Yitro

Yitro

Jethro

“Divine Service Toward Others”

Exodus 18:1-20:23[26]
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6[6-7] (A); 6:1-13 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we continue our examination of the Book of Exodus, coming to a Torah portion that includes one of the most significant sections in the entire Bible, as we witness God giving His people the Ten Commandments. After some of the initial trials of the journey into the wilderness as considered last week in B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), with a lack of water and food, and a battle with the Amalekites—in Yitro the people of Israel come to the base of Mount Sinai and receive instruction from God. Most readers understandably focus their attention upon the reception of the Ten Commandments, transcribed by the very finger of the Most High onto stone tablets (Exodus 20:1-17).

Without any doubt, the Ten Commandments are very important, because it is upon such aseret ha’devarim or Ten Words that the remainder of the Torah’s commandments are somehow based. Yet in one of the most well-known statements made by the Messiah Yeshua in the Gospels, it might be said that the very basis of the Ten Commandments themselves are the Torah’s instructions to faithfully love God and one’s neighbor:

“And He said to him, ‘“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

When we understand how the Ten Commandments have a tendency to point disobedient persons—not only within Ancient Israel but throughout human history—back to remembrance and obedience, the words of Yeshua make perfect sense. But rather than focus on the significant volume of material that has been accumulated on the Ten Commandments,[1] as well as the critical importance of loving God and one’s neighbor, there is another topic within Yitro which precedes the reception of the Ten Words. In the opening chapter of our parashah, Exodus 18, the character and actions for whom this reading is entitled are described. The individual named, of course, is Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses. The ancient advice that he gave to Moses, and consequently what it means throughout the Biblical narrative and for us today, is something that we need to consider.

A society with specified rules, regulations, and statutes can implode and fall into disarray if its people fail to heed the guidelines issued for proper leadership. There are far too many historical examples of societal failures that we can reflect upon. Needless to say, Ancient Israel itself, in spite of what is issued in Yitro, did not always implement the godly instructions on whom to regard as those in authority. So as a Messianic faith community which truly desires to be in compliance with Holy Scriptures, what principles do the leadership instructions of Yitro deliver to us, who want to be successful in a time when God’s people are witnessing significant restoration?

The Big Picture

When you often study the Torah, the corresponding Haftarah selections can be used to prompt some major introspection. This week, some of the selected verses from the Book of Isaiah reminded me of the concept of Divine order. After all, the Holy One of Israel is a God of order, and it is through His order that He is going to accomplish all the things that He has providentially ordained:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

As you review this classic passage from Isaiah, the Prophet is looking forward to a time when the Son of God will actually be born as a human being. He will be given the awesome titles of: pele yoeitz, El gibor, avi’ad, sar-shalom, or Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. These titles, in and of themselves, leave no doubt in my mind that Yeshua the Son is indeed Divine, God in the flesh.

In an interesting choice of words, the Prophet states that “the government will rest on His shoulders,” and “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” All rule and dominion will clearly rest upon Yeshua the Messiah.

When I consider the visual picture of the government of God’s Kingdom resting upon the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, I envision a scene of Yeshua in all of His glory, with the government literally resting on His shoulders. Now in order to conceptualize this, I picture the governmental structure like an upside down pyramid with its pinnacle held up by the Lord. In my mind, this represents the order of God by Yeshua serving His people. It notably includes the Messiah at the bottom, rather than at the top; He holds everything up by His supreme power.

According to the author of Hebrews, Yeshua is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son being the One who sustains the Creation—certainly with this governmental structure resting securely upon Himself:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:3-4).

When I couple this mental image with the conceptual reality that Yeshua has clearly stated, “He came not to be served, but to serve and offer Himself up as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), the idea of serving means to humble oneself, and often be at the bottom of the heap. But with all of these mental images of the Messiah and His dual role as the Servant-King—the One who has led by His service and ultimate sacrifice for sinful humanity—I am drawn back to our Torah portion this week, and the advice Moses received from Jethro.

Jethro’s Wisdom

We need to understand that the insertion of the episode we read with Jethro comes at a very strategic time for Moses and the Ancient Israelites. The deliverance from Egypt and the battle with the Amalekites were behind them. Jethro brought Moses his wife Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer, to the Israelite camp (Exodus 18:1-7). Jethro heard of the great salvation acts (Exodus 18:8) and was convinced that the God of Israel was the One True God (Exodus 18:9-12). But, this highly respected elder witnessed the leadership model Moses was using, and he had the wisdom and the impetus to make some astute recommendations. As the text indicates, Moses was exhausting himself with meeting the ever-present requests of thousands, not to mention all of their unspoken demands:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws’” (Exodus 18:13-16).

Jethro immediately detected that Moses was wearing himself out, and that he had to do something to avoid fatigue and the impossible task of resolving all the disputes within the community of Israel. The logical advice was to develop a way to duplicate his authority, and choose capable leaders who could handle varying degrees of responsibility. Jethro’s advice was two-fold: (1) Moses was supposed to continue in his position as the intermediary between God and the people, but (2) he was to raise up those who would learn the commandments and precepts of the Lord, being able to apply them at the various levels to which they would be assigned:

“And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:17-24).

Moses was certainly not going to give up his unique relationship with the Holy One. After all, Moses had a special call upon his life that was apparent to those who knew him. Maintaining his relationship with God was critical to continue functioning as the leader of the emerging nation, as they would be taught God’s statutes and laws. And as we know, the Lord continued to give Moses an incredible amount of revelation that is recorded throughout the Pentateuch. However, since this channel of communication needed to be maintained, it was important to delegate the work of administration to others who were qualified to handle various day-to-day administration responsibilities within the community of Israel. Jethro established the essential criteria Moses would use, for selecting those who would be capable of handling various responsibilities:

Within Exodus 18:21-22, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised four important attributes for the leaders who would be raised up within Ancient Israel. They were: (1) to be able or accomplished, (2) God-fearing, (3) truthful, and (4) hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these same virtuous character traits were to define the elders and deacons that Timothy and Titus were to appoint, respectively, in their administrative capacities in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:1-12) and on Crete (Titus 1:5-9). Whether we look to our Torah portion Yitro, or Paul’s instructions within the Pastoral Epistles, I believe we will discover that servant-leaders of God’s people need to all be of impeccable personal quality, as they not only teach, guide, and mentor others—but also help to implement solutions for the problems that they face.

Able and Accomplished

When you go back and contemplate Jethro’s advice and the qualifications he articulated for the leaders within Ancient Israel, there is no doubt that subsequent generations of God’s people were informed by these early stipulations. Jethro stated that the selected leaders must be able or accomplished (Exodus 18:21a), with the text employing the word chayil, meaning “ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth” (BDB).[2] “The basic meaning of the noun is ‘strength,’ from which follow ‘army’ and ‘wealth’” (TWOT).[3] We see that those chosen need to be as dependable as one would want the army to be, defending the nation from hostile forces. This would mean that leaders must be disciplined, strong, and courageous to handle any of the challenges that might threaten Israel’s welfare.

When you consider some of the instructions issued to Timothy in Ephesus, as he served as Paul’s authorized representative to help fix the negative effects of the false teaching that had circulated, there is an amplification of what it means to be able. Within the mid-to-late First Century, the Messiah followers out in the Mediterranean basin were largely meeting in small communities that typically gathered in homes. In Ancient Ephesus, the false teaching (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4-7) had influenced some of those in leadership, and so Timothy had to see that new elders and deacons were appointed. The Apostle Paul directed his disciple Timothy to choose new leaders from among those who were mature in the faith, and who demonstrated godly character within the home:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-6).

God-Fearing

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who fear God (Exodus 18:21b). Fearing the Lord is a concept witnessed throughout the Holy Scriptures, perhaps epitomized by Proverbs 18:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Within the Tanakh, the references one sees regarding how to fear God give readers the distinct impression that a fear of God leads to a great respect for Him, and consequently how He expects His people to live and conduct themselves. Here are two significant examples from Psalms:

“Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:12-14).

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever. He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:1-10).

These Psalm passages can really intensify our understanding about the kind of fear for God that leaders of His people are to demonstrate. A healthy fear of God is a true indicator that a leader not only believes that He is real and exists, but also that consequences of disobedience and disbelief are severe. A healthy fear of God is important for good leadership, because those who fail to fear God will often fall into sin. Jude reflected on this reality in his letter composed in the late First Century, because those without a fear of the Lord had entered into the Believers’ love feasts with intentions to do great harm:

“But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 10-13).

Discerning that a leader has a healthy and true fear of God is extremely important. By evidencing a godly fear, the leader will rely upon the Lord for His wisdom and counsel, for the difficult decisions which need to be made.

Truthful

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who respected the truth (Exodus 18:21c). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term emet has a variety of meanings, including: “reliability, sureness,” “stability, continuance,” and “faithfulness, reliableness” (BDB).[4] The Greek Scriptures likewise reflect this, often employing pistis, meaning: “persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance,” “good faith, trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty,” and “an assurance, pledge of good faith, warrant, guarantee” (LS).[5] Emet is frequently translated with pistis in the Septuagint, and these meanings are all employed in the Apostolic Scriptures. Leaders are required to not only know the truth, but to be able to teach it well because they have experienced it in their lives.

Given the influence of various troublemakers on the island of Crete, the leaders Titus was to appoint needed to be able to be steadfast with the truth of the gospel:

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word[6] which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11).

The emphasis on being able to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message” (NIV), of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, is evidenced in actions like being able “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (HCSB). On the island of Crete there had been various troublemakers and errorists who had circulated controversial ideas for their own self-serving purposes, which was quite problematic especially given the low estimation that Cretans had in the ancient world (Titus 1:12).

Jethro’s words would be comparable to telling the people of Israel to choose leaders who truly understood God’s Law. Moses was told, “enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow” (Exodus 18:20, NJPS). These leaders were to clearly be trained to know the truth, and consequently discern error and lead the assembly through a proper interpretation and application of instructions when various situations would arise. By knowing the Word of God, leaders can be able to discern His will and character when crises erupt—but they should also clearly have a relationship with the Holy One Himself, being filled with His presence to guide their hearts and minds.

Hating Dishonest Gain

Jethro’s fourth requirement was that Moses should choose leaders who hated dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21d). Most frequently, we associate this with honest people who are not consumed with a love of money (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). These are persons who are absolutely convinced that life should operate according to a system of equal weights and measures, so when it comes to judicial matters they will be absolutely sure that those accused or being subjected to review receive proper justice. The concept of treating others as you would have them treat you is inherent in their nature (cf. Matthew 7:12).

In Exodus 18:21 the Hebrew word betza is used to describe “ill-gotten gain” (NJPS) or a “bribe” (RSV). It can mean “gain made by violence, unjust gain, profit” (BDB).[7] The first time it is used in the Torah is when Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianite traders as a slave.[8] When we see this term used in the narrative of Yitro, is a connection being made back to this event? Certainly, able leaders in the community of Israel were not to accept bribery or any kind of “dirty money.”

The false teachers Timothy had to face in Ephesus included many who simply wanted to get rich. The Apostle Paul informs his dear friend about how love for money (philaguria) is a significant cause of evil:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Rather than pursue money, Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesians to instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” These are all attributes of a leader who can be responsible for the children of God, and are also to be found in the lives of all Messiah followers who are mature and are accomplishing the Lord’s tasks in the world.[9]

Divine Service Toward Others

In this day of restoration, how important is it that we should heed the leadership qualifications advised of Jethro to Moses? As he had surveyed the assembly of the Ancient Israelites, Moses would have to discern who was capable of handling the different levels of responsibility. Some were given responsibility over thousands, and others responsibility only over hundreds, fifties, or tens (Exodus 18:21e). Each leader, however, had to be godly. The magnitude of responsibility was most likely a by-product of age and experience. Today, we need to consider these principles, and others elaborated on throughout the Holy Writ, as we look for capable, godly men and women to lead the Body of Messiah in some formal or full-time capacity.

We obviously need to be very careful regarding those who are placed in positions of leadership, especially given the many Biblical, extra-Biblical, and historical examples of abuse of religious power. If we are mindful of this, then we will be less apt to make the tragic mistakes of recognizing those who are not qualified or fit to lead.

Too often, this is a major factor given much of the contention that manifests within in the Messianic community. Too often, I have witnessed people who have—through the force of their personality—self-anointed themselves to be the leader of a group. When you really take a serious look at their personal qualifications, you realize that they have more in common with Ancient Israel’s opponents or the false teachers Timothy and Titus had to face in Ephesus and Crete—then they do Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles, but most especially the Messiah Yeshua. Unfortunately, I think we are all aware of how problematic leaders will be a constant bane in the Body of Messiah until the Lord returns.

Perhaps if we considered the substance of what is described in this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, we could begin to minimize many of the problems inherent with poor, unqualified leadership. Moses certainly listened to the wise counsel of his father-in-law, and implemented a leadership model that has stood the test of time.

But lest we forget, as one takes on more and more responsibility within the Body of Messiah, no one “climbs” the proverbial ladder to the top—but rather descends further down to the center of the government which rests upon the shoulders of Yeshua. As you get closer to Him, the Servant of all, you realize that it is by your service to others that you descend down deeper to where all the muck of life floats. Down there, closer to Yeshua, you not only sense His presence, but you require it in order to handle the greater responsibility that you have been entrusted.

In the end, according to the Biblical model of leadership, you will get closer and closer to “the bottom,” in your service capacity as a follower of the Most High. You learn the simple axiom that through service you lead. Relying upon the Lord’s example, you learn to properly navigate through all of the “stuff” that settles down at the bottom. By walking in and being led by the Spirit of God, all of the junk does not seem to affect or influence you as much as might have previously. As you grow in faith and maturity, your leadership abilities that manifest are closer to those of the Messiah Himself. Humiliation and insults do not hurt as much as they once did, as you recognize the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God—who endured the agony of the cross so that we all might be saved (Philippians 2:8)!


NOTES

[1] Consult the author’s reflections on the Ten Commandments, compiled for the Ten Days of Awe between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Also consult the relevant chapters on the Ten Commandments appearing in Torah In the Balance, Volume I by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 299.

[3] Carl Philip Weber, “ḥayil,” in TWOT, 1:271.

[4] BDB, 54.

[5] LS, 641.

[6] Grk. pistou logou.

[7] BDB, 130.

[8] “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit [betza] is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood’?” (Genesis 37:26).

[9] For further examination on the instructions regarding leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9, and some of the situation-specific circumstances in Ephesus and Crete, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

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