Joy: Jethro

When I started my word study of “joy” last week, I didn’t really have any particular form that I was going to follow. Of course, I wanted to see what the Bible had to say about joy – about what it is (and is not), looks like (and doesn’t look like), is obtained (and lost), etc. – but I intentionally aimed to enter the study with my mind wide open. I want to know how God defines and dispenses joy. In two real days of work, my efforts have unearthed a couple of interesting tidbits (e.g., a dictionary definition of joy, the Hebrew and Greek terms that are generally translated as joy, some differences between different versions and translations of Scriptures, and the kind of joy that the world would entice me with). It’s as though the little discoveries I’ve made are just hints of something amazing to come. Base hits, if you will. But to be honest, I find myself wanting for a homerun, where everything just clicks, the whole concept unfolds right in front of me, and I just get it.

I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever find that homerun in this study. It occurs to me today, though, that many baseball games have been won with just a whole bunch of base hits. Or even just a few.

So as I return to my study today, I find myself looking at the first use of the verb “rejoice” in the King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and The Amplified Bible (TAB): Exodus 18:9. Interestingly, the New International Version (NIV) translates the same word as “was delighted to hear about.” I suppose that is a fair translation, and it may actually give me a little more insight into what the term means – joy equates to delight – but what I find really interesting here is the cause for rejoicing. In order to get that, though, I need to understand what’s going on.

When Moses was 40 years old, he killed an Egyptian for beating one of his fellow Israelites. He thought he had gotten away with it, but the next day, when he tried to intervene between two Israelites fighting, they responded by asking if he would kill them as he had the Egyptian. Dejected, embarrassed, and now fearing the legal and mortal repercussions of his act, Moses fled into the desert for forty years. While out there, he met and married a Midian woman named Zipporah, and the two had two boys named Gershom and Eliezer. After Moses was called by God to return to Egypt and lead Israel from slavery to the promise land, he had set out with his family to do just that. At some point, though, Moses decided that it would be better for his wife and kids to spend some time at her parents’ house.

Whether Moses sent his family away because pharaoh refused to release Israel or the Israelites started grumbling almost immediately after leaving Egypt, or some other reason, at the start of chapter 18, Zipporah and the kids returned with her dad, Jethro, priest of Midian. When Jethro arrived, he looked around at the fact that Moses was still alive, had successfully brought his people out of slavery in the most powerful nation on the face of the planet at the time, survived with all of them in the desert, and more, and vs 9 tells me that “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians” (NASB).

As I said, the thing that catches my attention here is why Jethro rejoiced. You see, he wasn’t rejoicing because things were going well for him. In fact, the text says nothing of Jethro’s current personal situation. There is nothing to say that he was experiencing dramatic prosperity, prominence, or blessing. And if I’m going to be honest, it’s only reasonable to assume that the notion of an entire nation which had just delivered a sound thumping to the world’s only superpower camping on Midian’s back porch was more than a little bit distressing. Especially when Israel’s stated purpose was to go and take over Canaan, and the road from Sinai (where Israel was now) to Canaan went right through Midian. Jethro and his countrymen likely felt like Luke Skywalker and co. in the Death Star’s trash compactor.

In addition to this pressure, it’s reasonable to conclude, from Jethro’s comments in verse 11, that the priest of Midian was having something of a faith crisis. Most experts assert that the Midians were polytheists, worshiping a multitude of different gods, but in verse 11, Jethro remarks, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Confronted with the fact that the God of Israel had done such wonders, while the gods of Midian did nothing, Jethro couldn’t help but question himself and his religion.

So Jethro’s security and religion were in question. Since his security and religion were also his profession, it would be easy to conclude that pretty much every aspect of his entire life was threatening to unravel at this moment.

And yet, in verse 9, Jethro rejoiced. Why? Well, the verse itself tells me: “Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians.” In short, Jethro rejoiced – that is, he expressed joy – because of all the good stuff God had done in the process of delivering Israel from Egypt. In other words, he rejoiced because God had wrestled Moses and Israel free of Egypt. He rejoiced because God had parted the Red Sea before Moses and Israel. He rejoiced because God had brought forth water from the rock, and manna and quail from heaven for Moses and Israel. He rejoiced because God had descended on Mt. Sinai to meet with Moses and Israel.

Do you notice a pattern?

Jethro’s joy came not from the stuff that was going right in his life, per se, but from seeing the good things that God was doing in the lives of others. Rather than being jealous of all the stuff God was doing on Israel’s behalf, Jethro rejoiced.

Maybe that’s a key paradigm shift for me to experience joy. Joy shouldn’t be so much contingent on what God’s doing for me. Rather than getting jealous when God does something cool for someone else, I should rejoice.

Seeing God do something good, regardless of whose life it’s in, should cause me to rejoice. If I want to have joy, I need to look around ourselves, find something that God’s doing, and rejoice that He’s on the job.

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