"Meeting with Jethro"
April 24, 2005
The book of Exodus can be divided into two parts: before Mount Sinai and at Mount Sinai. Of course, you could divide it into a lot of other parts, but those two are very obvious: Israel before Mount Sinai and Israel at Mount Sinai.
Chapter 18, our text for today is in the middle! It’s the very end of that first part of Exodus: before Mount Sinai. Chapter 19, which we will take up next week, is the beginning of the last part of Exodus: Israel at Mount Sinai and all that goes with it.
So, as you might expect from a transitional chapter like this one, there are a lot of things that look backward over where Israel has come in the last 18 chapters, and there are some things that point forward and foreshadow what is going to happen to Israel in the next 22 chapters.
Israel is almost to the foot of Mount Sinai, or Mount Horeb, or the "mountain of God." Next week, in chapter 19, God is going to descend upon the mountain and meet with His people and begin to make a covenant with them.
But before that happens, Moses has a meeting with his very old and very wise father-in-law, Jethro.
This meeting lasts a couple of days and has two distinct parts to it. The first is in verses 1 through 12, which recount the story of "Jethro’s Knowledge of the LORD," and the second part is in verses 13 through 27 which tell the story of "Jethro’s Advice to Moses."
Verses 1 through 12: Jethro’s Knowledge of the LORD.
Verses 13 through 27: Jethro’s Advice to Moses.
As we study those, I have a point of application for Christians today from both of them. Let’s pray and then get into it.
Exodus, chapter 18, verse 1. An introduction.
"Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD [YHWH] had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, ‘I have become an alien in a foreign land’; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, ‘My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, together with Moses' sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.’ So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent." Stop there for a second.
There is a little family reunion going on here.
At some point (the Bible doesn’t tell us when), Moses sent Zipporah back to Midian (where he had lived those 40 years on the back side of the desert) with his two sons, Gershom (his little boy he named Stranger or Alien) and Eliezer (God is my helper).
Gershom because he felt alienated from his people back when he had burned his bridges with Egypt and was living in the desert. And Eliezer because he had escaped the assassins of Pharaoh back in chapter 2.
Moses had sent his family back to Midian at some point (perhaps so they wouldn’t have to experience the oppression of Pharaoh; we don’t know.). And Jethro had been watching over them.
Now, all we know so far about Jethro (other than his other name was Reuel) was that he was a nomadic shepherd (as just about everybody in that part of the world was at that time), his daughter Zipporah had married Moses, and that he was (v.1) the priest of Midian. That means that he followed pagan gods. He led the worship of other gods. However much Moses had influenced him those 40 years he tended his flocks, we don’t know. But here in v.1, he is called "the priest of Midian."
Jethro heard about what God had done in saving Israel from Egypt, and he brought Moses’ family out to meet him near Sinai. And Moses, like any good son-in-law, went out to him, bowed down before him, and kissed him!
This was a sign of honor and respect for his elder. And Moses and Jethro went into the tent and had a meeting. V.8
"Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them. Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, ‘Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’ Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God."
What an amazing meeting!
Moses tells the story. V.8 "everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake..." A staff that turned into a snake. Water that turned into Blood in the Nile and Throughout the Land. Frogs from the Nile, Covering Everything. Gnats Everywhere. Flies Ruining the Land. Pestilence on the Livestock. Boils on Everyone. Hail Bombing That Decimated Egypt (but didn’t touch Israel!). A Locust Swarm That Took Everything Left. Darkness That You Could Feel (but light in Goshen!). The Death of the Firstborn. The Pass-Over.
The Red Sea Rescue!
Moses tells him everything. And not just about the rescue. But about what happened on this side of the Red Sea. V.8, "...and all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them."
Marah. Bitter water that the LORD turned sweet.
Manna. Bread from heaven. New every morning. Twice as much on Fridays so that Saturday could be a Sabbath. Quail!
Meribah and Massah. Water from a Rock.
Amalek defeated by Joshua while Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands.
Moses told Jethro everything. And he gave the glory to YHWH.
And Jethro responded with delight! V.9
"Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians."
He breaks out in praise to YHWH! (V.10) "Praise be to YHWH, who rescued you from the hand of Pharaoh, and who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians."
Do you see a key word there? Rescue! Rescue! Rescue! Jethro recognizes the rescue. And, he believes. V.11
"Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly."
"Now I know." It’s possible that Jethro had always believed in YHWH in some way, that He existed and that He was Moses’ God, and that he was the God of Abraham (who was Midian’s father through his second wife Keturah). And it’s also possible that Jethro doesn’t put away his other gods here.
But it really seems to me that Jethro comes to believe in YHWH right here in v.11 when he says, "Now I know...the LORD is greater than all other gods."
And they have fellowship. They share in worship. They offer a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God with Aaron and the elders and Moses and Jethro all there together in the presence of God.
"Now I know...the LORD is greater than all other gods!"
Now, before we think about an application for us today, it’s important for us to think about why this story is included here in Exodus. And we get our application from that. Why did Moses include this story in Exodus chapter 18? There are a lot of details that he doesn’t include. Why these details?
I think it boils down to rehearsing the story of the rescue and the effect that that story had on a pagan.
I think that Israel was supposed to read or hear this part of their story being retold, how Jethro, a pagan priest came to visit his son-in-law, Moses, and heard about YHWH, and YHWH’s great deeds, YHWH’s great work, YHWH’s great rescue of His people. And that pagan priest came to believe! He was bowled over by the greatness of God. He was convinced that YHWH was the greatest god ever to be believed on.
And as Israel heard that story, they would be reminded (again and again) how great their God is, and how He rescued them, and how that would be a testimony to the nations.
Do you remember why God did the plagues? There were lots of reasons. One of them was demonstrate to Israel Who their God was; another was to show Pharaoh who God was.
But another was to show the world Who God is.
In chapter 9, the LORD told Moses (before one of the plagues) "Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, 'This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." To the nations.
And here in chapter 18, it happens! The nations are hearing about the name and the salvation of YHWH. And they are believing.
I think that’s a lot of what Israel was supposed to get out of this story of "Jethro’s Knowledge of the LORD." And so that’s where I get this application:
TELL THE STORY OF YOUR RESCUE.
Moses told Jethro everything. And this pagan priest came to believe.
Moses told Jethro everything about Israel’s rescue.
Well, you and I have a much greater story to tell.
I know, our story doesn’t seem as snazzy as the plagues or the Pass-over or the Red Sea Rescue. But, in actual fact, those rescues were just a shadow of what Jesus Christ did for you and me on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb.
The Lord Jesus didn’t just rescue you and me from some oppressive earthly slavery.
He rescued us from SIN and SATAN and OURSELVES!
That’s a lot bigger of a deal.
Tell people the story of your rescue.
We’ve been learning about how to do that better in Sunday School with the Contagious Christian course.
Tell people the story of how you came to know Jesus as your Rescuer and Lord.
They need to hear it. It’s their only hope. And if you belong to Jesus Christ, you have a story to tell.
When was the last time you told an unbeliever the story of your rescue?
You never know what might happen. A pagan priest may come to say, "Now I know that the Jesus is greater than all other gods."
Who, in your life right now, could benefit from hearing your story? This is not a story of how great you are, and they should become like you. This is a story of how bad you have been. And how God rescued you from sin, and Satan, and yourself.
Who, in your life right now, could benefit from hearing the story of your rescue. Could I ask you to write down someone’s name on the back of your bulletin? Someone you can be praying for an opportunity to share with.
Now, let me go a step further. Put another name down on the back of your bulletin. This is someone to keep you accountable. Who could you tell about this person in your life who needs Jesus and they could ask you if you’ve told them your story yet? Most things don’t happen if there isn’t accountability.
Who could benefit from hearing your story (ala Moses to Jethro)? And who could be your accountability partner for that?
Tell the story of your rescue.
You never know what might happen. A pagan priest may come to say, "Now I know that the Jesus is greater than all other gods." And before you know it, you’ll be worshiping Jesus with them.
The second half of this story takes place the next day. And the influence here, goes the other direction. Here, Jethro gives Moses information. V.13
"The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening [long day.] When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?’ [He’s taking him to task.] Moses answered him, ‘Because the people come to me to seek God's will. [I’m helping them. It’s what I’m called to do as their leader.] Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws.’ Moses' father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. [Uh uh] You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. [You’re going to get "burnt out."] Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you."
"You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.’ Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves. [Just like Jethro said.] Then Moses sent his father-in-law on his way, and Jethro returned to his own country."
Jethro is a pretty sharp old man. He’s got to be over a hundred by this time. But he sees what’s going on.
Moses is over-worked. Yes, he’s the leader, but the leader can’t do it by himself.
Moses needs help. Jethro’s advice is good. It is to teach all the people the Law of God and to develop leaders who can handle all of the many small decisions that need to be made. Divide the people up so that everyone is cared for and noone cares for too many. That’s a good system.
Why is this story in the Bible? I’m sure it happened, but there are lots of things that happened that don’t make it into the Bible. Why did God make sure that this story got included?
Well, for one, I think it points to the need for the Law that we’re going to get starting next week. The people need to know what God says, what God wants. And God is going to tell them and (really) encapsulate it in the 10 Commandments.
This story points to the need for the Law that’s coming in the very next chapter.
And I think another reason is simply to remind Israel that their leader can’t do everything. He’s just one man. He’s limited. And if this thing called Israel is going to work (even a pagan from Midian can tell!) that it’s going to have to be done as a team.
So that’s where I get this application for Christians today:
DO MINISTRY AS A TEAM.
If this thing called the Church is going to work (even a pagan Midianite can tell) that we’re going to have to work together as a team. One man, even a few men, can’t do it on their own.
Do ministry as a team.
Moses was (v.18) wearing himself and his people out. He was trying to do too much as one man.
Jethro’s advice was to build a team.
The Leader was (v.20) to teach the Law and who people how to live it out. (That’s a lot like these sermons that I give).
And then they were to develop leaders that oversaw groups of people. Thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Sounds like the metric system to me!
Everyone gets cared for, no one cares for too many.
Notice, what’s important about these men who are going to serve as leaders. Character counts.
Capability counts, too. V.21 says, "Select capable men." They need to have some skills. But what really counts is their character. V.21
"Men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate bribes."
Sounds like 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5, and Titus 1 to me. How to recognize leaders for God’s church. Character counts.
And then, share the load. Everybody jump in and do what needs done. V.22
"Have them them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you...that will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you."
And it will get the job done well. It will be a win-win situation. V.23
"If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied."
In other words, teamwork works.
It’s not that strange a concept. But we don’t tend to see Christian ministry that way. There is a mindset that ministry is what the pastor does. But Jethro’s advice foreshadow’s God’s command for the church in Ephesians 4.
He says (v.11), "[God] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service [not to do the works of service, but to equip them for them], so that the body of Christ may be built up [Who’s doing the building? The body itself!] until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body [every one of us], joined and held together by every supporting ligament [each one of us], grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
That’s Jethro’s advice.
Do ministry as a team.
Each part does its work.
Joe Paterno throw the football. He doesn’t go out for the long pass. He isn’t a receiver or a running back. He’s the coach.
It’s Paterno’s job (whether he does it well or not!) to equip the real players for the work of the game.
And then together, the whole team wins the game.
Are you doing your part of the work?
This is a great church. It’s easy to preach this passage here, because so many here have this "team concept" down already.
On many levels, we have capable men (and women) who have been selected to help lead the whole church.
Are you doing your part?
Ephesians 4 says the Body "grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
What’s your part?
Christianity is not a spectator sport. We’ve got to get out of the stands and into the game.
We need Greeters.
We need Welcome Center hosts.
Michele is looking for substitute Sunday School teachers for the Summer.
We are talking about a possible missions trip to Serbia.
We need Family Bible Week workers.
We need new Uth workers to help Tom Fisch and Rob and Michele this Summer to do some youth ministry and help Rob & Michele into the Fall.
We need people who are mentoring others in what it means to be a disciple.
We need people who are willing to be trained to lead a small group.
To help with Men’s Ministry and Women’s Ministry.
We need a group of workers to show up at the Cemetery next Tuesday and help us clean it up.
We need people to take responsibility for the items on the Spring Projects list in the foyer.
We need people to pray in the Prayer Room.
What’s your part?
Can I ask you to write down what your ministry at Lanse Free Church is on the back of your bulletin? And maybe something you think God may be calling you to do in the near future?
What’s your part?
Jethro is right. We need to do ministry as a team.
(All Scripture taken from the New International Version of the Bible)
Monday, April 25, 2005
"Meeting with Jethro"