In the wilderness, the Israelites encountered the Gentiles. First came the Amalekites, bringing war. Then came Jethro and the Midianites, bringing peace.
The people of God produce a variety of responses in outsiders, in those who do not know God. Some oppose the followers of God as vigorously as they oppose the idea of worshipping God and submitting to his claim on their lives. They want nothing to do with God or his people. And they would prefer if neither of them – God nor his followers – existed.
And then there are those like Jethro who are willing to listen to the testimony. In other words, some will come to believe in God and his ways, and some will not.
The Amalekites and Jethro ought to remind us of the two criminals who were hung on crosses alongside Jesus (Luke 23:39-43). They encountered the Son of God, and one opted for one response and the other opted for another.
The presence of God’s people demands a response from those around them, and a lukewarm, indifferent response rarely seems to occur.
This text also is about how the people of God came to be organized, at least in part. Jethro gave them the wisdom they needed to do this. A non-Israelite left a lasting impact on the people.
We can take this as an example of how the church should welcome the wisdom of those outside the church. And this is true. We can learn a lot about how to operate more efficiently from people who are not Christians.
We can take this too far, of course. Churches and Christian organizations are marked, unfortunately, by the so-called “wisdom” adopted from the non-believing world that has done significant harm to the church and its people. Sometimes the wisdom of the world is that the church should be more like the world and less like the bride of Christ.
We ought to keep in mind that Jethro respected the God of the Israelites, and Jethro worshipped Him. Jethro perhaps wasn’t as much of an outsider as we might make him out to be.