jeth'-ro, je'-thro (yithro, "excellence," Ex 3:1; 4:18b; 18:1-12 (in 4:18a, probably a textual error, yether, "Iether," the King James Version margin, the Revised Version margin); Septuagint always Iothor): The priest of Midian and father-in-law (chothen) of Moses.
1. His Relation to Reuel and Hobab:
It is not easy to determine the relation of Jethro to Reuel and Hobab. If we identify Jethro with Reuel as in Ex 2:18; 3:1 (and in Ant, III, iii; V, ii, 3), we must connect "Moses' father-in-law" in Nu 10:29 immediately with "Reuel" (the King James Version "Raguel"), and make Hobab the brother-in-law of Moses. But while it is possible that chothen may be used in the wider sense of a wife's relative, it is nowhere translated "brother-in-law" except in Jdg 1:16; 4:11 ("father-in-law," the King James Version, the Revised Version margin). If we insert, as Ewald suggests (HI, II, 25), "Jethro son of" before "Reuel" in Ex 2:18 (compare the Septuagint, verse 16, where the name "Jethro" is given), we would then identify Jethro with Hobab, the son of Reuel, in Nu 10:29, taking "Moses' father-in-law" to refer back to Hobab. Against this identification, however, it is stated that Jethro went away into his own country without any effort on the part of Moses to detain him (Ex 18:27), whereas Hobab, though at first he refused to remain with the Israelites, seems to have yielded to the pleadings of Moses to become their guide to Canaan (Nu 10:29-32; Jdg 1:16, where Kittel reads "Hobab the Kenite"; 4:11). It may be noted that while the father-in-law of Moses is spoken of as a "Midianite" in Exodus, he is called a"Kenite" in Jdg 1:16; 4:11. From this Ewald infers that the Midianites were at that time intimately blended with the Amalekites, to which tribe the Kenites belonged (HI, II, 44).
2. His Hearty Reception of Moses:
When Moses fled from Egypt he found refuge in Midian, where he received a hearty welcome into the household of Jethro on account of the courtesy and kindness he had shown to the priest's 7 daughters in helping them to water their flock. This friendship resulted in Jethro giving Moses his daughter, Zipporah, to wife (Ex 2:15-21). After Moses had been for about 40 years in the service of his father-in-law, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the burning bush as he was keeping the flock at Horeb, commanding him to return to Egypt and deliver his enslaved brethren out of the hands of Pharaoh (Ex 3:1 ff). With Jethro's consent Moses left Midian to carry out the Divine commission (Ex 4:18).
3. His Visit to Moses in the Wilderness:
When tidings reached Midian of "all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel" in delivering them from Egyptian bondage, Jethro, with a natural pride in the achievements of his relative, set out on a visit to Moses, taking Zipporah and her two sons with him (Ex 18:1-12). On learning of his father-in-law's arrival at the "mount of God," Moses went out to meet him, and after a cordial exchange of courtesies they retired to Moses' tent, where a pleasant interview took place between them. We are told of the interest Jethro felt in all the particulars of the great deliverance, how he "rejoiced for all the goodness which Yahweh had done to Israel," and how the conviction was wrought within him that Yahweh was "greater than all gods; yea, in the thing wherein they dealt proudly against them" (Ex 18:11). In this condition so expressed there is evidently a reference to the element by which the Egyptians thought in their high-handed pursuit they would be able to bring back Israel into bondage, but by which they were themselves overthrown.
It is worth noting that in the religious service in which Jethro and Moses afterward engaged, when Jethro, as priest, offered a burnt offering, and Aaron with all the elders of Israel partook of the sacrificial feast, prominence was given to Jethro over Aaron, and thus a priesthood was recognized beyond the limits of Israel.
4. His Wise Counsel:
This visit of Jethro to Moses had important consequences for the future government of Israel (Ex 18:13-27). The priest of Midian became concerned about his son-in-law when he saw him occupied from morning to night in deciding the disputes that had arisen among the people. The labor this entailed, Jethro said, was far too heavy a burden for one man to bear. Moses himself would soon be worn out, and the people, too, would become weary and dissatisfied, owing to the inability of one judge to overtake all the eases that were brought before him. Jethro, therefore, urged Moses to make use of the talents of others and adopt a plan of gradation of judges who would dispose of all eases of minor importance, leaving only the most difficult for him to settle by a direct appeal to the will of God. Moses, recognizing the wisdom of his father-in-law's advice, readily acted upon his suggestion and appointed "able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens." Thereafter, Jethro returned to his own country.
5. His Character and Influence:
The story of Jethro reveals him as a man of singular attractiveness and strength, in whom a kind, considerate disposition, a deeply religious spirit, and a wise judgment all met in happy combination. And this ancient priest of Midian made Israel and all nations his debtors when he taught the distinction between the legislative and the judicial function, and the importance of securing that all law be the expression of the Divine will, and that its application be entrusted only to men of ability, piety, integrity and truth (Ex 18:21).