Dr Clifford Denton.
Yitro: Exodus 18:1-20:26
3rd February 2024/Sh’vat 24
All the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking (Exodus 20:18)
Picture by Helen McNeill
Let us consider the similarities between events in this week’s portion and our lives as believers today. In many ways we are in the same position as the Children of Israel – on a journey with God and seeking to live in a way that pleases Him. However, there is a significant difference which we will come to after we have reviewed the similarities.
Even before the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was Moses’ responsibility to enquire of God and teach the people how to live rightly before Him (Exodus 18:19-20). Questions would arise among the families of Israel concerning God’s requirements in all things. This would come to be known as halakhah, the way to walk. If a question came up that was too hard or had not been asked before, the head of the home would, along with many others, line up before Moses for a ruling.
Jethro (Yitro) arrived at an opportune moment. Following Jethro’s advice (Exodus 18) Moses selected able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness and delegated responsibility to them in a structured way to judge matters that arose in the community. The concept of eldership (Exodus 19:7) began, as did the ministry of teaching God’s people what came to be known in Hebrew as Torah. These traditions have been maintained since the time of Moses. When Yeshua was on the earth the rabbinic tradition had taken root, as also did the overall community eldership in the form of the Sanhedrin. To this day, every observant Jew and Jewish family will earnestly seek rabbinic ruling regarding matters of halakhah – how to walk out the precepts of Torah.
The order of the Christian community was to be a continuation of this. Paul instructed both Timothy and Titus concerning elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Paul instruction to Titus (Titus 1:5-9), for example, was to set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you — if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For an elder must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
The ministry of teacher was listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:11, for the building up of the body of all believers.
Paul’s criterion for eldership was similar to that of Moses. In the family-based community, there were to be those of maturity who must teach the ways of God and therefore, how to walk within families and the community as a whole.
When Jethro had departed and when the congregation of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, the fearful and significant event for Israel occurred in the giving of the Ten Commandments, which Moses was to teach the people. We must read this account with equal reverence and relevance to those who witnessed this awesome event. This is how necessary it is for us to understand the importance of the Torah of God. Read this carefully and consider the relevance for today.
God came down to the mountain to give His chosen nation the foundations on which their lives were to be lived.
Hundreds of years later, God appeared to His people again, this time in human form through Yeshua HaMashiach. Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount is sometimes called Yeshua’s midrash (interpretation) on the Torah because He demonstrated right interpretation of God’s teaching. Also, Yeshua confronted the teachers of His day, showing how they were bringing lifeless interpretations of the Torah. The New Testament era broke forth, when the good news of Yeshua’s sacrifice for sin and right interpretation of Torah went across all the earth. It was in continuation of God’s covenant purposes and not as a replacement.
Peter’s letters reflect this continuity. In Exodus 9:6 God said to Moses, you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Peter similarly wrote, you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His Marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
As we move on to consider the significant difference between our day and the day when the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai, we do well to refer to Hebrews 12:18-29. God’s Kingdom in our lives is contrasted with the awesomeness of God’s appearing to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai:
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
We are to be the holy people of God as the world around us sinks into growing unholiness. To achieve this, we must teach His ways in our family, to our children and within the community of faith. Teaching God’s ways is as important as it ever was – with one significant difference.
Yeshua HaMashiach gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we are free to learn God’s ways without the punishment of the law, called a curse in Galatians 3:13. In our weekly Torah readings, we are yet to come to the setting up of the Tabernacle and the giving of sacrifice, so there is more of this for later. Under the grace of God, we are free to learn God’s ways and walk according to His precepts – as long as we live by faith in Him through Messiah. Within God’s grace to learn His ways, unlike those before Yeshua’s sacrifice, we have the great gift of the Holy Spirit to interpret Torah for us. With this help, we, as in the days of Moses, are called to be the holy people of God, living in the fulness of God’s ways, by His grace, and walking with one another and with Him in harmony.
It was in the beginning of the third month after Passover, that the Israelites came to Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1). If we allow for the days of preparation before the giving of the Ten Commandments it is reasonable to deduce that this happened on what would later be called Shavuot (Pentecost), 50 days after Passover. It was at Shavuot (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit fell on the first Apostles, demonstrating the exact relationship between the giving of the Ten Commandments on stone tablets and the New Covenant era when the Holy Spirit would become the interpreter of Torah, according to the promise given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
These are deep and meaningful truths. There is a time coming when the entire lawless (torah-less) earth will be shaken. We, in our families, with the help of Bible teachers where needed, are in days of preparation. The shaking of Mount Sinai is a beginning to understanding how important and very special it is for our own family to be counted among the priestly families of the New Covenant era. We also anticipate a great shaking of the entire earth and heavens. More than ever, we must become strong in the ways of God.
(Note on Helen’s interpretation of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to meet with God. The painting this week was done in oils. She writes, “I could really imagine how God’s heart must have been so full of joy to be so close with Moses and how He longed to do that with all His people. So, the illustration is from this perspective as God waits in eager anticipation to have a close encounter with Moses and begins to see Moses’ form and finally his face as he emerges through the thick cloud. In the top right-hand corner are the people of Israel at the bottom of the mountain and still unable to approach, as yet.”)