Third Sunday of Easter
This chapter of Exodus, a sleeper, with much to wonder about. We met its virtual protagonist, Jethro, after young Moses’ flight from Egypt; he does not appear elsewhere in the Old Testament.
Today’s text together with the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16) form a sort of diptych, sharply contrasting non-Israelite responses to YHWH’s deliverance (for detail, Robert Alter’s notes in his translation). The Evangelists do something similar in the birth/infancy and passion narratives, juxtaposing different responses to Jesus (Raymond Brown). Perhaps Exodus 17:8-18:12 needs to be read together for the full effect.
We may find the author’s treatment of Zipporah and the sons quite jarring (How did Moses receive them? What did they make of all this?). The author—necessarily—chooses which stories to tell, which not to tell.
The end of v.11 is obscure in Hebrew and receives varied translations: “when they dealt arrogantly with them” (NRSV); “by the result of their very schemes against the people” (NJPS). The NRSV might encourage us to reflect on arrogance/presumption as something to be avoided (cf. Nehemiah 9: 10, 16, 29); the NJPS (new Jewish Publication Society) perhaps recalls Targum Onkelos’ interpretation: “the Egyptians plotted to destroy the Hebrews by drowning and they themselves were then drowned” (Alter’s summary).
“And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and 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).The local is “at the mountain of God” (v.5); this may be the fulfillment of the divine promise given at Moses’ call (Exodus 3:12). Eating “in the presence of God” sounds like the language Deuteronomy uses to describe various sacrifices in (unnamed) Jerusalem (Deut. 12:7, 18; 14:23, 26; 15:20; 16:7), perhaps an example of Deuteronomy coalescing Horeb (Sinai) and Jerusalem. Is it a sort of victory banquet?
Jethro does not become a Jew. But from his own perspective he freely acknowledges and celebrates YHWH’s action in his world. Is this also part of “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” involves (Genesis 12:3b)?