Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Essentials for a Healthy Community of Faith: Gospel Witness

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.

Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” And Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law before God(Exodus 18:1-12).

This (passage) highlights Jethro’s relationship with Moses (vv. 1-6) and new faith in the God of Israel. The Amalekites and Midianities were closely related. Jethro was a Midianite priest who came to rejoice in Yahweh’s salvation.

A Family Reunion (18:1-6)

The news about Israel spread through the lands (v. 1). You could imagine Jethro and Zipporah asking travelers about the state of the Israelites. (Douglas) Stuart says,

Moses may have prearranged for Jethro upon leaving Midian (4:18) to take Zipporah and their two sons into his home for safety after they had gone part of the way to Egypt with Moses (4:20-26) while he went about the dangerous business of confronting Pharaoh in Egypt, with the understanding that once the Israelites had left Egypt according to God’s promise, they would reunite at Mount Sinai (3:12). If so, Jethro and Zipporah probably had been following Israelite progress and calculating when they should plan to leave for the prearranged rendezvous at the mountain of God. (Exodus, 404)

In verses 2-5 the two sons are with them and their names are mentioned: Gershom (“foreigner”) and Eliezer (“God is my help”). Their names summarize Moses, the Israelites, and us!

Displaying Love and Respect (18:5-7)

Notice the love and respect in these verses. Moses went out to Jethro, bowed down, and kissed him. Except for the genealogies, there are no other mentions of Moses’ wife and kids. The focus of the story is more on the conversion of his father-in-law, this Midianite priest. It is understandable that Moses’ wife and kids would become believers, but it is an amazing thing to consider the faith of Jethro. Perhaps the story focuses on his confession because he was a public figure and a religious leader of another faith. His conversion would have been big news! Today this story should encourage believers. Keep spreading the good news to everyone, including your family members! Not only did Jethro receive the good news, but later in the passage, he also gave wonderfully helpful advice to Moses (and us).

Testifying to the Good News (18:8-9)

Was Moses trying to convert his father-in-law? Yes! Some want to argue that you cannot really call this a conversion here. Okay. Maybe it is a stretch to say that in verse 11 his conversion took place, but at some113 point Jethro got converted. That seems clear to me. And what also is clear is that Moses was telling him the good news. He wanted to see his father-in-law converted.

Notice the summary of the good news (v. 8). Before, there was hardship; after, there was deliverance. Moses probably spent several hours recounting this whole story. God has brought us from death to life, and we should testify to this good news as well.

Jethro rejoiced in all that God had done (v. 9). It seems that Jethro had been skeptical of Moses’ initial call and had questions, but now his questions were answered by the facts of what had happened.

Believing in the Real Savior (18:10-12)

In verse 10 Jethro said, “Praise the Lord ... who rescued you.” What moved Jethro was this personal knowledge of Moses’ story. He knew Moses before the exodus and now after the exodus. He repeated the phrase “from the power of the Egyptians” because this is what amazed him! The defeat of Pharaoh and this superpower nation by Moses and the Israelites could only be explained by the miraculous salvation of Yahweh. So he said, “Praise be to Yahweh.” Based on this truth, Jethro made this awesome confession in verse 11:

Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all gods, because He did wonders when the Egyptians acted arrogantly against Israel.

That is another way of saying a New Testament phrase “I know the One I have believed in” (2 Tim 1:12) or “I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25). Jethro said, “Now I know who the real God is.” Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).

Jethro demonstrated that he had converted to faith in Yahweh (v. 12): he worshiped Yahweh according to the Israelite custom. He offered a “burnt offering,” which was understood to atone for past sins and to appeal for forgiveness and acceptance before God. He also offered “sacrifices to God” to be sure to cover for any inadequacies in approaching Yahweh. All of this was to ensure that he was accepted in genuine fellowship with God. He ate a covenant meal with other worshipers of Yahweh in the presence of Yahweh. This signified Jethro’s formal admission into Israel. Notice that the leaders had a meal with him “in God’s presence.”

Let us spread the gospel! How? Be ready to testify of God’s grace in salvation as Moses was here (cf. Acts 20:24). Let us also spread the114 gospel lovingly. Look at the respect and warmth Moses had (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). And let us spread the gospel to the nations. God’s plan for the nations was displayed in Jethro’s conversion. He was outside the people of Israel, yet he was converted. God promised to bless all the nations through Israel. Israel was to be a “light to the nations.” This story shows how their witness began reaching surrounding nations. This is consistent with Exodus 9:16. We all, from every tribe and tongue, are able to sit down with the bread and wine together and celebrate the grace of our Lord Jesus who has delivered us from sin and death.

Adapted from Exalting Jesus in Exodus by Tony Merida

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