(Jethʹro) [from a root meaning “more than enough; overflow”].
Moses’ father-in-law, a Kenite. (Ex 3:1; Jg 1:16) Jethro is also called Reuel. (Nu 10:29) Jethro may have been a title, whereas Reuel was a personal name. However, it was not uncommon for an Arabian chief to have two or even more names, as is attested to by many inscriptions. Jethro is spelled “Jether” in the Masoretic text at Exodus 4:18.
Jethro was “the priest of Midian.” Being head of a large family of at least seven daughters and one named son (Ex 2:15, 16; Nu 10:29), and having the responsibility not only to provide for his family materially but also to lead them in worship, he is appropriately called “the priest [or chieftain] of Midian.” This of itself does not necessarily indicate worship of Jehovah God; but Jethro’s ancestors may have had true worship inculcated in them, and some of this perhaps continued in the family. His conduct suggests at least a deep respect for the God of Moses and Israel.—Ex 18:10-12.
Jethro’s association with his future son-in-law began shortly after Moses fled from Egypt in 1553 B.C.E. Moses assisted Jethro’s daughters in watering their father’s flocks, and this they reported to their father, who, in turn, extended hospitality to Moses. Moses then took up living in Jethro’s household and eventually married his daughter Zipporah. After some 40 years of caring for Jethro’s flocks in the vicinity of Mount Horeb (Sinai), Moses was summoned by Jehovah back to Egypt, and he returned with his father-in-law’s good wishes.—Ex 2:15-22; 3:1; 4:18; Ac 7:29, 30.
Later Jethro received report of Jehovah’s great victory over the Egyptians, and at once he came to Moses at Horeb, bringing along Zipporah and Moses’ two sons; it was indeed a very warm reunion. Jethro responded to Moses’ review of Jehovah’s mighty saving acts by blessing God and confessing: “Now I do know that Jehovah is greater than all the other gods.” He then offered up sacrifices to the true God. (Ex 18:1-12) The next day, Jethro observed Moses listening to the problems of the Israelites “from the morning till the evening.” Perceiving how exhausting this was for both Moses and the people, Jethro suggested a system of delegating authority. ‘Train other capable and worthy men as chiefs over tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands to decide cases, so that you will hear only what they cannot handle.’ Moses agreed, and later Jethro returned to his own land.—Ex 18:13-27.
Jethro’s son Hobab was requested by Moses to be a scout. Apparently with some persuasion, he responded, and some of his people entered the Promised Land with Israel. (Nu 10:29-33) Judges 4:11 calls Hobab the father-in-law of Moses rather than his brother-in-law, and this has caused difficulty in understanding. However, the Hebrew expression normally rendered “father-in-law” can in a broader sense denote any male relative by marriage and so could also be understood as “brother-in-law.” To say that Hobab instead of Jethro was Moses’ father-in-law would disagree with other texts. If Hobab were another name for Jethro, as some suggest, it would also mean that two men, father and son, bore the name Hobab. On the other hand, Hobab, as a leading member of the next generation of Kenites, might be used in this text as a representative of his father.—See HOBAB.