Q. In Exodus 2:18, the priest of Midian and father of Zipporah (wife of Moses) is named Reuel. In Exodus 3:1, the father-in-law of Moses is Jethro. Is this the same person? If so, why the name change? In Exodus 4:24, who did the Lord seek to put to death, and why?
A. Yes, we’re dealing with the same person. Many individuals in Scripture had more than one name. In this case, it is uncertain why Moses’ father-in-law had two names, but it may be that the name “Jethro” was his title rather than his given name, since he was priest of Midian. Meanings of names had generally greater significance in Bible times than now, so the idea that “Jethro” was a title is enhanced by the observation that it means “excellence” or “superior.” Also, some have speculated that since Moses was raised in the Egyptian royal family, use of the name “Jethro” would gain Reuel some prestige with his son-in-law. A couple of side issues to your questions: We are not sure what kind of a priest Reuel was as priest of Midian. Did he know the true God, or did he serve another god? Exodus 18:1–12 seems to indicate that he did come to know the true God. Also, in the KJV, Numbers 10:29 refers to him by still another name, Raguel, which is a spelling that came about through a quirk in translation.
Regarding Exodus 4:24, Moses, though a great man of God, was human and had to be divinely disciplined at times. In Genesis 17, we have record of the covenant God made with Abraham. “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised” (v. 10). When Moses’ first son, Gershom, was born, Moses circumcised him, but Zipporah was repulsed by the act, and resisted circumcision when the second son, Eliezer, was born. Moses gave in to Zipporah, but allowing his wife to have her way displeased God, and God allowed Moses to become so sick he could have died.
The lesson in this incident is that Moses could not lead God’s Chosen People if he disobeyed God in a very clear command that had great meaning. Circumcision was the very seal of God’s covenant with His people. Someone wisely noted that if Moses couldn’t stand up to his wife, he wouldn’t be able to stand up to Pharaoh either and that Moses couldn’t take a stand against the Israelites when they were wrong if he couldn’t oppose his wife when she was wrong. Zipporah, to her credit, circumcised the son, even if reluctantly, and Moses was restored to health. It was a great object lesson in obeying God completely.
This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin by Norman A. Olson.