Meditations in Exodus: 58. Reunion and Testimony
Ex 18:5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God.
There is something about the travels and activity of Israel that I have noted a number of times before and it is that the news about them travelled far and wide and a whole variety of people and nations heard what they had been doing and what the Lord had done through them. Thus we start out this new chapter by being told, “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (v.1) Right back in study no.6 I described where Midian was: to the east of Egypt is the Sinai Peninsular and to the east of that, the other side of the Gulf of Arabia is Arabia, the western side of which is Midian. And that is where Jethro lived and the word of Israel escaping from Egypt had gone along the travel routes until he heard it. So amazing had this been that Jethro decided he would go and meet Moses with Israel at Mount Sinai.
As an aside we are told something of Moses’ family life: “After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become an alien in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” (v.2-4) We first heard mention of them when Moses first went to Midian: “Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become an alien in a foreign land.” (Ex 2:21,22)
There is no account of the birth of the second son of Moses but when it came for Moses to return to Egypt we read that he took his wife and sons (Ex 4:20). The second son’s name seems to refer to Moses’ deliverance from Pharaoh after his original departure from Egypt. The family had started out back to Egypt with Moses but at some point, however, Moses clearly sent back Zipporah with her two boys to be looked after by Jethro – perhaps when Aaron met him at Mount Sinai (Ex 4:27) and maybe told him about the harsh conditions under which Israel lived back in Egypt – and now Jethro is coming to Moses, and he brings them to him.
Are the details important? Not really but they are fascinating because they hint at the personal side of Moses’ life and the ability they had to travel even long distances, possibly with camel trains of Bedouin traders across the Sinai and Arabia. Thus we now read, “Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.” (v.5,6) How fascinating is that. Somehow Jethro got a message to Moses, watch out for me, I’m coming with the family. Why fascinating? Because it indicates that messages could be sent and they traveled much faster than Moses and his people could travel. When word comes to Moses that his father-in-law was just arriving with his family, “Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent.” (v.7) Moses respectfully honours the old man and bows before him and then rises and kisses him as was the custom of greeting. He takes the old man into his tent so they can talk together. (No doubt he also greeted his wife and boys but the emphasis is on Jethro and the role he is about to play.
So as the two men share together, “Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel‘s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.” (v.8) It is an amazing story and so as Moses tells it, “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians.” (v.9) The testimony is very powerful and Jethro was moved by it, indeed, “He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” (v.10,11) Remember this old man had been a priest in Midian, a priest who presumably had ‘other gods’ but now he hears this testimony he is convinced that the one Moses had told him about, after the burning bush incident and when he asked Jethro to let him return to Egypt (Ex 4:18), was indeed ‘the I AM’ the one unique God, Creator of the world. The testimony has convinced him. That was what the ongoing testimony of Israel was supposed to do.
Now the sacrificial law has not been conveyed yet but we find, “Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.” (v.12) It seemed natural to the old man to bring an offering to the Lord. He is indeed a godly old man.
In this story, as we have noted already, we see the mobility of the people of the desert lands, able to travel around and able to send messages. A lot more went on that we usually comprehend. When it comes to Moses and Jethro’s response to him, we see yet again the value of testimony. Never under-estimate the power of your testimony. Some people may deride it, but others may be deeply moved by it. As we see in the gospels in respect of the way people responded to Jesus, it is all about the state of a person’s heart. Your testimony may be jut the thing someone is waiting to hear.