This week’s Torah Portion, יִתְר֨וֹ (Yitro, the English translation is ‘Jethro’), covers Exodus 18, 19 & 20. Chapter 18 speaks about Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ father-in-law who is the “priest of Midian” according to Exodus 2:16. Remember that Moses had lived in Jethro’s clan for 40 years in the land of Midian, in Arabia, before returning to Egypt after the burning bush episode. Now Jethro, along with his daughter, Zipporah ( צִפֹּרָ֖ה), who is Moses’ wife, comes to visit Moses. Jethro gives Moses some sound advice and then departs again “into his own land” (Ex. 18:27).
Israel was exactly three months out of Egypt when they entered the wilderness of Sinai according to Ex. 19:1. Verse 3 says, “And Moses went up unto God…”. The Hebrew: וּמֹשֶׁ֥ה עָלָ֖ה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים
Transliterated as Moshe ah-lah el-HaElohim. The very important verb ah-lah (עָלָ֖ה) is used which means literally ‘to go up’.
Notice the beautiful words that I am calling God’s preamble to the giving of the law in verse 4: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Ex. 19:4). The Hebrew word for eagle is nesher and we see it here in the plural, nesherim (נְשָׁרִ֔ים ). God’s view of the Ten Commandments (and eventually the Law) was God’s way to prepare the children of Israel to come to Him as the eagles came to Him. God did not mean for the focus of Israel to be on the Law itself, but rather, on Him! God’s Word is extremely important because it is the path to God. But we worship God, not His Word. He seeks a personal relationship with each of us, not just a knowledge of His word.
As we read the passage carefully, I count that Moses went up to Sinai (and back down to the people) a total of four times by the end of chapter 20.
Ex. 19:1 “Moses went up unto God”
Ex. 19:7 “Moses came and called for the elders”
(obviously he had come back down)
Ex. 19:8 “Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD”
(obviously he had gone back up to Sinai)
Ex. 19:14 “Moses went down from the mount unto the people”
(in order to sanctify them as God commanded)
Ex. 19:20 “Moses went up” (ie, to God on Sinai)
[This time, Sinai was on fire and there were earthquakes – signaling volcanic activity]
Ex. 19:25 “Moses went down unto the people”
[Again, God sends Moses down with further cautions to the people of Israel to not touch the mountain]
In Exodus 20, God verbally gives the Ten Commandments, speaking them out loud for all the camp of Israel. The two tablets of stone also known as the Two Tablets of the Covenant – Sh’nei Luchot HaB’rit
( שני לֻח֥וֹת הַבְּרִֽית), are not given until chapter 31. The people are now in fear and awe of God – which they had not been before despite the plagues and miracles that God had performed for them in Egypt.
Notice verse 21, “And the people stood afar off, and Moses DREW NEAR unto the thick darkness where God was.” There was something very special about Moses. First, he had a great godly fear and respect of God, yet he was NOT AFRAID to approach Mt. Sinai when the people were afraid. The people on the other hand, did not have the godly fear of God (evident in their worship of the golden calf that we will see in a few more chapters), yet they were AFRAID of God. Their fear was same that Adam and Eve had in the garden after they sinned. Remember what Adam said in Genesis 3:10, “And he [Adam] said, I heard thy voice [God’s] in the garden, and I was afraid.“
Secondly, Moses did not think of any sacrifice as ‘too much trouble’ to get closer to God. Think of him walking up and down Mt. Sinai now FOUR TIMES! Remember that he was 80+ years old! [He had to be very fit by the way!] He had such a desire for God, that he did not think of this as bothersome!
God wanted the Israelites to be close to Him as is evident by His words in Ex. 19:4, “I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” As we continue to study Moses life, we see that He realized a closeness to God that few people do and this passage gives us a glimpse as to why – Moses took TIME to be close to God! Time is the greatest gift we can give to anyone. Not money or other gifts, but just time. Moses took time to listen to God and God listened to Moses. If we want to be close to God, it is simply a matter of spending more TIME with Him – reading His Word and in prayer. (The same is true of our family and friends too. Time is always the greatest gift!)
Jewish tradition attributes Psalm 91 to Moses. Who else could pen those majestic words except that man who lived in the secret place? “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1 That is where I want to be also! Don’t you?