Parsha: Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23)

by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970

A Cosmic Encounter

Yitro יִתְרוֹ (“Jethro”) Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The parasha for this Shabbat is entitled Yitro – Jethro, the name of Moses’ father-in-law, and covers Exodus chapters 18-20. This Torah portion includes the awesome and history-changing encounter between God and Israel at Sinai, and the giving of Aseret HaD’varim – The Ten Commandments. At this point it’s been three months to the day from the time our people crossed the Red Sea miraculously and left Egypt forever. Jethro came out to meet Moses, bringing Moses’ wife Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer with him. I’m sure it was a joyous reunion for all concerned. We aren’t told why Moses had sent Zipporah and his two sons back to Midian before confronting Pharaoh, but one very obvious reason would have been the inherent danger of that mission. In any case, something really wonderful occurred at this reunion. Exodus 18:7-12:

Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the Lord had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians. So Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

Do you see the hint of a future blessing in these verses? Jethro was not an Israeli. He was a Midianite, a foreigner. But when he came into Moses’ tent and heard what wondrous things the God of Israel had done, he freely and openly confessed his faith in Adonai, offered sacrifices to Him, and then he and the elders of Israel broke bread together! I see here a foreshadowing of Gentiles hearing the Good News (from Jewish men, no less) about the wondrous miracles of Messiah Yeshua, and becoming followers of the God of Israel. I see the foreshadowing of Jews and Gentiles breaking bread together with gladness of heart and in unity of faith. It didn’t make Jethro a Jew, but it did make him a worshiper of the God of Israel; and consequently a brother in the Faith.

Jethro advised Moses to delegate authority when it came to settling legal disputes. Moses had been doing it single-handedly, and it was obvious that if something didn’t change, Moses would suffer burn-out, and the people would become frustrated at the long wait for their cases to be heard. Moses wisely took that advice. We can learn from others!

If you’ve ever asked, “Why doesn’t God just come down and reveal Himself?” you have your answer in chapter 19. Israelwas encamped at Horeb, and God summoned Moses up the mountain. He had a proposal for Israel. He gave Moses these words to tell the people:

וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤ועַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם וָאֶשָּׂ֤א אֶתְכֶם֙ עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים וָאָבִ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession.”

Moses descended the mountain and delivered God’s terms; and this was our response:

כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה
“All that the Lord has spoken we will do!”

Moses returned to the mountaintop with our answer; which, of course, God already knew. Before there were heavens and earth God knew. He is the infinite God. He is never held in suspense for an answer. But it was a necessary formality, because this was the ratifying of a covenant. God instructed Moses that the people were to consecrate themselves for the next two days, and be ready on the third day for a cosmic encounter. They were also warned not to attempt on that day to go up the mountain, nor even to touch it – God’s presence would render it holy, and curiosity would cost the man who disobeys his life.

The dawn of the third day brought lightning and thunder and the earth shook. The sound of a great shofar blast from Heaven was heard, as a thick cloud settled over the mountain. As God descended on the mountain it was ablaze, and our people were rightly terrified! Then God summoned Moses to come up the mountain. At times like that it’s a relief when someone else is chosen to go. This, by the way, shows the foolishness of the claim that Jewish people don’t need a middleman to go to God. I can just hear Moses saying, “Would you like to test your theory? Be my guest. Go ahead and take a little stroll up the mountain and see how long you live.”

Adonai gave Israel His Ten Words. These commandments form the basis for a lawful, peaceful and just society.

You are to have no gods but the Lord. You are not to make images of so-called deities and offer them worship. You are not to invoke the name of the Lord lightly or with false intent. You are to set apart and observe the Sabbath day and rest in it. You are to honor (obey and contribute to the good reputation of) your father and mother. You are not to commit murder, you are not to commit adultery, you are not to steal, you are not to lie or perjure yourself, and you are not to covet the things that belong to others.

Simple, straightforward, and beneficial words – if we obey them. But beyond benefits and blessings, these were God’s terms, period. They aren’t suggestions. They aren’t open for negotiation. The One who set us free is the One who sets the terms. God offered Israel this covenant, and we took the deal. We agreed to abide by His terms.

The same may be said of the New Covenant. God the Creator sets the terms. Whether you like those terms or not is immaterial. If you want to be in a relationship with Him, and to enjoy the eternal benefits of that Covenant, you must come on His terms. His terms are that you confess your sins, acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah and Redeemer, and ask that the blood of His Covenant be applied to you. If you do this, complete forgiveness and everlasting life will be yours. But do not play games with the Almighty. He is and always will be a consuming fire!

Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Yitro יִתְרוֹ. Other transliteration: Jethro