Scripture is filled with so many figures, it would be easy to forget some of them. We may remember the prophets and the kings, but what about the rest? What about the smaller, seemingly insignificant figures we only read about in a few Scripture verses? One such figure is Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Easily forgotten, he was a priest of Midian whose example probably had quite an impact on Moses’ life. Looking at the life of Jethro, what can we learn about our own lives?
A display of hospitality
Moses had to flee Egypt. After catching an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian, but his actions did not go unnoticed and Pharaoh sought to kill him. Arriving in Midian, he encounters the seven daughters of Jethro who are accosted by some shepherds. The daughters were probably terrified – but Moses intervenes. When the daughters return to their father, they explain Moses’ act of kindness: “An Egyptian protected us against the shepherds… and he drew water for us and watered the flock.”
Put yourself in Jethro’s place. Imagine hearing that your family or someone you loved had experienced some trouble. To what lengths would you go to thank the person who helped them? Jethro won’t hear of the man who did such a great service to his family going unthanked. In fact, he is so grateful that he gives his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage! (Perhaps we might not be so inclined to do that part!) He welcomed Moses into his home and his family without question.
Sharing the burden
You can see already that Jethro lived out his faith by showing great generosity. Moses is remembered for his great acts of heroics which were inspired by his own deep faith, but Jethro is a hero in his own – albeit smaller – way.
Later, once Moses has brought the Israelites of Egypt, Jethro comes to the wilderness to see his son-in-law and rejoices at the Lord’s goodness: “Blessed be the Lord who has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and has rescued the people from the grasp of the Egyptians.” He proceeds to bring a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God, to show how deeply grateful he is for what’s happened. As Moses’ father-in-law, he sets him a wonderful example of faith.
But the aid he offers his son-in-law is still not complete. Watching Moses the next day, he realises that his son-in-law has taken upon himself the heavy responsibility of being the sole leader and judge of the Israelites, a heavy burden for anyone. Moses believes that because the Lord called him to this responsibility, that he must bear the burden alone. It’s probably something most of us are guilty of – if we know that God has called us to a particular task or vocation, we may feel that it is ours alone to deal with. But Jethro helps Moses to see that he doesn’t have to be quite alone as he thinks.
As an outsider to the situation, Jethro has a helpful perspective: “You ought to represent the people before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the statutes and decisions; show them the way they must follow and what their course must be.” He can see clearly the parts of Moses’ role that Moses alone can fulfill, but likewise he can also see places where others can provide help: “But choose from the people at large some capable and God-fearing men, trustworthy and incorruptible, and appoint them as leaders of the people.” While Moses should be the overall leader and judge of the Israelites, there’s no reason why he can’t accept the help of other trustworthy men with a devout faith of their own. Finally, he offers clarity on where to draw the line: “They can refer all difficult questions to you, but all smaller questions they will decide for themselves”.
A Jethro behind every leader
Undoubtedly Jethro had a big impact on the ministry of Moses, both with his hospitality and his advice. Presumably he displayed many examples of his generosity and kindness over the years. And although Jethro wasn’t necessary for God to utilise Moses, we can only guess at the effect that his example had on one of the greatest prophets. He played an important role in the formation of this great Prophet, helping him to become the leader he was.
Not all of us are called to be leaders and game-changers like Moses. But what we can learn from Jethro is that for every Moses, there is a Jethro who aids his ministry through both his actions and his witness. If you’re a leader like Moses, someone called to do big things, who are the Jethros in your life and what can you learn from them? On the other hand, if you’re a Jethro, what do you have to offer the Moses in your life?