1 Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. 2 Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), 4 and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). 5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God. 6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,” 7 Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. 8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. 9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. – Exodus 18:1-12 ESV
Years earlier, Moses had been forced to flee Egypt after news of his murder of an Egyptian became known to Pharaoh. With a bounty on his head, Moses sought refuge in the land of Midian, located on the easter side of the Red Sea or Gulf of Aqaba. There, he met the daughter of a man who is described as “the priest of Midian” (Exodus 2:16 ESV). This man’s name was Jethro and we know very little about him, other than what we are told in chapter 18 of Exodus. His designation as a “priest” doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a follower of Yahweh.
According to the book of Genesis, the Midianites were descendants of Abraham.
Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. – Genesis 25:1-2 ESV
Abraham married Keturah after the death of Sarah. So, Jethro would have been from the line of Abraham. As such, he could have been a Yahweh worshiper, but the text does not clearly state his religious allegiance. He could just as easily have been serving as a priest to one of the many foreign deities worshiped among the nations that populated that region of the world. According to Numbers 22, the Midianites later joined forces with the Moabites in an attempt to prevent the advancement of the Israelites into their territories.
During the period of the judges, “marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys” (Judges 6:3-4 NLT). So, it would seem that there was no love affair between the Israelites and the Midianites, and it appears unlikely that they shared a common belief in Yahweh.
Yet, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses received word above all that the God of Israel had been doing on behalf of His people. This priest was blown away by all that he heard and was anxious to see for himself if any of the rumors were true.
When Moses had answered God’s call and departed Midian to return to Egypt, he had begun the journey with Zipporah and the boys in tow. But somewhere along the way, he made the decision to send them back to live with Jethro.
Earlier, Moses had sent his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons back to Jethro, who had taken them in. – Exodus 18:2 NLT
Now, as Jethro made his plans to join Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, he decided to bring Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezer with him. The small family made the trek from Midian to “the mountain of God” (Exodus 18:5 ESV). This is a reference to Mount Sinai, where Moses would later receive the Ten Commandments from God. After their victory over the Amalekites, Moses and the Israelites had made their way from Rephidim to the valley below Mount Sinai. And it was there that Jethro, Zipporah, and her sons were reunited with Moses.
Jethro was anxious to hear all about the events that had taken place in Egypt, so he sat down and listed as Moses regaled him with all the details concerning the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna, the quail, the water-producing rock, and the victory over the Amalekites. And Jethro was blown away.
Jethro was delighted when he heard about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel as he rescued them from the hand of the Egyptians. – Exodus 18:9 NLT
Once again, it is unclear whether Jethro served as a priest of Yawheh or of a false god. But as he hears Moses recount the miraculous acts of God, he cannot help but acknowledge and honor the name of Yahweh. He even discloses his belief in the superiority of Yahweh over any other gods.
“Praise the Lord,” Jethro said, “for he has rescued you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Yes, he has rescued Israel from the powerful hand of Egypt! I know now that the Lord is greater than all other gods, because he rescued his people from the oppression of the proud Egyptians.” – Exodus 18:10-11 NLT
Notice that Jethro discloses his new outlook on the God of the Israelites. It was after hearing the report from Moses that his perspective on Yahweh was radically changed. Before hearing all that happened in Egypt, Jethro seems to have believed that Yahweh was just another God among many gods. But his view of Yahweh’s superiority and sovereignty had been radically altered by the testimony of Moses.
At this point, Jethro the priest was so moved by what he heard, that he determined to present an offering to the God of Israel.
Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God. Aaron and all the elders of Israel came out and joined him in a sacrificial meal in God’s presence. – Exodus 18:12 NLT
It is important to note that Jethro has been repeatedly referred to as “the priest of Midian,” and not “the priest of Yahweh.” It is only after hearing from Moses the “good news” concerning the actions of Yahweh, the all-powerful God of Israel, that Jethro is moved to present an offering to this far superior deity.
It seems likely that Jethro, as a descendant of Abraham, had a working understanding about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But he had no reason to believe that this God was any better than the gods of the Midianites, Amoriites, or Canaanites. Yet now, he had been persuaded to change his opinion. The God of Israel was the bigger, better God. He had no equal. And He deserved to be worshiped.
At this offertory meal, a Midianite joined an Israelite in the worship of Yahweh, the one true God. A man who represented one of the future enemies of Israel had heard the good news concerning Israel’s God and presented an offering of praise and worship. And this scene echoes the words that God has repeated throughout the opening chapters of Exodus.
“By this you shall know that I am the Lord…” – Exodus 17:7 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.