Yitro – ” Jethro”

Have you ever received unsolicited advice from your in-laws? Moses received some good advice from his father-in-law, whose name, Yitro (Jethro), is also the title of this week’s Parasha, which covers Exodus 18:1-20:26. Jethro, a priest of Midian, who was Moses’ father-in-law and who is also called Reuel or “friend of God” in Exodus 2, heard about Adonai’s mighty deeds for Moses and the Jewish people. Moses had sent his wife Zipporah and their sons Gershom and Eliezer back to her father while on his way to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. Jethro now came to meet Moses, accompanied by Moses’ wife and sons.

Moses greeted Jethro and described what the Lord did to the Egyptians for the Jewish people and His protection of the Jewish people from hardships during their journey. Jethro rejoiced in God’s provisions, proclaimed Adonai’s superiority over all other gods and provided a burnt offering and sacrifices to the Lord. Aaron arrived with the Israeli elders to have a meal with Jethro and Moses before God. Jethro is one of the first examples in Scripture of a Gentile coming to faith in the God of Israel through the testimony of the Jewish people. He serves as a foreshadowing of Gentiles being joined by faith to God and to the Jewish people.

The next day, Jethro noticed that Moses spent the entire day as judge over the Jewish people, settling disputes, and asked him why. Jethro suggested that it would be better for Moses to select honest and ethical judges to instruct in God’s Law, and appoint them to hear most of the disputes. They would judge simpler cases, and Moses would judge the more difficult cases. Even though Moses had appointed at least 70 elders to help him shoulder the responsibility of settling civil disputes in Exodus 24, he accepted this wise advice and saved himself a lot of stress! Jethro then returned to his country.

In chapter 19 we learn that the Jewish people arrived in the Sinai desert in the 3rd month after leaving Egypt. They left from Rephidim and camped near Mt. Sinai. Moses went up Mt. Sinai and God instructed him to tell the Israelis of His mighty deeds. If the Jewish people obeyed Adonai and kept His covenant, they would be His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Moses told the Israelis these things and they declared their obedience to the Lord’s commands.

When Moses took their response to God, God declared that He would show himself to Moses in a cloud, so that the Jewish people would hear His words and learn to trust Moses. Moses told the Lord their response and the Lord replied that the Israelis must consecrate themselves by washing that day and the next day, and be ready by the third day because God would come down upon Mt. Sinai. The Jewish people and their animals would be killed if they went up or even touched Mt. Sinai, but the Israelis would be permitted to come near to Mt. Sinai after hearing a long blast from the shofar. Moses went to the Jewish people, consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. He told them to prepare for the third day, including abstaining from sexual activity.

On the morning of the third day, thunder and lightning were present with a cloud over Mt. Sinai, along with a trumpet blast. Moses led the Jewish people, who were understandably scared, to meet the Lord at the base of Mt. Sinai, which was covered in smoke because the Lord came on it in fire. The smoke rose, Mt. Sinai shook violently and the trumpet volume increased.

Moses spoke and the voice of Adonai answered him. The Lord came to the top of Mt. Sinai and called Moses to Him. He told Moses to warn the Israelis again to stay away from Mt. Sinai and that the priests must consecrate themselves, or suffer His judgment. Moses replied that the Jewish people wouldn’t come because of God’s commands and God replied that Moses could bring Aaron with him, but everyone else must stay away.

Adonai gave Moses the Ten Commandments in chapter 20, which serve as a summary of all that He commanded in the Torah and are as follows: Nothing was to be worshipped in place of the Lord, and no idols were permitted. Adonai’s name was not to be misused. Everyone living among the Jewish people was to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Parents were to be honored. Murder, adultery, theft, lying and covetousness were expressly prohibited.

The Israelis saw and heard what was happening on Mt. Sinai and were terrified. They asked Moses to go and speak to Adonai for them, and Moses said that God was testing them so they wouldn’t sin. Moses once again went up Mt. Sinai and the Jewish people stayed behind.

The parasha ends with the Lord’s strict command against the making of idols. Adonai also gave instructions for building the altar. Only uncut stones could be used for the altar – there was to be no fashioning with tools, or else it would be considered defiled. The Israelis were also forbidden to put steps on their altars, which was something the Canaanites did.

There are several truths in this parasha that we ought to apply to our lives. First, accepting wise counsel from those who live righteously will lead to our benefit. Moses accepted Jethro’s suggestion to delegate some of the legal caseload to godly judges, which reduced Moses’ daily stress. Honoring one’s father and mother can also apply to in-laws. Rabbi Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus that the benefit for children who obey the commandment to honor their parents was long life. Learning to obey the Lord by giving heed to those with wisdom and discernment is always a good thing, so let’s be wise by listening to those who are wise!

Another important point is that everyone needs a Mediator in order to come before Almighty God. No one will ever be accepted by God based upon their own righteousness, because every human being is completely infected by sin. Sooner or later, we all violate some aspect of the Torah. James wrote to the Messianic believers that breaking any part of the Law is the same as breaking the entire Law.

Rabbi Paul writes in Romans 2 that those who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law, and those who sin apart from the Law will be judged apart from the Law. Since we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, nothing we do by our own strength is enough to be reconciled to God.

Keeping the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, isn’t enough. After all, the rich young ruler who came to Yeshua claimed to have kept the Ten Commandments, but it evidently wasn’t enough. Yeshua told him to sell his possessions so that he could be one of His followers. Sadly, the rich young ruler rejected this offer because he couldn’t give up his possessions.

The encounter that Israel had with Adonai at Mt. Sinai also refutes the false claim that Jewish people don’t need a mediator to come to the Almighty.

The Good News is that we have a perfect Mediator who is able to make complete atonement for our sins – Messiah Yeshua! He is our perfect High Priest who eternally intercedes for those who have declared Him as Lord and believe that He rose from the dead. Just as the Jewish people were given the promise that they would be the Lord’s treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation if they would follow and obey Him, Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are given new identities as the people of the Lord and as royal priests through faith in Yeshua.

We must not take these responsibilities lightly, because we were bought at a high price – Yeshua’s death. As a result, we are His servants. If we want to be in a right relationship with God, we must accept His requirements, which means that we aren’t free to do whatever we want. And we don’t dare reinterpret Scripture based on our feelings and desires. Let’s show our gratitude for what Yeshua did for us, and still does for us, by obeying what He has commanded of us and remaining loyal to Him as Lord and Savior!