Exodus 18:1-12: Testify
In our journey through the Book of Exodus, we are still between Egypt and Sinai, between the exodus and the ten commandments, but we are getting very close to Sinai. In our passage for today (18:1-12), Jethro, priest of Midian and Moses' father-in-law, brought Moses' wife and two sons to meet Moses while he and the Israelites were camped near Mt. Sinai. Apparently Moses had at some point sent them to Jethro while he led the people through the desert. Jethro had heard that Moses was now near so he took Moses' family to him.
There are some interesting and important aspects of this family reunion story that are worth exploring. First, note that Jethro is a Midianite; he's even the priest of Midian. Who were the Midianites? In Genesis 25 we find that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died. He had a number of children by Keturah, including a son named Midian. The Midianites are the descendents of this son of Abraham. What this means is that when Moses fled from Egypt and married into Jethro's family he was marrying within the offspring of Abraham. In a certain sense he was marrying into his own tribal family group.
This is not just ethnically significant, but religiously significant as well, for in those days religion was embedded within one's family heritage. In other words, every family had its deities, and to belong to a family was to embrace the family deities. You could not opt for a different god and still remain in the family. To turn from the family deity was to turn from the family. Sine religion was so deeply embedded within the family institution, it is likely that Jethro, the priest of Midian, was a priest of Abraham's God.
While Midian was not in the line of Promise, Abraham would have nonetheless taught him who the family God was, and he likely would have served this God and taught his family to do the same. Thus, Jethro and Moses both served the same God, the God of their fathers, the God of their father Abraham.
Jethro had heard what God had done for Moses and brought Moses' family out to meet him. Upon their arrival Moses took his father-in-law Jethro into the tent and told him everything that Yahweh had done, how He had delivered them from the Egyptians and sustained them in the desert. Jethro had heard second hand. Now he has heard first hand from Moses about Yahweh's salvation.
Moses' testimony led Jethro to rejoice and praise God for His salvation. Jethro then came to a conclusion he had never reached before (v. 11): "Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all other gods, for He did this to those [Egyptian gods] who treated Israel arrogantly." This is quite a statement. Remember, Jethro most likely worshipped and served as priest to Yahweh even though he did not yet know Yahweh by that name, but simply as the God of his father Abraham.
In Exodus 2 Jethro is called Reuel, which means "friend of El." El is somewhat generic for "God." God/El did not become known as Yahweh until He revealed to Moses that Yahweh was His name (see Devotional 5, And Who Are You?). What needs highlighted here is that Jethro served the right God, namely Yahweh, but he did not know that Yahweh was greater than all other gods. He was a priest for Yahweh, but in his polytheistic world he thought Yahweh was just one among many gods, the particular god that their family served. But now he has come to know, through Yahweh's salvation and Moses' testimony, that there is no god like Yahweh. Yahweh is greater than all gods, even greater than the Egyptians gods who for so long had supported Pharaoh's enslaving regime. Jethro's faith has grown. He has a new knowledge of the power of the God whom he serves. "Now I know. . .."
Imagine that. Worshiping the right God but not really knowing that your God is greater than all gods; just kind of seeing your God as the inherited god, one among the many that are out there. May we, like Jethro, come to know "that every knee shall bow down and that every tongue shall confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." May we be caught by the truth that Jesus indeed is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jethro proceeded to offer sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to join him. Together they ate bread in the presence of God. Catch the movement of what is taking place here.
God has saved =>Jethro has heard second hand => Moses testifies first hand to God's salvation => Jethro rejoices in what God has done for Moses => Jethro comes to know God as he had never known him before, as the One greater than all other gods => Jethro, joined by the community of the saved, worships God => fellowship in the presence of God.
Let me simplify it.
Salvation => Hearing and Testimony => Rejoicing => New Personal Knowledge => Community Worship and Fellowship.
I am especially struck by the steps that follow the rejoicing over the testimony. The goal of testimony is not just rejoicing over what God has done, but a new, gripping knowledge of who God is. Through the testimony Jethro has come to know God as he had never known him before. That's what we want to happen when we testify to God;' grace. The goal is not just to make us feel good, but actually to come to know Christ as we have never known Christ before, to come to fresh awareness that Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But it doesn't stop here either. Just as testimony is not complete without "coming to know", so knowledge is not complete without community worship and fellowship. When one knows the Lord, one gathers with others who know, and they worship together and nourish/nurture each other in the presence of the Lord. The knowledge is personal but not private. It moves one into community, into the people who have received mercy.
I am struck by the testimonial character of Moses' life. Not only did he bear witness to Jethro about all that Yahweh had done, he even testified through the names of his children. He named his first son Gershom (stranger there) meaning, "I was a stranger in a foreign land." Moses knew he did not belong in Egypt; that was not his home. He named his second son Eliezer (my God is my helper), meaning "the God of my father is my helper, for he rescued me from the sword of Pharaoh." Moses knew that the very fact that he had a second son was a testimony to Yahweh's salvation. His whole life was a witness to the greatness of Yahweh.
How testimonial are our lives? Or better, to what do our lives testify? How important was Moses' testimony to Jethro's coming to know? How important is your testimony to someone coming to know Christ? Unless there is testifying there will not be much rejoicing and worse, there will be little knowing and even less community worship and fellowship. Let someone know what the Lord has done. Who knows, someone might learn something.
1 John 1:1-4: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."
Salvation => Testimony => Knowledge => Fellowship