Zipporah – “a little bird” or “a sparrow”
Please Read: Exodus 2:21, 22, 4:24, 25 and Exodus 18
Will the real Zipporah please stand up?
I remember my grandma and grandpa watching an old TV show called To Tell the Truth that featured a panel of celebrities who would question three contestants and attempt to identify which of the them was telling the truth and which two were trying to fool them. At the end of the show, the host would announce Will the real [person’s name] please stand up?”
I think, like the game show celebs, we are going to have to ask a lot of questions of the biblical texts on Zipporah because commentaries are deeply divided on this woman. Is she a…
Heroine or a Harridan?
But first, some history…
Moses has fled from Egypt after killing a man. When he arrives at Midian, he sees seven young shepherdesses being driven away from the well by unscrupulous men. He rescues the sisters and waters their flock. Do they thank him by asking him to dinner? No! Their father bawls them out and sends them back to bring Moses back to the family compound. Moses decides to live with Jethro/Reuel, the priest of Midian. Jethro gives Moses his daughter, Zipporah as his wife. She gives birth to two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.
So far, so good.
God shows up to Moses in a burning bush saying, “Take off your sandals. This is holy ground.” He then commissions Moses to go and deliver the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt. But our hero is full of excuses. Five of them, to be exact.
- Who am I to go to Pharaoh? (I’m not good enough. I’m not qualified.)
- I don’t know what to say.
- What if they won’t believe me.?
- But I’m not a good public speaker!
- Please send someone else!
God overcomes every single excuse and sends Moses on his way. Now here’s where it gets weird. And controversial.
So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt… On the trip, at an overnight campsite, it happened that the Lord confronted (Moses) and sought to put him to death. So Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, and threw it at Moses’ feet Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So He (God) let him (Moses) alone.
Good News Version says: “O bloody husband!” (In British English “bloody” is a swear word many people find offensive that is used to emphasize a comment or an angry statement. Maybe this is where it came from!)
In order to make Zipporah a heroine in this situation, we have to assume that excuse-ridden Moses had not done what God had ordained and circumcised his own son as a sign of the covenant. The Study Bible for Women says: “Zipporah performed the rite that Moses had neglected; circumcision was necessary to identify the son as a “son of Israel”, a member of the covenant community…” In this version – we have to believe his wife became a follower of the one true God and took the initiative to obey God’s commands. She did what had to be done and saved her husband’s life.
I just can’t imagine the beautiful Yvonne De Carlo (who plays a gentle and wise Sephora/Zipporah in the movie The Ten Commandments) triumphantly casting cut-off foreskins at the feet of Charltan Heston? But that’s exactly what scripture says she did, so we have to consider the possibility that she’s a…
Definition of harridan: an unpleasant, bad-tempered woman.
It’s possible Zipporah may have been an unbeliever who did not honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. She may not have allowed the circumcision because she didn’t hold with Moses’ beliefs and only now reluctantly completed the act to save her husband’s life.
Why come to this conclusion? I found several reasons:
- Zipporah is not with Moses during the exodus. It is possible she ran home to daddy when the going got rough. Or Moses sent her and the boys home to protect them from the dangers in Egypt. We don’t know. All we know is that Jethro brings her back to Moses when Moses brings the people back to Mount Sinai.
- Jethro, Zipporah’s father and priest of Midan, is considered the founder of the Druze religion – a religion that synthesizes all sorts of beliefs into one.
- Yes, in Exodus 18 he says: “Praise the Lord who rescued you from Pharaoh and the power of the Egyptians and snatched the people from the power of the Egyptians. Now I know that Yahweh is greater than all gods, because He did wonders when the Egyptians acted arrogantly against Israel.”
- Yes, he gives Moses good advice on delegation.
- But, it is possible he just added Yahweh to his pantheon of religious practices and Zipporah was far more influenced by her father’s beliefs than her husband’s faith.
- Moses and Zipporah’s progeny become rogue priests for the house of Israel; leaving the temple in Jerusalem and going to work for an idol worshipping tribe. If you search for the name Gershom in the Old Testament, you will find this story in Judges chapter 18.
- “The Danites set up the carved image for themselves. Jonathan son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests for the Danite tribe until the time of the exile from the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s carved image that he had made, and it was there as long as the house of God was in Shiloh.”
- And finally, his sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron, criticize Moses for his “Cushite wife.” Some believe Zipporah had died and Moses remarried. Some believe that this is still Zipporah and Mirriam and Aaron are dissing her for being a disagreeable, dark-skinned woman. Midian and Cush are linked in Habakkuk 3:7.
Basically the commentaries are saying we should dislike Zipporah because she was not a supportive wife, she came from a heathen people, her children did not turn out well and Moses’ family didn’t like her. Ouch.
Heroine who saved her husband’s life? Or harridan who dragged him down? We won’t find out until we get to heaven.
How is Jesus involved in the story of Zipporah?
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18:
I am so glad that Jesus came to fulfill all the Old Testament law and we no longer have to sacrifice offerings or practice circumcision for religious reasons. He paid the price for us once and for all.
Questions to Ponder
- Is there something your husband is not doing that you’d like him to do – do you feel like “throwing it at his feet” and shouting “Bloody, husband!”? What can you do, or do you do instead of insulting him like that?
- Have you heard stories about another woman and instantly judged her without gathering all the facts or talking to her first?
- Which did you choose? Is Zipporah a heroine or a harridan?
Lord, I lift up women who are married to men who do not walk with God. Help them to do the right thing and still respect their man. Help them balance submission to his authority and obeying You. Lord, I lift up women who are married to men who claim Christ but don’t act like it. Help them to patiently pray for their husbands and serve them faithfully. Lord, I lift up women who are married to godly men who neglect them for the sake of the church or the gospel. Fulfill them. Strengthen them. Be their all in all. Amen
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Zipporah: Sometimes it’s hard to sift through to the truth of who a person really is.