Jethro: The Mess of Salvation

Now Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses, heard of everything God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, and how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. After Moses had sent away his wife Zipporah, his father-in-law Jethro received her and her two sons. One son was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land”; and the other was named Eliezer, for he said, “My father’s God was my helper; he saved me from the sword of Pharaoh.” Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ sons and wife, came to him in the wilderness, where he was camped near the mountain of God. Jethro had sent word to him, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons.” So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. They greeted each other and then went into the tent. Moses told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them. Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the Lord, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

–Exodus 18:1-12

Bronze figure of Baal, with outstretched right arm symbolizing strength; Canaanite, circa 1400-1200 BC

Jethro was not a Hebrew, he was a Midianite. He was most likely not circumcised. He was a polytheist. In fact, he was a priest, even “the priest,” of Midian and the Midianite religion, which included worship of many key Old Testament idols including Baal (at right) and Asherah. This guy definitely didn’t fit in the box of Jewish orthodoxy, such as it was at the time.

Yet seeing the miraculous works of the God of Israel leads even this foreign, uncircumcised pagan priest to put his faith in the one true God, and in this, the reader should be reminded of God’s landmark promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:4– “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Our underlying assumption is often that before Christ, the most important division of people was Jew vs. Gentile, and now after Christ, it’s Christian vs. non-Christian. But in passages like this one, these us-versus-them lines are blurred. And so too, in the messy reality of our own lives, the lines we try to draw between who’s “in” with God and who’s not often break down. God sure does save some unlikely people; people who don’t fit our categories very nicely at all. Reality is uncomfortably complicated, isn’t it?

I think we’re best to leave the salvation business to God. Let him worry about who’s “in” and who’s not. Because whenever I go and try to craft a reassuring and tidy soteriological sheep pen which allows me to say “These are the sheep who are ‘in’ with God,” Jesus always seems to whisper to me, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. They must come also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).


About andyoftheway

looking for a new/old way
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