Raising children is not for the faint of heart. There are times of soaring joys, along with times of deep sorrows and concerns. I have yet to find a time when I am still not praying for my adult sons, and I am sure that many of you can relate.
There is an interesting textual oddity in Exodus 18. This slight, almost unnoticeable difference to what had come before it, speaks to the heart of how we raise children as individual lives formed by the hand of God.
In my family I am the oldest child, by many years. In my situation, there was no comparison to the successes or failures of my siblings as we grew up. Yet, for whatever reason, I was acutely aware of how much it hurt my friends when their parents, in times of correction, would compare them with their siblings: “why can’t you be more like …?” Or similar statements.
Moses and his wife Zipporah show us something remarkable as we approach our children, and how we shepherd others along in life as well. As Jethro, Zipporah’s father, returns Moses’ family to him after the exodus from Egypt, the Torah says of the two boys: שֵׁם הָאֶחָד, גֵּרְשֹׁם, “the name of one is Gershom” … וְשֵׁם הָאֶחָד, אֱלִיעֶזֶר, “and the name of one is Eliezer” (Ex. 18:3, 4, respectively).
This is a change from the usual language pattern of the Torah, which, if there is more than one son: there is one son, then the second son, and so forth. This sets the sons in order for purposes of inheritance and blessing. Yet Moses and Zipporah were careful not to follow this pattern. Why?
If you have read the Book of Genesis, you may have noticed the strife between the sons of the patriarchs regarding position, blessing, and leadership. Moses changes this ever so slightly. Gershom is the oldest, and he has a position given to him by God. Eliezer is the younger, but he is no less loved or favored. What do we learn from this?
Consider the words of David: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14). David says נִפְלֵיתִי, “I am wondrously made.” Another way, amplified, “I am uniquely made to be me.”
For Moses and Zipporah their sons were the only Gershom and the only Eliezer. They were unique. They were not the other. Moses and Zipporah recognized their sons uniqueness, and the Torah forever records how they loved them. In their family, they recognized each child as unique, special, gifted in their own right. Moses and Zipporah would raise them and direct them, but they would not raise them one against the other, or exactly the same. They had the presence of mind, and a depth of relationship with their sons to know how to raise them, uniquely, in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Children are not uniform. Even with the same parents and environment, they grow as their unique selves, guided, we pray, by involved godly parents. Moses and Zipporah, in these few words, encourage us to be involved with our child(ren) in such a way as to shepherd their personalities as God has formed them. Recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Respond to them in a manner that encourages their strengths, but also strengthens their points of weakness according to the wise counsel of God’s Word and faith in Christ.
You, dear reader, are also unique. There is no one else who has ever been or ever will be like you. You have been wondrously made, and I pray, even more wondrously renewed (II Cor. 5:17). As a shepherd, I must recognize the unique person that the Father is reforming before me (Ro. 8:29), and communicate in such a way as to encourage them along the way…and sometimes correct their course. Speaking to their individual strengths and weakness according to the wise counsel of God’s Word and faith in Christ, as noted above.
Moses and Zipporah honored the uniqueness of their sons, and in their uniqueness they strengthened their lives and relationships. Gershom was free to be Gershom. Eliezer was free to be Eliezer. Neither had to be the other.
We learn this lesson at the foot of Sinai, where a nation would learn to be a unique, chosen nation among nations, even with their imperfections. And what is a nation but unique people joined in covenant together, ensuring the life, safety and wellbeing of the neighbors and strangers around them, according to the Word of God.
In our parental relationships, in our shepherding relationships, and our communal relationships, let us remember that we have all been wondrously made, and supernaturally renewed by the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. I am me, and you are you, but in all things, let us show forth Christ to all (I Pet. 2:9-10).
Be well. Shalom.