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Shemot/Exodus 18:24 And Moshe paid attention to the voice of his father-in-law and he did everything that he said.
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The basic meaning of the verb - here in its Qal 3ms prefix form, , with a vav-conversive construction to give a narrative sequence past tense - is "to hear or listen" (Davidson), a largely acoustic event with cognitive overtones. David Clines points out that there is a strong secondary emphasis on acceptance and implementation: "pay attention to, give heed to, hear (and respond to), obey".1 While we may be more familiar with key texts such as "Hear, O Israel ..." (D'varim 6:4) that are primarily focussed upon auditory meaning, others such as "Be careful to obey ..." (12:28) show that the actions of hearing and listening - as, indeed, they may do in English - carry the sense that "if you had really listened, you would have done what I said." Moshe not only heard the words his father-in-law spoke, but he paid attention to them, he recognised the truth in them, the practical value and common sense they contained, and went ahead to implement them and put them into practice.Targum Onkelos reflects this fro us, changing the Hebrew to the Aramaic , "and he accepted the words".
A number of the commentators are concerned as to why Moshe should be taking instruction from Yitro, the priest of Midian. Brevard Childs sums up the argument: "It has long puzzled commentators that Moshe, who had spoken 'mouth to mouth' with G-d and was his mediator par excellence should have depended on the practical advice of a foreign priest, albeit his father-in-law, for such an important element in the life of the nation as the administration of justice."2 TheMekhilta shifts the 'he' of the last verb - , "he said" - from Yitro to HaShem: "And did all that he had said - that is, all that his father-in-law told him - these are the words of Rabbi Joshua. Rabbi. Eleazar of Modi'im says: what G-d had said." (Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate Amalek, chapter 4). This would make Yitro simply the one who had brought HaShem's words to Moshe, not the one instructing Moshe. The Abravanel attempts to downgrade the reason for Moshe's attention to Yitro's words: "This [text] is an exaggeration, though Moshe 'heeded' him out of respect. The parallel text in D'varim chapter 1 reveals that Moshe did a number of things differently. For instance, he waited until after the giving of the Torah (which he, but not Yitro, knew was imminent) to appoint the judges.
Umberto Cassuto points out that this verse is the acknowledgement and fulfillment of Yitro's own words at the beginning of the dialogue "Listen to my voice" (v. 19). Moshe listened to what his father-in-law said and, having assessed the content, acted accordingly. Terence Fretheim comments that "wise discernment of what seems prudent in this situation is believed to be just as much the will of G-d as a specific divine verbal communication. One should probably assume a 'it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us' approach to the matter (see Acts 15:28)."3 The proverb writer stresses on several occasions the importance of being able to 'hear' wisdom in what is said to us and of seeking that wisdom out where it can be found. Addressing the issue of Yitro's origin - not being an Israelite - Peter Enns explains, "that G-d can use a Midianite in this special capacity should come as no surprise to those familiar with similar instances in prophetic literature (e.g. the role of Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, 13)."
If we look at the gospels, we find Yeshua complimenting or rewarding truth in the mouths of those outside Israel or who might be expected to be His enemies. In the well-known episode of the centurion who bases his faith in Yeshua to heal his servant on a recognition of Yeshua's position of and under authority, Yeshua responds, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith" (Matthew 8:10, ESV) and heals the servant immediately. To the scribe who correctly stated that loving G-d and neighbour is more important that any sacrifices, Yeshua said, ">You are not far from the kingdom of G-d" (Mark 12:34, ESV), an affirmation that gives the scribe the last word and silences the crowd. The syro-phoenician woman, begging for her daughter's healing and shrewdly observing that even the dogs around the table eat the crumbs dropped by the children, earns the response, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire" (Matthew 15:28, ESV) and the healing the daughter needs.
We can see, then, that G-d not only can but does speak through anyone, friend or foe. He even spoke to the Gentile prophet Balaam through his own donkey! That leads to two very important questions. The first is this: how often do we pay close attention to what G-d says to us and then do exactly what He has said? Moshe was able to alter the administration of justice and dispute resolution to a model that served the people of Israel far better than he could be himself, by hearing and implementing the recommendations of Yitro, his father-in-law. Whether it was a specific prophetic word from G-d simply articulated by Yitro, or a common sense observation spoken out of years of ministry experience (even if in a pagan culture!) isn't the point - it was still G-d speaking. Moshe effectively receives the Torah's praise for hearing and doing exactly what he was told.
Our second important question is: to whom do we listen? That may not seem very difficult to answer until you think about what it means. There are some people to whom we have learned to listen and pay attention: parents, for example. We may not always do what they tell us now that we are adults, but out of courtesy if nothing else, we should always listen, pay attention and give serious consideration to what we say. Another person to we probably always listen is our rabbi or pastor; then there may be our home-group leader or, if we are the home-group leader, the home-group coordinator. We take and obey professional advice from lawyers, accountants and doctors. We probably pay attention to the mechanic who services our vehicle! But random people on the 'bus or train, assistants in shops, our neighbours? They often get ignored beyond an immediate conversation. That's life, right?
But think on this: do we limit our ability to hear from G-d by pre-filtering or selecting who we think G-d might use to speak to us? What if the ticket collector on our morning commute was inspired to speak a word from G-d to us, perhaps quoting Scripture, but just touching something we had already taken to our Father in prayer? Would we hear it, or would it be automatically tuned out because of who is saying it. We may take the accountant's advice about our financial affairs, but what if they - probably unknowingly - spoke a word in season from heaven that we needed to hear? Do we just filter that out without really paying any attention because it's not about finance, so not the person we expect to be saying that? It seems to me that if we only listen to those people who say nice things to us, or only hear the truth from those we have privileged to speak truth to us, we have reduced the opportunities when we may hear from G-d. More, since the Bible tells us that G-d may use anyone to speak to or visit us - "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:2, ESV) - if we get into the habit of filtering and pre-selecting, then we may miss the very words that G-d wants us to hear and has taken the trouble to send someone along, possibly at risk or expense to themselves, to say to us.
We cannot, of course, open ourselves up to anything and everything that everyone says to us as being divinely inspired. The enemy would quickly have us in a spin. Everything must be tested against the Bible, our conscience and by the witness of the Spirit, but we can all be a little more open and prepared for G-d to speak to us. We could even make a point of asking Him to do just that each day and then not just set aside a particular time to listen, but listen more carefully throughout the day. There's radical!
1. - David J. A. Clines (ed.) The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), page 469.
2. - Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), page 331.
3. - Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), page 199.
Further Study: B'resheet 18:1-8; Matthew 25:34-40; 1 Peter 4:7-11
Application: Are you sure that you hear everything G-d says to you? Is it possible that someone has brought you a word from heaven in the last week that you filtered out because you didn't like, trust or expect the source? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of when G-d last spoke to you and make sure you pay attention!
Comment - 09:54 09Feb20 Jeremy: Thank you for these wise words, they are a source of great strength. The world is a very busy and noisy place these days and the voice of G-d can seem a little distant at times. We thank our Father for sending His Spirit to give us ears to hear and a heart of flesh so that we can experience that oneness with our beautiful creator.
Comment - 15:08 09Feb21 Nancy Miller: I deeply appreciate receiving the weekly Torah portion and the drash. I am so thankful for the practical application and explanation. I was very impacted by this latest drash and am now starting out my day asking the Father to cause me to more intentionally be ready to hear His Voice through anyone and any situation that He chooses, trusting the Holy Spirit to give me discernment and alertness. What a thrilling way to live! Very impacted by Matthew 25.
Comment - 20:22 09Feb19 Richard: Insightful, true, wise words, and sage advice given to us here in this drash that takes us down into the text and equally into our daily walk with our God and King.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2020
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