Jethro is one of my favorite Old Testament people. His efforts in Exodus 18 are typically what he is most remembered for most. Yet, he is an impressive person when we first meet him in the beginning of Exodus. Notice some of his impressive characteristics:
- Jethro was an appreciative man (Ex. 2:20). Moses first met Jethro's family after murdering an Egyptian taskmaster and fleeing from the Pharaoh's wrath. Moses helps Jethro's seven daughters by fending off some mischievous shepherds and caring for their sheep and family's water needs. When Jethro heard of this, he said, "Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread." Jethro was very eager to show his thanks for Moses' kindness.
- Jethro was a spiritual man (Ex. 2:16; 3:1). One of the first facts we learn is that he is "the priest of Midian." He likely was the chief representative of the people in religious sacrifice. Although it seems that when Moses meets him, Jethro has not yet learned who the true and only God is. This realization comes later (Ex. 18:10-11). Even though little details are given at first, Jethro's role as spiritual leader is clearly seen.
- Jethro was an accommodating man (Ex. 4:18). When the time came for Moses to heed God's will and confront Pharaoh, it meant separating himself from his work and living arrangements in Midian. Moses pleaded with his father-in-law to let him go back and help his people. Jethro made this separation easy for him, telling him, "Go in peace." If you'll remember, Jacob's father-in-law, Laban, had not been so kind (Gen. 29ff). What a contrast. Jethro saw the bigger picture and made his son-in-law's departure much easier.
- Jethro was a sensible man (Ex. 18). This is the characteristic we are most familiar with. Jethro's appeal to Moses' common sense by telling him to appoint other leaders to help judge the people. This advice has served as a role model in spiritual leadership for centuries. Jethro could see the effect of the old, broken system on both Moses and the people. He sized it up, saying, "The thing that you are doing is not good" (17). But, a sensible man does more than raise the specter of the problem, he offers a solution (19-23), and it works beautifully (24-26).
One of the marvel's of the Bible's inspiration is to see the revelation and development of men and women whose lives crossed those we know best in scripture. Moses was perhaps the most prominent figure of Old Testament history. So, those whose lives he touched show up at several points. Jethro, one of them, is to me one of the most interesting of them all.