life taken away.

5. Blood is spread - Bonar: “the life being taken away the sinners naked soul is exhibited.” – This is what the offerer deserves.

6. Cut up and burned up - God’s favour creates, his wrath de-creates – and the animal is taken apart. This is appropriate. We try to justify and play down our sin, but God sees it for what it is and rightly responds. His enemies deserve destruction. The consuming fire of his holiness consumes the offering

7. A pleasing aroma – We find here the meaning of the cross of Jesus. The Father sends the Son, in a plan formulated in the heart of God before creation to satisfy wrath and secure his favour. He looks on at the completed event and takes delight in it.

We do not offer a burnt offering because Jesus has already offered himself as the perfect sacrifice, once for all time for us, guaranteeing the abundant unwavering favour of God forever!

So anyway, Jethro hears about Jesus, responds with joy and becomes a friend of God. Good story, but not the end of the story.  This Gentile has a contribution to make to the people of God.  This will set the stage for the giving of the law and the viewing of the Tabernacle.


God sent 60 people to Egypt. He brings out over 2 million out. Massive increase! Problem, one man can’t lead 2 million on his own… The early church had the same challenge as they grew rapidly from 120 people to 10,000. The principles they use seem to derive from what we find here as do those in the letters to Timothy & Titus about leaders. Useful for us!

Moses brings God’s saving word to the people in every matter, like Jesus representing them before God. Jethro states the obvious (v18): you’ll burn out soon. You can’t do it alone - it can't orbit round one person, no personality cult, no burn out. Think of the body working together.

We’re made like the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is not just one person, but One God in Three Persons, The Triune God, The Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit don’t vote on what do to, they do the Father’s will, and he enacts his will by his Word, Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are roles and order. Those who know Jesus are to look like him together.

Jethro tells Moses to find, v21, TRUSTWORTHY men to be made, v25, HEADS over people. Two words capture the gist of what is said here.

Why Trustworthy Heads? These are men like Christ to whom the Father gave all authority, knowing that he would be the Trustworthy Head of the church.

  • The Father knows his Son will not usurp him, he is trustworthy. Those entrusted with service in the church don’t use it overthrow others. And those who show themselves trustworthy, before being given a role, find that trustworthiness recognised.
  • The Father entrusts his Son with the church – he doesn’t abuse her, he cherishes and nourishes her.  Trust is given not to be abused but exercised.

God’s plan doesn’t just rescue people alone, he creates a people – the church. A family on mission like God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the ultimate missionary family. The family on earth lives an orderly life, just as our God is orderly, whether in the church, in the home, in the workplace. A people who look like their God.


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