Overview – Context and Chronology – Shemot 18

Broad Context

Chapter 18 stands out from the neighboring stories of Chapters 15-19, in both its content and setting:

  • Content – While the surrounding chapters focus on the Children of Israel's wanderings from Yam Suf to Mt. Sinai during the first two months in the desert, Chapter 18 describes the personal interactions of Yitro and Moshe, continuing from where Chapter 4 left off.
  • Setting – In contrast to the surrounding stories which are introduced with specific dates and places (Shemot 15:22-23,27, 16:1, 17:1, and 19:1-2) which lead the reader sequentially from one story to the next, Chapter 18 does not have a similar opening.1 This leaves the reader to wonder whether Chapter 18 is in its chronological place, and if not, why the Torah placed it here. See Chronology for a full discussion of this topic.

Immediate Context

Moshe and Yitro's reunion in Chapter 18 creates a sharp contrast to the story of the Children of Israel's encounter with Amalek in the immediately preceding story of Chapter 17. See Yitro & Amalek for elaboration.

  • These two stories depict the diametrically opposite reactions of people from neighboring nations to the Children of Israel's exodus from Egypt.
  • The two sections also share a number of linguistic features.
  • The Keinites (Yitro's tribe) are juxtaposed with Amalek in additional places in Tanakh (Bemidbar 24:20-22 and Shemuel I 15:6).


Chronology and the interplay between broad and immediate contexts – According to some of the exegetes who maintain that Chapter 18 is not in its chronological place, the Torah placed it here because of its thematic and literary connections to Chapter 17. Alternatively, Chapter 18 is in its chronological place, and this is the only reason why it interrupts the unit detailing the nation's journey from Yaf Suf to Sinai. For further elaboration, see Chronology.