Thoughts on Parashat Yitro

This week’s parasha is Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:23,[i] which is one of the two names by which Moshe’s father-n-law is mentioned in Scripture. When this individual is first mentioned, he is called Reuel, “friend of God” (Exodus 2.18) who was a priest of Midian. So, what’s with this week’s parasha stating, “Yitro, priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-n-law…” (18.1). Was his name Yitro Reuel or maybe Reuel Yitro? Or is this simply another contradiction, showing multiple writers who could not get their facts straight. Possibly the best explanation is that “the Hebrew yitro (yeter) is not a proper name but an honorific title meaning ‘His Excellency.’”[ii] For some, this seeming contradiction would shake their faith, for others the difference is simply read over and accepted. For the student of the Word of the LORD, which we all should be, we each have the responsibility to seek out the truth and the proper understanding of the Scripture. As it is written, “The secret things belong to Adonai our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever—in order to do all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29.28). There are times when the revelation is obvious, at other times it requires searching out not only the Scripture, but the culture and society around the Scripture. Dr. Sana notes, “In Akkadian (the Semitic language of ancient Babylon) the word atru (watru) means ‘preeminent, foremost’ and that several old Akkadian names begin with that element.”[iii] Consider this understanding as Jacob blesses Reuven, “you are my firstborn, my might, and the first-fruits of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power” (Genesis 49.3, ESV). This academic exercise allows one to follow Rav Shaul’s encouragement, “Do all you can to present yourself to God as someone worthy of his approval, as a worker with no need to be ashamed, because he deals straightforwardly with the Word of the Truth” (1 Timothy 2.15, CJB).

Continuing in Yitro, the next major incident deals with Yitro strongly suggesting to Moshe that he delegate some of his authority before he faces severe burn out.

But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you’re doing is no good. You will surely wear yourself out, as well as these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You cannot do it alone, by yourself. Now listen to my voice—I will give you advice, and may God be with you! (Exodus 18.17-18)

As one leader to another, Yitro advised Moshe to consider what he was doing and the effect it would have on his well-being. Then, he sealed his advice with “I will give you advice, and may God be with you.” In other words, “Moshe, don’t just take my advice, check it out with your God.” This may well have been better advice than the delegation suggestion. Often when we are involved in task, whether we are struggling or not, there are family, friends, even strangers on the street that believe they know how to help with the task. At times, they are most forceful with their insistence that their way is adopted. This was not Yitro’s manner. He saw the situation Moshe was in, possibly as a priest of Midian, he too had been in a similar situation. He gave Moshe an idea, told him to check it out with the LORD, and then he left (Exodus 18.27). We all need advice at times in order to complete the task the LORD has given us. It is good to listen to the counsel of others, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, so that in the end you may be wise” (Proverbs 19.20). But do not accept the advice or counsel without first checking with the LORD to insure it is what is needed.

Exodus 19 and 20 begin the revelation of the LORD’s covenant to His people Israel. I would encourage you to read, once again, these chapters as the LORD sets the stage for Israel to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to ADONAI (Exodus 19.6). But there is something vitally important to remember as one reads these rules and regulations. The fact that “the exodus precedes the giving of Torah at Sinai should be allowed to have its full import. God initiated a relationship with this people by entering history and hearing the cries of oppressed slaves. … The relationship itself was a matter of grace not law.”[iv] Even as the Decalogue begins, “I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” (Exodus 20.2), it is evident that the work of the LORD was accomplished before any of the covenantal stimulations were articulated. He brought Israel out in response to their cry, not their obedience. He chose Israel because of His covenant with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Ya’acov, not because they were intrinsically special. He did all of this out of love!

The Haftarah, Isaiah 6.1-13 (Sephardic tradition), traverses from the heights of glory in the presence of the LORD, (6.1-4) where the smoke is reminiscent of the mountain of the LORD in Exodus 19.18 to Isaiah’s complaint about his impurity contrasts with the requirements that Israel was to remain pure in the presence of the Almighty (Exodus 19.10-11). As Moshe prepared the people to meet with the LORD, the peoples’ response was “Everything that Adonai has spoken, we will do” (Exodus 19.8). In contrast, the remainder of Isaiah’s lament describes a time when Israel will not listen or obey the word of the LORD, thus bringing upon itself judgement. The choice between experiencing the reality of being the LORD’s own treasure (Exodus 19.5) and having to suffer the discipline brought by disobedience to His word remains within us. As Joshua told Bnei Yisrael,

“Now therefore, fear Adonai and worship Him in sincerity and in truth. Get rid of the gods that your fathers had worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and worship Adonai. If it seems bad to you to worship Adonai, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will worship Adonai!” (Joshua 24.14-15)

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Dr. Nahum M. Sarna, Commentator. JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus. Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1991. p 12

[iii] Ibid. p 12

[iv] Dennis R. Bratcher. Torah As Holiness: Old Testament ‘Law’ as Response to Divine Grace. Paper presented to the Wesleyan Theological Society, Dayton Ohio, November 5, 1994. p 14

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.