Alice C. Linsley
Jethro was a priest of Midian, a region closely associated with the Horite rulers of Edom (Genesis 36). The region bears the name of one of Abraham's sons by his cousin wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6).
Jethro or Yitro is a descendant of Abraham and a priest who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage (Exodus 2:20–21). The priests were a caste and they practiced endogamy (marriage between priestly lines). Priests only allowed their daughters to marry the sons of priests. Moses' father was a Horite priest in Egypt. This is evident from his marriage pattern.
Later, when Moses returns from Egypt, Jethro brings him his wife and their two children (Exodus 18:5) and there in the desert "Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God; and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came and ate with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God." (Exodus 18:12)
During the time of Moses' sojourn in Midian, his first wife was probably living in Egypt. She is his Kushite bride and his half-sister. Typically, the first wife was taken when the Horite ruler was a young man.
While Jethro is with Moses he see that Moses is struggling with a heavy responsibility and gives him useful advice on how to govern (Exodus 18:17ff). Invited by Moses to stay with the Israelites, Jethro declines and returns to the land of Midian where he serves as a priest of YHWH (Numbers 10:29–30). Exodus 18:9 says that Jethro rejoiced (at the Lord's faithfulness to his fellow Habiru/Hebrews.
Elie Wiesel wrote, "One can see Jethro clearly: His demeanor is surely elegant, sincere, irreproachable. He is present only when needed. He speaks only when asked. Everything he does, he does without guile. He never thinks of taking advantage of his position as first counselor to the great leader Moses. No one would ever accuse him of nepotism." (From "Supporting Roles: Jethro")
Among Abraham's people the initial Y designated a ruler. This was common among the Habiru or Hebrew and suggests that Yitro is to be counted among them. Many of the Biblical Habiru have names that begin with Y. Some examples are Yaqtan (Joktan), Yacob (Jacob), Yitzak (Isaac), Yosef (Joseph), Yishai (Jesse), and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). The Y was a solar cradle that indicated the ruler-priest appointed by the overshadowing of the Sun. Yitro is also called Ru-el, meaning "friend of God." According to Jewish tradition Yitro's descendants became leaders in the Great Sanhedrin.
Related reading: Zipporah's Flint Knife; Wells and Brides; The Daughters of Horite Priests; Moses' Wives and Brothers; Two Named Esau; Are Rabbinic Interpretations of the Bible Accurate?; The Priests of Midian