Jethro – Greatness of Character
Jethro is an enigmatic character, introduced to us earlier in the book when Moses first made his way to Midian. Now, with Israel in the wilderness, Jethro travels to join them, bringing his daughter – the wife of Moses, and his grandsons – the two sons of Moses. The Midrash tells us a great deal about Jethro, painting a picture of Jethro as a defender of the rights of the immigrant family of Jacob in Egypt. Jethro advised Pharaoh against enslaving the nation of Israel, and he paid a steep price for standing up to Pharaoh, forced to flee to Africa much like Moses did later.
What prompted Jethro to join the nation in the wilderness at this time? While the Midrash offers several suggestions, and they are all derived from hints in the text itself, we can’t ignore the emphasis of the text on the wife and sons of Moses. Whatever other motives Jethro had, a primary reason was to accompany Zipporah and her two children to join Moses in the wilderness. Jethro was the chaperone, ensuring they arrived safely to reunite their family. Whatever the motives of Jethro’s visit, however, the impact of his visit leaves a lasting impression.
Moses was the leader of the people, the prophet who delivered the word of God during this great period of development and transition. There really was no one else who could fit in his shoes, and Moses recognized that he could not delegate his responsibilities to others. The scene that met Jethro upon his arrival was of Moses teaching, adjudicating, explaining and settling issues with the people. “And it was on the morrow, and Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood over Moses from the morning until the evening.”(18:13)
This sight was disturbing to Jethro, and he made it known to Moses that this was a mistake. ‘What are you doing to the people?’ Jethro demanded. ‘Why are you judging alone, with the entire nation standing around you from morning till night?’