Sunday, September 02, 2007

Exodus 18:1-12: Family Ties

Opening thought:
This summer, the Associated Press and MTV conducted an extensive survey with more than 100 questions of 1,280 people ages 13-24 by on the nature of happiness among America's young people.
So what makes a person between the ages of 13 and 24 happy? A worried, weary parent might imagine the answer to sound something like this: Sex, drugs, a little rock 'n' roll. Maybe some cash, or at least the car keys. Turns out the real answer is quite different.

Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question. Next was spending time with friends, followed by time with a significant other. And even better for parents: Nearly three-quarters of young people say their relationship with their parents makes them happy.

"They're my foundation," says Kristiana St. John, 17, a high-school student from Queens in New York. "My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she's still going to love me no matter what. Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed."

You might think money would be clearly tied to a general sense of happiness. But almost no one said "money" when asked what makes them happy.

And sex? Well, we were getting to that. Being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds, according to the survey. Eighteen to 24-year olds say it may lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general.

Even more significant: Close to half say religion and spirituality are very important. And more than half say they believe there is a higher power that has an influence over things that make them happy. Beyond religion, simply belonging to an organized religious group makes people happier.

And parents, here's some more for you: Most young people in school say it makes them happy. Overwhelmingly, young people think marriage would make them happy and want to be married some day. Most also want to have kids.

Today as we continue Israel’s journey in the Wilderness, we see a clear picture of the importance of family. The main characters are Moses and Jethro, his father-in-law. First let’s paint the background to this story.

Contextual Notes:
The children of Israel are in the Wilderness and have defeated their cousins the Amalekites and arrived at the cool refreshing oasis of Rephidim. The beautiful plain of Rephidim (“rest”), is nearly 1500 feet above sea level, the most fertile in the whole Sinai Peninsula, several miles long, wide, green, and fertile, with palms, tamarisk trees providing delicious shade. Sweet in the ear is the high pitched song of the bulbul, but sweeter still to a weary desert traveler is the soft murmur of running water a few inches deep. Close by, in contrast to the green groves and running river, on either side of the valley, are the fantastic colors of rock – white boulders, pink rock walls, reds and grays.

South of Rephidim rises the majestic Mount Serbal, one of the Peninsula’s highest at 6690 feet, dominatin the horizon and bounding the valley. On either side of it, a valley runs down into Rephidim. Looking down the left valley of Mount Serbal, far off to the southeast, one can see the blue range of Sinai.

From the hateful stubbornness of the Amalekites, we now turn to the other extreme – the happy praise of God’s work. And it is in this place of rest (Rephidim) that Moses has a great surprise! His father-in-law brings to him his wife and two sons whom he had left behind to go on God’s mission. Not only was Moses reunited with his family, but his father-in-law’s praise of Israel’s God makes Jethro a kind of first fruits among the Gentiles anticipating Isaiah 2:3. Now Jethro is an Arab sheik, from NW Saudi Arabia, an area where today it is illegal to worship the God of Israel, the Messiah of Israel. Jethro apparently did not know the real reason for Moses’ return to Egypt (see 4:18), but he came to rejoice with Moses when he heard about it.

Zipporah and the two sons had headed out with Moses to Egypt (Exodus 4), but for some reason, possibly because of the high-level danger involved with dealing with Pharaoh, the family was sent back to Jethro for safety.

Pray and Read: Exodus 18:1-12
18:1 וַיִּשְׁמַ֞ע יִתְר֨וֹ כֹהֵ֤ן מִדְיָן֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֵת֩ כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ לְמֹשֶׁ֔ה וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַמּ֑וֹ כִּֽי־הוֹצִ֧יא יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
Then Yithro (Jethro) a priest [of] Mid’yan, Moses’ wife’s father, heard all that Elohim did for Moses and for Israel his people, how YHWH brought out Israel from Egypt.
18:2 וַיִּקַּ֗ח יִתְרוֹ֙ חֹתֵ֣ן מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶת־צִפֹּרָ֖ה אֵ֣שֶׁת מֹשֶׁ֑ה אַחַ֖ר שִׁלּוּחֶֽיהָ׃
Jethro, Moses’ wife’s father had received Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after [Moses’] sending her away
18:3 וְאֵ֖ת שְׁנֵ֣י בָנֶ֑יהָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר שֵׁ֤ם הָֽאֶחָד֙ גֵּֽרְשֹׁ֔ם כִּ֣י אָמַ֔ר גֵּ֣ר הָיִ֔יתִי בְּאֶ֖רֶץ נָכְרִיָּֽה׃
and the two sons, [of] whom one’s name [was] Gershom because he said, “I am a stranger in a foreign land.”
18:4 וְשֵׁ֥ם הָאֶחָ֖ד אֱלִיעֶ֑זֶר כִּֽי־אֱלֹהֵ֤י אָבִי֙ בְּעֶזְרִ֔י וַיַּצִּלֵ֖נִי מֵחֶ֥רֶב פַּרְעֹֽה׃
And the [other] one’s name [was] Eliy)’ezer because” the God of my father [was] my helper and rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh.”
18:5 וַיָּבֹ֞א יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה וּבָנָ֥יו וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה אֶל־הַמִּדְבָּ֗ר אֲשֶׁר־ה֛וּא חֹנֶ֥ה שָׁ֖ם הַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
And Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, and his [Moses] sons and wife came to Moses in the wilderness while he was encamped there[at] the mountain of God.
18:6 וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֲנִ֛י חֹתֶנְךָ֥ יִתְר֖וֹ בָּ֣א אֵלֶ֑יךָ וְאִ֨שְׁתְּךָ֔ וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנֶ֖יהָ עִמָּֽהּ׃
And he said to Moses, “I myself, your wife’s father, Jethro, am coming to you along with your wife and her two sons with her.
18:7 וַיֵּצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֜ה לִקְרַ֣את חֹֽתְנ֗וֹ וַיִּשְׁתַּ֙חוּ֙ וַיִּשַּׁק־ל֔וֹ וַיִּשְׁאֲל֥וּ אִישׁ־לְרֵעֵ֖הוּ לְשָׁל֑וֹם וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ הָאֹֽהֱלָה׃
So Moses went out to meet his wife’s father and bowed down and kissed him. And the men inquired his peace (greeted) and went into the tent.
18:8 וַיְסַפֵּ֤ר מֹשֶׁה֙ לְחֹ֣תְנ֔וֹ אֵת֩ כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ לְפַרְעֹ֣ה וּלְמִצְרַ֔יִם עַ֖ל אוֹדֹ֣ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֵ֤ת כָּל־הַתְּלָאָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מְצָאָ֣תַם בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וַיַּצִּלֵ֖ם יְהוָֽה׃
And Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that YHWH did to Pharaoh and to Egypt on account of Israel and all the hardships which they had found along the way and YHWH delivered them.
18:9 וַיִּ֣חַדְּ יִתְר֔וֹ עַ֚ל כָּל־הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר הִצִּיל֖וֹ מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרָֽיִם׃
And Jethro was delighted by all the good things which YHWH did for Israel in order to deliver them from the hand of Egypt.
18:10 וַיֹּאמֶר֮ יִתְרוֹ֒ בָּר֣וּךְ יְהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר הִצִּ֥יל אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִיַּ֥ד מִצְרַ֖יִם וּמִיַּ֣ד פַּרְעֹ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר הִצִּיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם מִתַּ֖חַת יַד־מִצְרָֽיִם׃
And Jethro said, “Praise YHWH who delivered you [all] from the hand of Egypt and from the hand of Pharaoh, who delivered the people from under the hand of Egypt.
18:11 עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּֽי־גָד֥וֹל יְהוָ֖ה מִכָּל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים כִּ֣י בַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר זָד֖וּ עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃
Now I know that greater [is] YHWH than all the gods because in the matter which they dealt arrogantly [He was] above them.
18:12 וַיִּקַּ֞ח יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וַיָּבֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְכֹ֣ל ׀ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֶאֱכָל־לֶ֛חֶם עִם־חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃
And Jethro, Moses’ wife’s father, took a burnt offering and sacrifices to God and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with Moses’ wife’s father in the presence of God.

Sermon Points:
1. Familes are designed to teach manners (18:1-2, 5-7)

2. Familes are designed to exalt Christ (18:3- , 8-11)

3.Familes are designed to strengthen covenant (18:12)

Note well,

1. Families are designed to teach manners (18:1-2, 5-7)
a. Jethro – “pre-eminence or excellence” Arab sheik and priest of Midian (Ex 3:1; 4:18; 18:1-12. Called Reuel/ Raguel “friend of God” Ex 2:18; Num 10:29; Jether Ex 4:18. Jethro’s statement 18:11 confirms Romans 1:20

b. Midian – Israel’s other cousins: Midian was the son of Abraham by Keturah (Gen 25:2); these Arabs had a connection to God’s chosen people.

c. Putting others first (v. 1-2):
i. Moses had sent his family back to Midian for safety. Moses put them first (v. 1-2).
ii. Jethro knew Moses would want his family with him, so he made the journey to make sure they would be safely reunited. James 2:8-9

d. Common courtesy: (v. 5-6)
i. It did not enter Jethro’s mind that if Moses wanted his wife and children, he could come get them himself. Instead, Jethro brought Moses’ family to him, knowing the importance of the family being together. He was courteous to Moses and thoughtful of his situation.
ii. Jethro didn’t just show up. He sent word ahead that he was coming so that Moses could prepare for them. Jethro was courteous.

e. Honoring one another (v. 7)
i. Moses didn’t wait for Jethro to arrive. He went to meet him in the desert. He showed him honor by bowing and kissing him.

ii. Shades of Melchizedek: The meeting of the two echoes Genesis 14:17-20 of the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:4-7. Both non-Israelite priests who come to offer goncgratulations on hearing of God’s deliverance of His people. Both are treated with honor by the men they came to see. Both blessed God for exercising His Saving Might. 2 Timothy 3:4-5

f. ILLUSTRATION: I have seen some things while pastoring that grieve me. I have seen families treat strangers with utmost respect and honor, and treat their own flesh and blood with prejudice, deep suspicion, looking down on their own family members. It puzzles me that some of us can’t figure out why our own family members will not come to church anymore. We cannot make the connection that it is our own self-righteous attitudes and our genuine belief that we are better than some of our own family members that makes them opt out of Christianity altogether.
i. 1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

g. APPLICATION: Never look with disdain on poor relatives. Never treat your own with disrespect. Teach your children common courtesy and manners. Teach them that they are not the center of the universe.

2. Families are designed to exalt Christ (18:3-4, 8-11).
a. Gershom – “a stranger there” b. Midian Ex 2:22; 18:3; 1 Chron 23:15-16) Eliezer – “God is my help” Ex 18:4; 1 Chron 23:15, 17; 26:25

b. Example to your children (v. 3-4): Moses named his children according to where he was in his walk with God at that point. When Gershom came along, he felt like an alien and stranger, run out of Egypt with a murder warrant on his head. By the time Eliezer came along, he had begun to see that the Lord had protected him. Now, you don’t have to use your children’s names as your personal testimony, though there is nothing wrong with that. But you can tell your children about your struggles and failures and victories in your walk with Christ.

c. Testimony to Christ’s faithfulness (v. 8): Moses told the good and the bad. He didn’t make himself look good. He gave the credit where it was due: the Lord. Verse 8: Naaman the Syrian said something similar 2 Kings 5:15

d. Creates joy (v. 9): Jethro was encouraged by Moses’ story, and Moses was encouraged by seeing Jethro’s face light up. Moses’ family was watching all this, learning about faithfulness in the tough times. While the Jews murmured, a Midianite rejoiced at God’s work.

e. Brings spontaneous worship (v. 10): Jethro broke out in praise to the Lord for what Moses had experienced.

f. Brings people to Christ (v. 11): This Arab sheikh witnessed firsthand the power of God and testimony of his greatness, and he believed in the God of Israel. Other examples: The Magi came seeking Him. The Greeks asked to meet Jesus. The Ethiopian was seeking Him in the book of Isaiah. The Widow of Zeraphath sought Him for healing of her son. The Queen of Sheba sought Him in Solomon’s wisdom. Naaman

g. ILLUSTRATION: Are you the reason your children and grandchildren are not interested in church? Is it your hypocrisy that they see right through that makes them shake their heads and rather go four-wheeling than watch us play church on Sunday morning?

h. APPLICATION: Make your home a place for your children and everyone who comes through to know the presence of Christ. Mutual friendship is strengthened by mutual worship. Find a friend to pray with.

3. Families are designed to strengthen covenant (18:12).
v. 12 – Sacrificial meal in presence of God also indicating covenant with Israel. Jethro came to faith in YHWH. (Gen 26:30; Ex 24:11

Covenant Relationships: Moses hosts a covenant meal for Jethro who makes a sin offering and peace offerings to YHWH. This covenant meal drew in other family members – Aaron and his family. Even the 70 elders were present. This was not a banquet. It was a forging of relationship in covenant together as worshipers of YHWH.

Covenant begins with marriage. If you are living with one another without the commitment of marriage, you are hurting yourself. The covenant of marriage protects you and your children.

Recommit yourself to the family mealtime and talk about things that matter. Make it a priority. Start with twice a week. Then move to more. The older your children get, the more they need that family meal together.


BDB; BHS; FF. Bruce, ed., The International Bible Commentary; Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament; ISBE; Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, 101, 126, 188; All the Books and Chapters of the Bible, 28. Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Exodus; Abel Ndjerareou, Africa Bible Commentary; Walter A. Ewell, ed., Baker Commentary on the Bible; Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary, vol 2. Exodus; Reese Chronological Bible; A.B. Simpson, Christ in the Bible Commentary, vol. 1.

[1] Jocelyn Noveck & Trevor Tompson, “Poll: Family Ties Key to Youth Happiness,” ABC News, Aug 20, 2007,
[2] Physical description from Edersheim, Bible History OT, 197-9.