|In this portion we arrive at one of the most important events in all of human history. In Hebrew this occasion is known as “Mattan Torah” or in English as, “The giving of the Torah.” But
this portion doesn’t start off with the giving of the Torah, it starts
with Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. And so we must ask the question, “Why
is the giving of the Torah preceded by the visit of Moses’
According to most Scholars and Rabbis, this meeting between Moses and Jethro would have actually taken place after the giving of the Torah and it is very easy to come to this conclusion when we read the text. In Exodus 18:16 Moses says to Jethro, “I make known the statutes of God and His laws.” But how could Moses expound upon Torah = God’s laws, if they have not yet been given?
At this point I need to bring in a Jewish saying that will help bring clarity to this situation. The saying is “Ain Mukdam Meuchar B’Torah?.” This saying can be translated literally as “There is no early and late in the Torah.” Meaning, the events of Torah are not necessarily in chronological order, but rather, are put in the order God saw as fit in the recounting of the Tanach. (Tanach is an acronym used to describe the whole Hebrew Bible) Why does God put the story of Yitro/Jethro before the story of the giving of the Torah?
In Exodus 19:5, God says, “…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people…” This is where the Jewish people get the phrase “Am Segulah—A Treasured People.” God describes His calling for the Jewish people over the next several verses. But also in the Torah, God puts the story of Jethro, a pagan priest of Midian, before the story of “Mattan Torah—The giving of the Torah” though the stories happened in reverse order…Why?
Here is the reason; to teach us that truth can be found anywhere and from anyone. Before Israel could truly receive Torah and be an “Am Segulah—A Treasured People” they had to recognize and value the opinion of a non-Jew. Israel was chosen by God to be “Mamlechet Kohanim—A Kingdom of Priests.” Priests are intermediaries between God and man. Israel was to be the world’s mediators. But God is teaching Israel, that they can also learn truth from the nations. Jethro actually teaches Moses a Biblical truth we find earlier in the Bible. But first let’s do a quick overview of the story; Jethro arrives with Moses’ family and “…rejoice[s] for all the good which the Lord had done for Israel.” He makes a proclamation of faith in the God of Israel and then he (Jethro), Moses, Aaron and the Elders all come together for sacrifices and the breaking of bread before God.
next day, Moses sat to judge the people…So when Moses’ father-in-law
saw all that he did for the people, he said…‘Why do you alone sit,
and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’ And
Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘because the people come to me to
inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me…and I make
known the statutes of God and His laws.’ So Moses’ father-in-law said to
him, ‘The thing that you do is not good.’” Jethro
has some advice for his son-in-law. Basically, he says, “you can’t do
this on your own, your going to wear out yourself as well as all the
people…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. And let them judge the people…” This is good,
common-sense advice from a father-in-law, but it is actually a Torah
truth that Jethro has reminded Moses about. In the Torah, there are only
two references that use the words “Lo Tov— Not Good.”|
One is here, and the other is in the Genesis story, when God says “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Jethro’s reference was a reminder to the order God had set in place from the very beginning of creation. We were never meant to do the work of God alone. What is interesting to note, is that the Hebrew word used in Genesis for “comparable” is “Neged,” which can also mean “opposite” or “against.”
When God created a helper for man, He didn’t make someone who would play “follow-the-leader.” Helper’s aren’t necessarily there to “follow our instructions” as much as they are there to “instruct us in our following.” Helpers, whether that be a wife, as in the case of Adam, or Judges, as in the case of Moses, are there to help us accomplish the mission set before us by God. If they challenge us on our journey, it may just be what we need, in order to accomplish God’s will. I just recently saw a movie clip from the new animated version of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The pilgrim has just slipped into the slough of despond and is drowning when he calls out for help. Help, one of the King’s servants rescues the pilgrim and tells him, “Help in some form or another is never far away.” God will send help on our journey, but sometimes the help we receive is the help we need, not necessarily the help we want. Hebrews 4:16 reminds us to “…come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jethro, through his desire for truth and his openness to hear and give advice, added one of the most important institutions to the nation of Israel; the implementation of just Judges. This is how the Torah would be passed down from generation to generation; through the implementation of Torah by judges, concerning how to keep God’s instructions.
I am going to use this as a segue to jump right into “Mattan Torah— The Giving of the Torah.” Without judges, the Torah would have been everyman for himself and his own interpretation. On the other hand, without the Torah, judges would be making judgments according to their own philosophy of right and wrong. It takes both legislation (done by God) and implementation (done by men of God).
Jethro taught us the attitude we must have in order to receive the Torah. In Exodus 18:1 we read, “…Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people…and Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came…to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God.” Notice I underlined the word “heard.” Why is “hearing” important when we come to receive God’s word? Because “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) If we do not hear, then we do not have faith, and if we don’t have faith, then “it is impossible to please [God].” (Hebrews 11:6)
There’s a Midrashic story about the giving of the Torah, which I will sum up in a sentence or two. “God offered the Torah to all the other nations in the world before offering it to the Jewish people. The other nations all rejected the Torah because it went against their particular cultures or because they wanted to know everything that was in it before agreeing to follow it.” While it is just a story, I think it is important to connect this idea to our new understanding about “hearing” Torah. All other nations rejected the Torah without hearing what was in it, or, rejected it after hearing only one commandment. The Jewish people on the other hand responded “Na’aseh V’Nishma—We will do and we will hear.” (Exodus 24:7) The Children of Israel committed to “doing/keeping” Torah before even “hearing/understanding” Torah. They knew that whatever comes from God is good! We can commit to God before understanding everything about Him or His Torah because we know He is good. This is the attitude one must have in order to follow God’s instructions. The attitude of “Naaseh V’Nishma—Do and Hear.” This is the same attitude the Prophet Isaiah had in Isaiah chapter 6, where he says, “Hineni, Shlacheni—Here am I, Send me.” He didn’t ask what job it was or if the hours and pay were good… he heard God needed someone and volunteered. The attitude of Isaiah was “I will do whatever I hear you say.”
King Solomon also had this kind of heart. He desired a heart that could “rightly divid[e] the word of truth.” Many people think Solomon asked for wisdom, and it is true that he did, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 1. But in 1 Kings 3, Solomon doesn’t ask for wisdom, he asks God for a “Lev Shomea—A Hearing Heart.” I heard a friend of ours in Israel, Ari Abramowitz make a comment about this verse, he said, “I never understood Christians talking about being ‘led by the Spirit this’ and ‘led by the Spirit that’ until I read this verse.” (paraphrased) Asking God for a “hearing heart” is like asking to be led by His Spirit. This is the kind of heart God seeks to pour His Spirit into. God chose the Jewish people to be “Ohr L’Goyim—A light to the nations,” but that doesn’t mean anyone is excluded from God’s family. The Rabbis explain the reason the Torah was given in a barren wilderness, with no country having claim over Mount Sinai, was to show the nations that the Torah is for the entire world!
It tells us in John “…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”The Word of God = The Torah of God. Just as at Mount Sinai, the Torah of God was revealed in a physical way, Yeshua came and lived out the Torah of God in a revealed, physical way as well. The Torah given at Sinai is referred to as the “Torah of Moses,” but the Rabbis speak of a coming Torah known as the “Torah of Messiah.” This season of the Messiah’s revelatory teaching arrives when He comes to bring God’s order back to the world.
Yeshua came and brought the world a taste of the Messianic Torah. He explained that hatred leads to murder and lust leads to adultery. He didn’t say, “Don’t sin because God doesn’t sin.” It is not enough to not sin…He tells us to “be holy as God is holy.” He explained what the Kingdom of God ought to look like in our everyday dealings.
Let me ask you, when is the last time you read and applied the words of Yeshua? If He is our teacher, then why are we so slow to learn His ways? If He is our Healer, then why are we so slow to apply His medicine? If He is our King, why are we so slow to give everything up to Him? Remember, He is good! Israel trusted Him, Isaiah trusted Him, and now we have the opportunity, to put our trust, in the one who not only does good, but Whose very nature, is Good.
I want to close with some points that are hopefully thought provoking and practical at the same time. Bear in mind, all head and no hands is worthless in the end. In other words, grow from what you sow. Another way to put it, try and apply before you buy…you get the idea.
This Torah portion deals with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, which is recognized today as the Holiday of Shavuot, or, Pentecost. When is another time in the Bible associated with Shavuot/Pentecost? It’s in Acts 2, as it says, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (Temple in Jerusalem). And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”
are always talking about getting back to these points in history…We
need to get back to the true Sinai revelation, or, we need to experience
another Holy Spirit outpouring. There is a key to these experiences if
we want to see a revelation of God in the kind of magnitude we read
about. What is it? Unity!|
In Exodus 19:2 it says “So Israel ‘camped—v’yichan’ there before the mountain.” The word used for “camped—v’yichan” is written in a masculine singular form. This means that Israel camped as “one man,” before the giving of the Torah. What do we notice in Acts 2? It specifically states, “They were all with one accord.” Why is this mentioned both times except to tell us that unity is important in order for God to “make His move.”
How do we become one and fulfill the Torah of Messiah? How do we bring Messiah to the world?
The book of Galatians can be difficult at times to understand, but these verses should be self-explanatory. This is how we bring Messiah to the world and unity between each other. “…Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Torah of Messiah.”
The Apostle John is famously known for the line “My little children, love one another.” There is a well known story about someone asking John about this particular statement, they asked, “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another?’”
To this John replied: “Because it is sufficient.” And it is sufficient. If we loved one another, it would bring unity and Messiah would be proclaimed. As Yeshua himself said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” So may it be!