Exodus 18 gives us a picture of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro. Moses and Jethro offer us a picture of how to navigate relationships with in-laws in a constructive way. Consider some of the lessons you might glean from their relationship.
In the beginning of chapter 18, we see how Moses is keeping his father-in-law informed about what is going on in their life. He cares about keeping him involved and connected. There was no telephone line to make a call, so Moses does the next best thing--he sends his wife and sons. Jethro receives his daughter and grandsons and was delighted with the news and company of his grandchildren.
As thrilled as Jethro was to see his daughter and his grandsons, he knew that that they needed to get back to Moses. It doesn't say how long they visited or if they over-stayed their welcome, but we see that Jethro accompanies the group back to Moses. Now Jethro becomes the guest at the home of Moses and his daughter Zipporah.
The visit is off to a good start as Moses greets his father-in-law with a bow of respect and a kiss to show his love for him. It seems as though they have a very loving relationship with one another. He then invites him in to sit together and engage in conversation about how God has been at work in their lives and cared for them through hard times.
Moses is not bragging about himself and saying, "look how cool I am!" Moses is witnessing to God's faithfulness in his life and showing Jethro how God cares for his people. Jethro was delighted to hear about God's faithfulness and praised God for his care for his family and the people. Jethro also reaffirmed his faith saying that "now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods."
The next scene is the family worshiping together by offering a sacrifice to God and sharing a meal together. These are things that build relationships! So far the visit seems to be going great, everyone is happy to see each other and they are enjoying their time together.
Jethro decides to inspect his son-in-law's work the next day and comes to Moses with his concerns. Moses initial reply seems defensive as he explains to Jethro that "he was doing God's work with the people." Jethro is not satisfied with the answer Moses gives and tells him "that the way he was working was not good." Then Jethro gets smarter and frames his concerns in the context of caring about Moses. When you need to speak a difficult truth, always do it in love! Jethro does not want Moses getting worn out by dealing with a work load that is too big for one man.
Now that he has framed his concern in love, Jethro is comfortable getting even bolder and says everyone's favorite phrase, "Let me give you some advice!" I wonder if Moses cringed at that sentence and wished he had sent his father-in-law home the day before. Jethro does a good job of offering his suggestion in the context of caring for Moses, which had to have softened his disapproval of what Moses was doing. He seems to have Moses best interests at heart and undoubtedly the interests of his daughter and grandsons as well. Don't you wonder how many times Zipporah tried to get Moses to hire some help so he could get home before the evening meal was cold!?
Moses now has a choice to make in how he will respond to Jethro. He could take Jethro's suggestion as an assault to his ego. He might even wonder if his wife put her father up to this. He could dismiss his suggestion and keep on with the way he has been doing things. If they did not have a friendly relationship or if the suggestion was not framed in love, I wonder if Moses would have considered it. The Bible tells us that Moses listened to his father-in-law, he took in what he had to tell him. I imagine that he evaluated Jethro's words in light of God's words and weighed them to see if they were a good idea.
After weighing the advice, it is left for Moses to decide if he wants to follow Jethro's suggestion. Jethro does not have control over the choices made by Moses.The Bible tells us is that Moses did everything just as his father-in-law had said. This is an in-law's dream! I think it takes courage to put aside our own ego and to be open to another person's suggestion. We can see that he was not above taking advice from his father-in-law and probably valued the wisdom of his years.
The next thing we hear about Jethro is that he went home. Moses sent him on his way and he returned to his own country. Jethro understood Ben Franklin's suggestion that, "Both fish and visitors begin to stink after three days!" Jethro recognized some healthy boundaries. He knew his visit was up and it was time for him to return to his own home.