Jethro (Bible)

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This article is about the view of this character in the Hebrew Bible. For the view of him as a Prophet in Islam, see Shuayb (prophet).
For other uses, see Jethro.

In the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible, Jethro (/ˈɛθr/; Hebrew: יִתְרוֹ, Standard Yitro Tiberian Yiṯrô; "His Excellence/Posterity"; Arabic شعيب Shu-ayb) or Reuel was Moses' father-in-law, a Kenite shepherd and priest of Midian.[1] In Exodus, Moses' father-in-law is initially referred to as "Reuel" (Exodus 2:18) but then as "Jethro" (Exodus 3:1). He was the father of Hobab in the Book of Numbers 10:29.[2] He is also recognized in Islam as a prophet.

In Exodus[edit]

Moses takes his leave of Jethro by Jan Victors, c. 1635, from the incident in Exodus 4:18. Jethro is seated on the left, in red.

Jethro is called a Cushite priest of Midian and became father-in-law of Moses after he gave his daughter, Zipporah, in marriage to Moses. He is introduced in Exodus 2:18.

Jethro is recorded as living in Midian, a territory stretching along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Aqaba in what is today northwestern Saudi Arabia. Some believe Midian is within the Sinai Peninsula. Biblical maps from antiquity show Midian on both locations.[citation needed]

Jethro's daughter, Zipporah, became Moses's wife after Moses had fled Egypt, having killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. Having fled to Midian, Moses intervened in a water-access dispute between Jethro's seven daughters and the local shepherds; Jethro consequently invited Moses into his home and offered him hospitality. However, Moses remained conscious that he was a stranger in exile, naming his first son (Jethro's grandson) "Gershom", meaning "stranger there".

Moses is said to have worked as a shepherd for Jethro for 40 years before returning to Egypt to lead the Hebrews to Canaan, the "promised land". After the Battle at Rephidim against the Amalekites, word reached Jethro that under Moses' leadership the Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt, so he set out to meet with Moses. They met in the wilderness at the "Mountain of God";[3] Moses recounted to Jethro all that had taken place, and then, according to Exodus 18:9-12a:

Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the Lord had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.

And Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God.[4]

Following this event, it was Jethro who encouraged Moses to appoint others to share in the burden of ministry to the nation Israel by allowing others to help in the judgment of smaller matters coming before him.

These events take place in the Torah portion Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23).


There is some disagreement over the name(s) of Moses' father-in-law. In the KJV translation of Judges 4:11, a man named Hobab appears as Moses' father-in-law, while Numbers 10:29 makes him "the son of Raguel [Reuel] the Midianite, Moses' father in law". Reuel is noted Exodus 2:16, as "a priest of Midian" who had seven daughters. Exodus 2:18 "the girls returned to Reuel their father". Reuel becomes Moses' father in law in Exodus 2:21 "Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage."

In Numbers 10:29, the Hebrew for the name Raguel is the same as the Hebrew for Reuel. The reason for the difference is that the Hebrew character ע (ayin) in רעואל is sometimes used merely as a vowel and sometimes as "g", "ng", and "gn", because of the difficulty of its pronunciation by European speakers. Re-u-el, with the first syllable strong accented, is nearer to the true pronunciation. Some suppose he was father to Hobab, who was also called Jethro, a likely possibility.[5]

Another thing to consider is that there is only one Biblical Hebrew word for both "brother-in-law" and "father-in-law" (chathan).[6] It is, in fact, the word for any and all relations by marriage. If one takes into account the Biblical custom of multiple names for one person as well as Judges 4:11 calling Hobab Reuel's son, Reuel and Jethro both appear as Moses' father-in-law,[7] while Hobab may be seen as his brother-in-law. However, this is disputed among theologians.[8][9]

In Islam[edit]

Shuaib (/ˈʃb/), or Shuʿayb, or Shoaib (Arabic: شعيب‎;meaning "who shows the right path "), was an ancient Midianite Prophet, identified with the Biblical Jethro (though Islam attributes to him many deeds not mentioned in the Bible). He is mentioned in the Quran a total of 11 times.[10] He is believed to have lived after Abraham, and Muslims believe that he was sent as a prophet to a community: the Midianites [11] also known as the People of the Tree[12] since they used to worship a large tree. To the people, Shuʿayb proclaimed the faith of Islam and warned the people to end their fraudulent ways. When they did not repent, God destroyed the community.[13][14] Shuʿayb is understood by Muslims to have been one of the few Arabian prophets mentioned by name in the Qur'an, the others being Saleh, Hud, and Muhammad. It is said that he was known by early Muslims as "the eloquent preacher amongst the prophets", because he was, according to tradition, granted talent and eloquence in his language.[15]

Historical context[edit]

The main town Shuʿayb was sent to is named 'Madyan in the Qur'an, known in English as Midian, which is frequently referred to in the Hebrew Bible. The preaching of Shuʿayb, however, is covered nowhere in the Hebrew Bible. The Midianites were said to be of Arab descent, though being neighbors of the Biblical Canaanites, they intermixed with them. It is said they were a wandering tribe, and that their principal territory at Moses's time was the Sinai Peninsula.

The figure of Shuʿayb himself is absent in Jewish tradition. Although frequently identified with the Midianite priest Jethro, most modern scholars reject this identification as it is made without any solid grounding. Aside from having no similarity in names, there are chronological differences. Classical commentators, such as ibn Kathir, say Shuʿayb prophesied four generations from Abraham. Shuʿayb is believed to have been the son of Mikil, son of Isaachar, son of Midian, son of Abraham.[15] Scholars who take this to be true believe that the identification with Jethro is, as a result, rendered irrelevant, as Jethro - who lived at the time of Moses - would have been active hundreds of years later.[16]

Prophecy in Midian[edit]

A map of Midian, the town where Shuʿayb was sent to prophesy

The Qur'an states that Shuʿayb was appointed by God to be a prophet to the people who lived east of Mount Sinai, the people of Midian. The people of this land were said to be especially notorious for cheating others through dishonesty and for idolatry. Shuʿayb's prophecy mainly involved calling the Midianites to the correct path of God[17] and forbidding them to worship false gods.

It is also said he told his people to stop being dishonest in their daily activities. Although he preached and prophesied for a sustained period of time, the majority of the people refused to listen to him. Shuʿayb, however, remained steadfast. He consistently preached powerfully against the wicked, telling them of the punishment that had befallen the sinful before them. Shuʿayb warned the people that their ignorance would lead to the destruction of Midian, giving historical examples of earlier prophets, including Noah, Hud, Saleh and Lot,[18] all of whose people had been destroyed by God.

The people taunted Shuʿayb and told him that, were it not for the prestigious family he came from, he would surely have been stoned to death.[19] Shuʿayb replied, "Is my family of more consideration with you than God?"[20] When the Midianites refused to believe, they were destroyed by a mighty earthquake.[21] The Qur'an, however, mentions that Shuʿayb, and his believing companions, were rescued from the thunderous punishment.[22]

Parallel with other prophets[edit]

Shuʿayb's mission is often mentioned in the Qur'an with the mission of Noah, Hud, Saleh and Lut. Scholars have pointed out that these five prophets exemplify the early prophetic missions:[23] The prophet would be sent to his community; the community would pay no attention to his warning and would instead threaten him with punishment; after years of preaching, God would ask him to leave his community and his people would be subsequently destroyed in a punishment.[23] Scholars interpret the listing of the five prophets to be chronological, with Noah being the only prophet in the list who preached before the Great Flood. He was also a descendant of Prophet Abraham.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Exod 18:5
  4. ^ Exod: 18:9-12a NKJV
  5. ^ Clarke, Adam, Commentary on The Holy Bible, Abingdon Press, Nashville, vol. 1, pp. 300-301.
  6. ^ Strong's number 2859
  7. ^ Exodus|2:21|NIV,Exodus|18:1,2,5,6,12,27|NIV
  8. ^ Parallel Translations of Judges 4:11 with commentaries
  9. ^ Parallel Translations of Numbers 10:29 with commentaries
  10. ^ Brandon M. Wheeler, Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Shuayb, pg. 303
  11. ^ Quran 7:85-93
  12. ^ Quran 26:176-177
  13. ^ Quran 7:85–91
  14. ^ Quran 26:189
  15. ^ a b Ibn Kathir, Ismail. Qisas Al-Anbiya. p. 220. 
  16. ^ Abdullah Yusuf Ali: Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary
  17. ^ Quran 7:85 "And to Midian [we sent] their brother Shuʿayb. He said: 'O my people! serve God, you have no god other than Him; clear proof indeed has come to you from your Lord, therefore give full measure and weight and do not diminish to men their things, and do not make mischief in the land after its reform; this is better for you if you are believers.'"
  18. ^ Quran 11:89
  19. ^ Quran 11:91
  20. ^ Quran 11:92
  21. ^ Quran 7:91
  22. ^ Quran 11:94
  23. ^ a b Wheeler, A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Shuayb

External links[edit]