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EXODUS 18-19

Do you sometimes feel like your life just flows from one problem to another? Not season to season, but problem to problem? Moses might have looked at his life that way at times. He was even born in troubled times, which was a problem to his parents. The law of the land said he should have been killed. Then he was sort of raised as an Egyptian prince, all the while actually being the son of a slave. Then, as if life didn't give him enough problems, he creates some of his own by killing an Egyptian. Then this exiled man tries to escape problems by becoming a shepherd in Midian where all he would have to deal with were predators and sheep rustlers. But, he didn't figure on a burning bush changing all of that. He didn't know he was going to be called out and set apart for God's purpose of freeing a nation of slaves. He didn't like the idea of his being the catalyst in an explosive situation, but God said, "You, Moses, go get my people out of bondage!" And what a "royal pain" all that caused for him. Pharaoh, the magicians, the Pharaoh's chief men and even the army become his adversaries. But with God on his side, Moses can't lose, and he finally leads them out of Egypt, through dry ground in the midst of the Red Sea, into safety and freedom. And are the problems over? No.


      If you think you've got problems, listen to old Moses: "Well, here I was, out on the desert with no food, no water, and three and a half million people. Now how was I going to take care of myself, much less all these people? Do you know that it would take 500 tons of food each day to feed all that bunch? It would take two freight trains, each a mile long, to provide all that food. And water! It'll take 11,000,000 gallons to fill that crew . . . that's a train 1800 miles long just for water. And it will probably take another 4000 tons of wood just to cook all that food.
      "And another thing, I understand I'm supposed to lead these people across the Red Sea, in one night even! Do you realize that if we walked double file, the line would be 800 miles long. Why it would take us 35 days to get across. The only way we could possibly get across in one night would be to have a space three miles wide and walk 5,000 abreast. Then, the camping space, did you ever think about that? Every time we camped, it would take an area two-thirds the size of Rhode Island (25 miles wide and 130 miles long) just to hold all those people. Buddy, you think you've got problems!!"
      All those statistics are real--figured out by a quarter master general of the Army. That's what I'd call a real problem, but Moses wasn't worried. Do you kow why? Mainly because he put the Lord first, and the Lord took care of everything else. Now, if the Lord can take care of three and one-half million people, sure looks like he could take care of our problems, too, doesn't it? And you know, if we just put Him first, He will do just that. (See Romans 8:28 and Matthew 6:33.)

I imagine the people thought every thing would be hunky-dory once they got out of Egypt away from oppression and into freedom. Lack of food and water and marauders weren't the only problems they encountered in the wilderness. Now that no one is telling them what to do with their time, they are having to learn to deal with each other. More problems arise for Moses as we see in chapter 18.

Moses allowed himself to be regarded as omnicompetent and responsible for all the problems that might arise among the people. This just compounded the problems and produced bad results.

  1. Moses was overworked and could not cope with all he had to do.
  2. The people were deprived of the swift justice that was needed, and
  3. The elders and other competent individuals were deprived of the opportunity of using their talents.

Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious when you are up to your neck in the middle of a problem. Jethro, now related to Moses through marriage, arrives on the scene with words of wisdom and with what seems like a simplistic answer to everyone's problems. He tells Moses to delegate authority to able, wise, God-fearing men and let them judge the people in all but the hardest of cases. He tells Moses to check with God first and get His approval. Don't you know Moses must have thought, "Why didn't I think of that before?" It affected for all time the constitutional history of Israel, separating the judicial and legislative functions of the community.

Remember the Amalekites in last week's lesson who were attacking the Israelites? They were descendants of Esau, who was a grandson of Abraham. Their own kinsmen had attacked the Israelites. Jethro was also a descendant of Abraham thru Abraham's second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25). Both the Midianites and the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham, both kinsmen of Israel. One attacks and one aids, thus demonstrating the two diverse attitudes of the non-Jewish world toward Israel. This foreshadowed and typified the twofold attitude which the heathen world would assume toward the kingdom of God.

Did you kind of feel like Zipporah and the two sons were slighted because the scripture only mentions Moses greeting and kissing Jethro? I was rather relieved to learn that Jewish customs would not permit the mentioning of such intimate things. Moses probably greeted them in the privacy of a tent, and even if he had greeted them out in the open, it would not have been proper by their standards to record it.

If you did any extra-biblical reading on this chapter 18, you probably found the suggestion that this chapter is out of sequence. When the account is read in Deuteronomy 1:9-18, you find that this instituting of judges didn't occur until well after the law had been given from Mt. Sinai. That doesn't take any credibility away from Moses and his writings. A common feature of Hebrew historical writing is that chronological order takes second place to the flow of the story. Once Moses starts writing about what happened at Mt. Sinai, he doesn't want to distract you from that story by inserting this event with Jethro. His only other option is to put this story at the end of Exodus, but when you look over there you'll see why he didn't want to put it there. He ended the book with the glorious moment of the tabernacle being finished and the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle. Which is exactly what Moses wanted on the readers mind as he closes the book or rolls up the scroll. So rather than interrupt the flow of events at Mt. Sinai, Moses inserts the story here.

In chapter 19 the people arrive at Mt. Sinai. They have been traveling for about 44 days. It has been 45 days since the institution of the Passover, then one day of making encampment, one day of returning the people's answer to God and three days for their period of sanctification--making their arrival at Mt. Sinai 5 days before the giving of the Law. The giving of the Law occurred on the 50th day after the Passover, 50 days after receiving freedom from bondage. It is in commemoration of this day that the Jews celebrate the feast of PENTECOST. This corresponds exactly to the New Testament revelation that the giving of the Gospel to mankind in Acts 2 also occurred on the Pentecost - 50 days after the death of Christ, 50 days after delivering freedom from sin and death.

Since we've started this story of bondage and deliverance in Exodus, we've seen how so many things correspond to events and happenings in the New Testament. To study Exodus is to study Christ and His church. If one has even an elementary understanding of the New Testament and then studies Exodus, how can one doubt that there is a God? The parallelism alone, through centuries of time between the writings of Moses and Christ's life and the beginning of the church, is enough to convince me that there is a God. And God loves and takes care of His people. The more I study Exodus the more I know the New Testament is God's word to us today.

Let's look at Mt. Sinai. The Israelites were encamped here for about a year. Imagine what it would be like to camp in the rough, dry terrain around the mountain for about a year. There is some question as to exactly which mountain is Mt. Sinai. After all, there was no Bureau of National Parks and Tourism to go put up historical markers at that time, and there was no permanent settlement made there. All of the adults present there died before entering the promised land, so you can understand why there might be a little hesitancy in saying this is exactly the right mountain. The Jewish rabbis teach that the Law was given in the wilderness, which belonged to no nation exclusively at that time. All this uncertainty underlines that God had no wish that Sinai should become a sacred place of pilgrimage. As with any of these biblical places of history, there is some doubt to their exact location because the place itself is not to be worshipped. God is to be worshipped.

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Fall 1989

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