Saturday, April 05, 2014

“Now I Know The Lord Is Greater Than All.” -- Exodus 18:10-12

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.
After hearing how God delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, shares in the joy and goes even one step further – he blesses the Lord and now believes He is greater than “all the gods”.  Now, before we judge Jethro too harshly for his reference to “all the gods” – afterall, wasn’t he Moses’ father-in-law? – let us take a closer look at the Midanites and their religion.
Midianites were descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah.  Genesis 25:1-2 tells us Abraham took “another wife”.  When Moses got in trouble in Egypt after killing an Egyptian, he fled to the land of Midian where the Midianites had settled.  [In Genesis 26:4 we learn Midian’s descendants were basically five families.  In Genesis 26:6 we learn that Abraham had given them gifts and “sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the East”.]  Also of interest to us may be the fact it was Midianites that had bought Joseph from his brothers many years later, which sold him to the Egyptians (see Genesis 37); both events occurring way before Moses’ time.
But back to Jethro, who is also referred to as Reuel in Exodus 2:18 and as Hobab later in the Old Testament.  The Bible first refers to him in Exodus 2:16 and 3:1 as a priest. This was before Moses’s burning bush experience normally referred to by many as the time or point when the worship of Yahweh is deemed to have officially originated.
The potential dilemma with the multiple names of Jethro may be due to the fact that in the Hebrew language, the term referring to male ‘in-laws’ is non-specific, referring to a woman’s male relatives and could be used for her father, brother or even grandfather. [This kind of language phenomenon occurs in English as well. My own father used to tease me about who ‘poor the English language’ really was compared to Greek.  He would point out how Greek had two separate words for a brother-in-law that referred to one’s wife’s brother (i.e. by blood) and a brother-in-law that referred to one’s sister’s husband (i.e. by marriage).]  One possible (but uncertain) solution to the Jethro dilemma in this case is that Reuel may have been the grandfather head of the clan, Jethro was Zipporah’s father, and Hobab could have been the brother-in-law of Moses, Jethro’s son.  Another solution may have been that Jethro and Hobab were brother-in-laws to Moses, and Reuel was their father.  In any case, Jethro was a Midianite. 
We note also that there were interesting similarities in the way Moses met his wife to how others had met their wives in some earlier biblical accounts.  Moses met Zipporah at a well (as did Abraham’s servant who met Isaac’s future wife at a well) and he was met by daughters (as Jacob was met by the two daughters of his uncle Laban).
Midianites inhabited the desert borders in Transjordan from Moab down past Edom.  In Exodus 6:2-3 we learned that God was not yet know to Moses by the name Lord (or Yahweh).  Jethro may, however, have known Him.  It is possible Jethro was worshipping the Lord by a different name, as many of Moses ancestors had worshipped Him, as a deity with the prefix El.  You may recall God being called El Elyon in Genesis 14:18 and El Sheddai in Genesis 17:1.  In Genesis 16:13, Hagar called God Elroi, the “God who sees me”.
Whatever the historical background of Jethro’s religion was, he now blesses the Lord God of Israel who delivered Moses from the Egyptians and Pharaoh, and who delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians.  One may wonder why Jethro separates God’s act of delivery into the personal deliverance of Moses and the collective deliverance of the Israelites.  Two possible ideas come to my mind.  The first is that Jethro was responding first as a father-in-law blessing God for saving the husband of his daughter and the father of his grandchildren, and then as a human being caring for the people of Israel with whom he was connected ancestrally and soon to be connected in faith.  The second idea is that even here in these early writings of Moses, God wants to reinforce the fact that He is a personal God as well as a God of nations.  In the New Testament this theme continues, as His Son Christ Jesus is both a personal Savior as well as the King of Kings.  Jethro now blesses this God as he comes to know Him better.  Do you this Yahweh?
The next sentence is rather interesting and may help us with what Jethro may have believed before, as touched on above.  Jethro now knows the Lord is greater than all the gods.  It appears from this statement that Jethro, while he may have worshipped El as a deity, he did not see Him as the greatest of all the others.  The reference to the “they” that dealt proudly against the people is to the Egyptians who were so proud in their actions against the Israelites.  Jethro now sees that God is greater than all of them and their gods combined.  And in his condemnation, he likely included all the magicians that joined and abetted Pharaoh in opposing God and attempting to compete against Him.  Matthew Henry writes, “The magicians were baffled, the idols shaken, Pharaoh humbled, his powers broken, and, in spite of all their confederacies, God's Israel was rescued out of their hands. Note, Sooner or later, God will show himself above those that by their proud dealings contest with him. He that exalts himself against God shall be abased.
And what does one do when he comes to that realization in his/her own life?  Well, in Jethro’s case, and as a priest (but not of the children of Israel), he offers up a burnt offering.  The commentator Robert Jamieson says that this friendly reunion between two people, Moses and Jethro, ends up in “a solemn religious service” for all the chiefs of Israel, where burnt peace offerings were consumed on the altar in a feast of joy and gratitude, officiated over apparently by Jethro, now as a dedicated priest of the true God.  We may well ask ourselves how our periodic reunions with friends or family members end up.
Chuck Smith points out that this account verifies that “other people knew God and worshiped God, who were not the children of Israel in those days, Jethro being one of them. He was a priest of God.”  Matthew Henry says, “Here was a Midianite rejoicing”.  Jethro’s faith was confirmed and he made a public confession of it.  And what did he confess?  He confessed our true God is able to silence all the others and subdue them.  Smith says Jethro “knew it before, but now he knew it better; his faith [grew] up to a full assurance, upon this fresh evidence.”
Just to recap.  Moses and Jethro were reunited; they shared about what God had done; Jethro offers a burnt sacrifice and confesses the power of the Almighty as being above all other gods; and then together with the elders of Israel they ate a meal before God.  This was a means of expressing their joy and thankfulness – being in communion and peace and love with each other – not only in the sacrifice service that preceded, but also now in a feast.  Jethro, the Midianite, was now cheerfully admitted into fellowship with Moses and Israel.  (You will remember that the whole issue of the official priesthood in Israel that eventually went to the Levites was not yet settled.)
I love the observation Henry makes when he says, “Mutual friendship is sanctified by joint-worship.” What a delight it is to those involved and to God Himself when relations and friends who come together join in the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and praise, keeping Christ at the center of their own unity.  I was thinking about this, as many of our youth are meeting and developing good friendships with others of different faiths.  Sometimes these friendships turn into romance and ultimately marriage.  But if a mutual friendship has no hope of becoming an occasion of joint-worship, then one needs to be very wary of it.  As much as it may hurt, one needs to guard their heart in such cases to avoid either loneliness in their worship and service to God, or a walking away from their faith in order to support their relationship.  A big loss no matter which road is taken.
Those present with Jethro and Moses did indeed eat bread, likely manna.  Jethro as a Gentile had to see and taste the bread from heaven.  Together we as believers must share such meals with non-believers – showing the world how as Henry writes, “we eat and drink to the glory of God, behaving ourselves at our tables as those who believe that God’s eye is upon us.”  What is your table scene like these days?  I know mine can be improved.

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