Exodus Day Thirty-Nine
August 24, 2020, 5:00 AM

Midianites
Exodus 17:16–18:1

“The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law,
heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people,
how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

In the sermon yesterday, we spoke of Amalekites. The final word in chapter seventeen – verse 16 – is a sobering note to end on. Conflict leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we observed. But then, at the beginning of chapter eighteen, there seems to be an entirely new and unconnected episode — “Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father-in-law…” Further, Jethro gives praise and sacrifice in honor of all that God has done for Israel. Moses expresses affection for his father-in-law. And, as we’ll explore later this week, Jethro offers some friendly advice and guidance to Moses. Jethro is a Midianite. I am intrigued by the way this account follows upon the heels of the battle at Rephidim and the harsh judgment on the Amalekites. It must be noted that Midianites, too, have an interesting, not altogether positive relationship with God’s people!

The Midianites were descended from Abraham through his marriage, post-Sarah, with Keturah (Gen. 25:2). They were not always on the best terms with Israel. A bitter relationship, in fact. It was to Midianite traders that kidnapped Joseph was sold into slavery – who in turn sold Joseph to Potiphar. This Midianite sale leading to all sorts of adventures from ruling all Egypt like Pharaoh, to making bricks without straw. It’s intriguing because when Moses flees Egypt many, many years later, he goes to the land of Midian!

The Midianites, after the events of the Exodus, will have a stormy relationship with Israel. In fact, they will even join Amalekites and others from time to time to fight Israel. Look no further than Exodus 31, before the end of this very book, they will already be locked in bitter battle with Midianites. In Numbers 22, the elders of Midian are involved with Moab in the calling of Balaam to curse Israel. In another type of mischief, it is a Midianite woman’s inappropriate relationship with a Hebrew young man that brings great distress upon the nation (Numbers 25:6ff). And finally, in Judges 6, the Midianites team up with Amalekites as the “bad guys” during the Gideon cycle. These Midianites have a seriously negative résumé in the pages of the Old Testament— just like Amalekites!

Back to my original train of thought! Here Midianites, via Jethro, in the beginning of chapter eighteen, in a positive light. An affectionate relationship with the people of God. Jethro’s advice valued and implemented by Moses. They worship and offer sacrifices to God. And this time of fellowship and close kinship is described following the oracle of doom just pronounced on the Amalekites. Oh the irony! A true non-sequitur: Jethro’s Midianites will “thorn in the flesh” as well as any Amalekite!

Here’s my thought for the day. The Jethro story demonstrates that God’s love and outreach truly extends to the nations. There is potential in every nation, no matter the personal history, the feuds, the conflicts. This is why the prophets will, from time to time speak of God’s care and love of the nations, even nations that traditionally fill the heavy role in the Bible. A prime example noted in this blog a few weeks ago in Isaiah 19:22-25, speaking of God’s love and redemption for Egypt and Assyria! Then, who can ever forget the story of Jonah and the dreaded, hated Ninevites? Jonah’s complaint: “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (4:2). And God’s response: “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:11). I believe the same thing is being communicated here about Midianites. One of the things we must come to face in our Bibles, our God is pretty big. As new Christians , we all gravitate to memorizing John 3:16, because, we just do! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The next verse is good too, and can’t be separated from verse 16— “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” The Old Testament version of John 3:16-17 must be something like Psalm 117 – “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!”

Exodus Chapter Seventeen – Cursed Amalekites!
Exodus Chapter Eighteen – The cursed Midianites are loved, and friends with the people of God!

All of this today to say this: No nation; No People; No Tribe; No-one is ever beyond the hope of redemption and the love of God. I think this is why we read about Midianites immediately after the harsh verdict has come down on Amalekite heads. Purposeful arrangement!

Coda:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Some murderous Pharisee: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15).


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