Taught by Father-in-Law

Have you been told that when Scripture repeats something, that means it’s important? If so, and if you subscribe to that view, then you should know that Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law. I’m not sure exactly why you should know that, but it is repeated in Exodus 18 more than Jethro’s name. His relationship to Moses as his father-in-law was more important than Moses’ wife, the names of his kids, or the name of Jethro.

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.” Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.

Exodus 18:5-7 NASB

Moses’ wife and two sons have been with his father-in-law while Moses was in Egypt involved in the Exodus. The wording allows the interpretation that Moses was divorced from Zipporah at this time. And yet, this relationship through marriage to Jethro seems to be the main characteristic of Jethro’s relationship to Moses. There are two places that Jethro is named without referring to him as Moses’ father-in-law, but there are seven places where Jethro is referred to as Moses’ father-in-law without being otherwise named. It may be a literary device, or it could be that the Hebrew for father-in-law (hatan, Strong’s H2859) is easier on the tongue than Jethro (yithrow, Strong’s H3503), but that seems unlikely.

But the relationship of Jethro to Moses, isn’t the point of this story. The visit of Jethro to Moses highlights the administration of the law which is about to be revealed in chapters 19 through 23:19. This law describes how the people are to live with each other as God’s people. This chapter describes how the method of judging the people came to be. It was Jethro’s idea. But why would Moses listen to Jethro? Who is Jethro to Moses? Oh! Jethro is Moses’ father-in-law! But still, aren’t Moses and Zipporah divorced? Yes, and still Moses is willing to be taught by Jethro, to learn from his wisdom.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you!

Exodus 18:17-19a NASB

The point of the chapter is supported, highlighted, and suggests a gentle lesson in humility. We learn something of Moses, and something of how Yahweh worked with him, and possibly us.

The relationship between Zipporah and Moses isn’t the point. The names of Moses’ sons isn’t the point. The point is that Yahweh teaches Moses through someone, possibly a new convert (see Ex. 18:10-12). Moses is willing to be taught, willing to learn. He could assume he knew better than this new upstart priest. He could have been bitter toward the protector of Moses bitter ex-wife, the one keeping his sons from him. But he wasn’t. He learned instead.

So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.

Exodus 18:24 NASB

Are we willing to learn from people who may be painful for us to be around? Who has hurt you? Moses’ family was a mess, and he welcomes his father-in-law. His wife came with his two sons, one of whom we didn’t even know about (was she pregnant when she left Egypt?), so how much time has Moses had with him? We know so little about the emotions around this meeting other than the obvious respect and love Moses has for Jethro. Your situation may be different. Your family may be even more messed up than Moses’. But still, do you truly have an excuse to hold onto your resentment, and refuse to listen to the person through whom God is speaking to you?

Ask yourself, “What lesson am I missing from my Master, Jesus, because I won’t listen to someone through He speaks?” That’s a long question, so, don’t feel like you need to recite it word-for-word, just get the gist of it. What lesson, and blessing, are you missing because of your resentment? Where has your pride kept you from the work and blessing the Holy Spirit wants you to live out? It’s not just about you. Remember, that our Master wants to use you in the lives of those around you to bring His light, joy, and peace into their lives. So, who are you harming because of your stubbornness?

It’s time to put the pride, resentment, and stubbornness aside, take your seat at the little desk in the classroom of our King, and let His instructor finish the lesson. Study hard. It will be worth it.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


Leaderlessness Condemned

What if your first assumption, impression, or idea were wrong? Are you willing to switch? Can you adapt to new information? Are you able to see the facts from another perspective? Sometime we (read, ‘I’) get so myopic, focused on my own idea, I can’t see another, often better, view of the facts. This is why this blog is designed the way it is, asking for other views.

As I read through chapters 17 and 18 of Judges, the only view I saw was one that had chaos from leaderlessness (no king in Israel, and everyone did whatever seemed right to them), and bullies preying on good weaker people. I now think that was my cultural bias. What do you think of when you combine the two verses below?

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6 NASB)

Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were in it living in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything in the land, and they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. (Judges 18:7 NASB)

I never thought to connect them before, even though the one is clearly thematic for the remainder of Judges, and the other clearly thematic of Laish. I first thought it was a positive description of Laish, elevating their ability to live at peace in some sort of egalitarian commune. Only a Western thinking American would elevate such a lifestyle. In the day of the judges, or the day of the author, it was simply foolish.

In the NASB, the part translated as “for there was no ruler humiliating them for anything the land,” literally means “there was no possessor of restraint,” which is actually quite different. Compare the ESV translation of the same verse:

Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone.(Judges 18:7 ESV)

There are versions of the Septuagint that support this translation, but the Hebrew and other versions of the Septuagint support “possessor of restraint”. The Hebrew simply isn’t clear right here. Which is probably why there are differing versions in Greek. But when the perspective of the author is considered, when the period of his writing is taken into account, then doesn’t a criticism of leaderlessness make more sense? In a way, the author could be saying Laish suffered from the same malady as Israel in those days.

This is a different perspective than I started with. This is new to me (although probably in a commentary somewhere). The only reason it appeals to me now is that I think it reflects the period better. I don’t know that, but it seems reasonable. Elevating an “egalitarian commune” is more of a postmodernist perspective. We say, “Ah, those poor people,” when the people of that day would say, “What a bunch of idiots”.

So, the lesson learned can be a mixture of willingness to learn, and how much we need each other for protection. We need leadership, we need dealings with other people, we need each other. Our culture is all about the individual, but that’s considered weak in Scripture. We think it’s weak to need and rely on others, Scripture calls that foolish. So, what will we choose? Will the idolatrous philosophies of our culture supersede what our Master calls us to in Scripture?

That’s my view through the fence this morning. What do you see of our Master?

Passion Week XIXc

“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.  For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”  And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing.  And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest.  And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.  For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:21-27 NASB)

In Luke, after the inauguration of Communion, there are a lot of elements before the thirteen men leave for the Mount of Olives.  I was going to skip to one of my favorites where Jesus addresses Peter’s later failure, but I think I’ll have an opportunity to get into that next week.  For those who are not familiar with this blog’s use in my own life, this is where I process a Scripture passage I’m using in a Bible study I lead each Thursday.  So, on Fridays, the passage jumps to the next.  But I think I’ll be in the upper room for more than one week.

This passage is also a great one, particularly because it illustrates human nature so well.  Jesus is overcome with grief over His betrayer that He reveals the existence of this man.  We, from reading so far, already know it’s Judas.  The disciples don’t know that yet.  And they begin to discuss which one of them it might be.  This discussion then devolves into an argument about which of them is the greatest.  That’s the basic framework in which Jesus says some pretty amazing things.

Have you ever wondered if there was hope for Judas?  In a previous post, I discuss Judas in some detail, and I refer to what Jesus says here.  Jesus admits that the cross is necessary, and that betrayal is part of how He gets there, but He also condemns the betrayer.  Think about that.  Judas is integral to the plan of God, the God he is betraying.  Jesus makes clear that where He is going “…has been determined…”, but that does not exonerate His betrayer.  As I said in that post, I still believe, Judas was never really a disciple, he was an opportunist.

Now, the second element here, where the disciples’ discussion of which one of them might betray Jesus devolving into an argument about greatness, keep in mind that Luke gets this from a disciple who was there.  What I mean is that, while we think of Paul being Luke’s source, that’s really not possible.  Luke is a “close associate” of Paul, and that gains him entrance into the canon.  But Paul wasn’t Luke’s source.  Rather Luke’s source was also in Jerusalem, like the other sources, and Paul gained Luke access to those sources.  My point is that this account doesn’t put the disciples in a great light, but they “told on themselves”, so I believe it.  Which, by the way, is a consistent feature in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  Both bodies of writing bring out weaknesses of the exemplary characters.

Jesus corrects them with familiar words, used in other places in Matthew and Mark, and resonating vaguely with John’s 3-chapter account in his Gospel.  If you think through what Jesus says, there are some interesting elements unique to Luke in this.  First off, the greatest is as the youngest.  Jesus doesn’t point to a child and a different word is used here tan for “child” or even “young man” or “infant”.  Instead Jesus refers to status among adults.  The “youngest” would be the less experienced, and therefore the least wise, regarded with less honor than the “elders”.  So, Jesus is saying the “elders” (as in the role of elder as leader) are to become as the youngsters, seeking less honor or esteem.  I’m an elder in my church, and this is for me and my fellows.  This is for us, and we need to heed this or fail our church.  Ouch.  Okay, moving on…with crushed toes.

The point to all of this is that we too struggle in the midst of important movements of God.  We miss the point, the importance of the event, the cosmic battle raging around us, and the historic spiritual change about to happen.  God prepares to knock the world on its head, and we’re arguing over carpet, curtains, pews versus chairs, or whether we like sister so-and-so.  We do that.  It might not be chairs, curtains, or carpet, but we do that.  We miss the cosmic spiritual event rising to crescendo because of the earthly physical distraction.  We go there.  It can’t be my failure because, well, I’m not like that, I’m great!  The wheels have fallen off, the train derails, and the catastrophe is just a matter of inertia.

But the alternative exists.  Jesus says that we are to be different.  He says He was at the table as one who serves.  Luke doesn’t say how, but John does.  Jesus began the evening washing their feet.  His point is that those who lead wash feet.  The greatest among their fellow disciples serve with a towel around their waist and a water basin in hand.  In a sense, the elders clean toilets.  They mix it up with people, willing to descend into their messy lives, and bring hope and healing.  It’s Jesus’ directive for every leader, including you.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Passion Week II

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44 NASB)

Why would God hide “the things that would make for peace” from His own people, from the ones living in the city where His name dwells?  She did not recognize the day of her “visitation”.  Essentially, Jerusalem didn’t recognize Jesus.  But in what way?  They’re partying now, with Passover and tons of pilgrims everywhere, and now Jesus coming, it’s on.  And yet there was something that was missed; a massive “oversight”.

Only Luke has this prediction with specifics of the demise of Jerusalem.  “Scholars” are often quick to point out that this indicates that Luke was written late (after the destruction of Jerusalem). But this can’t be proof, as a record of Jesus’ words would have been in existence before the destruction.  The whole “let the reader understand” comment in Matthew and Mark doesn’t seem to indicate that, and yet stems from the same sort of prediction.  At least that’s how the church in Jerusalem took it, and disappeared once the Romans broke through into the Temple.

Yet Jesus is specific about both the way Jerusalem falls, and the reason.  She fails to recognize Jesus; specifically, who He is has been hidden from her.  In other contexts it’s clear that God Himself hides this sort of information.  But here it could be the culture or religious leaders, or political climate, or any number of things not mentioned.  In any case, Luke still points out she’s been “duped”, something was hidden from her, she’s a victim; of sorts.

Jesus refers to what was missed in two ways.  First He refers to “the things toward peace” in verse 42.  But then in verse 44 He says, “against which you did not know the opportune time of your oversight.”  That last word is the Greek word from which we get “episcopal”, yet it is nearly universally translated as “visitation” here.  So how does “overseer” or “bishop” get translated as “visitation”, and everyone’s okay with this?  The two aren’t even related…are they?

Back in the day, when the church I was pastoring was clamoring about me not “visiting” enough, I did a word study on church leadership.  I was fine until I included the Hebrew Scriptures in my study.  At that point, my argument that “visiting” was their job not mine fell to pieces.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word for the office and practice of those in religious leadership was a very familiar word to me.  It sounded like pa-KAD, but it meant “to visit”.  It was used in Hebrew class to teach both the declension of nouns and the parsing of verbs because it had both forms.

It was disturbing for me because it has such an enormous range of meaning.  It refers to the “visitation of God” which should terrify His people.  And it also refers to the exercising of leadership (specifically in a religious or prophetic office) over His people.  It wasn’t always a positive thing, it more often tied to “judgement” than consolation.  On the other hand it was also often tied to consolation.  So, both things were a part of why it was used to refer to the activity and title of the leadership office.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, in cases where “to visit” was related to the leadership office, it was translated as “episcopal” in Greek, even when it was a verb.  So, we have this very consistent extension of meaning for the word from Hebrew usage and tradition.  It is an extension because typical Greek usage saw it as a leadership office and wouldn’t tie it to a “visit” necessarily.

Okay, as my wife will say so often, “so what?”  Well, here it is: Jesus’ visitation wasn’t just to die on the cross.  There existed the possibility that the nation of Israel could have rallied around Him, recognizing Him as the Messiah they had been looking for.  I believe that, in that case, Jesus would have still died on the cross, just not out of the betrayal of His people.  There existed the possibility of the redemption of Israel right there at that Passover feast.

This is not a “slam” on the Jews, then or now.  It’s a lesson I must learn.  What am I in danger of missing for some of the same reasons they did?  What distracts me today that perhaps distracted them then?  What am I in danger of missing from God?  Is He “visiting” me and I’m missing His presence?  This is the question that brings me to my knees, and leads me deeper into my Master’s presence.  This is where He has more of me and I have less of me.  If I focus on them and refuse to learn from them, then I have let pride and arrogance cloud my vision, and the things toward peace are hidden from me.

That is my view through the fence.  What does your knothole reveal to you?