Let Me Return to My People

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Exodus 4:18-20, Moses Departs From Jethro

Scripture: Exodus 4:18-20

18 Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, 'Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.' Jethro said, 'Go, and I wish you well.'

19 Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, 'Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.'

20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.


18 Then Moses returned (went back) to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, 'Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.' Jethro said, 'Go, and I wish you well.'

There are two possible explanations for why Moses solicits his father-in-law's permission. One is that he may have needed his father-in-law's official permission to take Zipporah from her father's house. The other more likely explanation is that Moses exhibited good manners in formally making this request. As we shall see later (Exodus 18), Moses was extremely close to Jethro.

Moses . . . returned to Jethro.—Heb., to Jether. When Moses married Zipporah, he was probably adopted into the tribe, of which Reuel and, after him, Jethro, was the head. The tribal tie was close and would make the asking of permission for even a temporary absence the proper, if not even the necessary course. Apart from this, Moses would have had to "return" to restore the flock, which he was tending, for its owner. (See Exodus 3:1.)

How long did Moses stay with Jethro? Moses remained conscious that he was a stranger in exile, naming his first son (Jethro's grandson) "Gershom," meaning "a stranger there." Moses worked as a shepherd for Jethro for 40 years before returning to Egypt to lead the Hebrews to Canaan, the "promised land."

What advice did Jethro give Moses in Exodus 18? Jethro instructed Moses to "select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials…have them serve as judges for the people at all times." (v 21-22) In other words, Jethro advised Moses to delegate.

What are the five excuses Moses gave for not answering God's call?

5 Excuses for Not Answering God's Call (Exodus 3:4-14; 4:13-16)
• I am not adequate for the task. "Who am I," Moses asked (3:11)
• I do not know enough.
• People will not take me seriously.
• I am no good with words.
• I am not willing.
• What other excuses do we make when God calls? You may have used one of these – "I am too busy, maybe later;" "I would be too nervous," "I do not want to do it," "I need to practice first," "I think I am coming down with something."

Moses deliberately neglects to mention that he has just had a divine encounter in which God told him to confront Pharoah and deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Moses probably feared his father-in-law might not have well-received such a declaration. Jethro might well have regarded him as emotionally unbalanced. If he did believe Moses, he might object to Moses taking on such a dangerous mission and bringing Jethro's daughter and two grandchildren with him. It is hard to imagine why Moses would not have told his father-in-law about his encounter with God.
You may wonder why Moses does not tell his father-in-law about his encounter with God
Jethro could understand and relate to the importance of brotherly and tribal bonds, so he permits Moses to return to his kin without hesitation. We cannot know how much Jethro knew regarding the persecution of the Israelites or the possible danger to the son-in-law once he returned to EGYPT.
Jethro said, 'Go, and I wish you well Go in peace.—Jethro's character is one in which kindness and peacefulness are the main elements. If he is identified with Reuel, the pleasing picture drawn in Exodus 2:18-21 will furnish traits of his portraiture. The present passage and the notice in Exodus 18 sufficiently delineate him even without this. He is a sort of second Melchizedek, both priest and king, a worshipper of the true God, and one whose presence both Moses and Aaron are content to play a secondary part (Exodus 18:9; Exodus 18:12). However, he never asserts himself; he is always kind, gentle, acquiescent, and helpful. He might easily have made a difficulty at the present point of the narrative, have demurred to the weakening of the tribe by the withdrawal of an important member from it, has positively refused to allow the departure of 'Zipporah and her children. However, his words are "Go in peace." He consents and does not mar the grace of his act by any show of reluctance. He lets Moses take his wife and children. He afterward receives them back and protects them (Exodus 18:2); finally, when his protection is no more needed, he restores them to their natural guardian by a spontaneous act, as it would seem.

19 Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, 'Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.'
Let me go and see whether my relatives survive or whether they have succumbed to the tyranny of the Pharaoh. Moses could not doubt that some survived, not "my actual brothers," for he had but one brother; but "my relations," or "my family," my kith and kin. Indeed, this was not Moses' sole motive, not even his primary motive for wishing to return to Egypt; but, as it was among his motives, he was within his right in putting it forward and omitting to mention others.
What signs did God give Moses?
In response to this, the Lord gave Moses three signs. The first sign was of the rod turning into a serpent. The second sign was of his hand becoming leprous. The third sign was of the water turning to blood.

20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.
The Torah has until now only mentioned the birth of a single son. Moses has at least one other (see Exodus 18:4). In Exodus 18:4: Eliezer means my God is a helper. Furthermore, the other son was named Eliezer, for he said, "My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh" (Exodus 18:4).
In the Old Testament, Jethro also called Reuel, or Hobab, was a priest of Midian of the Kenite clan, with whom Moses took refuge after he killed an Egyptian and whose daughter Moses married (Exodus 3:1). After the Exodus, Jethro visited the Hebrews encamped at the "mountain of God" and brought Moses' wife and sons with him. Moses placed his family on a donkey, took the rod of God in his hand, and left Midian.
Jethro had sent word to Moses, "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons." "So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent.
Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country. Then, in a significant act of faith, Moses decided to trust his wife and children to the care of God and take them into the impending crisis and danger of Egypt. Finally, God assured him that "all the men are dead that sought thy life."
Jethro was the priest of Midian – likely a descendant of one of Abraham's other children through Keturah named Midian (Genesis 25:1-2). Because of this connection with Abraham, we have good reason to believe he was a faithful priest and worshipped the true God.

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