Jethro Priest of Midian, Moses' Father in Law

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Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
Jethro has always been a perplexing character to me. Initially I was confused because he is portrayed as a sympathetic character who shows kindness to Moses and gives him good advice, but at the same time he was not an Israelite and was called a priest. I had always assumed that this meant that he was a priest of some pagan deity like other non-Israelite priests, and that at most he quit being a priest once he met Moses, but that is why the portrayal of his goodness was confusing. Jethro and Moses both speak to one another in ways that express their shared belief that God exists, but in paganism it's not a problem to claim the existence of other gods.

I'm just now realizing there was an option I hadn't considered, that Jethro was a priest of God after some other non-Israelite order, similar to Melchizedek, Job, or the virtuous men of prehistory like Enoch. That would make sense of his residence near the mountain of Horeb, which in Exodus 2 is called "the mountain of God" even before the theophanies and the ratification of the covenant and the Bible's constant portrayal of him as a hospitable, generous, and wise priest.

Does anyone know if this is a novel interpretation? Any corrections to my claims? Any materials I need to look at?
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
I'm afraid I can't remember where I've heard it, but I have indeed heard the theory that Jethro knew of the true God before he met Moses and may have been a non-Israelite priest of the Lord. The theory I heard speculated this based on the fact that the people of Midian were descended from Abraham, though not in the chosen line (Genesis 25:2).
 
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hammondjones

Puritan Board Sophomore
Calvin
But the question is, whether he worshipped false gods, or the one true God? and certainly many probable reasons lead us to conclude, that he did not sacrifice to idols; because Moses could scarcely have been persuaded, not merely to live in a house which was defiled by foul unrighteousness, but even to marry into it. Besides, hereafter, many indications of piety will appear in the language of Jethro. Although, as almost the whole world had then fallen into many corrupt practices, it seems likely to me that his priesthood was in some measure corrupted. In the time of Abraham, Melehizedek was the only priest of the living God. Abraham himself was extricated from a deep abyss of idolatry into which his family was plunged. It was, then, hardly possible that the Midianites should have retained the pure worship; and indeed it is plain from other passages, that they were joined to idols. After duly weighing all these points, nothing occurs to me as more probable, than that under the priesthood of Jethro the true God was worshipped, according as tradition had revealed Him, but not purely; because religion was at that time everywhere contaminated by diverse superstitions. But there is some difference between idolatry and the impure worship of God, corrupted in some respects. I say, then, that they were worshippers of the true God, because they had not entirely departed from the principles of His religion, although they had contracted some defilement from the stinking puddles of error which had gradually crept in. There is also another question among interpreters as to the name "Jethro."
 

Ben Mordecai

Puritan Board Freshman
I think one important consideration is the prospect of non-canonical revelation. God has always called us to worship rather than us reasoning our way to him. There is no reason to believe that God didn't reveal himself in additional ways to a variety of people and places, albeit in a way that wasn't explicitly covenant in something like the Mosaic administration.

I am not sure I see where Calvin determines that Melchizedek was the last remaining priest from the text. It strikes me that Abram met Melchizedek only after his victory in Horeb, which is where Jethro was. It's like God had established the location as a place of holiness from the beginning.
 

hammondjones

Puritan Board Sophomore
Sorry, got interrupted by dinner...

There is also the fact that Jethro offered up an apparently accepted sacrifice to Jehovah in Ex. 18:10ff, of which Calvin says:
Although I do not think that Jethro had previously sacrificed to idols, yet, because he worshipped an unknown God, with but a confused and clouded faith, it appears that this was his first sincere and legitimate sacrifice since the God of Israel had been more clearly known to him. We may gather from hence that it was duly offered, because Moses, and Aaron, and the elders openly professed them. selves his companions, and partook with him; for it is not merely said that they came to eat bread with him, but "before God;" which expression describes a sacred and solemn feast, a part and adjunct of the offering and divine worship. But they never would have willingly polluted themselves with the defilement's of the Gentiles for the sake of gratifying an unholy man. It follows, then, that this was a token of his piety, since they did not hesitate to become partakers with him.

Further, I have read that the priests mentioned in Exodus 19 might have been some that came along with Jethro, as the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established, but Calvin does not go there.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
Having to preach on Job two yrs ago and deal with his background, I sought the aid of some commentators. It seems that he lived In the era of Abraham and Jacob, which was a time of philosophical and meditative minds and contemplative discourses, as the conversations with his comforters reveals. They were used to discoursing in a lofty, poetical, dark and mysterious easy style. Interestingly some would think that Moses may have read Job’s book, inasmuch that Jethro, his father in law, was a priest in Midian, and the Priest was the custodian of sacred writings. Some would say that Job lived in UZ in the land of Idumea, whereas it was more likely the UZ east of Canaan in the border desert of Chaldea, UZ meaning thin and sandy. Also the three band Chaldean raiding parties that stole the camels and killed the servants, could sorte easily across that border. And Jethro and Midianites were therefore associated with the inhabitants of that desert region. So the knowledge of God was still prevelant in that desert area, which was not the case if Job lived among Edomites in UZ of Idumea.
The conversation of his comforters shows that the
knowledge of God had been retained, and Jethro was a successor to that knowledge and was a priestly practitioner. So Job was a contemporary of Abram and it seems they never met, yet the true religion was diffused to other regions and people apart from Abram.
 
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