Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #17 Yitro (Jethro) Sh’mot (Exodus) 18:1-20:23
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 6:1-13
This week I want to focus on Yitro, the significance of the narrative concerning him in Chapter 18, and the relevance for us today. Let’s start with his background, which is always an important aspect of credible research.
Yitro is interpreted as meaning “abundance” or “added to.” This is our first clue that this was no ordinary man and that the narrative must be examined in the context of the theme of the entire Torah. In rabbinic literature Yitro had seven names but I will focus on the name “Yitro” in this teaching. Yitro was a Midianite priest. According to Genesis, the Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah: “…again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah. And she bare him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah” (Genesis 25:1–2). The Midianites through their apparent religio-political connection with the Moabites are thought to have worshipped a multitude of gods, including Baal-peor and the Queen of Heaven Ashteroth. I encourage you to look up these various gods to enhance your understanding of Yitro’s previous mindset. In the time of Moses the Midianites are first mentioned as having had a priest by the name of Yitro (Ruel) who became afterward Moses’ father-in-law. Toward the close of the forty years’ wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the Midianites were allied with the Moabites in the attempt to exterminate the Israelites. For this reason Moses was ordered by God to punish the Midianites. Yet, Yitro came from this very nation from among those who would be destroyed. We can see a total role reversal of Moshe and Yitro. Yitro was a distinguished person; a minister of Midian and a former advisor to Pharaoh. Moshe had been a homeless wanderer and murderer who married this dignitary’s daughter. Now, Yitro brings Moshe’s family to reunite with him and introduces himself as Moshe’s father-in-law and he is revered in this way throughout the chapter.
In verse 9 Yitro rejoices over all the good that HaShem had done for Israel, and that He had rescued them from Pharaoh, from under the hand of Egypt (sinful lifestyle). He acknowledges HaShem as greater than all the gods referring to the manner in which HaShem delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh so completely and miraculously and measure for measure as Pharaoh had planned to do to the Israelites. He had planned to drown all the male babies of the Israelites, but it was the Egyptians who were drowned. It is interesting to note that Pharaoh survived. G-d allowed this as a way of making His name known among the nations as evidenced by Yitro’s knowledge of all that happened. We have further evidence that Pharaoh survived because Chapter 14:28 informs us that it was the chariots and horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh, not Pharaoh himself who perished. Still further evidence can be found by reading Chapter 14:17: “And I will be glorified through Pharaoh and through his entire army, through his chariots, and through his horsemen.” And in verse 18: “Egypt will know that I am HaShem, when I am glorified through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
In verse 12, we read that Yitro took an elevation offering and feast offering for G-d. We need to understand what these offerings are and the significance to the event. Verse 23 further supports Pharaoh’s survival: “Egypt pursued and came after them- every horse of Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen –into the midst of the sea.” Therefore, we may conclude that G-d used Pharaoh who was a very unlikely witness for G-d to glorify His name throughout the nation by allowing him to survive such a catastrophic event and tell about it!
The kohanim throughout the generations would need special encouragement to bring this offering despite that they would not have any personal benefit from its meat. All of the meat from the Elevation Offering was burnt on the altar. This, says the Maharal, is the financial loss to which the Torat Kohanim refers. From this we can see that Yitro was serious about his acceptance of the G-d of Israel at whatever cost.
Feast-offerings were expressions of gratitude to G-d for allowing the convert to enter under the wings of the Divine Presence. Yitro brought only one elevation- offering, but multiple feast-offerings indicated by the pleural form of the word “offerings” in the text. This indicates Yitro wanted the elders and Aharon to be his guests in the celebration of his conversion (18:12). It is important to note that he would have been circumcised as a convert. But we don’t know his complete genealogy because the genealogy of Keturah is not known. Recall that Abraham was the father of Midian. Abraham was not a Jew but a Hebrew. Of Keturah we do not know her ancestry. However, most importantly, Yitro accepted the G-d of Abraham, was circumcised according to the covenant with G-d, and consecrated himself to the Israelites, making himself a “true Jew” according to Genesis 17:9-14 for the biological Jews; and John Chapter 14 for Jew and Gentile.
For our final examination of Yitro in this parashah, we move to 18:13. This begins the narrative where Yitro observes the overwhelming role Moshe has in judging the people and then provides advice that is both discerning and G-d-centered. We can easily see that Yitro himself is G-d-centered by this time and encouraged Moshe to seek G-d’s guidance in all his decisions. This narrative provides the first example of what would later become the basis for our judicial system that has certainly wandered far and away from this G-d-centered approach in our parashah. Yitro suggested delegation of authority with discernment. Lesser cases would be heard and decided by lower courts and Moshe would handle the more difficult cases. Unfortunately, the disadvantage to this type of system is that the personality and wisdom of the “leader” would become somewhat removed from the general public. Some people might feel as if the decision in their particular case might be different if the “leader” such as Moshe had heard the case instead of one of the elders or lesser judges. This happens in many professions today. In the medical field, some patients only want to see the physician rather than the physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner although all of these practitioners are board certified and well-trained to diagnose and treat patients. Fortunately, those who have actual experiences with these mid-level providers often prefer them to the physician because of their holistic approach to providing care. The reality is that each of these types of providers has a body of knowledge, expertise, and experience level and each can learn from the others. In the case of Moshe and the elders, I am certain that each of these individuals had their own style of judging that was combined with G-d’s guidance and Moshes instruction. The important point is that according to Yitro’s guidance, “You shall caution them regarding the decrees and the teachings, and you shall make known to them the path in which they should go and the deeds that they should do. And you shall discern from among the entire people, men of accomplishment, G-d-fearing people, men of truth, people who despise money…” (18:20-19).This is the difference between those who were chosen as judges then, and those who are voted in as judges now. We no longer have G-d fearing judges who despise money and/or prestige. Yahshua told us this would be an ever increasing “norm” in the end times and we are witnessing this truth today (2 Pet. 2:15, 19; Jer. 8:8; Deut. 31:25-29; Luke 3:14; 18; 23:43).
Yitro is a perfect example of one who was considered a “true Jew,” a G-d fearing man; one who was grafted into the partakers of the covenants of Israel, and one from whom even the greatest prophet of the Old Testament was wise enough to take direction. Yet, we cannot pinpoint his genealogy as so many biological Jews require today in order to “prove” their Jewishness. May we consider all of Yitro’s qualities and consider them in the context of our beliefs, biases, and continued spiritual walk with HaShem.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu 6:1-13
This week’s haftarah Moshe’s and the Children of Israel’s experiencing prophecy that showed them G-d’s glory and which called upon them to realize their calling as a kingdom of leaders and a holy nation. The haftarah gives an account of a similar prophecy and a mixed vision of Israel’s fulfillment of G-d’s incredible charge. Isaiah is given a vision of the Heavenly Chariot (the merkavah), a heavenly court where the angels pay homage to G-d.
Isaiah perceives G‑d sitting on a throne surrounded by angels. Isaiah vividly describes the angels and their behavior (in anthropomorphic terms). During the course of this vision, Isaiah volunteers to be G‑d’s emissary to transmit His message to the Israelites. He is immediately given a depressing prophecy regarding the exile the nation will suffer as punishment for their many sins—and the Land of Israel will be left empty and desolate, though there will be left a “trunk” of the Jewish people that eventually will regrow.
An interesting comparison can be made between the scenario at Sinai and the vision of G-d’s throne Isaiah describes in Is. 6:1. The house is “filled with smoke, the s’rafim (guardian angels) are singing ‘Holy, holy, holy!’, and the doorposts shake “at the sound of their shouting” (Is. 6:2-4) Yahshua hears the voice of G-d and says, “Send me!” On Mount Sinai G-d surrounded the mountain with a thick cloud (Ex. 19:9). The mountain was smoking (Ex. 20:15). The thunder (Ex. 20:15) can be likened to the shouting of the s’rafim. Moshe can be compared to Yahshua in his willingness to be used by G-d.
An interesting point in Isaiah is found in reading Isaiah 9:7: “to the increase of His rulership and to completeness, there will be no end.” The Hebrew for increase begins with a mem sofeet (final mem). This alludes to the whole peace of G-d as yet to come!
B’rit Chadashah: James 2:8-13
“If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah, in conformity with the passage that says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors. 10 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking them all. For the one who said, ‘Don’t commit adultery, also said ‘Don’t murder.’ “Now if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah. Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which gives freedom. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy wins out over judgment.”
James was the brother of Yahshua, and he was well-grounded in the Old Testament. His teachings paralleled those of his brother and L-rd as we read the above passages. James reminds us that we need take great care in judging others until we look closely at ourselves. This parallels Yahshua’s teaching those who wanted to stone the adulteress. Those without sin were invited to cast the first stone. We see examples of people judging others on a daily basis we are quick in our religious circles to condemn those of other religions forgetting from where we may have come prior to the calling out of apostasy. In the context of a synagogue some may condemn others for dancing, smoking, wearing their hair too long or too short; practicing too much liturgy or not enough, etc. Yet many of those condemning others do not wear tzitzit; do not wrap t’fellin, and gossip about others as they wait for services. In other words, none of us are righteous. Yet, YHVH/Yahshua reserves the right to show us mercy or not. As professors of the Messianic faith we are to show mercy, allow and encourage people to grow into the faith even as we grow. We will be judged as we judge. Incidentally, Dan is no longer a tribe as noted in the book of Revelation during this time (Rev. 7:5-8). If we go back and read the “blessing” of Dan by Jacob we read in Gen. 49:16-17: “Dan will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a viper on the road, a horned snake in the path that bites the horse’s heels so its rider falls off backward.” We must give others an example to follow by our own lifestyle. That’s how Yahshua taught his disciples; one day and one mile at a time. That is a big order. However, if we realize we are to be a people set apart and act like it as G-d charged the Children of Israel in our parashah this week, we can assist others in their growth by leading a consistent lifestyle based on our continued learning and adherence/obedience to our new knowledge. Are we setting a good example as a representative of the Messianic faith? Are we glorifying Yahshua in our thoughts, speech and actions? “Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it! Whoever hears the Word but doesn’t do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror, who looks at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But if a person looks closely into the perfect Torah, which gives freedom and continues, becoming not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work it requires, then he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
“So everyone who hears these words of mine and act on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on bedrock. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the winds blew and beat against that house, but it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does NOT act on them will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the rivers flooded, the wind blew and beat against that house, and it collapsed- and its collapse was horrendous!” (Matthew 7:24-27).
Rabbi Tamah Davis