A Question I Was Asked:

Who Was Jethro? Did He Have Any Significance?

Can you explain more about Jethro, the Priest of Midian? Did he have any particular significance?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us check the relevant Scriptures, starting with Moses' need to flee Egypt:

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand ..... Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well. Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters: and they came and drew water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. (Exodus 2:11-12,15-16).

And so it was that Moses found himself out in the desert wilderness of the Sinai, for the first time (which was long prior to the occurrences of the Exodus), and how he came to meet Reuel, or Jethro, a priest of Midian, who would soon become his father-in-law. Jethro was also called Reuel. Reuel apparently means 'friend of God,' while Jethro means 'eminent.' Quite likely, Reuel was a personal name, whereas Jethro may have been a more official name. He was a "priest" but this actually tells us very little about him. The Midianites were the descendants of Midian, who was a son of Abraham through his second wife Keturah. This is revealed in Genesis 25:

Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. (Genesis 25:1-2).

So the Midianites originated from this Midian, who, as we have seen, was a son of Abraham which therefore actually made Jethro and Moses distant cousins. The Midianite territory consisted mostly in the area east of The Dead Sea and The River Jordan, but during the time of Moses also included at least a part of the Sinai peninsula.

As all Bible students know, Moses married Zipporah, who was one of Jethro's seven daughters. They eventually had two sons - Gershom and Eliezer (Exodus 18:3-4), during their lives in Sinai. When God sent Moses back to Egypt for the Exodus, Zipporah and their two sons apparently remained safely with Jethro until after Moses returned to the Sinai with the Israelites. Incidentally, later on, Moses took a second wife who was an Ethiopian woman (Numbers 12:1). Some Bible students have had a real problem with that fact, even insisting that Zipporah must have died. However, it was entirely permissable under the old covenant (and even under the Noahic laws which preceded it), for a man to take a second wife. This was not deemed adultery as long (of course) that the woman was unmarried and not promised to another.

Jethro played an important part in preparing Moses for his Exodus mission. Moses had been born and raised in Egypt and had lived a relatively easy life - the hardships of living in the Sinai wilderness would have been completely foreign to him while growing up in the home of the Pharoah's daughter. (Exodus 2:10). During the long time that Moses lived and worked keeping Jethro's flocks, Jethro no doubt taught him much about desert life - something that Moses would have known little of living in the green and fertile area of Goshen. We must always remember that, having spent that 40 years out in the desert, Moses would have been well-prepared for the rigours of the exodus to come. The considerable time spent out in the very same wilderness where the freed Israelites would be taken and held for four more decades was unquestionably all part of God's education of Moses. And much of that training was accomplished through Jethro, this priest of Midian. It was during this period of time that Moses saw the 'burning bush' while tending Jethro's flocks, which is how the Lord called him to his special mission. Exodus 3:1-2.

More About the Midianites

The Midianites, through their apparent connections with the Moabites, are thought to have worshipped a multitude of gods, these would possibly have included Baal-peor and Ashteroth, the Queen of Heaven. So, without question, the Midianites didn't worship the true God of Israel, yet it is quite possible that enough knowledge of Him existed among them for Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, to make the following statement regarding the Exodus, and God's miraculous freeing of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage:

Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. 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. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly." (Exodus 18:9-11, NIV throughout).

Based on all of this, it would appear that the Midianites, like all other cultures, turned away from the God of Abraham to false gods. However, for his part, Jethro appears to have become a believer in the God of Abraham after hearing of Yahweh's miraculous works. More than this we cannot say with certainty, but it is not impossible that Jethro could have eventually been powerfully used by God to uphold His Name among various pagan peoples, especially within Midian. Yet it seems that there was no major conversion of the Midianite peoples because just a few hundred years later they re-appear in the Book of Judges, giving both Gideon and Samson a hard time, although this might well have been a different branch of that family. It has been claimed (rightly or wrongly) that a form of circumcision was practiced by the Midianites before it was adopted by the Israelites.

Robin A. Brace. July 3rd, 2015.