Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The events recorded in this chapter could not have occupied many days - only 15 days elapsed between the arrival of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sin and their final arrival at Sinai, see Exo 16:1; Exo 19:1. This leaves, however, sufficient time for the interview and transactions between Moses and Jethro.
Jethro was, in all probability, the "brother-in-law" of Moses Exo 3:1. On the parting from Zipporah, see Exo 4:26.
The wilderness - i. e., according to the view which seems on the whole most probable, the plain near the northern summit of Horeb, the mountain of God. The valley which opens upon Er Rahah on the left of Horeh is called "Wady Shueib" by the Arabs, i. e. the vale of Hobab.
And he said ... - Or according to the Greek Version, "And it was told to Moses, saying, Lo, thy father in law Jether is come."
Asked each other of their welfare - Addressed each other with the customary salutation, "Peace be unto you."
Greater than all gods - See Exo 15:11. The words simply indicate a conviction of the incomparable might and majesty of Yahweh.
For in ... above them - i. e. the greatness of Yahweh was shown in those transactions wherein the Egyptians had thought to deal haughtily and cruelly against the Israelites. Jethro refers especially to the destruction of the Egyptian host in the Red Sea.
A burnt offering and sacrifices - This verse clearly shows that Jethro was recognized as a priest of the true God, and is of great importance in its bearings upon the relation between the Israelites and their congeners, and upon the state of religion among the descendants of Abraham.
From the morning unto the evening - It may be assumed as at least probable that numerous cases of difficulty arose out of the division of the spoil of the Amalekites Exo 17:13, and causes would have accumulated during the journey from Elim.
To enquire of God - The decisions of Moses were doubtless accepted by the people as oracles. The internal prompting of the Spirit was a sufficient guidance for him, and a sufficient authority for the people.
Thou wilt surely wear away - From decay and exhaustion.
Counsel - Jethro draws the distinction between the functions of the legislator and the judge.
To God-ward - Literally, "before God," standing between them and God, both as His minister or representative and also as the representative of the people, their agent, so to speak, or deputy before God.
Teach them - The Hebrew word is emphatic, and signifies "enlightenment." The text gives four distinct points:
(a) the "ordinances," or specific enactments,
(b) "the laws," or general regulations,
(c) "the way," the general course of duty,
(d) "the works," each specific act.
Able men - The qualifications are remarkably complete, ability, piety, truthfulness, and unselfishness. From Deu 1:13, it appears that Moses left the selection of the persons to the people, an example followed by the Apostles; see Act 6:3.
Rulers of thousands ... - The numbers appear to be conventional, corresponding nearly, but not exactly, to the military, or civil divisions of the people: the largest division (1,000) is used as an equivalent of a gens under one head, Num 1:16; Num 10:4; Jos 22:14.
The word "rulers," sometimes rendered "princes," is general, including all ranks of officials placed in command. The same word is used regularly on Egyptian monuments of the time of Moses.
To their place - i. e. to Canaan, which is thus recognized by Jethro as the appointed and true home of Israel. Compare Num 10:29-30.
Hearkened - Nothing can be more characteristic of Moses, who combines on all occasions distrust of himself and singular openness to impressions, with the wisdom and sound judgment which chooses the best course when pointed out.
Into his own land - Midian Exo 2:15.