Parashat Yitro (Jethro)
Shemot (Exodus) 18:1–20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1–7:6, 9:5–6 (6–7)
As I was reading through this week's reading portions, I noticed a common theme between the Parasha and Haftarah with regard to God’s call, His holiness, and our dedication to the task to which He has called us. I believe it is very important for us to be constantly mindful that He has called us, that He is holy, and that we are to be the dedicated to His call.
In our Parasha, we read of God’s call to the children of Israel:
And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “This is what you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own jewel (treasure) among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
Exodus 19:3–6 (emphasis mine)
God’s call to Israel has always been to be His people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation through whom He can display His holiness. God is holy and in our text in Exodus, we see the beginning of a more precise description of the precepts He desires us to live by in order to display His Holiness.
In Exodus 20, we find that God spoke directly to the children of Israel the first ten words (known as the "Ten Commandments"). However, Israel did not understand God’s words as we see in Exodus 20:18:
And all the people were watching and hearing the thunder and the lightning flashes, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it all, they trembled and stood at a distance.
Israel could not comprehend God’s majesty and in their fear of dying, they asked for Moses to speak to them, i.e., to interpret what God was telling them. I love Moses's reply to them when he says: “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you will not sin” (Exodus 20:20).
God’s call to Israel was to serve Him out of reverence and fear and to live a holy life free of sin. In our Haftarah, we learn of God’s call to Isaiah as we find yet another majestic description of God:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the LORD sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two each flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of armies. The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.
Both Isaiah the children of Israel in the desert were overwhelmed by what they saw. The key difference is that Isaiah knew he was a sinful man living among sinful people and that, since he saw God, he would most likely die:
Then I said, “Woe to me, for I am lost, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of armies.”
I love Isaiah's humble heart and posture towards God; he acknowledges his sinful nature while also acknowledging God's holiness in fear and reverence. But what really speaks to me is that once he is purified, he eagerly answers God's call without hesitation:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your guilt is taken away and atonement is made for your sin.” Then I heard the voice of the LORD, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah’s heart's attitude towards God, His holiness, and His call is key for us to understand! The coal touching his lips is not only an act of purification and atonement, but also an anointing to speak God’s message of truth to Israel and the nations, which Isaiah did in a powerful way.
My dear brothers and sisters, in closing, I want to remind us all that God has called us to His service, that our God is a Holy God, and that we are to serve Him with fear, reverence, and dedication. Whatever task He has called you to, I encourage you to do it with a humble heart that seeks His holiness.
Let us search our hearts and check our attitudes to make sure that what we do reflects the One who we are called to represent on this earth.
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