Yitro – “Jethro”

Our parasha this Shabbat, Yitro (named after Moses’ father-in-law), spans Exodus 18-20, and is among the most significant in all the Torah, describing Israel’s encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, and receiving the Ten Commandments.

Yitro comes to Moses with Zipporah and Moses’ 2 sons Gershom and Eliezer. Moses and Israel are at Horeb – “the mount of God”. Moses tells his father-in-law all that God did for them, and Yitro rejoices, exuberantly declaring his faith in Adonai, offering sacrifices, and sharing a meal with Moses and the elders of Israel. It appears that Moses’ Midianite father-in-law has become a true believer – a beautiful foreshadowing of people from all nations coming to faith in the God of Israel!

Question: What do you do when your father-in-law starts offering advice on how to run your business? Jethro sees that Moses is single-handedly hearing every dispute for the entire nation, and it’s taking all day. He suggests Moses appoint godly, trustworthy, leading men to judge and settle local disputes, and Moses only take the difficult cases. By delegating, Moses will be a more effective and enduring leader. Moses takes his father-in-law’s advice, which is a sign of wisdom and humility.

Question: What happens when an infinite Being breaks into time and space? Chapter 19 gives us a picture of it. Israel is encamped at Horeb, and God summons Moses up the mountain. He has a proposal. In a manner consistent with the making of treaties in the Ancient Near East, God sets forth an historical prologue – a recounting of the events leading up to and forming the basis of the Covenant He is offering to Israel. He gives Moses these words to tell the people:

אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt…

God reminds Israel how He rescued them, offering to enter into covenant with them, saying, Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Moses returns from the mountain and tells the people God’s words. This was their response:

כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָֹ֖ה נַֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה

All that the Lord has spoken we will do!

So, Moses returns up the mountain to bring their answer to God; not that God doesn’t already know their answer, but covenants involve formality and solemnity, and Moses is the official mediator. But it sure is a lot of schlepping up and down a mountain for an 80-year old man!

God tells Moses explicitly that the people are to consecrate themselves for two days, and to be ready on the third day to encounter the Creator of the Universe. They are further warned not to approach the mountain, or even touch it. God’s presence will render it holy, and anyone whose curiosity gets the better of them will forfeit their life. To preclude that possibility, God directs that a perimeter be set around the mountain.

That third day dawned amid lightning, the sound of thunder, fire and smoke, and the earth shaking. A great trumpet blast was heard from heaven, and a thick cloud settled over the mountain. The top of the mountain was engulfed in fire as God descended upon it, and the smoke ascended as from a furnace. My people were understandably terrified! Then God summoned Moses to come up the mountain, and to bring Aaron with him. Boy, it’s at times like that you’re really glad someone else is chosen to go. This, by the way, reveals the foolishness of the claim that Jewish people don’t need a middleman, but can go right to God. On that day, when Israel encountered Adonai at Sinai, nobody said any such thing. People like to define God on their own terms, but that’s because they’ve never encountered Him. He is who He is – a consuming fire!

Chapter 20 opens with God giving Moses and Israel, and eventually the world, His Ten Commandments. These ten statutes form the basis of a lawful, peaceful, just society.

  •  You are to have no gods but the Lord.
  •  You are not to make images of so-called deities or offer them worship.
  • You are not to use Adonai’s name cavalierly or with false intent.
  • You are to honor the Sabbath day, and rest in it, as God rested.
  • You are to honor (obey, ‘add weight’ [build the reputation of]) your father & 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.
  • You are not to covet people or things that belong to others.

Simple, straightforward, and beneficial – if we’ll simply obey them. But beyond the benefits and blessings that might accrue to us for obedience, these were the terms of God’s Covenant. They aren’t recommendations. They are directives. Nor are they up for negotiation. God, the Sovereign One who set us free and conquered our oppressors, is the One who sets the terms. God offered us this covenant, and we accepted His offer, and it was with this understanding.

The same may be said of the New Covenant.

God the Creator set the terms. Whether you like or dislike them is irrelevant. If you want to be in a relationship with Him, and to enjoy the eternal, unfathomable benefits of that Covenant, you must come on His terms. His terms? That you confess your sins, acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah and Redeemer, and ask that the blood of His Covenant be applied to you. If you do this, you will have complete forgiveness and everlasting life. But if there’s one big takeaway from parasha Yitro, it is this: do not play games with the Almighty. He is and always will be a consuming fire!