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    Jethro the priest of Midian

    Moses & Jethro, by James Tissot

    It is not Yitro (Jethro) himself who first engages our attention, but his daughter Zipporah, Moses’ wife.

    When shepherds try to drive away Yitro’s daughters from the well, Moses protects the daughters and he marries one of them.

    Then come the events that lead to the Exodus, and Moses is reunited with Yitro’s family.

    Yitro, hearing all that has happened, exclaims, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods”.

    Yitro also gives Moses sensible advice, not to attempt to do everything himself but to delegate some tasks to the elders.

    The story behind the story is fascinating. According to rabbinic sources, Yitro became involved in Israelite history in more than coincidental fashion.

    Pharaoh consulted him together with Bilam and Job about how to wipe out the Children of Israel.

    Yitro tried to persuade Pharaoh not to exterminate the Israelites, and as a reward his descendants in time to come sat with the Sanhedrin in the Temple (Sanh. 106a).

    The Torah calls him priest of Midian, but one rabbinic view is that he was the prince of Midian (Ex. R. 27:2).

    Those who are certain that he really was a priest say that having realised that idol-worship was foolish, he resolved to abandon it.

    He was punished for this heresy; no-one would now keep his flocks, and this is why his daughters were tending the sheep and why the shepherds tried to drive them away.

    The Midrash asks why, when the family was reunited, Moses “bowed low to him and kissed him” (Ex. 18:1-12).

    It answers that this is what is meant by the verse, “Wise men shall be given honour” (Prov. 3:35).

    Though he had been an idolater, Yitro had accepted the belief in God; God thereupon said to Moses, “If someone comes to you as a proselyte, befriend him and do not reject him”.

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