Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar

The Book of Daniel is a patchwork of material, and I can well believe the scholars who hold that it is a compilation of stories rather than the work of a single author.  The first half is composed of short stories about the prophet Daniel and his friends, and the last half, a series of prophetic and surreal visions.  Even in the earlier, narrative portion of the book, every chapter is different.  It starts out in Hebrew; then switches to Aramaic in chapter 2; then in chapter 3 it forgets about the title character and tells a story about these other guys.

And then there’s chapter 4.  In the fourth chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar himself gets to tell his own story.  And what a story it is.

King Nebuchadnezzar,
To the peoples, nations and men of every language, who live in all the world:
May you prosper greatly!
It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.(Daniel 4:1-2 NIV)

The chapter is framed as a royal proclamation in which the King addresses all his subjects as well as all the people on the earth.  Which as far as Nebuchadnezzar was concerned, amounted to the same thing; we see the same language in other decrees of his mentioned in Daniel.  Yes, his ego was really that big.  That’s kind of the point of this story.

This is the only story in the narrative portion of the Book of Daniel told in the first person.  The last half of the book, describing Daniel’s prophetic dreams, are told from Daniel’s point of view, but he does not narrate the earlier chapters.  This chapter, is a personal account, given not by a prophet or a holy man, but a heathen despot.

Nebuchadnezzar tells of how one day, while lying at home in his palace, happy and contented, he has a terrifying dream.  Something like this happened once before, you may remember, with the dream of the great statue.  And as in the previous instance, he calls upon his court magi, his astrologers, diviners and magicians, to interpret it.  This time, at least, he tells them what the dream was, but they still can’t divine its meaning.

Finally he calls upon Daniel.  In a parenthetical remark, he explains that Daniel is also called Belteshazzar, for the benefit of any of his subjects who find the name “Daniel” hard to spell; and further explains that “...the spirit of the holy gods is in him.” (Daniel 4:8)

Why didn’t Nebuchadnezzar summon Daniel first?  He knows from the previous dream that Daniel is good at this divination stuff; and he had placed Daniel in charge of all the other Wise Guys of Babylon.  Dramatic pacing for one thing.  It adds a touch of suspense and makes for a better story.  And, perhaps from a more practical point of view, because Daniel was in charge of the court magi.  Daniel might have been busy with administrative duties.  You don’t bother the Department Head when one of his subordinates can answer the question for you; you summon his to handle the tough stuff.

I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you.  Here is my dream; interpret it for me.”  (4:9)


One little touch of this story that I like is that, although Nebuchadnezzar has come to respect the Hebrew God of Daniel, and in this story receives another lesson in that God’s greatness, he does not cease to be a Babylonian.  He still calls Daniel by his Bablyonian name of Belteshazzar, (“Bel protect him”, Bel being another name for the Babylonian god Marduk), and attributes Daniel’s wisdom to the gods collectively, not to one God in particular.  It gives Nebuchadnezzar an individual voice, and he does not seem like a sock puppet for some Jewish writer wishing to put down a moral lesson.  At least that’s how it seems to me.

So Nebuchadnezzar tells Daniel his dream.  It’s of a ginormous tree he sees whose top touches the sky and could be seen from the ends of the earth; whose leaves were beautiful and fruit abundant; a tree big enough to shelter the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and to provide food for all.  It was one big honkin’ tree.

But then a messenger comes down from the heavens; a holy one.  Some translations call it a watchman or a watcher, bringing to mind the Watchers of the Apocryphal Book of Enoch, antediluvian ├╝ber-angels.  The Watcher commands that the tree be cut down and its branches lopped off; that its leaves be stripped off and its fruits scattered; that the animals living in and underneath the tree be driven off.  The stump shall remain, bound in bronze and iron, in the midst of the grass of the field.

That was certainly weird, but the next part more disturbing.  The Watcher goes on to say:

“Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth.  Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass for him.”  (4:15-16)

What could this mean?  Nebuchadnezzar is sure that his man Belteshazzar can interpret it; what with him having the spirit of the gods in him and all.

Daniel doesn’t answer right away.  The text says he “...was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him.”  Not because he didn’t know the dream’s meaning, I think, but because he knew that the king wouldn’t like what he heard.  And here the text switches from First Person back to Third Person.  Yes, it’s inconsistent; but this shifts the focus away from Nebuchadnezzar and how he felt, and to the message.  But the King urges Daniel to lay it on him, and so Daniel does.

“My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!”  Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar himself was that tree, great and strong whose dominion stretches to the ends of the earth.  But for all his greatness, a time will come when he is driven away from people and will live with the wild animals, out in the open, eating the grass of the field.  “Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” (4:23-16)

But although the tree would be destroyed, the stump would remain; meaning that Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom would be restored to him, when he admitted that he was subject to Heaven.

Daniel concludes by begging the king to do what is right and to renounce his wickedness by being kind to the oppressed and offering the hope that his present prosperity may continue.

Was Nebuchadnezzar angered by Daniel’s interpretation?  The text doesn’t say.  But it does say that about twelve months later, the king happened to be walking on the roof of the royal palace of Bablyon and began admiring all that he had accomplished.

“Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”  (4:29-30)

The city of Babylon had been a relatively small one before the collapse of the Assyrian Empire, but Nebuchadnezzar had built up his capital to be worthy of his new conquests.  He rebuilt the Eteminaki ziggurat, dedicated to Marduk, which had been destroyed by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib; enlarged the palace, and built the Ishtar Gate, largest of the eight gates of Babylon.  According to Herodotus, (who isn’t always accurate, but who knew a good story), Nebuchadnezzar built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, to please his wife who was homesick for the gardens of her native country.  Inscriptions have been found in which Nebuchadnezzar boasts of his building achievements, including one in which he claims to have personally cut down the cedars from Lebanon used in his palace.  Perhaps the dream carried an echo of that boast.

So when Nebuchadnezzar looked out on the city he had built, its massive walls, it’s high temples and opulent palaces, he could not help but swell with pride and say:

“I built that.”

The words have scarcely escaped his lips when a voice comes from heaven and repeats the words of the messenger from his dream.  “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar:  Your royal authority has been taken from you…”  (4:31)

Immediately, Daniel’s prediction comes to pass.  Nebuchadnezzar loses his reason and thinks he is a cow.  He is driven away from the public and eats grass like cattle and stays out in the wild where he is drenched by the dew of heaven.  His hair grows long like eagle’s feathers and his fingernails like the talons of a bird.

Apparently, this is an actual mental illness in which a person thinks he’s some type of bovine.  It’s called “boanthropy”, which sounds more scientific than “He Thinks He’s A Cow.”  I have to wonder, though, if Nebuchadnezzar’s condition is an ironic reference to the winged bull figures common as guardian spirits in Mesopotamian art.  He worshipped a bulls with the heads of men, and turned into a man with the mind of a cow.

Be that as it may, Nebuchadnezzar remains in this semi-bovine state for “seven times”.  How long is that?  It could mean “seven years”, and that is how the phrase is often rendered; but if the King of Babylon had been missing for seven years, wouldn’t someone have noticed?  Yeah, granted having the king start going about on all fours and saying “Moo” is not something most governments would want to commemorate; but you’d think there would be some sort of record of there being a regent in charge during that period or something like that.

One of the sources I researched claims that a Greek Historian named Abydenus from the 3rd Century BC says that Nebuchadnezzar had been “possessed by some god” and had disappeared.  The actual story from Abydenus, though, seems to be about the king going into a fit and predicting the fall of Babylon and then dying.  It doesn’t seem to fit the Cow story.

The same source states that there is no historical record of Nebuchadnezzar’s governmental activity between 582 B.C. and 575 B.C.  I don’t know enough of Mesopotamian history to know if this is true or not; but I suppose it’s possible that perhaps he was A.W.O.L. during that period and the account in Daniel Chapter 4 is based on an actual proclamation he made to explain where he’d been.

Another source cites an tablet from Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, currently in the British Museum, which seems to describe him suffering some sort of mental breakdown; but the tablet is incomplete and open to interpretation.

2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered […..]3 His life appeared of no value to [him...]5 And Babylonian speaks bad counsel to Evil-merodach […..]6 Then he gave an entirely different order but [………]7 He does not heed the word from his lips, the cour[tiers……]11 He does not show love to son and daughter […..]12 …family and clan do not exist [………]14 His attention was not directed towards promoting the welfare of Esagil [and Babylon]16 He prays to the Lord of lords, he raised [his hands in supplication….]17 He weeps bitterly to Marduk, the g[reat] god [……] 18 His prayer go forth, to [………]

Suggestive, yes, but the passage could as easily be describing a crippling bout of depression.  Now, if it had the king saying “Moo!” or “There’s nothing like hay for a headache”, why then it would support Daniel’s account a little better.  Maybe that’s on the broken-off part of the tablet.

Or maybe the “seven times” of the Biblical text refers to a shorter period of time: seven months, or even seven weeks.  Raised though I was in a tradition of Biblical Inerrancy, I tend to be suspicious whenever the Bible speaks of numbers like “seven” or “forty”.  It makes me wonder if these numbers are being cited to the most significant decimal, or if they are being used symbolically.  “Seven” is the number of Completion in Hebraic literature, and perhaps “seven times” merely means “the period of time sufficient to fulfill God’s purpose.”

At the end of this period, Nebuchadnezzar regains his senses and his sanity is restored.  He is once again capable of taking over narrating the story.

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored.  Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.  (Daniel 4:34)

His advisors and nobles seek him out and he is restored to his throne.  And, dang it all, he becomes even greater than he was before.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just.  And those who walk in pride, he is able to humble.  (Daniel 4:37)

Which isn’t to say that Nebuchadnezzar became a humble man.  Reading his voice in his proclamation I just don’t hear that.  And he was, after all, still king of the Greatest Nation on Earth.  But it’s always healthy for a ruler to remember occasionally that there are things even greater than he.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Hot Time in Babylon

Daniel is one of the more famous prophets of the Old Testament, but sometimes his buddies get overlooked.  He had three companions, named Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; but we know them better, when we remember them at all, by the names they were given in the Babylonian court:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Like Daniel, they were brought to Babylon to serve in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar; and like Daniel, they had to grapple with the problem of serving a pagan king while still maintaining their religious identity.  This is a conflict that runs through much of the book of Daniel.  And for a while, things got pretty hot for them.

But first, a little more about their names.  Hananiah, in Hebrew, means “Jah (short for “YHWH”, the divine Name of God) is gracious”.  His name was changed to Shadrach, which it is believed means “command of Aku”, (a Sumerian moon-god).  Mishael means “Who is like God?”; he became Meshach, “Who is what Aku is?”.  And Azariah, “Jah has helped” became Abednego, meaning “servant of Nego” (probably a corruption or a variation of the name “Nebo” or “Nabu”, the Sumerian god of wisdom; which is also a part of Nebuchadnezzar’s name.  In the comic books, Nabu created the magic helmet which gave mystical powers to Dr. Fate.  Aren’t you glad you asked?)

And just for completion’s sake, let’s not leave out Daniel.  His name means “God is my Judge”, and although the Bible usually calls him by his Hebrew name, the Babylonians called him Belteshazzar, meaning “Bel (another name for Marduk, king of the Sumerian gods) protect his life”.

Four men, whose names reference the Hebrew God, who are given new names that invoke instead the gods of Babylon.  I mentioned that theme of religious identity, didn’t I?

Because of Daniel’s success in divining the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel chapter 2, the King has placed him in charge of the capital province of the empire and of all of its wise men; and has placed Daniel’s three friends as administrators of the province.  Daniel himself remained at the King’s court, which might explain why he’s not involved in this particular story.

The King has a statue made, covered with gold and standing some 90 feet high.  Whether the statue itself was 90 feet tall, or whether it was standing on a very tall platform or whether it was just wearing funky ‘70s platform shoes, the text doesn’t specify.  The statue might have been an image of Nebuchadnezzar himself; or perhaps it was meant to represent the god Nabu; (or perhaps both, since Nebuchadnezzar was named after him).

One thing always puzzled me.  In the Picture Bibles and Illustrated Children’s Bibles I saw as a kid, the statue in this story is always identical to the one in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream from Daniel chapter 2.  This would suggest that the two stories are connected … except that they aren’t.  They just both have statues.  Perhaps the artists have this deep-seated feeling that they should be connected somehow.

Nebuchadnezzar gathers together all the satraps, prefects, governors, advisors, treasurer, judges, -- pretty much the whole Babylonian bureaucracy from middle-management on up – to the plain of Dura where the statue was erected.

Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”  (Daniel 3:4-6 NIV)

One commentary I’ve read suggests that this was that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire was still fairly recently-established, and that this ceremony was intended to confirm the newly-appointed administrators and the existing ones in their office.  It could have been like signing a Loyalty Oath or Pledging Allegiance to the Flag or taking an Oath of Office.

I remember from reading Plutarch that the Persians, whose empire succeeded the Babylonian’s, had a practice of prostrating themselves before their rulers; and that when Alexander the Great conquered Persia and his new Persian subjects bowed in a similar way before him, Alexander’s Greek and Macedonian companions were majorly freaked, because it looked an awful lot like worship and they worried that Alex might demand the same obsequiousness from them.

Shadrach, Meshach and Adednego liked this bowing before idols jazz even less than Alex’s companions did.  So they just didn’t do it.  My old Picture Bibles show them defiantly standing while everyone else around them are kneeling with their foreheads in the dirt.  I think it might be more likely that they just arranged to be Somewhere Else when the zithers began to play.

Whether they were obvious about their civil disobedience or not, somebody noticed.  Some astrologers – and remember, Shadrach & Co. had been placed in charge of the wise men of the province, so these would have been their subordinates, finked on them.

“But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – who pay no attention to you, O king.  They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:12)

At this point, I can’t help but wonder, where is Daniel during all this?  Was he exempt from bowing to the golden image?  If so, why didn’t he try to intercede on behalf of his friends?  Was he out of the province on the King’s business? Or did he take the easy way out and do what all the other satraps were doing?  We aren’t told.  The text makes no mention of Daniel in the entire chapter.  But the trap his friends find themselves in here is very similar to the one Daniel later finds himself in with King Darius later on in the story about the Lion’s Den.   


Nebuchadnezzar is pretty furious about this, and brings the three before him and demands to know if these accusations are true.  He gives them one more chance to obey his command and bow down before his golden image, warning them that if they don’t, they’re going straight into the furnace.  “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (3:15)

Nebuchadnezzar may be hot under the collar, but the three guys play it cool.

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-18)

You can’t really blame Nebuchadnezzar for being sore.  After all, he had given these three foreigners positions of high honor and authority; and this is how they thank him?

He orders the furnaces used for executions be heated up seven times hotter than it oughter.  The furnace grew so hot, that the strong men he ordered to carry the bound prisoners to the furnace perished from the heat.  They were just able to shove the three men into the inferno.

At this point, there’s a lengthy passage in some versions of the text which does not appear in the older Hebrew/Aramaic texts of Daniel but was included in the Greek Septuagint translation of the 2nd Century BC.  Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include this passage following verse 23; but Protestant versions omit it, (or at most segregate it to the Aporcrypha).  It’s called the Prayer of Azariah  and the Hymn of the Three Young Men.

It starts with the three young men walking around amidst the flames of the furnace, praying and singing hymns.  Azariah, (Abednego’s Hebrew name, you’ll recall), utters this prayer, in which he praises God for his justice and acknowledges the wrongdoings of the people of Judah which had led to their current exile.  Azariah beseeches God, for the sake of their forefathers Abraham and Isaac, and for his divine covenant, to have mercy upon them and deliver the three from the wicked king.

“Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in thy forbearance and in thy abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with thy marvelous works, and give glory to thy name, O Lord! Let all who do harm to thy servants be put to shame; let them be disgraced and deprived of all power and dominion, and let their strength be broken. Let them know that thou art the Lord, the only God, glorious over the whole world.”(Song of the Three Young Men, vv. 19-22 RSV)

The passage then describes how and angel of the Lord comes down and drives the flames away from the young men so that they are not harmed.  The three of them break into a spontaneous hymn of praise:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of our fathers, and to be praised and highly exalted for ever; And blessed is thy glorious, holy name and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever;”(Song of the Three Young Men, vv. 29-30)

The hymn goes on for a couple dozen verses more; and the text of it is sometimes used as a canticle in the liturgy of the Anglican church.

Now all this does not go unnoticed by the King.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look!  I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”  (Daniel 3:24-25)

Without the explanation given in the Song of the Three, the reader is as surprised by the fourth guy as the King is.  I don’t know; I kind of like the sense of mystery we get from having the angel just be there without being told how or when he appeared.  But what is this fourth figure in the fire?

Many Christian interpreters claim that when the Old Testament speaks of The Angel of the Lord, (as opposed to, say , an angel of the Lord), that it’s a reference to the Pre-Incarnate Christ making a cameo appearance.  This is made even more explicit in the King James Version, where the King says he looks like “the Son of God” and not just like “… a son of the gods.” 

I think King Jim overstates Nebuchadnezzar’s theological perception here.  Given Nebuchadnezzar’s religious background, he wouldn’t know the Second Person of the Trinity from Utnapishtim; he’d be more likely, I think, to identify a person with a divine appearance as a son of a god, than as The Son of God.  Personally, I’m just as happy to leave the mysterious Guy #4 be an angel and not bother with the Christological ramifications.

The King calls to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and tells them to come out of the furnace.  They emerge completely untouched by the flames.  He has to admit that the trust they placed in their God was justified.

Which, come to think of it, is another recurring theme of the first half of the Book of Daniel:  every chapter concludes with the King acknowledging the power of the Hebrew God.

Of course, it doesn’t stop him from doing something stupid in the following chapter.

But for the time being, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are safe; they receive promotions from the King; and all is well.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Visit From the In-Laws

Sometimes, in-laws can be annoying, when they drop in offering unsolicited advice.  But sometimes that advice is useful, as Moses learned when his father-in-law came to visit.

Like Melchizadek, Jethro is one of those mysterious, righteous men who just show up in scriptures without any explanation, who has no direct connection to the People of Israel, yet nevertheless is recognized as a servant of and a spokesman for the God of Abraham.

Jethro is described as a priest of Midian, a region on the eastern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba, part of modern-day Saudi Arabia.  Some commentators have stretched Midian to include parts of the Sinai peninsula, on the other side of the Gulf, because Jethro seems to have lived in the vicinity of Mount Sinai; but since there is disagreement as to the exact location of that mountain, they could well be mistaken.  Or perhaps Jethro did a lot of traveling.

The Midianites did have a connection to Abraham, though.  They are said to have been the descendants of Abraham and Keturah, a woman he married after Sarah’s death.  (Genesis 25:1-4)  It’s possible that they carried on the monotheistic religion of Abraham.  On the other hand, Rabbinic Tradition states that Jethro had previously worshipped all the idols of the world, before coming to reject them and worshipping the God of Israel.

My personal suspicion is that Moses, raised as he was at Pharaoh’s court, had only a cursory knowledge of the Hebrew religion as it was practiced at that time; and that what he learned from Jethro while living among the Midianites shaped what became known as the Law of Moses.  But this is just a wacky guess.

When we first meet Jethro in Exodus chapter 2, the text calls him Reuel.  His daughters are being harassed by some rowdy shepherds while getting water from a local well, and the then fugitive Moses shows up and chases the shepherds off.  The girls bring Moses home, one thing leads to another, and before you know it, Moses is married to one of them, Zipporah.  In later chapters, Reuel is called Jethro, which could be a title meaning “his Excellency.”

When Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, he headed toward the mountain where he had encountered the Lord, speaking through a burning bush.  At some point in their journey, he sent his wife, Zipporah, accompanied by his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, ahead to father-in-law.  Jethro comes out to meet Moses, bringing the family with him.  So they sit and schmooze for a while, and Moses tells him all about what’s been happening with him in the previous seventeen chapters of Exodus.  Jethro is impressed.

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.  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.  Now I know that they LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”  (Exodus 18:9-11 NIV)

Jethro brings a sacrifice to the LORD, Moses introduces him to his brother Aaron and to the tribal elders, and they have a nice dinner.

The next day, Jethro is still hanging around and he gets to see his son-in-law at work.  Moses takes his seat and people come to him bringing complaints for judgment.  He spends all day, from morning to evening, listening to cases and rendering verdicts.  Finally Jethro takes him aside and asks him, what the heck he’s doing.

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.  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.”  (Exodus 18:15-16)

This is not good.  Jethro tells Moses that he’ll wear himself down to a frazzle if he keeps up like this.  He can’t handle these kinds of administrative duties alone.  He needs to start delegating things.

“Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.  You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them the decrees ad laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.”  (vv. 19-20)

Well that’s what he’s doing.  But Jethro continues:

“But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide for themselves.  That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.”  (vv. 21-22)

Yeah, that does sound reasonable.  Moses does as his father-in-law suggests.

It seems to me that this might be the start of a systematic government among the Israelites.  Rather than an informal system where people go to the tribal leader, Moses establishes a bureaucracy.  Not only does this lighten his own workload and allow him to concentrate on the aspects of leadership that only he can do; it also creates a structure so that after he’s gone, the Israelites can continue to govern themselves without his leadership.

A parallel situation comes up in the New Testament.  When the Christian community was starting out in Jerusalem and beginning to grow, it early on established a mission of distributing food to the widows and the needy among them.  But some complaints arose that the Hebraic Jews, those born and raised in Judea, who spoke mostly Aramaic and/or Hebrew, were getting special treatment over the Grecian Jews, those originally from outside Palestine who spoke predominantly Greek.  (Acts 6:1)

The Twelve, (the eleven disciples of Jesus plus Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas), called a meeting of the whole fellowship.  “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables,” they said.  So they propose that the group select seven men who would have the special job of handling the day-to-day administration of the congregation.  (Acts 6:2-6)  Although the text does not explicitly say so, it seems likely to me that the Twelve were looking back to Jethro’s advice as precedent for handling their own problem.

After Jethro gives Moses his advice, he sees that his job there is done.  He bids his son-in-law farewell and returns to his own country.  We don’t hear from him again.


Sometimes we fell we need to do everything ourselves.  But even Moses had to rely on others sometimes; and sometimes he needed the advice of a friend and counselor.