As we’ve looked closer at the language and imagery in Exodus 18, anticipation is building toward a future choice Israel will be asked to make on Shavuot. The hints of both receiving help and becoming a “helper” are numerous. The Kenite connection, and the choice offered to Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, was discussed yesterday. Before we get to the blessings of that future Shavuot choice, there’s another key concept and a separate crucial choice that is a pre-requisite to Shavuot.
Exodus 18:2-3, “Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”).
Since we’ve already been told what ‘Gershom’ means when Zipporah births him in Exodus 2:22, the repeat of the parenthetical definition is an especially important clue here. The root of ‘Gershom’ is the Hebrew word ger, which is often translated as “sojourner”. Ger is the simplest of words in the ancient Hebrew; the first letter ‘gimel’ is a foot, the second letter ‘resh’ is a person. Ger means ‘a traveling person’, so ‘sojourner’ pretty much nails it. Gershom, who is Moses’ firstborn son, got his name while Moses was a fugitive from Egypt, and finally found his home, for 40 years, with Jethro and his family. Considering millions of Israelites find themselves in that exact same position, geographically and spiritually, is a less-than-subtle hint that YHWH’s firstborn (Israel) is also, for the moment at least, a sojourner in a foreign land.
There are essentially three types of people in the world. Our default identity is an “alien”, or a “foreigner”, a “goy”, or a “gentile”–these folks, the majority, are still completely lost and without hope. One could make the case that there is a certain level of “covering” by the father of a household or perhaps in the marriage to a redeemed spouse, but you don’t want to be an alien. As an alien, there are no promises (no GOOD promises), no blessing, no resurrection to life, no hope. Every aspect of an alien’s life is simply a futile attempt to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. As we walk on The Way, these folks are walking in the opposite direction—or perhaps just staggering in circles.
However, Israel, the second type of person, is supposed to be a LIGHT to the nations—a beacon, a lighthouse, a banner. It is our walk on The Way, that becomes like a compass to the lost. Our steadfast forward movement on the straight and narrow path, not turning to the left nor the right, is supposed to create a sense of direction for the lost. It is supposed to be our LOVE for YHWH, and by extension ONE ANOTHER that turns heads, convicts, and perhaps causes an alien to stop, reflect, and perhaps turn to join us on The Way. They may ignore the first hundred Israelites they pass, but eventually they may see a pattern and turn their heads from the way that leads to death.
An alien becomes a ‘ger’ once they REALIZE (Ayin) their true state, repent, and join the mixed multitude heading in the opposite direction. As we’ve seen with the Kenites and their kind, there is a blessing in this. The original Way to Shavuot in Exodus 15-24 is designed to teach ‘ger’ what it means to be ‘Israel’. As we study it today, it either serves as fresh invitation to join Israel, or as an annual reminder of where we came from. “Ger” is translated as “sojourner” in the ESV.
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)
“You shall treat the sojourner who sojourns among with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am YHWH your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
The expectations of a sojourner with Israel and a bonafide “native” Israelite are extremely similar. This is logical and should be expected, as a ‘ger’ is essentially a trainee in The Way. “Train up a child in The Way they should go, and when they grow old they shall not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
“There shall be one TORAH for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:49)
“…but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:10)
It seems like the major difference between a native Israelite and a sojourner with Israel is the ability to own a piece of The Promised land. Even then, YHWH reminds even the native Israelite that really and truly, it is HE that owns the land.
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you [Israel] are strangers and sojourners with me!” (Leviticus 25:23)
YHWH’s grace is amazing, but even the harshest punishment is not limited to native Israelites alone:
“Whoever blasphemes the name of YHWH shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16)
“But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, [the Canaanites] who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am YHWH your God.” (Leviticus 18:16-20)
If you think “New Testament grace” works differently, Paul says virtually the same thing as Leviticus, in poetic gardening language:
“If the dough offered as first-fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who supports the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” (Romans 11:17-22)
It turns out the only action or ritual that “converts” a sojourner into an Israelite is circumcision, which is a pre-requisite for keeping Pesach. The foundational concept behind physical circumcision is COMMITMENT. “Skin in the game” (wink wink.) It’s a life-changing choice–one that leaves a permanent mark in the most sensitive of spots.
“If a sojourner shall sojourn with you and would keep YHWH’s Pesach, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; HE SHALL BE AS A NATIVE TO THE LAND. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.” (Exodus 12:48)
In Exodus 4:24, Moses needs to take Gershom from ger to Israelite, before he himself becomes the deliverer of YHWH’s firstborn.
“At a lodging place on the way YHWH met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me”. So He let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.”
Pesach is such a crucial doorway to becoming an Israelite, that YHWH’s grace even allows for a “Second Pesach” to make sure all who want in, get in (Numbers 9:10-11). Then the blessings and the deeper transformations kick in immediately. (In fact, the Manna starts falling, and the lessons of Sabbath is reinforced the instant after the date of what would be “second Pesach” (Month 2, day 15) in Exodus 16:1—mind blown).
Read 2 Chronicles 30 to see the most amazing revival in history. It happens on Second Passover.
If you’re expecting me to share elaborate details as to whether this Pesach transition requires a “physical” or “spiritual” circumcision, or to expound on the eternal fate of ger who don’t get physically circumcised, or even the fate of those who claim to be Israel that aren’t physically circumcised –you most certainly have got the wrong guy, and you are reading the wrong article. I will say that the higher our commitment, the greater the potential for blessing. I will also underscore that His grace is amazing, and His mercy unrivaled.
Paul says it best in closing Romans 11:
“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of YHWH, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”