Fox Byte 5775 #17: Yitro (Jethro)
Just because a person enjoys the favor of the king does not mean they can do as they please. This is not some antiquated concept that no longer applies to modern days. A king may have the power to take a life, but a president, a general, an employer, or even a parent has the power to revoke privileges, inflict punishment, cut off access, and otherwise make life miserable for someone who gets on their bad side. Whether the setting is before a throne, in an office, or around a kitchen table, those who disregard the authority figure’s protocol will suffer the consequences.
A timeless example of this principle is in the ancient story of Esther, the Jewish exile who became queen of the mighty Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) of Persia. When advised of a plot by the king’s Grand Vizier, Haman, to annihilate her people, Esther takes it upon herself to intervene. Protocol dictates that she cannot come into the king’s presence unless he summons her, yet the situation is urgent and Esther has little choice but to enter the throne room unbidden. She does so, willing to trade her own life for the lives of the Jewish nation. Her trust is ultimately in her God, but she goes also in the knowledge that she has the favor of King Xerxes and knows him intimately. He should understand that she would not break protocol unless she had very good reason. Perhaps the most stunning portrayal of this story is in the 2006 movie, One Night with the King, starring Tiffany Dupont as Esther and Lou Goss as Xerxes. In the great climactic scene in the throne room, Esther humbly yet purposefully approaches the king, undeterred by the calls for her death. She stands at last in front of the throne, raising pleading eyes to the king, and awaits his decision to take her head in payment for her breach of protocol, or extend to her his scepter as a token of forgiveness and continued favor.
We know the rest of the story: the king extends his scepter and grants Esther’s petition to attend a series of banquets at which she calls on him for salvation from Haman’s wicked plot. By the king’s command, Haman receives his just reward and Esther and her uncle Mordecai proceed with actions in the king’s name to preempt the genocide. What we do not often realize, and what Esther and Xerxes themselves probably did not know, is that they were acting on principles that God Himself had established from the beginning, and which He had communicated to His people at Mount Sinai.
We should be quite familiar with the story of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 18:1-20:26). After the Hebrews arrive at Sinai, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro (Yitro) comes to the camp bringing Moses’ wife and sons to him. Jethro offers advice on how to organize and govern the people (Exodus 18). The Lord God then offers not just advice, but strict instructions on how the people are to meet Him:
The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” (Exodus 19:10-15 NASB)
The Scripture goes on to say that when the third day arrived, God Himself came down on the mountain amidst lightning and thunder, smoke and fire, a thick cloud, an earthquake, and the sound of a great trumpet. Then He repeated the instructions He had issued three days earlier:
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.” Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.” So Moses went down to the people and told them. (Exodus 19:18-25 NASB)
There is so much here to absorb, not the least being the fact that Moses prefigures the work of Messiah Yeshua as the One Who ascends to heaven to talk with the Father and descends to earth to talk with the people (John 3:13-15, 31-36, 6:60-65, Acts 1:6-11, Romans 10:5-13). Then there are the similarities of God’s appearance on Sinai with the apocalyptic scenes from the Prophets and Revelation about Holy God’s encounters with corrupt and sinful men at the end of this age. And yet even His encounters with holy men produce the same awesome and fearful reaction from human beings. Consider Isaiah’s experience:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB)
Why is God doing this? Why would He reveal Himself to His chosen nation in such a frightful way? The people were literally frightened to the point of death after God spoke, and they asked Moses to intercede for them so that they would not have to hear God’s voice themselves (Exodus 20:18-21). The answer to these questions comes in what happened just before God appeared on the mountain, and what happened just afterward. Consider what the Lord said to Moses just before He gave the instructions about setting boundaries around the mountain:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
The Jewish sages have taught for a very long time that what God spoke to Moses and to our ancestors was a proposal of marriage. Indeed it was; the theme of marriage carries all the way through the writings of the Prophets, demonstrating how the entire nation– both Israel and Judah – practiced adultery with other gods and thus incurred the Lord’s judgment. Yet the Prophets also foretold how God would make a way to recover His bride, remove her iniquity, and make her His own all over again. That was and is the work of Messiah, just as the Apostles explained in their writings. Ultimately, the Lord God intends to have His holy, spotless bride, which is why the Apostle Peter echoed God’s very words in his exhortation to the believers in his day who had been grafted in to the nation of Israel by Messiah Yeshua’s redemptive work:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:9-10 NASB)
What were the terms of YHVH’s marriage contract? Those were the words He spoke after His glorious and terrifying appearance on the mountain. We call them the Ten Commandments; in Hebrew they are the Ten Words (devorim; דְּבָרִים). These were and are His instructions on how His holy people are to conduct themselves with Him and with each other. After delivering these initial instructions, He spent the better part of the next year explaining the details to Moses about how His chosen people were to abide by them. For the next 38 years He reemphasized His instructions day by day, and then had Moses explain them once more just before the people crossed into the Promised Land. Those instructions are what we call the Torah, the very Words that Yeshua said would remain in effect even if heaven and earth were to pass away (Matthew 5:17-19).
And what is at the top of the list of these Ten Words? Surely that would be the most important of them. The common understanding among Christians is that the Ten Commandments begin with this:
You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3 NASB)
Actually, that is part of the Second Commandment. The First Commandment is this:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2 NASB)
It is this First Commandment which speaks to the relationship we are to have with the Lord our God. We must first believe in Him – Who He is, What He has done, how He has redeemed us. In this statement of His identity and our relationship to Him we gain our own identity. It is the identity of the Chosen People, the Hebrews whom God plucked up out of bondage to sin and death and saved to be His special nation of priests and witnesses to His glory in all the earth. If we cannot understand and accept this, then we will have great difficulty falling into line with all the other Commandments. And yet if we can grasp it and begin to live by it, then we will be like Queen Esther, enjoying great intimacy with the King, but fearing and respecting His power and drawing near only on His terms.