He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”
In the story line of Exodus chapter 2 there are some colorful characters. Moses, who the story follows (who also is most likely the author of Exodus), has gone from illegal infant, to abandoned orphan, to prince of Egypt, to bare-knuckle murderer, to fearful deserter, to chivalrous hero. That’s a good bit of mileage for Mo in a mere 18 verses, it’s no wonder he had sat down at the well in Midian. And after the fight for Jethro’s daughters’ honor, Moses found himself alone again, no plans, no appointments, just a life marked by potential and actual violence. He had, thus far, existed in a bizarre in-between place that is hard for most of us to imagine. Though his mother was forced into doing what she did, and though she actually got to raise him in his formative years, it would be difficult for any child to understand any reason as to why a parent would give them up under any circumstances. He obviously wasn’t satisfied in the Pharaoh’s palace, his brutal work on the Egyptian guard’s head seems to indicate that. He was a living, breathing, walking, sulking, fighting, paradox. With all of the emotional confusion about his own worth and belonging is it any wonder that he had speech problems? Who wouldn’t find communicating to be a challenge when every other part of your world existed in constant flux?
Enter Jethro. When this man’s daughters came back home from the well he was shocked at how quickly returned. He asked how and they told him a story about a stranger, who looked like an Egyptian, that had defended their honor and watered their flocks. The next question of Jethro, in the verse above, is so important: “where is he?”
Jethro had a grasp on something that I describe as “reasonable response”, and in this case is basically just common gratitude. A man had fought for his girls, at the very least he deserved a handshake, a hot meal, and maybe a place to stay for the night. Jethro wasn’t immediately entering into a lifelong covenant with Moses, he wasn’t trying to subversively get one of his girls married off to a nice man who can still throw hands when situations get sticky. No, all this old priest was trying to do was act with courtesy and grace to someone who had displayed uncommon kindness and, perhaps even, valor.
But a meal, for a man who had never really known much stability, and a display of gratitude was more than just that; it meant more to Moses than anyone, other than God, could have ever expected.
I read a twitter post yesterday from a pastor in North Carolina, Steven Furtick, that returned to mind as I read the story of Moses in Midian this morning. He posted, very simply,
Gratitude purifies atmospheres.
— Steven Furtick (@stevenfurtick) January 3, 2013
I think this becomes profound as we read the result of Jethro’s “reasonable response”:
And Moses was content…
After the perpetual conflagration that had marked and defined Moses’ existence, the abandonment, the orphan mentality, the pent up anger, the running, the rootlessness of his life…after all of that, one act of gratitude, one man’s common decency to do what was right by another, brought a calm to this young man’s life that had been searched for and missed time and time again. Jethro’s gratitude purified the atmosphere of Moses’ life, it cleared the angry smoke that had brought a kind of social and emotional blindness to Moses and, maybe for the first time in a long time, it allowed him to lay his head down and simply rest. The text goes on to say that Moses stayed there. He found a place of belonging on the heels of this situation.
You could argue that I’m interjecting some interpretation into Moses’ story, and it’s true I’m building based on inferences, but I believe they are clear inferences. I can’t think of any major character in the Scriptures whose anger existed more closely to their skin, who wasn’t a general or military man, than Moses. He beat an Egyptian to death, he fought off a swarm of blue-collar shepherds, and later in Exodus, before God Himself, Moses’ old ways reappear as he disobediently beats water out of a rock. When he struck the rock he wasn’t a young man anymore, he was a seasoned leader, a man who had been in the very presence of the glory of God. So what made him revert to his former violent ways? Could it have been the rampant ingratitude of the people of Israel, the complaining hordes? If gratitude calmed this restless soul doesn’t it stand to reason that a million complainers might be able to re-lite that short fuse?
The question friends is simple, are there “reasonable responses” that we need to show today? Is there a debt of gratitude that is gaining interest due to our delayed payment? Is there someone who we need to bring to our table and share a meal with because of the kindness or loyalty they’ve shown to us? Is there a spouse who we’ve neglected to thank for walking through the thickness of life with us? Sometimes people can be so close to us that we don’t see just how much of an impact they are making in our lives. Perhaps they are frustrated or distraught or stressed or hurting and a dose of common courtesy may be the balm that brings them calm.
At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
– Albert Schweitzer