Messianic Education Trust
    Yitro  
(Ex 18:1 - 20:23)

Shemot/Exodus 18:5   And Yitro came ... to Moshe, to the desert where he was camped there ...


Israel is now east of the Sea of Reeds, on their way to Sinai. Moshe, G-d's appointed leader of the people, is camping out in the wilderness with his people. The verb - the Qal ms. participle from the root , to encamp or pitch one's tent - indicates that this was not a single action at one particular time, but an on-going state of affairs; both the action of pitching the tent and sleeping out in tents was being repeated. While the people were still new to this - having been slaves in Egypt all their lives - Moshe was no stranger to the tent process and was used to sleeping in the wilderness after forty years tending Yitro's sheep before he returned to Egypt at The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem's command to bring the people out of captivity.

Yitro, Moshe's father-in-law, who had been looking after his daughter and her sons - Moshe's wife and children - during the most risky part of the liberation operation, has heard reports of what HaShem had been doing in Egypt and that the people of Israel were now free and on their way back to their own land that HaShem had promised to give to Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov and their descendants. So he sets out to visit Moshe and to re-unite the family.

The What Is ...

The Mekhilta: The earliest known halakhic midrash or commentary on (parts of) the book of Exodus; formally named for Rabbi Ishmael and therefore set around 100-135CE, it was redacted some years after his time; quoted many times in the Bavli Talmud as "Rabbi Ishmael taught ..."
Mekhilta nevertheless says that, "Scripture expresses surprise at him. He was dwelling in the midst of the splendour of the world and yet was willing to go out to the desert, a place of desolation where nothing is to be had."1 Why surprise? Yitro was the priest of Midian and therefore had a certain honour and status among his own people, probably some level of wealth. He was also at least 100 years old, his other daughters were likely to be married and he would be enjoying a measure of luxury, ease and respect. Yet he set off into the wilderness to visit a son-in-law who had sent his wife home while he embarked upon a hazardous freedom campaign that had resulted in his being driven out of Egypt, pursued by Pharaoh and his army, and is now reduced to camping in the wilderness at the head of 600,000 men and their families.

Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi comments that although "he was living in a place of high honour in the world, his heart moved him to go out to the wilderness, a place of desolation, to hear words of Torah." Just as the prophet was later to write - "In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you'" (Zechariah 8:23, NASB) - Yitro was drawn by the power and presence of G-d. He had heard various word-of-mouth reports of the plagues in Egypt, of the parting of the Sea of Reeds, of the defeat of Amalek, of all the wonderous things that G-d had been doing through Moshe. Now he wanted a first-hand account; he wanted to know exactly what G-d had said and done: he wanted to hear G-d's words for himself, to see the symbols - the pillars of fire and cloud - of G-d's presence among His people, to taste the miraculous manna. He was drawn, just as the magi were centuries later drawn, by the activity and presence of G-d: "Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him" (Matthew 2:2, ESV).

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim says that Yitro did not have to ask for directions to the Israelite camp or to Moshe's tent. He deduces this from a masoretic note to the word , that it word appears only twice in the Hebrew Scriptures: here and in the Psalms. "The angel of the L-RD camps around those who fear Him and rescues them" (Psalm 34:8, JPS). Since Moshe feared HaShem and HaShem had just rescued Moshe and the people from Egypt, so the angel of the L-rd would be surrounding the camp and - perhaps the pillars of fire and cloud - would be clearly seen, particularly by those who were looking for them. The Tur assembles the two verses together: The angel of the L-rd encamps around the one who fears Him in the wilderness where he camped. If the pillars of fire and cloud could be clearly seen from a distance, how much more so Moshe's own personal tent, in the midst of the camp.

Harry Dixon Loes, a musician and teacher, wrote a song around the year 1920. Called "This Little Light of Mine", it became one of the America Civil Rights movements anthems in the 1950s and 1960s. Originally written as a gospel song, it has been published with hand movements for ministry with children and been sung by people from Barry McGuire to the Seekers; it even appeared in a Hollywood film in 2006. The chorus goes like this:

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

It is based on Yeshua's words in Matthew's and Luke's gospels:

You are light for the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Likewise, when people light a lamp, they don't cover it with a bowl but put it on a lampstand, so that it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they may see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16, CJB

The song speaks of us letting our light shine, but this misses the point. It is G-d's light in us that shines, as the prophet explains: "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the L-RD has risen upon you" (Isaiah 60:1, ESV). Whether we like it or not, Messiah in us is a beacon that radiates light around both the physical and spiritual world. The powers of darkness know exactly who and where we are, without us having to open our mouths, and they fight to muffle and stunt our witness in the physical world so that people are not drawn to us and to the kingdom of G-d. The more we co-operate with G-d to share Him - in words but more effectively in deeds and actions - the brighter the light of Messiah shines and the hotter the fight becomes.

As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we should be acting like magnets drawing people from both the Jewish and Gentile worlds to know G-d. To the church world, we teach and demonstrate the riches of our spiritual heritage: both the theory and practice of the biblical feasts, the wisdom of Torah, the passion and zeal of the prophets. To the Jewish world, we witness of the power of G-d in the cross and the person of Yeshua as the fulfillment of G-d's covenants with Israel. We see this in practice as the church world shows interest in Jewish music, dancing and food, providing a bridge and an opportunity to teach and share on an informal basis. In the Jewish world, an increasing number of people are coming to faith as we refuse to compromise on who Yeshua is and demonstrate our own consistency with a biblical Jewish lifestyle and tradition.

As Rav Sha'ul points out, it is G-d who enables this: "For G-d, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of G-d in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV). God makes us a light, surrounding us with His presence and revealing His glory in us. People, even in high places like Yitro, are drawn to that light and want to hear the words of G-d, of Torah, and so become attracted to the kingdom and relationship with G-d. That should be the normal experience of a believer's life!

1 - Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Jewish Publication Society 2004, 0-8276-0678-8, page 277

Further Study: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; 2 Peter 1:16-18

Application: Are people drawn to you, to hear about G-d? Why not ask G-d how you can be more open and effective as a magnet and then to bring someone along so that you can befriend them and share Messiah with them?

© Jonathan Allen, 2011

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