Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God be with thee: be thou for the people before God, and bring thou the causes unto God. And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Jethro to Moses--Exodus 18:19-20.
Last Sunday, during a break in an endless rain-storm, my son joined another father-son combination to play straatvoetbal (street-soccer) on the Noordermarkt; one of the side-walls of the Noorderkerk functioned as the goal. The other boy was a couple of years older than my son, but happy to share ball-time and with coaching of their generous father they exhibited great team-spirit. Eventually the rain started up again, we decided to call it quits; I learned that the boy's name is Jethro and not Pedro as I had mistakenly assumed. (It wasn't a case of ethnic stereotyping on my part because father and son are both very blond.) 'That's very biblical," I said. Jethro's dad, said, "We came accross his name during renewed Bible study, and we liked what we read about him." Suddenly, the rain seemed very far away. We had already reached the front steps of Jethro's house, and I realized that earlier that day I had heard (and seen) him practice piano with his mom, who was already greeting her men. 'Really?' I said. "Yes, we admired that he gave laws to Moses." With that we shook hands, and expressed a desire for more straatvoetbal some other time.
In the Hebrew Bible, Moses is shown to exercise independent, good judgment when he is given sound advice ("Moses hearkened to the voice of his father-in-law, and did all that he had said.") Among Jethro's suggestions are to create a hierarchical judiciary, which will be guided by "statues and theory" [אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַתּוֹרֹת] The traditional translation is 'statues and laws,' but that would be redundant. Given that here we're explicitly not in the realm of a Divine Command theory, there is no reason to assume (as is often done) that the Hebrew Bible has a bias against systematicity or theory.* Moreover, Moses is advised to create norms or mores ("show them the way wherein they must walk,") and articulate their works. That is to say, Jethro encourages Moses not just to embrace the judicial division of labor, but also to become a genuine lawgiver, and an encompassing political theorist.
In context, the Hebrew Bible shows no anxiety about the fact that the solid political-theoretical advice is foreign and all-too-human. Political wisdom does not represent national boundaries. I think the episode with Jethro signals that the Jewish redactors of the Hebrew Bible also recognized that philosophical borrowing from others is perfectly legitimate.++
I don't mean to impose a Spinozistic reading here, but it is also striking that when prior to Jethro's advice, Moses's judicial practice is described as follows "Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood about Moses from the morning unto the evening." There is no mention of Moses consulting God (even though the people come to him "to inquire of God." [18:15]) One cannot help but wonder if prior to Jethro's intervention, Moses isn't improvising, intuiting God's will on the fly. It's Jethro that claims that once his advice is followed that "God be with thee." Moreover, it's Jethro that insists that Moses should represent his people before God ("be thou for the people before God,") and, thus, bring speech (הַדְּבָרִים) to God. (This is standardly translated as causes/cases.) That is to say, once there a political-legal order, there is a common language for God and a people.
As an aside, when Moses had told Jethro he would leave him and his flock in order to return to liberate his people from Egypt, Jethro's parting words were, 'Go in peace.' (4:18) [לֵךְ לְשָׁלוֹם.] One might, say, then, that it's only after Jethro's intervention that (domestic) peace is possible.
Now, in the Hebrew version, Jethro's suggestions are introduced after Jethro's admission that God is the greatest of all the gods (note the plural), his sacrifices to God, and his breaking bread "with Aaron...and all the elders of Israel" before God. (Moses is unmentioned.)
While the rain kept pouring down, and having become curious by my chance encounter, I checked the so-called Statenbijbel (the authoritative Dutch version of the Bible). There Jethro eats with Aaron and the elders "voor het aangezicht Gods," that is, face to face with God. I am not claiming Jethro saw God's countenance (that, I think, would be blasphemy even to Calvinists (cf. Exodus 33:20)--we can't all try to speak like Jacob, after all); but I do take it that in the Dutch version, Jethro is here thought rather special to God. For, when the priest's blessing is given, we hear an echo of Jethro: "The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." (Numbers 6:24, יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם).
++If you are like Spinoza and think that the Hebrew Bible is itself a political document put together by Esra at the renewed founding of a people, then this is a place where the Hebrew Bible itself explains the ingredients for such a founding.