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    May 09, 2010

    Stewardship of Family

    Passage: Exodus 18:1-27

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Taking It On the Road

    Category: Old Testament

    Keywords: marriage, family, work, stewardship


    The importance of family spirituality and marriage solidarity is discussed in this message from Moses' life in Exodus 18.


    Stewardship of Family

    May 9, 2010

    Exodus 18


    OPENING:  Having breakfast with several pastors this week, one of them who is in a pastorate in Spokane here for the first time asked us, “So what do you do with Mother’s Day when you preach?”  One pastor confessed that he was in a series that demanded he not interrupt it before his scheduled vacation in June.  The other pastor who is preaching through Acts and will be in chapter 28 wondered how he could make Paul’s shipwreck on Malta into a Mother’s Day sermon?  Then one of them reminded me that I had asked him to be a guest preacher years back on Mother’s Day when we were going through The 10 Commandments.  Guess which one Mother’s Day landed on?  “Thou shalt not kill.”  J  Rather appropriate, I think, considering that many creatures in the animal kingdom actually eat their young.  J


    Well, here we are at Mother’s Day 2010.  Mother’s Day isn’t part of the official “Church Calendar”.  Nor is it addressed in Scripture. It’s just an American cultural thing.  And, since we’ve all got belly-buttons, it’s safe to say that we’ve all had mothers!  Our experiences with and perhaps yours as a mother are all different.  Some have been wonderfully happy and warm while others have been extremely painful and hard.  That’s life, isn’t it?  So, regardless of your experience, here we are today to experience God the Father and let him work with each of our experiences in family, his and ours.    


    Well, I got lucky this year.  The preaching schedule actually has us in a passage that has a lot to say to us about family, both the nuclear family and the family of God.  So let’s go to Exodus 18 for a word from our Creator today.


    BACKGROUND:  If you were with us last Sunday, you remember that we talked quite a bit about the correlation between food and spiritual growth—how God has and still does use food to work with us spiritually.  We saw how food figured pretty prominently in God’s dealing in the desert with His kids. 

          Well, in the midst of those “food-fights” that the Israelites were having with God, God was also working on Moses.  He, like us, still had plenty of personal growth experience with God ahead of him, even at age 80.  From chapter 15 to 18, we see Moses reaching his whit’s-end over and over again. 

          What is God doing with all this?  I think he is showing him that life is constantly overwhelming, more than anyone can handle on their own. Life was not made to be lived independently of God, anywhere, anytime. 


    And nothing drives that truth home more clearly than parenting!  Parenting shows us just how insufficient we are, just how stupid we can be, just how lacking in wisdom and energy and love, patience and a hundred other things we are for the life-long task of parenting. 


     (Story of my dad’s search as a father at 50+ to give to his children something he knew was missing in his own life, something that would equip us not only for life in the business world or the social world but life in the heart-and-soul-world, life in the spiritual realm.  He knew, deep inside, that giving us everything this world values from the finest education, houses, , travel, money…it was all missing something.  His search led him to the Author of life, Jesus Christ, and to that soul-saving (and in our case, family-blessing) personal relationship by faith that every human being needs if they are to know God in this life and the life to come.)


    Well, Moses, great as he was, was not the perfect parent, husband or even leader.  If you doubt it, take off your rose-colored glasses and look at this passage today. 


    Exodus 18:1-3-- 1 Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.  2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom,  for Moses said, "I have become an alien in a foreign land"; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, "My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh."


    We were introduced to Jethro way back in chapter 2 of Exodus where Moses flees from Egypt after killing a man and starts his 40-year-long graduate training with God in the desert.  There we are told (Exodus 2:21) that Jethro was a dad with 7 daughters (Ex. 2:16).  Wow, “7 Brides for 7 Bedouins”, no?  Well, Moses gets the daughter named Zipporah.  They eventually have a son who is named Gershom (Ex. 2:22), not a terribly flattering name, but one that certainly had significance.  It was a Hebrew word that sounded like the Hebrew for an alien there.”  (How would you like to hear people say, “And whose this?” and always hear the reply, “Oh, he’s ‘an alien there.’” )

          Moses and Zipporah have another son somewhere along in those 40 years.  I’m thinking it was later, close to the time when God called Moses to go back to Egypt. 

          Then we have this interesting little event that happens, sort of like a hick-up in the narrative, that almost costs Moses his life.  It happens in Exodus 4:24-26.

    24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched {Moses'} feet with it.] "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.)

          Only one child is getting circumcised here, so we’re pretty sure it’s Gershom’s brother, Eliezer, who is first mentioned in Exodus 18 where we were reading a minute ago.  God has just told Moses here in chapter 4 that he is going to judge Egypt by killing Pharaoh’s first-born son when he refuses to let Israel go.  Moses was under no illusion what the cost of disobedience was going to be for Pharaoh in the future shortly. 

          But apparently Moses wasn’t so convinced that God didn’t play favorites with him.  This little matter of circumcision had been the Hebrew sign of God’s divine covenant with Abraham and all his offspring.  God had already told them that if someone was not circumcised, they could not be part of the people of God (Gen. 17:9-14).  It was that outward sign of inward faith in God’s call to join his family (like baptism today).  It was to be done on the 8th day of a boy’s life.

          But Moses apparently got lazy, sloppy, or apathetic.  Before God would set him up as leader of his people in Egypt, he had to take him down to the fundamentals of obedience. 

          It appears that Moses was stricken so ill that he could not even raise his hand to circumcise his own son.  Many commentators also think that Zipporah’s statement “bridegroom of blood” betrays some personal revulsion she had to the rite of circumcision.  Perhaps at her urging, Moses had decided not to circumcise Eliezer.  As head of the family, God was holding Moses accountable for that failure.  But as immediate instrument of convincing Moses not to circumcise, Zipporah gets left with this very unpleasant task of inflicting pain upon her own son at an older age. 

    APP:  I don’t want to run the application of this passage too deep from the meaning of this text.  But the fact is that the marriage dynamic between a couple often determines the parenting decisions.  If the dynamics are good and healthy between a husband and wife, the parenting decisions will often be healthy. The reverse is also true. 

          For some reason Moses did not stick to his guns on this one.  He let slide a physical action that had spiritual significance.  The result was that his spiritual failure had physical ramifications in his life.  Moses was to be the spiritual leader of his family.  But on this issue of circumcision, he had bent his will to that of his wife.  The result was nearly disastrous.  Moses was responsible for the spiritual leadership of his family…even in a seemingly insignificant desert doing a seemingly insignificant job of herding sheep. 


    The N.T. is even clearer that it is the husband’s responsibility to lead the family spiritually. 

    • Paul admonished Timothy in choosing church leaders for Ephesus (in 1 Tim. 3), that the servant-leader of God must be a man who is careful to “manage his own family well” (1 Tim. 3:4). 
    • Eph. 5:23-24—Begins by addressing a husband’s responsibility to his wife.  “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands.”  Paul’s discussion of the family begins with proper roles of husband and wives.  Men, we’re called to be living “saviors” of our family, not with messiah complexes that think we can solve every problem and be the answer to every need, but with the attitude of lovingly sacrificing ourselves for them and persistently doing that which is in their best interest. 
    •  Eph. 6:4—bookends this passage with these words about a man’s responsibility to lead his children:  “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

    “Training”…”instruction”—these are big responsibilities that include the head and the heart, the actions and the mind. 

          Men, do you feel the God-given weight of being responsible to God for the spiritual development of your kids?  God’s not going to hold me as pastor accountable for the spiritual development of your sons and daughters.  He’s given me more than I can handle with 6 of my own already.  But he will hold you accountable.  Don’t be like so many parents who just abdicate their responsibility to other people or institutions.  We already turn far too much responsibility over to others for the intellectual education of our kids.  We expect the school to train our kids about everything from science to sex and then are surprised when our kids start talking and acting on the information they are getting from someone who isn’t their parent. 

          Men, dads, grandpas—THE most important stewardship and task God has called any of us to is that of raising our children spiritually.  It’s not their mom’s job.  It’s not the church’s job.  It’s not the Christian camp or school or university’s job.  It’s ours.  (That’s why weekends like Dad’s Bootcamp a couple of weeks ago is SO important.  We sat around and talked, questioned, shared wisdom and prayed together about this tremendous and totally overwhelming task of raising spiritual kids in a pagan world.  And I had just as much to learn as every dad there.)


    Dad’s, do you have a plan for raising godly kids?  Have you talked it over with other men?  With your wife?  Are you working that plan? 

    Q:  What can we as a church do to help you as a dad/parent?  [Discuss???]


    APP:  One more application point before we go back to Exodus 18.  Don’t take this wrong, moms, but sometimes dads need to rescue their sons from their mothers.  (PHOTO of stupid dad.) And sometimes, obviously, mothers need to rescue their kids from their dads, right?)  What do I mean? 

          Right now, we are living in a culture that has been feminized beyond reason.  Education is largely run in the early years by women.  The vast majority of teachers and administrators in education are women.  Everything from discipline standards to the games our kids are allowed to play have been feminized. 

    • Neighborhood boy who was disciplined recently for getting up in class and walking about by…having to stay in at recess!  For Pete’s sake, have the kid RUN during recess!
    • Doing away with dodge-ball because that soft little rubber ball could hurt some little kid.  That’s why God made kids flexible!

    According to a recent cover story in The Chronicle of Higher Education, women are outpacing men on college campuses, too. More women than men are attending college, and once they get there, women get better grades and devote more time to civic activities and serving in leadership positions in campus organizations. At graduation time, women also bring home more awards and honors than men. (College men do score better than college women in one area—computer games!)

          We’ve gone way beyond “equal opportunity” and we’re creating a whole generation of young men who think it’s OK for them to let women take care of them, provide for them, protect them, run them, let them be irresponsible and baby them.  Women, the end result of this will not be good, not for you nor your sons nor their families nor this country. 

          Boys were meant to be risk-takers.  Let them take a few risks and quit telling them every time they turn around, “Be careful. Don’t get hurt.”  For boys, if it doesn’t hurt a little it must not be fun, right? J  If you can’t suffer a broken bone or have the potential to draw blood every now and then, you’re stunting his growth, seriously!  (I’m not advocating “dying stupid.”  Know the difference.)


    A word to moms:  you have a lot more power with the men in your lives than you realize.  Don’t abuse it.  Don’t misuse it.  Channel it to give your husband the authority, respect, leadership and confidence he and your children need for your family to be the kind of home where God’s will and plan for men and women is honored and respected.   And if you’ve got a husband who isn’t or won’t take leadership, get in to a counselor or pastor and start talking about it.  Everyone’s life may depend upon it someday… as it did with Moses. 


    Let’s turn back to Exodus 18 for more on stewardship of family.

    Exodus 18:2--After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons.

    What was going on in Moses’ marriage? The text isn’t crystal clear.  Perhaps this was just a nice break from the routine for Zipporah and the kids, a little grandparent time with Jethro.  But what follows in this chapter leads me to believe there was something else happening in Moses’ family.  Let’s read about the chain of events that unfolded and what they may tell us about the stewardship of our families.

    Exodus 18

     2 After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her 3 and her two sons. One son was named Gershom,  for Moses said, "I have become an alien in a foreign land"; 4 and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, "My father's God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh."

          So Moses “sends” his wife and kids back to his father-in-law, Zipporah’s father.  And “Jethro received her.”  That’s interesting language which makes it sound like more than a weekend family visit to the grandparents is happening.  I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that whenever a man “sends” his family back to his in-laws that all may not be well in Dodge.  Husband and wife are to “leave and cleave,” not “leave and return.”  

          So after some time with her family, it’s Jethro who decides it’s been long enough, not Zipporah.  Here’s what happened.

    Exodus 18:5,6--5 Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, together with Moses' sons and wife, came to him in the desert, where he was camped near the mountain of God. 6 Jethro had sent word to him, "I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons."

          Jethro is smarter than many a father-in-law today.  Rather then come marching back all hot under the collar about what he’s heard from his daughter Zipporah about how Moses may have been treating her (or neglecting her), he comes with a very gentle, very respectful approach.  He doesn’t do the “surprise drop-in” from the father-in-law visit.  No, he gives adequate warning but nonetheless takes charge of the situation in a way that doesn’t allow his kids to drift apart. 

    APP:  Parents, whenever your children marry, it is your job to work and pray and be committed to always pushing them closer together with their spouse.  Marriage is one of life’s most refining relationships.  It will have difficulties.  It will be painful.  It will require hard work, dedication and commitment.  We need to teach our adult children that marriage is more about holiness than happiness.  Sure, good marriages have wonderfully happy times, hopefully whole seasons.  But good marriages also must grow through difficulty.  It’s that difficulty which either pushes us apart or binds us together.  And I can guarantee you that every season of conflict is meant to root out selfishness that lives in the hearts of every husband and every wife. 


    Notice, too, what kind of man it takes to reunite the family. 

    Jethro is also known as “Reuel” (Ex. 2:18)—“friend of God” and “Jethro”—“excellence,” perhaps his priestly name.  He’s a Gentile God-seeking priest of his own family.  He’s a man who took his relationship with God seriously as well as his role a “priest” with his family (Ex. 2:16—“…a priest of Midean….”).  But he also respected his son-in-law’s role as father of his own home and head of this emerging new nation.   

    APP:  Men, who is the “priest” of your family?  Do you know what a priest is to do?  It’s a 2-way street.

    1.)     Represent people he is responsible for to God.  (Pray for your wife and children daily.  Make daily sacrifice to God for them.)

    2.)    Represent God to the people he is responsible for.  (We do this by knowing God’s heart for our family members, teaching his Word/truth to them and correcting or encouraging whenever necessary. 

    ILL:  Memories I have of my dad being the “priest” of our family, even though my mother was much more of a teacher of God’s word (she taught Bible studies for nearly 45 years of her life, every year she’s known Jesus as her own Savior).  But Dad took responsibility for family devotions around the breakfast table.  He made sure church was a priority in our week.  He prayed all the time for his family.  He spoke wisdom and strength into us.  He challenged us to be more patient and kind and loving with each other.  He served as a leader in the church, too.  He was a great “priest” for our family. 


    Well, let’s see what Jethro did to lead his adult children, Moses and Zipporah.

    Exodus 18:7-12--7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. 8 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.

     9 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 10 He said, "Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly." 12 Then Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other 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.

          I love that last line—“to eat bread…in the presence of God.”  Do you know what it is like to share food with family members around the goodness of God to your loved ones?  This can be the experience of every family where Christ is at work. 

    • I experienced it growing up in a family that was just learning to walk with Christ.  I’ve got wonderful memories of Christian friends my parents would invite over for dinner after church…or have stay in our home for several days.  We had some pretty amazing people of God in our home—Lehman Strauss (Bible teacher), J.I. Packer (theologian), Pamela Reeve (Dean of Women @ MSB), a boatload of missionaries, etc.
    • I experience it with my own family now.  Some of my most fulfilling moments as a father happen around the dinner table and discussions we have about what God is doing and what we’re learning. 

    So Jethro has a great time with Moses spiritually. They worship together, eat together, share testimonies of God’s greatness together.  Jethro is honoring God and Moses both. 


    Then comes Day 2.  Here is where I think you really see the story take an interesting turn. 

    Exodus 18:13-16

    13 The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. 14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?"

     15 Moses answered him, "Because the people come to me to seek God's will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God's decrees and laws."

          I’m sure Moses thought he was doing the right thing, correct?  He’s super-busy taking care of everyone else, right?  From the time the sun is up until it’s too dark to see people’s faces at night, he’s a busy man.  Very, very important—adjudicating problems, giving counsel, helping people manage life, problem solving.  Very busy guy. 

          What kind of family life does a “very busy” guy like this probably have?  How much time and energy does he have left at the end of a day for the most important relationships in his life—his wife and children? 

          Jethro just watches it all, from morning to evening, all day long.  THEN he says something.  That’s a wise father-in-law.  He took the time to see for himself what is going on.  Maybe his daughter, Zipporah, had already told him about how Moses was working himself to the bone and neglecting them.  He’s doing what everyone else in the community wants him to do…and it looked like the right thing to do, at least to Moses.  But it was killing his family. 

    APP:  Men, we tend to err on the extremes here.  I either see men who are so consumed with their job and career that they have only left-overs for their family each day OR I see men who spend the most productive family opportunities and time doing stuff that is empty relationally—watching TV, hiding behind a newspaper or book, play video games or doing some sport that disconnects them from their families rather than connects them.

                Sometimes we need outsiders to speak into our schedules and routines.  Jethro did that for Moses, and he did it in the right way.  He didn’t attach Moses’ motives.  He didn’t come down on his family failures.  He appealed to the heart God had given Moses to shepherd people. 

    He held up a mirror for Moses to see what was really going on:

    • Well-intentioned service.
    • Leadership bottleneck
    • A leader who led based upon what the people wanted him to do, vss. 15-16.
    • But a pattern that would lead to frustration and burn-out by all involved, vss. 17-18.

    Exodus 18:17-18--17 Moses' father-in-law replied, "What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.

                Vs. 18—word translated “wear out” comes from Hebrew term meaning “to be withered with exhaustion” or “to sink or drop down, languish, wither and fall.” 

    In vss. 17-23 you have Jethro’s suggested solution:   

    • Wasn’t suggesting changes to the law or spiritual matters.  Content was not the problem; the method of leadership was. 
    • He addressed organizational and management issues.
    • He made a “suggestion”, not a command or demand (vs. 19ff)
    • He encouraged Moses to do what’s strategic, not just what’s urgent.
      • Pray (Vs. 19)—“You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”  None of us here are leading a whole nation.  But many of us are leading a family, a business or a Bible study.  THE most strategic ministry we can have in their lives is to pray for them…be their “representative” before God.  There is no substitute for a praying parent (actual or spiritual parent).  STORY:  I’ve heard many seniors, my own father and mother included, when you’re no longer able to do the things you were used to doing because of aging, wonder why God has left them on earth.  I tell them all the same thing—you’re not done influencing heaven and shaping earth by your prayers.  PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. 
      • (Vs. 20) Teach them the decrees and laws….” Jethro is actually prioritizing something here for Moses that God would prioritize for every parent in a few short days for the entire nation and every parent in particular.  Deut. 6:6-9— 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Every parent who calls themselves a Christian—a follower of Christ—is first and foremost called to embrace God’s truth in their own hearts and then work diligently at impressing it upon the hearts of their kids.  We don’t do that one day a week.  We don’t even do it one meal a day.  We do it all day long, all over the house, all over our lives.  God’s word is to permeate every action and reaction of our lives.  Our kids will “get God’s Word” when God’s word “gets” a hold of us. 
      • (Vs. 20)--“Show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.”  MODEL a godly life that demonstrates a sense of duty to God.  Why is it we shy away from that term “duty” when it comes to God?  We use it when we talk about service to our country.  We use it when we talk about marriages.  We do it when we speak of loyalty to a company or employer.  Our children need to know that there are times you do things because it is your solemn duty, your spiritual service to God.  There are things we do because it is always the right thing to do.  Since God is our Judge, we do have a duty to live according to his commands, not our compulsions. Love is no less love when it does the right thing out of a sense of “duty” than when it does it out of the emotion of romance.  In fact, duty will move us to do far deeper acts of love than changeable feelings and emotions will do. 


    • How many of you have had the wonderful experience of having parents who prayed for you?  You know it because you heard them pray for you. You saw them pray for you.  And they told you they prayed for you?  (Hands).  If you had that, it’s a sacred trust, meant to be multiplied.  If you didn’t, ask one of these people before you leave today how they would recommend you pray for your loved ones.
    • How many of you had parents who taught you the truths and commands of God?  HOW and WHEN did they do that most effectively.  (Share.)  Parents, this is something you simply cannot delegate to someone else.  They will never have the power/impact you will.
    • How many of you had parents who actually modeled how to walk with Christ and how to live with a humble sense of responsibility/duty to God?  Do you respect them for that?  Love them for that?  Honor them for that? 

    That’s the best “stewardship” of life and family any person can ever live. 


    • We cannot BE this to our children and grandchildren until we have chosen to BECOME a child of God ourselves by faith in Jesus Christ.  (Call to Christ.)
    • Parents, it’s time we owned this calling—to pray, to teach, and to model loving God.  Which of those 3 has God nudged you about today?  What will you do this week and every week God gives you to share life with your children? 
    • Everyone:  Whether you are single or married, a grandparent or childless, THE most important gifts you can give to any relationship/friendship are these—prayer, sharing God’s Word/truth and modeling a life that honors God.  WHO near you needs that most?  Will you bless them that way?