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Yitro (Jethro) – Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

The Nations Can Ally with Israel

This week’s portion begins with Jethro’s historic visit to the Children of Israel in the desert. The story begins in Exodus Chapter 18: “And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’s father-in-law, heard of all that G-d did to Moses and to his nation Israel, that He brought Israel out of Egypt.” This verse is packed with information that tells us a great deal about Jethro and about his motivation to join his son- in-law in the desert.

Jethro is a high priest of Midian. He is not only a member of a pagan nation but is a religious leader. We have previously met Jethro as Moses’ father-in- law, but Scripture reminds us of this fact anyway, perhaps to contrast the religious leader of the Midianites with the religious leader of the Israelites. Not only are these two men of great stature in opposing religions, but they are family, and they clearly respect one another greatly.

Jethro is spurred on to join Moses because of what he has heard about the miracles that G-d performed in taking the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Presumably, he has heard of the 10 plagues, of the parting of the Red Sea, and of the total defeat of the powerful Egyptian army against a rag- tag group of former slaves, men, women and children — with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go.”(Exodus 10:9) And immediately following that miraculous event, the Children of Israel are attacked by Amalek, a powerful band of nomadic tribes, and roundly defeat them. He joins Moses because he wants to know more.

When Jethro hears the entire sequence of events as told to him by Moses, he responds: “Blessed be G-d who has delivered you out of the hand of Egypt. Now I know that G-d is greater than all gods.” (Exodus 18:10-11)  Jethro, a priest of a pagan religion, recognizes and declares publicly that his faith was wrong — that the G-d of Israel is all powerful and should be worshipped and obeyed.

From this moment on, Jethro ties his fate, in one form or another to the Jewish people. He remains a separate family, but closely allied to and neighbors with Israel. It is not clear whether Jethro remains with the Children of Israel and enters the Land of Israel with them or not. Exodus 18:27 indicates that Jethro returns home. But Numbers 10:29 finds his father-in-law back with them and the discussion arises once again whether Jethro will leave. Scripture never says what Jethro decides to do. (In this verse, Jethro is referred to as Hovav, one of several names for the same person, identified always as Moses’ father-in-law.) However, in the Book of Judges, we find Jethro’s family leaving the City of Palms (Jericho) to join Judah in the Negev. (Judges 1:16). And just a few chapters later, Yael, from the same family, drives the final stake into Sissra’s skull, enabling the defeat of the Canaanites. (Judges 4)

Later on, in the book of Samuel, we find that this same family lives near the Amalekites, and Saul is careful not to harm them while fighting the enemy Amalek. (I Samuel 15:6)

Jethro is not a member of the Children of Israel, but his acceptance of G-d enables him to be allied with them, to live among them and to help one another. Jethro’s independent recognition of G-d’s greatness is the basis for an alliance that withstands the generations. Oh that our current neighbors would recognize G-d’s greatness, His promises to Israel and His Torah.

Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Sondra Baras signature

Sondra Baras
Director, Israel Office

3 thoughts on “Yitro (Jethro) – Exodus 18:1 – 20:23”

  1. Interesting observations. Jethro appears to put aside any religious ‘fixations’ to recognize the power and authority of the G-d of Israel. The fact that fewer and fewer representatives in the UN manifestly refuse to do this even in the light of Israel’s astonishing progress in the last 70 years suggests to me that G-d’s judgement is pending closely. Look at Hophni and Phineas in 1 Sam. They refused correction of the father Eli ‘because G-d had decided to kill them.’ That is a devastating statement but one that is highly relevant right now.

  2. Jethro was a descendant of Father Abraham with his wife, Keturah. In that time and culture Jethro would have known about the True God from his ancestor, Abraham. But definitely the story of the Mighty Acts of God on behalf of Moses and the people had persuaded him who the True Almighty God is!

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