In the city of Midian, named thus for a son of Abraham by Keturah, the man Jethro had lived for many years, doing a priest's service before the idols. As time went on, he grew more and more convinced of the vanity of idol worship. His priesthood became repugnant to him, and he resolved to give up his, charge. He stood before his townsmen, and said, "Until now I performed your service before the idols, but I have grown too old for the duties of the office. Choose, therefore, whomever you would choose in my place." Speaking thus, he delivered to the people all the paraphernalia appertaining to the idol worship, and bade them transfer them to the one to whom in their discretion they should entrust his position. Suspecting Jethro's hidden motives, the people put him under the ban, and none might venture to do him the slightest service. Not even would the shepherds pasture his flocks, and there was nothing for him to do but impose this work upon his seven daughters.
Jethro's transformation from an idolatrous priest into a God-fearing man is conveyed by his seven names. He was called Jether, because the Torah contains an "additional" section about him; Jethro, he "overflowed" with good deeds. Hobab, "the beloved son of God"; Reuel, "the friend of God"; Heber, "the associate of God"; Putiel, "he that hath renounced idolatry"; and Keni, he that was "zealous" for God, and "acquired" the Torah.
In consequence of the hostile relation between Jethro and the inhabitants of the city, his daughters were in the habit of making their appearance at the watering troughs before the other shepherds came thither. But the ruse was not successful. The shepherds would drive them away, and water their own flocks at the troughs that the maidens had filled. When Moses arrived in Midian, it was at the well that he made halt, and his experience was the same as Isaac's and Jacob's. Like them he found his helpmeet there. Rebekah had been selected by Eliezer as the wife of Isaac, while she was busy drawing water for him; Jacob had seen Rachel first, while she was watering her sheep, and at this well in Midian Moses met his future wife Zipporah.
The rudeness of the shepherds reached its climax the
very day of Moses' arrival. First they deprived the maidens
of the water they had drawn for themselves, and attempted
to do violence to them, and then they threw them into the
water with intent to kill them. At this moment Moses appeared,
dragged the maidens out of the water, and gave the
flocks to drink, first Jethro's and then the flocks of the shep-
herds, though the latter did not deserve his good offices.
True, he did them the service with but little trouble to himself,
for he had only to draw a bucketful, and the water
flowed so copiously that it sufficed for all the herds, and
did not cease to flow until Moses withdrew from the well, --the same well at which Jacob had met Rachel, his future wife, and the same well that God created at the beginning of the world, the opening of which He made in the twilight of the first Sabbath eve.
Jethro's daughters thanked Moses for the assistance he had afforded them. But Moses warded off their gratitude, saying, "Your thanks are due to the Egyptian I killed, on account of whom I had to flee from Egypt. Had it not been for him, I should not be here now."