Thursday, April 19, 2012

Help me, anybody, you’re my only hope: Exodus 18

So far, life seems to have been all whiny Israelites and strong Moses since we’ve left Egypt, but Exodus 18 (link) presents a slightly different picture of the situation. Moses and the people are still in the area of Rephidim, and along comes Jethro.

That sounds good, doesn’t it? Puts the story squarely in the south of somewhere. Jethro, you may recall, was the priest of a group of Midianites outside of Egypt. A group that had flocks of sheep that occasionally were taken towards a mountain to graze, and on that mountain there was once a bush that burned but did not get burnt. It was on this mountain that a sojourner, married to the priest’s daughter, started on his path back to Egypt and through the Red Sea.

Jethro is Moses’ father-in-law and is coming to visit. He brings with him Zipporah and her two sons. Those sons are hers and Moses’, just for the record, and Moses had sent her and their sons away. Now, there is not really a Biblical explanation about why Moses had sent his family away. It’s possible that he was just concerned for their safety in the midst of all the chaos of the Exodus, but we just cannot say for certain.

Jethro brings them back. It’s time for the family to get back together. There’s our first lesson: at times, the family may need separation for survival or another reason. Then, though, the family has to get back together. That’s what families do: endure the hardships and challenges together.

Jethro then notices something. Moses is spending all of his time dealing with every issue the Israelites bring to him. The structure of Israelite society has two tiers: Moses and then everyone else. That’s not really a workable structure to guide a large group of people. Additionally, Moses has further responsibilities. In the coming months he will be responsible for meeting face-to-face with God, conveying the instructions for the Tabernacle, and making some of the bigger decisions of direction for the people.

At this rate, Jethro rightly recognizes the twofold problem: Moses will get worn out and be unable to deal with his responsibilities and the people will be exhausted with his leadership. Both of these will be bad. The real problem I see is the exhaustion of the people—leadership is a two-way operation and Moses cannot lead the people if the people are frustrated with him all the time. It just does not work.

The qualifications mentioned for these leaders in Exodus 18:18-21 are worth noticing and applying to our criteria for leadership today. Teachable about the Word of God; hate dishonest gain; fear God; and being men of truth. If someone does not meet those basic levels then there should be no placing of responsibility on their shoulders.

However, in the typical rush to look at the bigger story about leadership in this chapter, we ought not miss Exodus 18:1. Jethro has heard of all that God has done for the people of Israel. That’s a good point to recognize. What God has done will be known by the people in this world. Some will participate in the blessing, some will at least respect it, and others may face the negative consequences of standing in the way--

So who will you be? Pharaoh, Jethro, or an Israelite? The opposition, the bystander, or the follower of God?

Today’s Nerd Note: There is some debate regarding the relationship between the Midianites and the Israelites. One of the major questions comes back to the worship of the One True God. Do the Midianites really worship the same God as the Israelites? It seems to be the case that they did, or at least that the group around Jethro did.

In time the two groups of people have a complete falling out and they come to life in conflict. It’s tragic. These are people that could have gotten along, could have found commonality in the worship of the One True God and didn’t. Consider that—who do we fight with the most? So often, the ones we should have the most in common with.

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