Our parasha for this Shabbat, spanning Exodus 18-20 is one of the most significant in all the Torah, because it describes Israel’s encounter with God at Mt. Sinai, and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Interesting, that this parasha should be entitled Yitro, the name of Moses’ father-in-law.
Yitro (Jethro) comes to Moses with Zipporah and Moses’ 2 sons Gershom and Eliezer in tow. Moses and Israel are described as being “at the mount of God”. Moses tells his father-in-law all that God did for them, and Yitro rejoices, exuberantly declaring his faith in Adonai, offering sacrifices, and sharing in a meal with Moses and the elders of Israel. It really seems that Moses’ Midianite father-in-law has become a true believer. It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of Gentiles coming to faith in the God of Israel!
What do you do when your father-in-law starts offering advice on how you should run your business? Jethro sees that Moses is single-handedly attempting to hear and settle every dispute for the whole nation, and it occupies his entire day. He suggests Moses appoint godly, trustworthy leaders for the people to judge and settle disputes at local levels. By delegating, Moses will be a more effective, efficient and enduring leader.
Moses takes his father-in-law’s advice, and that is a sign of wisdom and humility.
What happens when an infinite Being breaks into time and space? Chapter 19 gives us a picture of it. Israel is encamped at Horeb, and God summons Moses up the mountain. He has a proposal. In a manner consistent with the making of treaties in the Ancient Near East, God sets forth an historical prologue – a recounting of the events leading up to and forming the basis of the covenant He is offering to Israel. He gives Moses these words to tell the people:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt…
God reminds Israel how He rescued them, and offers to enter into covenant with them, saying, Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Moses returns back down the mountain and tells the people God’s words. This was their response:
All that the Lord has spoken we will do!
So, Moses returns up the mountain to bring their answer to God (not that God didn’t already know their answer, but this was a formal covenant being made, and Moses was the official mediator). But it sure is a lot of schlepping up and down a mountain for an 80-year old man!
God gives Moses explicit instructions that the people are to consecrate themselves for the next two days, and be ready on the third day for an encounter with the Creator of the Universe. They are further warned not to attempt to approach the mountain, or even to touch it – God’s presence will render it holy, and anyone whose curiosity would get the better of them would pay for it with their life. For this reason, God directed that a perimeter be set around the mountain.
The dawn of that third day brought lightning and the sound of thunder and the earth shook. The sound of a great shofar blast from Heaven was heard, and a thick cloud settled over the mountain. The top of the mountain was engulfed in fire as God descended upon it, and the smoke ascended as from a furnace, and our people were justifiably terrified! Then God summoned Moses to come up the mountain, and to bring Aaron with him. Boy, it’s at times like that you’re really glad someone else is chosen to go. This, by the way, should put to silence the claim that we Jewish people don’t need a middleman, but can go right to God. On that day, when God descended on Sinai, nobody was foolish enough to make such an argument. People like to define God on their own terms, but that’s because they’ve never met Him. He is who He is, and He is a consuming fire!
Chapter 20 opens with God giving Moses and Israel, and eventually the world, His Ten Commandments. These ten statutes form the basis for what was intended to be a lawful, peaceful, just society.
- You are to have no gods but the Lord.
- You are not to make images of so-called deities and offer them worship.
- You are not to invoke the name of the Lord cavalierly or with false intent.
- You are to honor the Sabbath day, and rest in it, just as God did.
- You are to honor (obey, contribute to the good reputation of) your father & mother.
- You are not to commit murder.
- You are not to commit adultery.
- You are not to steal.
- You are not to lie or perjure yourself.
- You are not to covet the things that belong to others.
Simple, straightforward, and beneficial – if we would but obey them. But beyond the benefits and blessings that might accrue to us for obedience, these were the terms of God’s covenant. They are not suggestions. They are not recommendations. They are directives. Nor are they open for negotiation. God, the Sovereign, the One who set us free and conquered those who oppressed us, is the One who sets the terms. God offered us this covenant, and we accepted His offer, and it was with this understanding.
The same may be said of the New Covenant.
God the Creator set the terms. Whether you like those terms or not is irrelevant. If you want to be in a relationship with Him, and to enjoy the eternal, inestimable benefits of that Covenant, you must come on His terms. His terms are that you confess your sins, acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah and Redeemer, and ask that the blood of His Covenant be applied to you. If you do this, complete forgiveness and everlasting life will be yours. But do not play games with the Almighty. He is and always will be a consuming fire!