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Parasha Yitro: Meeting with God at the Foot of the Mountain

Yitro (Jethro) 
Exodus 18:1–20:23; Isaiah 6:1–7:6; 9:5–6 (Ashkenazi); Isaiah 6:1–13 (Sephardic); 1 John 5:1–11

“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 had brought Israel out of Egypt.”  (Exodus 18:1)

In last week’s Torah study, Beshalach, God brought Israel out of Egypt and parted the Red Sea to save them from Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  God provided for the needs of His people in the wilderness by raining down manna from heaven and bringing forth water from a rock.

This week, in Parasha Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), comes from Midian along with Moses’ wife and two sons to meet him at the Israelites’ camp after hearing of all the great miracles that God had performed to deliver His people.

Torah scroll, Bar Mitzvah, tallit, tefillin

A 13-year-old Jewish boy carries the Torah scroll at the Western (Wailing) Wall as the adults venerate the Torah by kissing the Torah tik (ornate box protecting the Torah scroll).

Moses Learns How to Delegate

“So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people?  Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’”  (Exodus 18:14)

Yitro rejoiced with Moses over all that God had done for them; but the next day, when Yitro saw Moses spending long hours judging the people, he was concerned about the strain on Moses.

Moses’ father-in-law wisely advised him to appoint other men to occupy positions of leadership to help carry the burden, lest Moses wear himself out.

We must also be careful not to allow our work, no matter how demanding, to occupy so much of our time that our well-being and relationships suffer as a result.

We must find others to whom we can delegate some of our duties in order to give more balance to our lives.

Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders, by Jacob de Wit

Moses Elects the Council of Seventy Elders, by Jacob de Wit

The Word of God tells us which qualities to look for in choosing potential leaders: capable, God-fearing, honest people.

“Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.”  (Exodus 18:21)

Life is not designed to be a “quick sprint.”  It is a marathon.  If we are to endure to the end (just as Jethro advised Moses), we must not overwork ourselves.

“Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not?  For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”  (Proverbs 23:4–5)

Thankfully, Moses listened to his father-in-law, which reveals Moses’ beautiful character trait of humility.  We should be grateful, and not defensive, when God sends someone into our lives to give us necessary correction for our own good and the good of others.

Western Wall, Wailing Wall

Israeli Jewish men have a discussion around a table full of Jewish prayer books, Scripture, and other reading material at the Western Wall.

The Voice of the Lord

“Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel … ‘Now if you will obey Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own special treasure [segulah] from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to Me.’”  (Exodus 19:3, 5)

In this Parasha, the children of Israel camp opposite Mount Sinai, and Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God.

On the mountain, the Lord instructs Moses to tell the “House of Jacob” and the “Children of Israel” that He is making a special promise to the people:  they are to be His own special nation — a kingdom of priests (mamlechet cohanim) and a holy nation (v’goy kadosh).

If the people of Israel listen to God’s voice and keep covenant with Him, then God will embrace them as His special treasure.  In Hebrew, the word used is segulah, which comes from the word sagol, meaning purple—the color of royalty.

In the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant), all Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) are sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; therefore, we are all royalty—kings and priests unto the Lord.

“He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”  (Revelation 1:6)

A woman touches the Wall as she prays in Jerusalem.

Women pray at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The people of Israel agree to keep God’s commandments and to obey Him:

“Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do.’”  (Exodus 19:8)

Moses consecrates the people of Israel and prepares them to meet with God to receive the law at Mount Sinai.  This was the whole purpose of the exodus from Egypt—for Israel to receive God’s Torah (instruction).

“When you will have brought the people out from Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.”  (Exodus 3:12)

Torah, Hebrew, Scripture

Torah and yad (Torah pointer, literally hand)

A Special Place for Women

Because verse three of Exodus 19 uses the two terms the “House of Jacob” and the “Children of Israel,” Jewish sages believe that the first term refers to the women of Israel and the second term to the men.

It is believed that when God gave Israel the Torah, He told Moses to approach the women first.

The Midrash (Rabbinic stories, interpretations, and commentaries) states that that Messianic redemption will come through the merit of righteous women of Israel:  “All generations are redeemed by virtue of the pious women of their generation”  (Yalkut Shimoni, Ruth: 606).

Perhaps, this points to Miryam’s role as mother of Yeshua (Jesus), which is prophesied by Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

Mary, birth of Yeshua, Bible prophecy

A teenager portrays Miryam in a Nativity play.

Sadly, chapter seven of Isaiah is not read during the regular Shabbat readings.  But we do read about the birth of the Messiah in the Haftarah (prophetic portion) for this Shabbat.

“To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6)

Jewish sages also believed that women would first receive the teachings of the Messiah.

While Yeshua taught many women, we know from Scripture that another Miryam became the first eye-witness to Yeshua’s resurrection from the dead—the absolute sign of Yeshua’s Messiahship and victory over sin.

“Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Miryam of Magdala, from whom He had cast out seven demons.”  (Mark 16:9)

In a culture where women witnesses were not thought to possess credibility, this is an extraordinary event that the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) wanted us all to know.


A Jewish woman prays using a siddur (Jewish prayer book) at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem.

Meeting with God at the Foot of the Mountain

Standing at the foot of the mountain on the third day, the people of Israel met with God, as He descended with thunder, lightning, thick clouds, and the loud sound of the shofar (ram’s horn).

The whole mountain was covered with smoke, since God came with fire, as it is written, “The Lord is a consuming fire.”  (Deuteronomy 4:24)

It was such a fearsome sight that the people trembled and told Moses, “You, speak with us, and we will listen.  But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die.”  (Exodus 20:19 [16]) 

Thankfully, we have not come to such a mountain of darkness, fire and deafening, fearful noise, but to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and the angels—to Yeshua.

We are, therefore, entering a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  We are entering “the city of the living God, heavenly Yerushalayim; to myriads of angels in festive assembly; to a community of the firstborn whose names have been recorded in Heaven; to a Judge who is God of everyone; to spirits of righteous people who have been brought to the goal; to the mediator of a new covenant, Yeshua; and to the sprinkled blood that speaks better things than [the blood of Abel].”  (Hebrews 12:22–24)

Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Leon Gerome

Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Leon Gerome

Even though we are under the grace of the New Covenant, in which the laws of God are written on our hearts, the commands of God, written with His very own finger on tablets of stone are eternal and true for all people in all covenants.

Keeping His commandments is how we show our love for God.  His commandments provide a guide for a healthy, happy, productive, and harmonious life in relationship with God and with other people.

“For this is love for God, to keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.”  (1 John 5:3)

Yeshua has not set us free from sin so that we can live lawless lives.  The Word of God even warns that our prayers may not be heard if we are walking in blatant disobedience to God’s laws.

“One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.”  (Proverbs 28:9)

The law of God guards our relationships.  The first tablet containing the first five of the Ten Commandments deals with our relationship to God.  The second set of five commandments deals with our relations with our neighbor.  That is why Yeshua said that loving God and loving our neighbor sum up the commandments.  (Matthew 22:37–40)

The God of Israel is not an impersonal “force,” but a God of love who becomes intimately involved with the affairs of mankind to save, rescue, redeem and deliver.  This is the God who is worthy of our love and devotion, and no one else.

Jewish prayer at the Kotel

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray at the Western Wall.

Jealousy and Faithfulness

We see from the second commandment that anything we place first in our lives other than God is idolatry.  God is, by His own admission, a jealous God.  The Hebrew root of kanna (jealous) means the just indignation of one injured.

When we choose another over God, He is injured, as a husband or wife is injured by an unfaithful spouse.

Today the world is filled with idols: wealth, fame, power, position, money, work, sexual relations, celebrities, sports, even relationships.  We so often make these desires our priority, tending to put our trust and confidence in other things or people to help us meet those desires.

However, only God is absolutely trustworthy, and His desires for us are pure and holy.

God’s prophetic word promises that one day His people will no longer tolerate any idolatry in their lives, but the day will come when the Lord shall say, “What have I to do with idols?  It is I who answer and look after you.”  (Hosea 14:8)

May this be the generation that seeks the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and may we become united in the love of Messiah, worshiping the One True God in Spirit and Truth.

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