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Parashat Yitro - Quick Summary

Weekly Torah Reading

Parashat Yitro ("Jethro")

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Brit Chadashah


Exodus 18:1-20:23

Isa. 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6

Matt. 8:5-20

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Torah Reading Snapshot:

Last week's Torah portion (Beshalach) told how Pharaoh's armies pursued the children of Israel but were drowned in the Sea of Reeds by the hand of the LORD. Initially delighted over their new freedom from bondage, the rescued nation soon began complaining about the hardships of life in the desert. The LORD was gracious, however, and provided water and manna from heaven to meet the people's needs.

Parashat Yitro begins:

Giving of the Law
Exodus 18:1 (BHS)

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. (Exodus 18:1)

Moses' father-in-law Jethro (Yitro) had heard how God had blessed his son-in-law and his kinsmen by delivering them from their oppression in Egypt, and went to Rephidim to meet with him.  Jethro also brought Moses' wife Zipporah and his two sons Gershom and Eliezer (all of whom had apparently returned to Midian before the exodus of the Israelites). Upon their reunion, Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how God had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced, blessed the LORD, and offered sacrifices - which were then communally eaten with Moses' brother Aaron and the elders of the Israelites.

The following day, upon seeing Moses beset with the concerns of the people, Jethro wisely advised that a hierarchy of judges could help him bear the burden of governing the Israelites, thereby freeing Moses to be a more effective intercessor before the LORD. Moses agreed to his father-in-law's advice, and then Jethro returned to his home in Midian. (Jethro is highly revered in Jewish tradition as a Ger Tzedek (a righteous convert).  According to Midrash, Jethro's original name was Yeter (i.e., יֶתֶר, "remainder") but was changed by God to Yitro (i.e., יִתְרו, "His abundance"). The extra Vav (ו) at the end of his name suggests that the entire episode involving the appointment of judges was added to the Torah to honor him (ironically, Yitro is considered the "father of the Sanhedrin" in Jewish tradition).

After the third new moon after leaving Egypt (i.e., the 1st day of the month of Sivan), the Israelites encamped opposite Mount Sinai, the place where Moses was initially commissioned. Moses ascended the mountain, and there God commanded him to tell the leaders that if they would obey the LORD and keep His covenant, then they would be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh -- a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." After delivering this message, the people responded by proclaiming, kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD has spoken, we shall do").  Moses then returned to the mountain and was told to command the people to sanctify themselves before the LORD descended upon the mountain in three days. The people were to abstain from worldly comforts and not so much as touch (under penalty of death) the boundaries of the mountain. "Be ready for the third day; for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people."


On the morning of the third day (the sixth of Sivan, exactly seven weeks after the Exodus), all the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, where the LORD descended amidst thunder, lightning, billowing smoke, fire, and the voluminous blast of the shofar.  Moses then ascended, but the LORD told him to go back down and warn the people - including the priests - not to set foot on the mountain lest they be consumed by the wrath of the LORD.

The LORD then declared the foundation of moral conduct required of the people,
the Ten Commandments:

  1. I am the LORD your God who delivered you from Egypt ...
  2. You shall have no other gods before Me ...
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain ...
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy ...
  5. Honor your father and mother ...
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. You shall not covet ...

According to Jewish midrash, the sixth of Sivan was a Shabbat, and the Israelites awoke to loud claps of thunder, streaks of lightning, and smoky fire surrounding Mount Sinai. The sound of a shofar grew louder and louder until terror gripped the heart of the people. Moses called out for the Israelites to draw closer, and then the heavens were ripped open and the entire mountain was uprooted and suspended in the air. The dirt and rock of Mt Sinai were turned into sheer crystal and the Israelites were able to look up through the transparent terrain. Suddenly, the Voice of the LORD called out to the Israelites, "Either you will accept the Torah or be buried here!" The Israelites cried out in response: kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD speaks, we shall do"). The LORD then spoke, in a single utterance, all Ten Commandments at once. The heavens and earth trembled and rivers reversed their course. After the people regained their composure, the LORD slowly repeated the list of the commandments, beginning with the first one: "I am the LORD Thy God who took you out of Egypt."  As the LORD began speaking the second commandment, however, the people began falling back in fear and begged Moses to be their "middleman" or mediator before God.

The parashah ends with the terrified Israelites beseeching Moses to be their mediator lest they die before the Presence of God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

Haftarah Reading Snapshot

The sages connected Israel's acceptance of the Covenant at Sinai (kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh) with the response of the Prophet Isaiah (יְשַׁעְיָהוּ הַנָּבִיא) to the LORD's question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah's answer, "Here am I" (הִנְנִי) was the same word used by both Moses and Samuel when they had encountered the LORD.

God then commissioned Isaiah to go tell the people, listen again and again (but do not understand); look again and again (but do not see). As with Pharaoh, the heart of the listeners would be hardened and the message would be disregarded. When Isaiah asked how long he should preach, the LORD said until their cities are all destroyed and their people are exiled from the land. Nevertheless, a "holy seed" (זֶרַע קדֶשׁ) would remain from which the people would one day be regenerated.

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יהוה צְבָאוֹת
מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh  ka·dosh  ka·dosh,  Adonai  Tze·va·ot,
me·lo  khol  ha·a·retz  ke·vo·do

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3)

Hebrew Study Card

One of Isaiah's first jobs was apparently to reassure King Ahaz (אָחָז) of Judah that despite the threat of invasion by the Northern Kingdom (i.e., Israel) allied with Syria, God would intervene and not allow the invasion to succeed. Moreover, a coming king was promised to Judah who would restore righteousness forevermore:

כִּי־יֶלֶד יֻלַּד־לָנוּ בֵּן נִתַּן־לָנוּ וַתְּהִי הַמִּשְׂרָה עַל־שִׁכְמוֹ
וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ אֵל גִּבּוֹר אֲבִיעַד שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם

ki · ye·led · yu·lad  la·nu, · ben · nit·tan · la·nu · va·te·hi · ha·mis·rah · al · shikh·mo
va·yik·ra · she·mo:  pe·leh  yo·etz · el gib·bor, · a·vi·ad · sar  sha·lom

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful One, Counselor of the Mighty God,
the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace." (Isa. 9:5[h])

Hebrew Study Card

[Note that there is some scholarly disagreement about the grammar of this verse regarding the relationship between "pele" and "yo'etz." Some say pele should stand alone ("Wonderful One") and then "yo'etz" should be attached to "el gibbor" to form "counselor of the Mighty God," while others think that Pele and Yo'etz should go together to form "Wonderful Counselor" and "El Gibbor" should stand alone as "the Mighty God."]

Many Jewish commentators consider the promised child as Hezekiah (חִזְקִיָּהוּ), the successor to Ahaz and the Messianic hope of Israel at the time. They believe this because the verbs (yulad and nitan) are in the perfect tense (suggesting completed action). However, it should be noted that the perfect tense is likewise used in Isaiah 5:13, which states that Israel had already gone into exile when it was clear this had not occurred yet. Regardless, the hope that one of David's descendants would establish the kingdom of God upon the earth is a recurring theme in Isaiah, and Hezekiah's birth signified God's presence with Israel during a precarious time in Jewish history.

But notice that the language of Isaiah 9:6-7 refers to the ideal King of Israel (i.e., the Messianic hope) in terms that can be read as God's Presence embodied on earth. The four terms used to describe this King clearly transcend the historical person of King Hezekiah. For example, the word pele (פֶּלֶא, Wonderful One) is used in Judges 13:18 regarding the name of the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה), who in verse 22 is identified as God). Yoetz El Gibbor (יוֹעֵץ אֵל גִּבּוֹר, The Counsellor Mighty God) is clearly a title for the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 10:20-21; Psalm 24:8). Avi'ad (אֲבִי־עַד, the Father of Eternity) refers to God as Avinu Malkenu (see Isa. 63:16, 1 Chron. 29:10; Psalm 68:5; Mal. 2:10). And as for Sar Shalom (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם, The Prince of Peace), both the Talmud and Scripture refer to "the Name of God as Peace" (Shab. 10b, Judges 6:24). It is clear, therefore, that these terms are designations for the LORD God of Israel and not merely that of a human being.

Brit Chadashah Reading Snapshot

The promised coming King of Judah - the Wonderful One, Counsellor of the Mighty God, the Father of Etrnity, and the Prince of Peace - was the Son of David (בֶּן־דָּוִד) to come – the One promised to inherit the kingdom. The Brit Chadashah reading from Matthew illustrates that access to the kingdom was by means of faith (trust), not by means of the "boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult" that was destined for the fire (Isa. 9:5).

As a postscript to the Torah portion reading (Yitro), how grateful we should be that the LORD has provided us with a greater Mediator (מַלְאָךְ מֵלִיץ) than Moses to enter into the "thick darkness" where God is! Yeshua the Messiah is our High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדל) of the better covenant, based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). By means of His sacrificial work we can now draw near to God without fear of His wrath. The "third day" of Moses at Mt. Sinai meant death and fear for ancient Israel; but the third day of Yeshua at Moriah means life and love for all of Israel forevermore!


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