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Meaning and etymology of the name Jethro

Jethro Jethro or Jether

Jethro is the father of Zipporah, the first wife of Moses. Jethro is also known by the very similar name Jether (Exodus 4:18) and the completely different names Reuel (Exodus 2:18) and Hobab (Judges 4:11), although Reuel is probably the name of Jethro's tribe or patriarch (see Numbers 10:29).

Jethro is a priest in Midian, but his allegiance to the God of Israel becomes evident only after the obvious success of the latter (Exodus 18:11). In this sense Jethro is very different from the other famous, not Abrahamic priest Melchizedek.

The name Jethro comes from the verb Jether (yatar) meaning to remain over, be a rest. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament submits, "It refers to one portion of a quantity which has been divided. Generally it is the smaller part and sometimes it is the part of least quality."

The concept of remnants is important in the Bible, so important that a discipline called remnant-theology deals exclusively with it. Often a remnant is simply something that remains, like a surplus of donated items (Exodus 36:7) or food (Ruth 2:14). But it may also refer to the years of life one has remaining (Isaiah 38:10), or the survivors of an onslaught (Joshua 12:4).

The special position of the remnant in the Bible becomes clear in Scriptures such as 2 Kings 19:30-31: "And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion survivors. The zeal of the Lord shall perform this."

The existence of a remnant brings about the notion that (a) something can't be exterminated, but (b) that there is more than enough, and that leads to connotation of this verb of to be abundant or rich. Hence, a "rich" mouth (verbosity, perhaps?) doesn't become a fool (Proverbs 17:7), and the surplus of one's possessions (that's what remains after one's necessities have been met, and what goes into store rooms or bank accounts) can't be taken to heaven (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

This verb has a few very curious derivatives, namely yether (yeter), meaning cord or bowstring, and metar (metar), also meaning cord or string. With these cords, one may tie down a strong man (Samson in Judges 16:7), but also a tabernacle (Exodus 35:18). The wicked may lay an arrow on their string and shoot it at the heart of the righteous (Psalm 11:2), but the righteous have the Lord and His bow to withstand assault (Psalm 21:12). When someone's tent-cord breaks, he nears death (Job 4:21), and when a group's tent-cord breaks, the group will succumb to their enemies (Jeremiah 10:20).

It seems that the most fundamental idea of the Biblical remnant is that a remnant is not simply an anonymous sample of the larger collective it's a remnant of, but rather a designated selection that kept the collective together in the first place. That makes Abraham's plea with God over the possible ten righteous people in Sodom suddenly a lot more logical (Genesis 18:16-33). If there had been ten righteous people in Sodom, they would have kept the city together, or at least had kept it from destruction.
It also sheds some additional light on the enigmatic Pauline verse, "in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17, compare with 2 Kings 19:30-31 cited above). And it certainly indicates in what grave danger the world is, and how possible the events foreseen by rapture theology - which we here at Abarim generally refute - might come to pass.

Other derivatives of our verb are:
Jether (yeter), meaning rest, remnant;
yitra (yitra), abundance, riches;
yoter or Jether (yoter), more, better;
yoteret (yoteret), appendage;
yitron (yitron), advantage, excellency;
motar (motar), profit, abundance.

For a meaning of the name Jethro, NOBS Study Bible Name List reads Excellent; Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads His Excellence.

Here at Abarim we propose Remnant, followed by a long silence...

Other related names are Abiathar, Hothir, Ithra, Ithran, Ithream, Ithrite, Jattir and Jeatherai.



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