Jethro: A Wise Man Who Gave Great Counsel
When we think of Bible characters most people don’t think of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. When the name Jethro is mentioned to the Baby Boom generation most would intuitively refer to the loveable but rather ignorant, cornpone character on the successful television show The Beverly Hillbillies. Jethro Bodine, played by actor Max Baer, Jr., was the dim-witted nephew of Jed Clampett.
There is another Jethro mentioned in the Bible that would be the exact opposite of Jethro Bodine. The biblical Jethro was a Midianite priest and father of Zipporah, the lady who married Moses, the great lawgiver and deliverer of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Jethro is first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 2:16 and also referred to as Reuel in verse 18, which may be his last name. Reuel means “friend of God.” It is believed Jethro is a priest of the Most High God, the One True God, rather than a pagan deity because he is referred to by Reuel, friend of God.
The account of Moses first meeting Jethro is found in Exodus chapter 2. Moses had killed an Egyptian in an effort to relieve the suffering of the Jewish people under the heavy hand of Pharaoh. When he was found out Moses fled for his life to the desert. He was in the land of Midian and was near a well to get water. There were seven daughters of Jethro at the well getting water for their sheep. There were other shepherds that came to the well driving the women away when Moses came to their rescue and drove the men away and watered the women’s flock. When they returned home sooner than expected their father asked them how did they return back so quickly? They responded that an Egyptian rescued them from the shepherds, drew water and even watered their flocks.
The grateful father had his daughters go and get Moses and invite him for dinner. Moses complied. Moses evidently pleased Jethro and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses to be his wife. How is that for a “love at first sight” story! Moses lived with the Midianites for forty years until God called him back to Egypt to deliver His people. When Moses left with his family Jethro blessed him (Exodus 4:18).
We don’t read of Jethro again until Exodus 18 when Jethro meets Moses at Mt. Sinai bringing Moses’ wife, Zipporah and his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer to him. Evidently Moses sent his family back to Midian possibly because of the difficulties of dealing with Pharaoh. When Jethro hears from Moses of all that God has done for His people Jethro offers sacrifices to God and invites Aaron and the elders of Israel to dine with him and Moses.
This is unexpected that a priest of Midian blesses God for the redemption of Israel. Reading further in the Old Testament we see that the Midianites and Israel did not get along. Yet, we see a Gentile rejoicing over the redemption of the God of Israel. Hearts fully surrendered to God break down barriers.
The next day Jethro witnesses Moses wearing himself out from morning to evening judging the people. He told Moses this was not good and gave him advice to find godly men who Moses would teach the statutes and laws of God and make them judges among the people. These men would be ranked where some would judge thousands, others would be over hundreds, then fifty, and ten. Those most difficult cases Moses would judge but they would judge smaller issues.
One side note. Our Founding Fathers used this biblical model in setting up the judiciary system in our country where the Supreme Court rules on the most difficult cases and we have lower courts to adjudicate smaller cases.
Jethro was a wise man who gave great counsel. His wisdom enabled Moses to carry out his responsibilities in difficult times. Jethro was also a good role model for in-laws offering wise counsel but not interfering. Jethro and Moses must have had a good relationship and their conversations filled with the things of God.
I think of my father and father-in-law and the counsel they would give me from time to time. I miss that now since they are gone. I learned from them and enjoyed the conversations we would have. Rejoice if you are blessed with a father-in-law like Jethro.