There are many mysterious characters in the Bible who appear in the narrative without explanation. Often, they have a small but significant role. In one of our familiar Old Testament stories, one man appears with some timely and godly advice. Who was Jethro in the Bible? And how did he become an adviser to Moses?
Who was Jethro in the Bible?
Who was Jethro in the Bible? We first encounter Jethro in Exodus chapter two. Moses had killed a man in Egypt and had to flee the country. Moses went into neighboring Midian, which was a dry and desolate land. His first stop, quite naturally, was at a well and it was there that Moses met some young women. They were shepherdesses and the daughters of Reuel, the Priest of Midian.
“Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.”Exodus 2:16-17
Jethro Priest of Midian
Midian was an area of land named after one of Abraham’s younger sons. Isaac was Abraham’s only son with his wife Sarah and the legal heir to his estate. But Abraham also had a son through Sarah’s servant Hagar. And he also took a second concubine, Keturah, with whom he had six sons and one of them was named Midian…
Moses’ encounter with the shepherdesses, led to an invite from Reuel for a meal. He offered hospitality to Moses and welcomed him into the family. This seemingly chance encounter at the well proved to be God’s provision and protection for Moses in Midian.
The answer to the question of who was Jethro in the Bible begins here – Jethro and Reuel, Priest of Midian, are in fact the same person. Reuel means ‘friend of God’ while Jethro may be a title of respect, meaning ‘his excellency’. Whether Reuel worshipped God, or not, is not specifically stated but he proved to be a good friend to Moses and the people of Israel.
What was the relationship between Jethro and Moses?
The relationship between Jethro and Moses changed rapidly from host and guest. Moses settled in Midian and married one of Reuel’s daughters, Zipporah. He worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law and had two sons with Zipporah. Jethro became Moses’ employer, then his father-in-law and eventually grandparent to Moses’ sons.
Moses lived in Midian as part of Reuel’s household for forty years – until a divine encounter in the wilderness changed everything!
Related Post: 3 Lessons From the Call of Moses
Jethro advised Moses
Some time later, Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and they had crossed through the Red Sea on dry land. The people were beginning their journey through the wilderness to worship God at Mount Sinai. And God supernaturally provided water, food, and protection for His people. On the way, they were attacked by the Amalekites, who were defeated as Jehovah Nissi fought for His people. A new era of establishing Israel as a nation had began.
“Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.”Exodus 18:1-4
Jethro sent word to Moses that he planned to come and visit him at the mountain of God. He brought Moses’ family, Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer, with him. The two men met and this time Moses was the host and welcomed Jethro into his tent. Moses relayed to him all that God had done for Israel. Jethro responded with delight and praised the LORD, acknowledging the greatness of God. Jethro brought a burnt offering to sacrifice to God and joined Aaron, and the elders of Israel, to eat a meal in the presence of God.
The next day, the celebration of their reunion was over, and it was back to work for Moses. He served as a judge for the people who brought their disputes to him. Due to the number of issues requiring a decision, this was an all-day task. Moses was surrounded by requests for a judgement on simple and complicated cases. Jethro observed what was going on and offered Moses some advice.
Moses was a great man of God. We know that there has never been another man like Moses who met with God face to face. But the humility of Moses is demonstrated here as he listened to Jethro. And the advice that Jethro offered proved to be godly wisdom.
“Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.”Exodus 18:24
What is the Jethro Principle?
The Jethro principle is based on the style of leadership he recommended to Moses. The number of people who required advice was far too great for one man to deal with. Jethro acknowledged that Moses was the people’s representative before God. But he could also see that Moses did not have to deal with every issue.
The structure described by Jethro would be the beginning of the foundation of governmental, military, and judicial issues in the future for Israel. The same basic structure that is in place in many of our towns and cities now.
The Jethro Principle of Leadership:
Teach – “Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.” Exodus 18:20
Moses compiled God’s law, decrees, and instructions. The divine and moral laws that would shape and form the nation of Israel and set them apart from their neighbors. The covenant agreement and promises were taught to all. This first principle of leadership is to teach well, to set out clearly what is expected in the relationship.
Select – “But select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain…” Exodus 18:21
Moses was to identify and select suitable men to work under his authority. Good leaders are able to identify and encourage leadership traits in those with whom they are working. With leadership comes a responsibility to mentor and develop others.
Delegate – “and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times…” Exodus 18:21-22
Moses appointed leaders according to their ability to govern. Those that he selected would have different levels of responsibility, either over thousands, hundreds, fifties, or tens. The Jethro principle identifies how important it is to be able to delegate. Good leaders are those who are able to let go of control and trust others with responsibility appropriate to their ability.
Establish a tiered system – “but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.” Exodus 18:22
Moses would have the ultimate responsibility as the people’s representative before God. But the Jethro principle establishes a tiered system. This gives the right to appeal to bring more complicated cases to a higher authority. A system that is in place in our governments and courts today.
Reuel, Friend of God
Who was Jethro in the Bible? To conclude, Reuel or Jethro was regarded as a priest in Midian. He appeared to be a godly man, as revealed by his words and actions. He extended hospitality to Moses, a stranger, who then became a friend. Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law, grandfather to Moses’ children, and trusted adviser.
Jethro gave sound and godly advice, showing his concern for Moses’ welfare. But, he also committed the advice that he gave to God’s ultimate authority.
“If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”Exodus 18:23
Reuel or Jethro left Moses with a blessing, and returned to his own country. Moses’ journey leading the Israelites through the wilderness to the border of the promised land was about to begin…