Jethro: The Pagan Priest
Focus on Exodus 18 - 19
To begin our study of the Torah Portion called ‘Yitro’ (Jethro) we must understand where we are exactly within the timeline of the Exodus.
I say that because one could be forgiven for thinking that prior to the giving of the 10 commandments that a man called Jethro visited Moses and introduced a system of leadership within Israel. Whilst the Torah certainly reads in an order where Jethro’s visit occurred prior to the revelation at Sinai, this is in fact not the case. Jethro’s visit to Moses, actually occurred sometime later.
Before we examine why this might be the case, let’s just examine the chronology, and understand that while the Torah is usually in chronological order, that this is not always the case.
The medieval commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary is a nice summary as to why we know this;
The people are already encamped at “the mountain of God” (v. 5), that is, at Sinai, where-as the notice about their arrival there does not appear until 19:1–2; Jethro brings burnt offerings and sacrifices (v. 12), so that an altar must by this time exist; the only such mentioned so far was located at Rephidim, not Sinai, and was purely commemorative, not functional; therefore, the altar on which sacrifices are brought must be either that mentioned in 24:4 or the one in the Tabernacle, both belonging to the period following the theophany; Moses and his father-in-law refer to “the laws and the teachings of God” (vv. 16, 20), a phrase that is far more appropriate following the giving of the Torah than before it; the account in Numbers 10:11, 29–32 testifies to Jethro’s presence in the camp of Israel in “the second month of the second year after the Exodus”; accordingly, the report of his departure given here in Exodus 18:27 must be dated to that time; finally, the story about the establishment of the judicial system is repeated in Deuteronomy 1:9–17 and is immediately followed by the notice that the people set out from Horeb. All this strongly suggests that the events took place toward the end of the sojourn at Sinai.
Let me break it down for you, summarise what Ibn Ezra has said, and even elaborate a little.
Firstly, he points out in Exodus 18 that Moses is at Mount Sinai;
Exodus 18:5 (The Scriptures)
5 Yithro, Mosheh’s father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Mosheh in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of Elohim.
He contrasts this to Exodus 19 which states;
Exodus 19:1–2 (The Scriptures)
In the third month after the children of Yisra’ěl had come out of the land of Mitsrayim, on this day they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.
2 For they set out from Rephiḏim, and had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Yisra’ěl camped there before the mountain.
Ibn Ezra contrasts this pointing out that Jethro’s discussion with Moses happened at Mt Sinai, but that the later text of Exodus 19 then describes their arrival at Mt Sinai (but wasn’t Moses already at Mt Sinai talking to Jethro?).
Ibn Ezra raises the issue of the sacrifices and the mention of the Torah in Exodus 18. He reminds us that the Torah was not given yet and that an altar did not exist at Mt Sinai yet until after the revelation of God (or the theophany as he calls it).
Ibn Ezra mentions Numbers 10 which describes another encounter between Moses and Jethro.
Notice how the start of this chapter, which is describing Israel’s departure from Mt Sinai, mentions the timeframe when this happened.
Numbers 10:11–13 (The Scriptures)
11 And it came to be on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from above the Dwelling Place of the Witness.
12 And the children of Yisra’ěl departed, setting out from the Wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud dwelt on it in the Wilderness of Paran.
13 Thus they departed the first time, according to the command of יהוה by the hand of Mosheh.
It says that Israel departed Mt Sinai in the second year of their sojourn, whereas Exodus 19 places the arrival of Israel at Mt Sinai only 3 months after their departure from Egypt.
In Numbers 10 Moses goes on to say to Jethro;
Numbers 10:29–33 (The Scriptures)
29 And Mosheh said to Ḥoḇaḇ, the son of Re‘uw’ěl the Miḏyanite, Mosheh’s father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which יהוה said, ‘I give it to you.’ Come with us, and we shall do good to you, for יהוה has spoken good concerning Yisra’ěl.”
30 And he replied to him, “I am not going, but I am going to my own land and to my relatives.”
31 Then he said, “Please do not leave us, because you know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you shall be our eyes.
32 “And it shall be, when you go with us, then it shall be that whatever good יהוה does to us, the same we shall do to you.”
33 So they set out from the mountain of יהוה on a journey of three days. And the ark of the covenant of יהוה went before them for the three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them.
In Christian and Jewish tradition, Exodus 18 and Numbers 10 are believed to be describing the same incident. Between these 2 accounts there is only 1 mention of Jethro leaving and only 1 mention of Jethro arriving to speak to Moses.
Additionally, Numbers 12 describes how Aaron and Miryam spoke against Moses’ wife which works as Jethro had only just arrived with her prior to their complaint, if we understand the chronology correctly they were just meeting Zipporah new. Zipporah never went to Egypt with Moses remember.
Numbers 12:1 (The Scriptures)
Now Miryam and Aharon spoke against Mosheh because of the Kushite woman whom he had taken, for he had taken a Kushite woman.
Lastly, Ibn Ezra points out that when Moses’ recounted these events in Deuteronomy 1, that it is immediately followed by Israel’s departure from Mt Sinai which occurred sometime after the revelation of Mt Sinai; indicating again that Jethro visited Moses well after the giving of the Torah.
So why insert this section of scripture here, out of chronological order?
There are 2 reasons I can provide you as to why this may be the case.
Firstly, it is widely accepted among Rabbis and the like that Exodus 18 was placed before the giving of the Torah to establish the legitimacy of the leaders within Israel.
‘Before telling us the story of giving the Torah, it tells us the story of the giving of authority to interpret and apply the Torah’
(FFOZ, Depths of the Torah p. 614).
One can make the suggestion that Moses made a mistake, and that is, as Jethro pointed out, that he at the time was the only authority that could interpret and judge the Torah’s application in people’s lives. Ironically people make the same mistake thinking that we don’t need other people or leadership to help us apply and interpret the Torah. We’ve all heard of that person who says their only authority in life is Messiah and those who accept no authority or leadership from the elders placed above them. Here the Scripture seeks to rectify that mistake and stress that there are legitimate leaders over us who have the God given right to interpret, apply and teach the Torah. Torah is a communal deal, not an individual one.
The other reason which may not be so obvious is that Jethro and his lineage the Qeynites (Kenites) are seen as a contrast to the Amalekites. We’ve been viewing the insertion of Exodus 18 here as something intentionally placed before the revelation at Sinai, but it was also placed immediately after the battle with Amalek to contrast their response to Israel with Jethro’s.
The Rabbi’s say that both ‘heard’ of God’s deliverance of Israel and whereas Amalek responded with violence Jethro and his descendents responded in peace. The Torah is contrasting an enemy of Israel, with a friend of Israel.
The Qeynites subsequently dwelt with Israel in peace.
Judges 1:16 (The Scriptures)
16 And the children of the Qěynite, father-in-law of Mosheh, went up from the city of palms with the children of Yehuḏah into the Wilderness of Yehuḏah, which is in the Neḡeḇ of Araḏ. And they went and dwelt among the people.
With Amalek we have the promise of war;
Exodus 17:14–16 (The Scriptures)
14 And יהוה said to Mosheh, “Write this for a remembrance in the book and recite it in the hearing of Yehoshua, that I shall completely blot out the remembrance of Amalěq from under the heavens.”
15 And Mosheh built an altar and called its name, יהוה Nissi,
16 for he said, “Because a hand is on the throne of Yah, יהוה is to fight against Amalěq, from generation to generation.”
Later in Scripture we see this affinity between Amalek and Qeynites in 1 Samuel where Saul was ordered to attack Amalek but prior to doing so gave the Qeynites who were dwelling amongst Amalek the chance to flee before the destruction.
1 Samuel 15:6 (The Scriptures)
6 And Sha’ul said to the Qěynites, “Go, turn aside, come down from among the Amalěqites, lest I destroy you with them. For you did show kindness to all the children of Yisra’ěl when they came up out of Mitsrayim.” So the Qěynites turned aside from the midst of the Amalěqites.
For these reasons, scholars have long suggested that there must have been a parity treaty (an alliance) between Jethro’s descendents and Israel. The scholars here are likely correct in their assumption.
Now, the legitimacy of Jethro’s actions within Exodus 18 comes to question. People question his ability to sacrifice to YHWH and people question the legitimacy of his suggestion with regard to the leadership structure of Israel.
Why people question Jethro should be obvious. The Torah does, after all, identify him as a ‘priest of Midian’ and within Jewish tradition at least he was considered to have been one of the many advisors in the court of the Pharaoh; not, a positive man to be around. Being a priest in the pagan world also meant that Jethro was a polytheist (which goes without saying). The Mechilta and Rashi rightly record;
This tells us that he had full knowledge of every idol in the world, for he had worshipped them all.
Now if we believe that Jethro was indeed a pagan and had no right to give Moses such advice regarding the leadership structure, then it calls the legitimacy of that structure into question (points for those that don’t like authority). Whilst this is a reasonable objection to raise from Exodus 18, I believe it is invalid.
Firstly, God is almost silent on the matter here and God’s silence does not mean that He disagreed. In fact, one could argue that God’s lack of intervention here indicates His approval. Do we really mean to say that this system of governance which operated throughout the wilderness wonderings continued without so much as an objection from God?
In fact, we can argue the role of such leadership was later validated when God said;
Numbers 11:16–17 (The Scriptures)
16 Then יהוה said to Mosheh, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Yisra’ěl, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them. And bring them to the Tent of Meeting, and let them stand there with you.
17 “And I shall come down and speak with you there, and shall take of the Spirit that is on you, and put on them. And they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you do not bear it yourself alone.
The 70 elders chosen here is part of the governance structure of Israel (the Sanhedrin it would later be called) and it validates the notion of God ordained leaders within Israel (human ones!). Notice how God even uses the same language seen in Exodus 18 referring to Moses not bearing the burden on his own.
We see similar language again where Moses, with God’s blessing again, legislates for the appointment of leaders within Israel;
Deuteronomy 16:18–20 (The Scriptures)
18 “Appoint judges and officers within all your gates, which יהוה your Elohim is giving you, according to your tribes. And they shall judge the people with righteous right-ruling.
19 “Do not distort right-ruling. Do not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.
20 “Follow righteousness, righteousness alone, so that you live and inherit the land which יהוה your Elohim is giving you.
Another way to look at Jethro which impacts significantly on one’s perception of him and his suggestions to Moses is to understand the Hebraic view that Jethro did indeed undergo some form of conversion in his faith.
Firstly, Jethro ‘heard’; basic Hebraic Roots 101 teaches us that the word ‘hear’ in Hebrew is to ‘shma’ which means to hear and to obey and act upon what is being heard. This is our first indication that Jethro underwent a transformation. What is being described is not simple ‘hearing’ at the start of Exodus 18.
Secondly, Jethro is called ‘Jether’ in Exodus 4:18 whereas in Exodus 18 his name, ‘Jethro’, has an additional vav. Any letter that is added to a person’s name is significant, more so when that letter comes from the name of God. A change of name in the Bible suggests a change of identity and a change in purpose. He is later called ‘Reul’ in Scripture which means ‘friend of God’.
Thirdly, in Exodus 18:10, when Jethro blesses YHWH, he does so using a very Hebraic formulation common within Jewish blessings and manner of speech.
Exodus 18:10–11 (The Scriptures)
10 And Yithro said, “Blessed be יהוה, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Mitsrites and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Mitsrites.
11 “Now I know that יהוה is greater than all the mighty ones, indeed in the matter in which they acted proudly, above them.”
That Jethro then goes on to eat with the elders of Israel and Moses speaks to covenant. Meals are not just meals in the Scripture; they are part of covenant ratification. That Jethro was able to offer a sacrifice to YHWH without been struck down speaks of God’s acceptance and I think confirms the theory that Jethro did indeed pledge allegiance in the God of Israel. We know from the laws within Torah that a pagan would be struck dead if they attempted to sacrifice to God.
That he went his own way after I cannot answer. One Rabbi I listened to (jewisheyes.org) suggested that Jethro and his descendents are prophetic representatives of the church. Converts following the God of Israel yet those, who like the church, maintain their distinction. Friends of ours indeed, yet, remembering that Jethro comes from Midian, enemies also.
Regardless, the man that is Jethro was changed and he was welcomed by God and Moses. He also somehow suggested something with his structure of governance that God Himself used and validated.
Who’d Be A Leader?
Before we move on to Exodus 19 let’s briefly consider the requirements expected of an appointed leader. They are in Exodus 18:21 and they are;
To fear God
To have integrity (men of truth)
To hate dishonest gain
Now to understand Biblical leadership we have to first separate ourselves from the democratic norm that you and I live within. Lest you think these expectations are for whom you should democratically vote for to rule over you, we must understand that these men are those that Moses and God chose to lead over you. They’re not so much qualities you should look for in leaders (though you should); they’re the qualities that God and Moses look for.
We see leadership also expounded in 1 Timothy where Paul writes;
1 Timothy 3:2–7 (The Scriptures)
2 An overseer, then, should be blameless, the husband of one wife, sober, sensible, orderly, kind to strangers, able to teach,
3 not given to wine, no brawler, but gentle, not quarrelsome, no lover of money,
4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in subjection with all reverence,
5 for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how shall he look after the assembly of Elohim?
6 Not a new convert, lest he become puffed up with pride and fall into the judgment of the devil.
7 And he should even have a good witness from those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Again, we think these requirements are suggestions for whom we should democratically vote for however Paul, a leader, is talking to other leaders, Titus and Timothy, in who they are to appoint as leaders.
Let’s not stress the differences in our structure of governance to that of the Bible but please know that leadership as we understand it, leadership as it is established within the world’s current religious systems, is not the leadership system God established in Torah.
We can still learn though from the Torah’s requirements. We ought not to disobey our elders, we cannot out vote or remove a leader simply if we don’t like them, and we ought to have governance within the body. This doesn’t mean you should be under the thumb of those above you, but we should have and respect a system of elders who, God willing, will be those chosen and equipped for the task by YHWH Himself. Rejecting such people may not be in your best interests if they are genuinely placed in their position by God.
Now rather than examine the qualities of leader in a way that could be easily researched I’ll simply point out a few things you may not have heard before.
The Scripture goes on to say;
Exodus 18:25 (The Scriptures)
25 And Mosheh chose able men out of all Yisra’ěl, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
The phrase, ‘able men’, in Hebrew is ‘anshei chayil’ and can be translated as ‘men of valour’. Notably, when Moses makes his pick the Bible only says that Moses chose ‘able men’ and doesn’t again list the separate qualities recommended to him. True men of valour then are too encompass all the qualities of a good leader so the phrase wraps up the separate qualities in the one; ‘valour’.
The sages teach us that when Moses made his pick, that he was also picking ‘shlichim’; meaning ‘sent ones’ or even ‘apostles’. Shlichin are people that represent and carry the identity of the person who is sending them. Moses appointed men like himself to carry out the task. Moses is really our blueprint for leaders who should be emulating him.
The phrase ‘men of valour’ is an interesting one. It can also be translated ‘warriors’. When you read later in your Scripture and it describes warriors or the men of war it is often doing so with the phrase ‘anshei chayil’.
I recommend you examine the qualities of a leader, but understand that our true leaders are ‘warriors’ in the faith; steadfast men of God who should have the upmost conduct and integrity; knowing righteousness and judging righteously and as per our English definition of valour, they should possess ‘great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle’.
The Book of Samuel is one book where the phrase ‘men of valour’ appears and the rabbis note that one of King David’s greatest warriors, Benayahu the son of Yehoyada, is called ‘ben ish chai’, meaning ‘a man alive’. He was a warrior, and he later sat at the head of the Sanhedrin. Yet the sages note the phrase describing this warrior within the text can also be read as ‘ben ish chayil’ meaning, as above, ‘men of valour’. Think of it as a play on the Hebrew word because of the close similarity in the Hebrew to the phrase ‘men of valour’ and ‘men alive’. The dual meaning here is understood to suggest that ‘men of valour’, that is ‘warriors’, are to be men who are truly ‘alive’ and leaders who impart and bring life to other people.
Our leaders are to be sources of ‘life’ for the body who fight and uphold righteousness, even if you don’t like it.
Yeshua is the true embodiment of these things our warrior king and the man of valour who brings life.
Torah For All
Now, as we move forward into Exodus 19 God’s subsequent recollections of the revelation at Mt Sinai help put the chapter into context.
Looking back at this time YHWH says;
Jeremiah 2:2–3 (The Scriptures)
2 ... “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridehood, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.
3 “Yisra’ěl was set-apart to יהוה, the first-fruits of His increase...’ ”
Reminiscing on the past when God ‘lured’ Israel into the wilderness He says;
Hosea 2:14–16 (The Scriptures)
14 “Therefore, see, I am alluring her, and shall lead her into the wilderness, and shall speak to her heart,
15 and give to her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Aḵor as a door of expectation. And there she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Mitsrayim.
16 “And it shall be, in that day,” declares יהוה, “that you call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Ba‘al.’
Isaiah confirms the imagery been described in these verses; that God is husband to Israel;
Isaiah 54:5 (The Scriptures)
5 “For your Maker is your husband, יהוה of hosts is His Name, and the Set-apart One of Yisra’ěl is your Redeemer. He is called the Elohim of all the earth.
What is God reminiscing about, what is He remembering? It’s the revelation at Mt Sinai where God Himself took Israel as His bride. We may miss it in a cursory reading of the text, but Exodus 19 – 20 is the wedding ceremony.
There are some key elements and symbols within Exodus 19 which indicate this;
Firstly, the chapter opens up with the proposal itself;
Exodus 19:4–6 (The Scriptures)
4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Mitsrites, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.
5 ‘And now, if you diligently obey My voice, and shall guard My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession above all the peoples—for all the earth is Mine—
6 ‘and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and a set-apart nation.’ …
This is followed by Israel’s acceptance of the proposal;
Exodus 19:8 (The Scriptures)
8 And all the people answered together and said, “All that יהוה has spoken we shall do.” So Mosheh brought back the words of the people to יהוה.
The Wedding chupah is found in Exodus 19:17;
Exodus 19:17 (The Scriptures)
17 And Mosheh brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
How? The Scripture literally says that Israel stood ‘under’ the mountain, long understood as being symbolic as being the wedding chupah.
As per Hebrew practice, the Israelites mikvahed before God descended on the mountain for the ratification of the marriage.
Exodus 19:10 (The Scriptures)
10 And יהוה said to Mosheh, “Go to the people and set them apart today and tomorrow. And they shall wash their garments,
Within Hebraic practice Moses plays the role of ‘friend of the groom’ who would act as the intermediary between the groom and the bride.
Finally, and of course, the 10 words and the Torah make up the wedding ketubah, the covenant between a husband and his wife.
The One Camp
That this is a wedding makes it significant what the opening verse of Exodus 19 says. The opening verses notably speak of the unity Israel had when presenting itself to the groom. The Jewish writers explain;
There Israel camped opposite the mountain (19:2)
At all their other encampments, the verse says vayachanu (“they camped,” in the plural); here it says vayichan (“he camped,” in the singular). For all other encampments were in argument and dissent, whereas here they camped as one man, with one heart.
This teaches that we cannot be the bride if we have no order, no leadership, and are divided.
Not only is this the day of the giving of the Torah, the wedding ceremony between YHWH and Israel, but also it’s the festival of Shavuot when this occurred. You may know the day as Pentecost.
The above allusion to the unity of Israel on Shavuot is actually alluded to in the book of Acts;
Acts 2:1 (The Scriptures)
And when the Day of the Festival of Weeks had come, they were all with one mind in one place.
As we continue, we’ll make more connection to the event in Acts and Shavuot.
When YHWH later descends upon the mountain the Scripture records;
Exodus 19:17–20 (The Scriptures)
17 And Mosheh brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
18 And Mount Sinai was in smoke, all of it, because יהוה descended upon it in fire. And its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and all the mountain trembled exceedingly.
19 And when the blast of the ram’s horn sounded long and became louder and louder, Mosheh spoke, and Elohim answered him by voice.
20 And יהוה came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And יהוה called Mosheh to the top of the mountain, and Mosheh went up.
YHWH then sends Moses back down to Israel (which feels mean) to establish a border around the mountain. Then, when Moses returns, God speaks the 10 commandments in the hearing of all of Israel and Exodus 20 goes on to describe God’s arrival and voice as follows;
Exodus 20:18 (The Scriptures)
18 And all the people saw the thunders, the lightning flashes, the sound of the ram’s horn, and the mountain smoking. And the people saw it, and they trembled and stood at a distance,
Only the English here glosses over what the Hebrew is actually saying. Not, thunders or lightning flashes, the text literally says;
‘the people saw the voices’.
Let’s gloss over the fact that they saw sound for now.
Israel literally heard (saw!) multiple voices coming from the mountain when YHWH spoke.
Moses recounts this in Deuteronomy where he says ‘you all heard the voice speaking from out of the fire’ and the sages later relate this experience and expound it with the words of YHWH in the book of Jeremiah;
Jeremiah 23:29 (The Scriptures)
29 “Is not My Word like a fire?” declares יהוה, “and like a hammer that shatters a rock?
Thus, the Talmud explains;
‘and like a hammer which shatters the rock’, means that just as a hammer is divided into many sparks, so too every single word that went forth from the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into the 70 tongues’.
(Bavli, Shabbat 88b)
The Midrash also expounds on this image and says,
‘The voice of the LORD hews out flames of fire’ (Psalm 29:7)...the commandment itself went in turn to each of the Israelites and said to him, ‘do you agree to observe me’?
(Song of Songs Rabbah 1:13)
Now what the sages are saying is that not only did God’s voice shatter into every language of the world so that all people present could understand, they actually describe the words of God, the commandments, as been like ‘tongues’ of fire which presented itself to each and every person.
As I say with all Jewish traditions, you may not believe it, what’s important though is for you to accept that the Jewish men of your New Testament grew up with these stories and in many cases did believe them.
Due to the date of God’s revelation at Sinai these words and stories are traditionally always told at the Festival of Shavuot.
Is it a surprise then in Acts 2 (at Shavuot) that the following is recorded?
Acts 2:2–8 (The Scriptures)
2 And suddenly there came a sound from the heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
3 And there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and settled on each one of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Set-apart Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them to speak.
5 Now in Yerushalayim there were dwelling Yehuḏim, dedicated men from every nation under the heaven.
6 And when this sound came to be, the crowd came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying to each other, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans?
8 “And how do we hear, each one in our own language in which we were born?
The story of Acts 2 is the story of Mt Sinai, and the men present completely understood the connection and knew that as God was communicating with the world at Sinai, so too, He again was communicating with all of mankind, regardless of their language.
The Real Reason for Jethro
This brings us back to Jethro and a very important reason as to why this Torah portion was named after him, a gentile.
The rabbis teach (at least some do) that the reason why Jethro was placed just before the giving of the Torah is to teach us that Torah is not just a gift for Israel alone, but that the Torah; that the covenant with the God of Israel, is open for all men.
One commentary explains it like this;
In the ownerless wilderness was the Torah given to the people of Israel. For if it were given in the Land of Israel, the residents of the Land of Israel would say, “It is ours”; and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, “It is ours.” Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it.
That this experience was for all humanity is prophetic of the time when God would again reveal Himself and His Messiah.
There are a few fascinating things that occurred at Sinai which speak of these things.
In the Midrash YHWH asks Himself, ‘how can I give my unblemished Torah to a blemished nation?’ and He solves His dilemma, according to the Midrash, by healing the people of Israel.
The sages wonderfully draw this from the minutiae of Scripture.
Exodus 19:17 says;
Exodus 19:17 (The Scriptures)
17 And Mosheh brought the people out of the camp to meet with Elohim, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
The sages point out that this verse is speaking of all of Israel coming to stand at the mountain. Even the crippled and the lame ‘stood’ at the mountain when God presented himself. He healed them, and the lame could walk.
Exodus 20:18 says ‘all the people saw’; He gave sight to the blind.
Exodus 24:7 says ‘He took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people…’
He healed the deaf.
We all stood at Sinai then because he had set us captives free.
These miracles are summarized in the prophets;
Isaiah 35:4–6 (The Scriptures)
4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Be strong, do not fear! See, your Elohim comes with vengeance, with the recompense of Elohim. He is coming to save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be opened.
6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing, because waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
These things were long identified and part of the Messianic expectation of Israel. If God did these things, Messiah would do these things;
Luke 4:16–21 (The Scriptures)
16 And He came to Natsareth, where He had been brought up. And according to His practice, He went into the congregation on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.
17 And the scroll of the prophet Yeshayahu was handed to Him. And having unrolled the scroll, He found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of יהוה is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring the Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send away crushed ones with a release,
19 to proclaim the acceptable year of יהוה.”
20 And having rolled up the scroll, He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the congregation were fixed upon Him.
21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been filled in your hearing.”
Matthew 11:2–6 (The Scriptures)
2 And when Yoḥanan had heard in the prison of the works of Messiah, he sent two of his taught ones
3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
4 And Yeshua answering, said to them, “Go, report to Yoḥanan what you hear and see:
5 “Blind receive sight and lame walk, lepers are cleansed and deaf hear, dead are raised up and poor are brought the Good News.
6 “And blessed is he who does not stumble in Me.”
All the things that the prophets say, and all the things occur in the New Testament must have its foundation in the Torah. Here we see that Sinai is that foundation.
Even Yeshua’s word of the dead being raised alludes to the revelation at Sinai.
In Jewish tradition, such was the power of God’s voice that the sages have long taught;
‘At every word which went from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, the souls of Israel left their bodies, for it is said (in Song of Songs 5:6), ‘my soul went out when he spoke’. But if they died when he gave the first commandment, how is it that they heard the second commandment? He brought down the dew with which He will resurrect the dead and revived them.
(Bavli, Shabbat 88b)
Again, you don’t have to believe it, but back in the New Testament, they heard it and they believed it.
In the end of days, when Messiah who is God, the One who stood at the top of that mountain returns, we will see these events again. Only, as the prophets and sages have long taught, next time it will be in Jerusalem; if the events of the first redemption were amazing, how much more the second?;
Isaiah 27:13 (The Scriptures)
13 And in that day it shall be that a great horn is blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Ashshur and the outcasts in the land of Mitsrayim shall come, and shall worship יהוה on the set-apart mountain, in Yerushalayim.
I’ll end with this. As Messiah is associated with the miracles of Sinai and God’s revelation, so too are these things are embodied in the shofar.
As the shofar announced God’s arrival at Sinai it again will announce God’s arrival at the end of days.
In Jewish tradition, the shofar sounded here in Exodus, and the ‘great shofar’ that is sounded in the last days shares the same source. In Jewish thought both shofars are said to have been taken from the ram that was sacrificed in the place of Isaac; in Jewish thought, Isaac was not spared for he was indeed killed and resurrected. The shofar blown then that heralds the arrival of our Great King is the shofar of The Resurrected One.
God descended on Sinai with the host of heaven;
Psalm 68:17 (NKJV)
17 The chariots of God are twenty thousand,
Even thousands of thousands;
The Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the Holy Place.
In the end of days He will do so again;
1 Thessalonians 4:16 (The Scriptures)
16 Because the Master Himself shall come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of a chief messenger, and with the trumpet (shofar) of Elohim, and the dead in Messiah shall rise...
As God revealed Himself here, so too will He again in the future; and so too shall we again stream to the mountain of the Lord when He returns and establishes His covenant;
Isaiah 2:2–3 (The Scriptures)
2 And it shall be in the latter days that the mountain of the House of יהוה is established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills. And all nations shall flow to it.
3 And many peoples shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of יהוה, to the House of the Elohim of Ya‘aqoḇ, and let Him teach us His ways, and let us walk in His paths, for out of Tsiyon comes forth the Torah, and the Word of יהוה from Yerushalayim.”