Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

Jethro, priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, was concerned.


The LORD had humiliated the Egyptian gods. He was greater than Ashtarte and Ba’al, Yamm, and Mott. Greater than the other gods, The LORD must be El (God) Himself.

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.”
Exodus 18:10-11

But this was not concern. His son-in-law, this man Moses, was blessed by the LORD. The LORD, God of Gods, would become the new family god. Jacob, the grandson of their common ancestor Abraham, was an ancient whose prayers must still be answered.

Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”
Exodus 18:11-12

No, the concern was more organizational. The corporate structure that Jethro’s son-in-law had chosen was completely unsustainable. Indeed, it had led to the idling of a disturbing number of his own followers, because the greatest blocking issue had become Moses’s time

The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”
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 instructions.”
Exodus 18:15-16

Jehtro chose his words carefully. In some respects, he was Moses’s superior — his father-in-law after all, and his former employer. But these were Moses’s men who were idled, not Jethro’s, and Jehtro’s goal was that of the program manager’s everywhere: influence without force

Jehtro opened with a three-point outline: the current organizational structure needed to change, it decreased the efficiency of Moses’s corporate organization and was impossible to maintain

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”
Exodus 18:17-18

What followed next was a reorganization of the Israelite judicial, legal, and religious systems, one that would survive for centuries until the last Judge, Samuel

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 his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 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 themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
Exodus 18:19-26

A Once Holy Man


Jehtro was dead.

Aaron, his brother, was dead.

And what is the Holy Spirit trying to tell us?

In more blessed times, when the LORD still spoke to Moses face-to-face, the Holy Scripture makes it clear when it is the LORD speaking

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 18:1,19:18

But whose words are this curse?

These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab
Then the Lord said to me,
you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
Deuteronomy 1:1, 2:2, 21:23

Moses, who survived the Massacre of the Innocents on the Nile, had ordered the Massacre of the Innocents at Midian.

Now he cursed the LORD who once spoke to him face-to-face, like a friend.

Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.

He once interceded with God on their behalf

Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them…

In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.
Numbers 14:13, 19-20

But now, he cursed the house for God that Israel himself had built

and do not erect a sacred stone, for these the LORD your God hates.
Deteronomy 16:22

Israel, Israel! Does the LORD truly hate His own house?

Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God
Genesis 28:18-21

Does He hate the icons of the beloved and sleeping?

So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.
Genesis 35:19-20

More on Judges


Moses was introduced with a question: a question which implied his nationalist character and his own power

The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
Exodus 2:13

Paul’s first recorded words also form a question. But one more in keeping with the character of Job, perhaps than Moses

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

It is interesting to keep this in mind, as Paul’s reorganization has lasted around five times longer than Moses’s.

Moses succeeded in creating a cult of personality. We know relatively little about his functionaries, jus that they were “capable” and “trustworthy,” and the organization tree. Moses — ostensibly quoting the LORD — adds that they must “follow justice”

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Deuteronomy 16:18-20

And, later, another passage, with an odd addendum

Suppose two persons have a dispute and enter into litigation, and the judges decide between them, declaring one to be in the right and the other to be in the wrong. If the one in the wrong deserves to be flogged, the judge shall make that person lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of lashes proportionate to the offense. Forty lashes may be given but not more; if more lashes than these are given, your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.

You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
Deuteronomy 25:1-4

Blessed is He, who is hung on a tree


The LORD was hung on a pole.

It had a crossbar.

Nails were used.

But the curse on those hung from frees was not the only mistake of Moses’s that Paul needed to correct. The disastrous Judge system had to the discrediting of the prophet institutions of Israel, and military-military contact between Heaven and Israel led to a short-lived (if spectacularly effective) military dictatorship

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Joshua 5:13-15

The Judges between Moses and the Kingdom were unable to safeguard Isreal militarily or religious. In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. And the last judge inaugurated Saul as king.

Paul was aware of the parallels, and even mischievously quotes Moses’s odd oxen line in the context of judging

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”
1 Timothy 5:17-18

Ironically, Paul’s success had little to do with his actual advice. Many of Paul’s explicitly organizational recommendations are ignored

Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
1 Timothy 3:2-5

What the core of Paul’s approach though was empathy, translating love of one another into understanding one another. We see that in how he talks to individuals based on their capacities, as well as the advice they give.

We see this within one person’s career, as 1 Timothy is addressed to a much younger person, if the same person, as 2 Timothy

The Letter to Titus is addressed to a more trusted lieutenant yet, who acted as a messenger of Paul and would have been responsible for addressing questions about meaning and intention

The First Letter to Timothy begins with a “mission-type order” that includes an objective, the goal of the objective, and a description of the adversaries that will be encountered

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
1 Timothy 1:3-7

Shortly after Paul combines flattery with an explicit analogy to war to emphasize that young Timothy is the Luke Skywalker of a celestial drama — and that his role, now is to obey

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well,
1 Timothy 1:18

An explicit view of the Church as a substitute family is presented. The focus is on giving young Timothy clear and direct models for his interactions with others

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
1 Timothy 5:1-2

The Second Letter to Timothy, written to the same man years later, shows a closer relationship. The communication is more personal and evocative. Timothy has now been trusted with greater freedom of movement, including setting his own day-to-day objectives. Paul, likewise, drops the orders and moves onto memories of the good old days. Anyone who has seen the same upper manager talk, in one moment, to a lower subordinate and, to the other, to a colleague in another department has seen this same shift

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
2 Timothy 1:5

Another way to see the transition is how these letters end. First Timothy, written to a junior subordinate, includes a gentle nudge to get a life and concern about the long-term viability of zeal.

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
1 Timothy 5:23

The Second Letter to Timothy, written to an older and more trusted man, forms intimacy in another way: through frank descriptions of trouble, both personal and judicial. Unlike in the first letter there is no order — but an honest description of the situation and implicit trust that Timothy knows when, and where, to proceed

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
2 Timothy 4:9-15

The letter to Titus is another rung up the pole, addressed personally to a comrade from the journies, sent to a hostile environment with the power to annoint bishops himself. The qualifications echo Jethro’s instructions to Moses:

For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
Titus 1:5-9

Amusingly for us, Paul also tells Titus how to write the sort of letters we saw in 1 Timothy!

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
Titus 2:6-8

The last of these letters, and the shortest, is written to a different character altogether: a whale. An individual who contributes a disproportionate share of revenue to the organization, and thus is worthy of special concern to the organization.

The Prophet and the Apostle

Paul and Moses were once similar men. Both are fundamentally outsiders — Moses’s first language was Egyptian, and Paul — alone among the protagonists of the Bible — went to school. Both were critical in leading Israel – Moses led the Hebrews out of Israel, and Paul led the evangelists to the gentiles.

Both also were organizational men, who set up the levels of authority that would long outlast them. Unlike Moses, who died bitter and alone, a murderer and angry with God, Paul was aware he would be emulated, and he ran the race to the end. Paul provided an example for thousands of years: his words to men of all levels, his ability to persuade without power, is something Moses could not match.

Moses left the dead in his wake. Only the men who would wrest power from him survived him.

Paul left behind friends. Those who already had lives. Those who would be changed by him, his words, and the Spirit

Moses’s staff has been destroyed. His laws recognized as a tool for diagnoses, not treatment. But the cross the law was nailed to still stands.


He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)
2 Kings 18:4-5

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