Monthly Archives: February 2016

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 3

Standard

Exodus 18

Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her homealong with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”). Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God.  6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,”Moses went out to meet his father-in-law and bowed down and kissed him. And they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Exodus 18:6-9

Zipporah wilderness journey

Here is a map showing the wilderness journey for Moses and the Israelites. Remember that God had promised to meet Moses at that same Mountain from which He spoke to him all those months ago.

IDENTITY: Israelite? God’s Daughter?

Note Jethro is first named as Priest then every other reference of him is as Father-in-law. (He is identified this way 12 times in this chapter alone!)

Moses goes out to meet Jethro, bowing down and kissing him. Then they have a pow-wow. Moses gets to testify to his father-in-law about all God had done to the Egyptians and how He had delivered His people. This time, Moses leaves out none of the details!

10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. 11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God. Exodus 18:10-12

Upon hearing this testimony, Jethro blesses God and states that he knows that the Lord is above all other gods. This passage clearly demonstrates that YHWH is superior over false gods.

I like to think about Zipporah’s reaction upon hearing her father make this proclamation. Her eyebrows raise to her hair line as she recalls that terrifying night when she first encountered the God of Israel and she thinks to herself, “yes, father, He IS greater than all gods…”

Jethro then sacrifices burnt offerings to God, fulfilling his role as priest. Aaron, Moses and the elders of Israel eat bread with Jethro, indicating his acceptance into the Israelite culture.

There is so little mentioned of Zipporah that it is truly hard to know what happened to her. She fades into the background just as soon as she arrives on the scene. Was Zipporah accepted as readily as her father? She had the same right as all the others to be called an Israelite. Could her identity be found among these people?

The final verse that gives us a glimpse into the family of Moses is found in Numbers 12. This is the story of when Miriam and Aaron spoke out against Moses because of his “Cushite wife”.

Numbers 12:1 says, “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for her had married a Cushite woman).”

Some of you might say, what in the world happened to Zipporah??

There are a few beliefs regarding this passage. One is that Zipporah left Moses (the case of the unbelieving wife leaving the believer) which is why we read of another wife, a Cushite woman. These same scholars believe this is why God gives the concession for divorce mentioned in Paul’s letters.

Another view is that Zipporah died and Moses married the Cushite or Ethiopian woman. It is even possible that Moses had 2 wives, Zipporah and this other woman (since polygamy was a common practice).

Still others believe that Zipporah is one in the same as the Cushite woman based on Habbakuk 3:7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; / the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

FN for verse 16: In Num 12:1 Moses’ wife is said to be an Ethiopian. Since Ethiopia was settled by descendants of Cush whose names are certainly interchangeable. It has been argued from Hab 3:7 that “Cushite” and “Midian” are interchangeable names also, and therefore Zipporah was the Ethiopian wife.

The Midrash holds that the Cushite is Zipporah (Sifrei Bamidbar 99), explaining that “Cushite” is used to connote difference: “In the same way that Cushite is different in skin color, so too did Zipporah’s beauty distinguish her from other women.” (Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Tradition)

I tend to believe that Zipporah and the Cushite woman were one in the same. For two reasons: in the genealogy records, Moses and Zipporah with their two sons are the only listing we have. There is not a second set of sons from a second wife of Moses (as in the case of Abraham and Sarah and Abraham and Keturah). The second reason is what I already mentioned above about Cush being the same area as Midian. (The Habbakuk passage would help to make sense of this view.)

So is this

zipporah-possibly
Zipporah?

If the Cushite/Ethiopian woman was Zipporah, it doesn’t sound like she was really accepted into their culture, does it? Poor little bird still had the word FOREIGNER engraved on her forehead. Could she not escape that identity tag?

But God most assuredly would have seen her as part of His people because of her marriage to Moses. An Israelite by covenantal marriage.

Her identity and ours can only be found in God. What did she do with the God of Israel? Did she obey and listen to His Voice?

I think, yes!

What have you done with the God of Israel?

Have you kept Him on a shelf, taking Him out to dust Him off occasionally when it’s beneficial or convenient for you?

Has He become too common for you? Too familiar?

May we never lose the wonder or the fear of God in our hearts. Because it is this which holds Him in such high regard as the One who commands and deserves our worship Alone.

This is God in His holy place. This is God filled with love and strength. He is the Strong God. (Strong God, by Meredith Andrews)

 

My talk on Zipporah

Advertisements

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 2

Standard

Exodus 3-4

As we read through the Exodus narrative, we come to the famous burning bush passage found in chapters 3-4.

Zipporah mt sinai

This is an image of a present day map showing where scholars believe Mt. Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) was located. The land of Midian is just to the east of that body of water, so this would mean that Moses would have shepherded Reuel’s flocks even beyond the traditional Midian borders. This is the place where Moses meets God for the first time and where God promises Moses that He will meet him when they leave Egypt.

Here is a picture (from Google maps!) looking out from one of the mountains in this region:

Zipporah Sinai

Remember the issue of polytheism? I believe that as we read these chapters, we can understand Moses’ response to God more accurately when read in light of his polytheistic culture and background.

Moses grew up in Egypt and would have been taught in the Egyptian ways. The Egyptian way was polytheistic (I’m thinking of at least four Egyptian gods as I’m typing this, and there were lots more!). He and Zipporah likely had a similar upbringing due to the polytheistic tendencies of the two nations. It is very possible that Moses knew NOTHING about the God of Israel, just as Zipporah knew nothing of YHWH.

You may have noticed in Ex. 3-4 that when God spoke to Moses, he wanted to know what name he would give to the people to let them know which god was coming to their rescue BECAUSE THERE WERE SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM! I almost sympathize with him being hesitant because this seems to be Moses’ first encounter with the God of Israel.

Fred Blumenthal writes, “To have been so conditioned, and yet to see, hear and accept the revelation at the Burning Bush was an accomplishment probably unequaled in the history of mankind.

God tells Moses, (Exodus 2:23-25) I’ve heard the cries of His people. And I’m sending you, Moses, to deliver them.

Ernest Neufeld writes about the irony of God choosing Moses for this mission:

How ironic that a Hebrew child, the adopted grandson of Pharaoh, brought up in the Egyptian way of life in the royal court, was the one whom the God of Israel chose as His instrument to deliver His people from the hands of the god-king of Egypt!

God could have chosen any other Israelite, including Aaron! He could have found someone who was not so hesitant or who felt more qualified for the job. The irony is in the transformation that takes place in this all-but-assimilated Hebrew into an uncompromising champion and defender of God’s chosen people. Thus did God redeem Moses from his bondage for the redemption of the Israelites from theirs. (From The Redemption of Moses by Ernest Neufeld in Judaism)

Can you imagine how the conversation went when Moses goes home to Zipporah: (after Exodus 3:1-4:17)

“Honey, you’re never going to guess what just happened to me!” with a hint of smoke on his clothing.

“I saw a bush on fire that didn’t burn up!”

“I know, it doesn’t make sense!” “And then the bush spoke to me.”

“I swear! I’m not making this up!”

“But that’s not even the craziest part.”

“So the bush, I mean, God, He wants me to go lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.”

“No, I have no idea how that’s going to work.”

“No, I don’t know why He asked me to do it. I’m telling you, I TRIED to get out of it!”

“So do you feel like going on a trip with me? I really think this is going to be a BIG deal!”

Again, we have no such conversation recorded in the Bible, so it’s hard to know what Zipporah’s reaction would have been.

If we could recap, we’ve gotten a glimpse of who Zipporah is and some of the roles she plays. She’s a Midianite, a shepherdess, a daughter, a sister, wife, and mother. But do you get any sense of her relationship to the God of Israel?

Not really.

We just barely get a sense of Moses’ relationship with God after this encounter.

18 Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please let me go back to my brothers in Egypt to see whether they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons and had them ride on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son23 and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” 24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. Exodus 4:18-26

IDENTITY: Sojourner

After Moses returns he goes to Jethro in 4:18 (yes, his name has changed. He was called Reuel in Ex. 2) and asks permission to leave so he can complete the mission God Himself has called him to do. And why would he do this?

Moses had been in Midian for FORTY years (Acts 7:29-30). That’s half of a lifetime! He was 80 years old at this point in time! Also note that Moses probably realized that he would be leaving this place of refuge, his father-in-law’s home, for good, never to return. He was still the foreigner, a sojourner in the Midianite land, returning to Egypt, the foreign land in order to bring them out to the Promised Land. It was likely out of gratitude for Jethro’s hospitality in taking him in as his son-in-law that Moses returns to take leave of his father-in-law’s household. He wanted to show him HONOR.

Isn’t it interesting that Moses gives Jethro no details concerning why he was to go back to Egypt. He just had this amazing encounter with God and says absolutely nothing about it to his father-in-law. In fact, he kind of lies about it by saying: “I’m just going to check and see if they’re alive.” !!

What is more startling is the way in which Jethro responds to Moses’ request. “Go in peace.” I’m guessing Moses breathed a sigh of relief that his father-in-law was not like Laban!

Are you surprised to read anew in verse 20 that Moses took his wife and sons with him to Egypt? By the way, he does have 2 sons but we haven’t heard about the other son, Eliezer, yet! He doesn’t show up formally until Gen 18:4 (which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs).

Regardless of how this happened, I had always pictured Moses and Aaron in Egypt, by themselves. But now we must picture Moses heading out with his family.

What kind of thoughts went through Zipporah’s mind as she trudged along beside her husband, the God-appointed champion for the Israelites?

She didn’t have the experience of the burning bush. She couldn’t see herself as an Israelite like her husband. Did she even care about them? Was she angry about leaving her home country? Or feel privilege about having Moses as a husband? Did she wish she could have talked with God like her husband did? Did her religious experiences as a daughter to a priest serve to prepare her heart for what she would encounter on her way to Egypt before the one true God? As far as we know, she had no knowledge of the God of Israel.

Is this perhaps why Moses brings her and their sons along with him, to be able to allow them to see firsthand what the God of Israel was like? How He had chosen the Israelites to be His special possession over all the people of the earth?

The only thing we know is that she went. She followed her husband as an act of submission to his leadership. She became a Sojourner too. I’ll go wherever you go. Your people my people.

Have you ever been there before? Maybe God called you to obedience in some area of life. Or maybe, like Zipporah, God called your husband to obedience and you got to go along for the ride because you are one flesh after all, so his story is your story.

My best example of this my current circumstance! How ironic! About 4 years ago Eric felt God pressing his heart to follow in obedience to seminary and beyond. As his wife, I was not a fan of this decision. I felt like God hadn’t told me anything! It was a difficult and long process for me to come to terms with seminary as a reality for our family. It would mean long hours of my husband studying in an office and not time spent with our family. It would mean fewer opportunities to get out and do outings with friends or family because that precious little time would need to be spent with our family. It would mean I might feel like a single mom at times because he would not be available to help. (I’m really not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me. I’m truly throwing a tantrum.)

To top it all off, getting to go back to school has been a dream of mine for years. I could be a professional student for the rest of my life and be completely happy with that arrangement. But it would not be me sitting in those classrooms and reading those books or writing those papers. (Some of you are thinking, “who would really want to do this anyway?!”) No, it would be my husband, the one who had no desire to sit in classrooms or read books much less write those papers.

But I saw God work in ways that made no sense in order for Eric to be able to go back to school. He showed Himself as the sovereign God over our circumstances and dreams. I became a sojourner on a journey which was communicated not to me but to my husband.

Thank you God, for this story about Zipporah. I can relate.

IDENTITY: Heroine

Then verse 24 completely throws us off our guard. What in the world is going on? First Moses is exiled, then he’s married, before you know it, he’s talking to God who gives him an important mission, and now God wants to kill him? Did I miss something here?

The phrase in v. 24 “sought to put him to death” is the same phrase used of Moses in Ex. 2:14 when he killed the Egyptian and of Pharaoh who “sought to kill Moses” in Ex. 2:15.

Victor Hamilton makes a great point that God left room for mediation, allowing time for Zipporah. We see Zipporah spring to action as if she knew exactly what needed to be done! But how could Zipporah have known what to do or that what she was doing would work? Did she know about the covenant that God had made with Abraham about the circumcision?

Douglas Stuart writes that the many people groups in the ancient world practiced circumcision, including the Midianites. So Zipporah would have grown up understanding how circumcision was done and what its significance was. (NAC on Exodus)

He also writes that when she said “bridegroom of blood” (v. 25) or “relative of blood”, this phrase very well could have been the official phrase used when performing the rite of circumcision. This would have legitimized the deed. (It would be similar to the phrases we use when performing a baptism: “In the name of the Father…, buried with Christ…raised to walk…”)

If we take a step back and look at these THREE verses as a whole (v. 24-26), we find even more questions: The original text does not specify who is being referred to in these verses. The only names in the verses are God and Zipporah. Whatever translation you’re reading has already taken the liberty of deciding these factors. So there’s the confusion about who God sought to kill and who was being circumcised and who was the bridegroom of blood.

It is no wonder that David Penchansky says “Biblical scholars love this passage because it is totally incomprehensible.” (From Hamilton Exodus)

Here are the two major theories of interpretation:

  1. God was seeking to kill Gershom because he was not a part of the covenantal people yet (being uncircumcised). This theory is tied into the dialogue between God and Moses about God planning to kill the first-born son in verses 22-23. God seeking to kill Gershom would be symbolic of God seeking to kill the firstborn of Egypt.

The reason this is important is that, “If Moses [was going to] plead for God’s firstborn, if he [would] represent God at all, then his own first-born must be an Israelite. Otherwise his non-Israelite first-born will perish, as will all first-borns not protected by the blood of the Covenant. Gershom [had to] enter the Covenant in order to escape the coming [Angel of Death].” (Howell)

Also, remember the phrase about the bridegroom of blood? Howell writes that once Gershom is circumcised, he is a bridegroom (relative) by means of blood both to YHWH and to Zipporah. He states, Zipporah’s identity with the covenant community was wrapped up in her marriage to Moses. Moses was a blood relative because of genealogy and circumcision. Because Zipporah obviously could not be circumcised … her identity with Israel existed through her identity with Moses. Zipporah was considered a member of the people of Israel because of her marriage to a circumcised Israelite. Now that Gershom was circumcised, he too was a member of the people of Israel. Therefore, it is reasonable that Zipporah would say, ‘You are a relative by means of blood to me. (From Firstborn Son of Moses by Terry John in The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament in ATLAS)

  1. Another view indicates that God sought to kill Moses because he failed to circumcise his son. John Calvin’s commentary on these verses is in line with this view.

However this view also raises some serious questions. For one, did Moses even know about the covenant God had made with Abraham (since he was raised in Egypt) AND if he didn’t know, how could God punish him in his ignorance? In addition to this, why would God choose to punish him now instead of correcting him in their earlier conversations?

The suddenness of the attack might be explained if it were the case that Zipporah was pregnant with Eliezer as they traveled, then gave birth, and after the 8 days commanded by God for the act of circumcision they chose not to do it, thus incurring God’s wrath.

However, many question whether death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised. The covenant made to Abraham is in Genesis 17:14:

14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.

Some scholars believe that to be “cut off” meant only to be “excluded from the covenant” or dismissed from the nation.

Robinson explains that, “The omission of the rite of circumcision seems to me to provide an inadequate motive for the attack for the following reasons. The command to circumcise had indeed already been given, to Abraham (Gen. xvii), but the punishment for remaining uncircumcised was stated to be exclusion from the covenant (Gen. xvii 14), not death.” (p. 11 Robinson)

Still other scholars believe that when someone was “cut off” they were killed. If you look up the word “cut off” (occurs 283 times!) and visit all of the cross references, some (but not all) seem to indicate death as in the Ex 31 passage:

Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Exodus 31:14

So your view about what it meant to be “cut off” from the nation will determine whether or not you believe death was an appropriate punishment for remaining uncircumcised.

Other scholars who discard the circumcision argument give other reasons for God seeking to kill Moses but quite frankly, they are a bit of a stretch!

One of these views claims that Moses was the object of the divine wrath due to his lack of enthusiasm and willingness to obey God’s word. And it was by the blood of his son’s circumcision that Moses’ sin is atoned for.

Still another view comes from scholar, William Propp, who explains the reason God sought to kill Moses was because of his sin of murdering the Egyptian. If you take on this view, you must read something into the text that isn’t obviously there, trying to explain a difficult passage with ideas that aren’t directly apparent in the text itself.

Regardless of which view you believe is most plausible, I want to direct your thoughts to Zipporah and her role in this narrative. Zipporah is portrayed here as the heroine (v. 26), and Jewish folklore praises her as a heroine, not just here, but in their traditions concerning her. (In fact, one tradition taught that when Moses fled to Midian, Jethro feared the wrath of pharaoh, and had Moses thrown into a hole. Zipporah tended to him for 10 years after which point Jethro found him still surviving and Zipporah then demanded that he be taken out and given to her as her husband.) (From Encyclopedia of Jewish folklore and traditions by Raphael Patai; Hayah Bar-Yitshak)

Zipporah is the one who saved Moses (or her son) from the divine wrath. In fact Hamilton writes that we might find a parallel between the women in Exodus 1-2 who saved Moses from the wrath of Pharaoh, and Zipporah who saves Moses from the wrath of the Lord. Another parallel could be the shedding of blood via the act of circumcision averted divine wrath just as “touching” the blood to the Hebrews’ houses in Egypt turned away God’s wrath from them in the night of the first Passover (Hamilton).

This is Zipporah’s first “encounter” with the God of Israel (that we know of). So this first encounter would appear to be, well, not so pleasant! What kinds of images must have come to mind as Zipporah tried to wrap her mind around the God of Israel? Did she see Him as a vindictive, scary god, out to destroy her and her family? Did it occur to her that Yahweh was not just some obscure deity that she was accustomed to worshipping? That this God was personal and had created her and loved her? Did she realize that He was the One True God?

In my Dictionary of the Pentateuch, under family relationships, I read that while blood kinship played a key role in determining your personal identity, it was in fact the issue of covenant that truly determined your status or membership in a group of people. Zipporah had no chance of being an Israelite unless she fell under the covenant of her husband (because after all, she couldn’t be circumcised).

As we think about her encounter with God, consider the customs of her time. A woman in the ancient Near East would worship the god of her father, and then, once her marriage contract had been arranged and she officially joined the new household of her husband, she would transfer her allegiance and her worship to the god of her husband.  (Dictionary of Pentateuch)

Up to this point, Zipporah and Moses were still under Jethro’s authority. Now that they have left her father’s household, she had a decision to make concerning her allegiance to God. We can’t really know for certain what truly happened in her heart, but it would make sense that this terrifying encounter could serve as a catalyst for determining her heart’s loyalty. Think about it, if you had every possible god to choose from in your worldview, and then you encountered the God of Israel in this way, wouldn’t you determine then and there that no other god could possibly be the one you would commit to follow? You might believe and know He was and is sovereign over ALL.

Here is where I see the real issue surface for this story. What was Zipporah’s experience with the gods? You perform the sacrifices, you appease the gods. When you make them angry, and they don’t give you any rain for a season or they give you destructive locusts that destroy your crops, you must offer them something to turn away their wrath. OR you offer sacrifices with hopes that you can manipulate your god into doing something for you – fertile crops, fertile wombs, better rains, etc. OR you do all these “religious” things, perform these sacrifices, to be seen as a good daughter, mother, wife, etc. But what does God say?

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. Psalm 51:16

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 1 Sam 15:22

Perhaps this night was God’s way of clarifying any misconceptions about who He, the One True God, was. He was not like those other gods and would not be treated as such. He desired love and obedience and a true knowledge of who He was. He didn’t want His people to simply offer a sacrifice while their hearts were far from Him. He wanted them to obey. To LISTEN to His Voice.

This woman with a heart of sacrifice would learn quickly that a heart of obedience is better.

Before Zipporah could see Him as the God coming to rescue His people, she first needed to see Him as the Almighty God, just in all His ways, and terrifying in His holiness.

God is fierce. He inspires awe and fear.

One of my favorite quotations is from C. S. Lewis, Mr. Beaver speaking of Aslan says, “’Course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (ch. 8, The Lion, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).” After Aslan leaves, Mr. Beaver tells the children, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion. “ (ch. 17, The Lion, Witch, Wardrobe)

Can you imagine Moses meeting with God that first time on the mountain, and God presents Himself as a tame, fluffy bunny? No way! He revealed Himself as a Consuming Fire in a bush!

And how did the Egyptians feel about God when they were the recipients of His judgment? I’m certain they were filled with fear, even terror, at the mention of His name.

How did God appear to the Israelites as they wandered and camped in the wilderness? Not as a golden calf or a bronze snake or any other metallic or wooden object but as a Pillar of Fire and of Cloud (more like Smoke). These were not objects that could be conjured up with human hands, the Fire and the Cloud symbolized His very presence and it was terrifying.

And when God gave the people His Law on the mountain, He spoke and it sounded like THUNDER and that mountain QUAKED and SMOKED and appeared as though it would BURN UP because God. Was. There.

He is not safe, but He is good. The people were terrified of God and begged for Him not to speak to them but to have Moses speak on His behalf.

And just because God took on flesh and revealed Himself through His Son doesn’t make Him tame. The fierceness of His character did not diminish.

Jesus is portrayed in Revelation as having eyes that were like a flame of fire, His voice like the roaring waters, with a sword coming out of His mouth and riding on a horse like a victorious and yet fierce King against His enemies. (Rev. 1, 19)

Do you hear the hoof beats? They thunder and strike fear in the heart of the enemy.

Even as He walked on earth, He was anything but tame. He cut through people’s hearts with His words and confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He drove out the money changers. He calmed the storms. He drove out demons. (And you better believe those demons feared Him!) He expelled sickness. He raised the dead! And He died on the cross, defeating our worst enemies, sin and death.

Who else but our fierce, fearless, terrifying God could do any of that?!

Our God is terrifying and we stand in awe and wonder fully knowing what He can do and yet aware that He stays His hand, showing mercy because of the sacrifice of His Son.

HE is no less terrifying in Moses’ time than He was when He came in flesh than He is now.

And just because we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 10:19-22) does not mean that He is not to be feared. It just means the encounter with Him is that much more awesome because we aren’t consumed.

His mercy that much greater because we aren’t destroyed.

His hand that much more powerful because we know He uses such great restraint.

His love that much more meaningful because of what it cost Him.

So yes, we can approach God with confidence but ONLY because of the sacrifice of the Son for by it alone are we given access to Him. The penalty paid to the only Holy God. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence because He FIRST entered the inner place behind the curtain, going as a forerunner on OUR BEHALF (Heb 6:19). He always goes before us to ensure our way. He is the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:22), our Great High Priest forever (Heb 6:20).

The fear of God truly is the beginning of wisdom. Because it takes a wise person to know where she stands and where HE stands. And who stands in her place.

This God can be feared and yet stir affection in our hearts for He is also perfect in love. He is terrifying and yet full of love and affection for His people. It is next to impossible for us to fathom this balance because we are incapable of being perfectly loving (though I’m sure we can be perfectly terrifying in our anger!).

While God delivered judgment after judgment on Egypt, He also displayed His perfect love for Israel, His first-born Son, by rescuing them from Egypt. At Mt. Sinai He displayed His awesome power, striking fear in their hearts while still showing love to Israel by choosing them as the nation He would bless. Terror and Love mingling together in perfect harmony.

Zipporah learned the fear of God that night. He would not be mistaken as a tame, easily-manipulated god like those she was accustomed to serving. Neither was He reckless or malevolent.

He is not SAFE, but He is GOOD.

The errand, the great mission, which God sent Moses to do was a serious matter, not to be taken lightly. He would show His great power over Egypt and show His saving hand to the Israelites. But neither nation would mistake Him as a man-made god. And Zipporah and Moses needed to know this before they arrived. They needed to know who they were dealing with, and that He wasn’t messing around.

Because what happens next is the terrifying judgment on Egypt. Exodus 5-17 details all that occurred to the Egyptians. We do not know whether or not Zipporah was there to see what God did because the text never mentions her in these chapters. There is no explanation of when Zipporah left to return to Midian, but we know she did based on Exodus 18. Scholars are again divided over her whereabouts. Some believe she was in Egypt for a time until Moses sent her home for safety reasons, while still others believe she was sent home right after their terrifying encounter with God. I’d like to go with the view that she went to Egypt, at least for a time. So following in Exodus 4-17:

Ex 4:27-31 The Lord tells Aaron to go to Moses and they form their plan. Then they go to the elders of Israel and the people believed.

What did Zipporah see as she waited in Egypt?

Ex. 8 God sends frogs

God sends a plague of gnats

Ex. 9 Pestilence on the livestock

God sends a plague of boils/sores

God sends a plague of hail (flashing fire) “Um, Moses, can I go home now?!”

Ex. 10 God sends a plague of locusts

God sends the plague of darkness

Ex. 11 Plague of the death of the firstborn son

Ex. 14 God divides the Red Sea

Ex 16 God gave them manna from heaven and quail to eat.

{Stay tuned for Part 3 – Exodus 18}

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 1

Standard

Exodus 2:15-22

What’s in a name? If I were to say certain names, they would conjure up very specific images.

Al Capone – mobster.

Mother Teresa – saint.

J.J. Watt – Texans hero!

Moses – greatest Israelite prophet

Now what about Zipporah?  *crickets*

We don’t know much about her, and what we do know is puzzling.

In the ancient near-East, to give your name to a person was to tell them the essence of who you are. This is why the naming of your children was so important and why God changed Abram’s and Jacob’s names, revealing how He was working in their lives, changing their character and purpose.

So what’s in a name?

Yahweh – God

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Exodus 3:13-15

Talk about a name! I Am! It was so powerful that the Pharisees in Jesus’ time fell down at the very name. In this passage, God identifies Himself with the Patriarchs yet reveals that He is the God who stands alone. He sets Himself apart from all people and all gods. And yet, He invites people into His story and gives them a name and a purpose.

So I asked you, what’s in a name? Zipporah – Midianite, Daughter, Sister, Shepherdess, Wife, Mom, Israelite?

Zipporah actually comes from the Hebrew root word tzipor meaning bird to be exact. The Midrash Shemot Rabbah (1:32) locates the root in Zipporah’s name. When Jethro asks his daughters to invite Moses to dine at his home, she flies off like a bird to bring him back. (Encyclopedia of Jewish Folklore and Traditions)

After Moses had murdered the Egyptian, we read:

15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” 21 And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. 22 She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:15-22

IDENTITY: Midianite:  (v. 15)

As we form a picture of Zipporah in our minds, the first identity marker we find is Midianite. What did it mean to be a Midianite? Bible footnote (FN) for verse 15: The Midianites were descendants of Abraham by another wife, Keturah, whom he married after Sarah died (Gen 25:1, 2).

We first hear of this people group in Genesis 37:25-36 when Midianite merchants purchased Joseph from his brothers then led him to slavery in Egypt. Later we hear of the Kenites, probably from the Midianite clan to which Reuel belonged, who joined the Israelites, integrating seamlessly into their society (Nu 10:29-33; Judges 1:16; 4:11).

Hamilton’s Commentary also notes that Midian consisted of a confederation of peoples, one of which are the Kenites. Their name meant “smiths” or metalworkers at the mines in the mountains of Sinai/Midian. They may also be a clan of priests, of whom Reuel belonged to.

Finally we hear of the problems Israel has with the Midianites after they settled the Promised Land in Numbers 22:1-7 and after the Midianite women entice the Israelite men into idolatry and sexual immorality in Numbers 25:1-6. God orders Moses to declare war on the Midianites for their sins in causing Israel to sin and all 5 Midian kings are killed (Num 25:16-18; 31:1-18). Later we read of the judges, particularly Gideon, delivering the Israelites from the hand of the Midianites who had been raiding Israel during their harvest seasons (Jdg 6:3-6, 7). (From Archaelogical Study Bible article on Midian p. 92)

map-egypt-midian-900x709x300

The land of Midian was most likely located south of Canaan and southeast of Egypt and east of the Sinai Peninsula. It is best to think of Midian as a region rather than a specific location, however, because of the belief that they were a collection or confederation of people groups. This area is present day Saudi Arabia.

Zipporah Midian land

Google maps photo credit. A view of the terrain of Midian.

IDENTITY: Daughter of Midianite Priest

In order to fully understand Zipporah, we need to think about what it meant to be the Daughter of a priest. We can ask the question: What was Reuel’s job as a priest in Midian and how did this affect Zipporah? (v. 16) The only evidence we find in the Bible about his role as priest is that he performed the sacrifice when meeting up with Moses after the Exodus in chapter 18.

Reuel’s name meant “Friend of God/El” or “God/El is a Friend” (From Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary by Victor Hamilton). This name likely came to him after he expressed his belief in God in Exodus 18, becoming the “friend of God”, although many believe he had always been a worshipper of God/Yahweh.

The Midianite culture was said to be a polytheistic one. Fred Blumenthal writes: “the concept of one universal God was unknown in the world at large. The overriding belief was that gods… were ruling over a distinct locality or a specific nation. Once a god’s adherents no longer lived in his domain, or if his nation no longer could serve him (and according to Egyptian belief, slaves had no god) he had lost his potency. He either disappeared or died.” (in the Jewish Bible Quarterly)

So as we picture Zipporah, you can imagine with me the kinds of sacrifices she had to make, being the daughter of a “religious leader” in her culture. I don’t know if we can truly compare her to that of a present day preacher’s kid, but I can imagine that the people held them in high regard which means they also had high expectations of her and her family. And while we don’t know exactly what their religious practices were, she would likely have been expected to participate in all their religious rites and rituals.

Zipporah Midianite tented shrine

Another reason scholars believe the Midianites were polytheistic is because of what was found from excavations done in the region. Here is a tented shrine found at Timna in northern Midian territory (tent holes in ground for poles; naos or “most holy place” in the middle right against the wall).

Zipporah Midianite gods Zipporah Midianite gods2 Zipporah Midianite gods3

Here are pictures of the Egyptian goddess “Hathor” who was a cow deity found in Midianite territory. It appears as though they often adopted Egyptian gods as their own. The middle picture shows her “cow” ears. The last picture is a defaced Hathor. The archaeologists believe that the Midianites recaptured this Egyptian land and defaced all the Egyptian god and goddess statues.

Zipporah Midianite gods5      Zipporah Midianite gods4

Lastly we have a figurine of the Midianite god-man and a bronze snake. Egyptians worshipped snakes and Midianites appeared to as well.

While it may be possible that, being Abraham’s descendants, they had heard of Yahweh, the Midianites most likely served other gods. This means, Zipporah served other gods under the direction of her father because women worshipped whatever gods their fathers served since this was a patriarchal society.

IDENTITY: Midianite Shepherdess (v. 16)

Next we see Zipporah in the role of Shepherdess. The role of a shepherd went to either servants or women. In other words, it was not the ideal job. No, Zipporah had her choices made for her. Her life of sacrifice would have been forced on her whether she liked it or not.

Being a shepherd couldn’t have been an easy task for them either based on what we know from other stories about shepherds in the Bible.

First of all, Midian has a very arid climate and rocky terrain as you see in this picture:

Zipporah Midian terrain

Secondly there were dangers of wild animals and robbers. For example David had to fight off bears and lions (1 Sam 13)! Not only that, but to water an entire flock took some time and effort (a thirsty camel could drink 30 gallons in just 15 minutes!). This explains why Reuel was surprised to find them back home so early.

Then it sounds like these ladies had to contend with other shepherds that weren’t as chivalrous as this outsider, Moses.

Zipporah well

Modern day site of Well at Midian

So back to the text:

There are so many examples of irony and foreshadowing in Exodus. Consider verse 17. The phrase “drove them away” can be seen as a parallel to Moses being driven away from Egypt by Pharaoh. And the phrase “saved them” as a foreshadowing of God saving Israel from Egypt.

The day this Midianite shepherdess took her flock to the well turned out to be the most life-changing event in all of her life up to that point. Talk about an interruption of the heart! And can’t you just see the sovereignty of God being displayed here.

Out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose the Israelites to be His special possession and for Him to be their God. To be included in this promise was a privilege that only an Israelite could enjoy. Here we see Zipporah, a Midianite shepherdess, becoming part of this grand story. And even though we may become frustrated with how little is written about her encounter with the God of Israel, we can know that it was through His sovereignty and love that He brings this shepherdess into the fold.

IDENTITY: Wife of Moses (v. 21)

The next identity marker for Zipporah is as a Wife. This part of the story actually makes me laugh every time I read it. We read about Moses rescuing these ladies, and they just leave him there at the well! Reuel seems astounded at their lack of hospitality, and wanting to thank the man who helped his daughters, he orders that he be brought to his home, feeds him, and gives him a wife from among his daughters!

Zipporah was the lucky one. This Midianite woman became the wife of the greatest prophet of Israel. And yet we have so little written about her that you get the sense that she is completely overshadowed by her husband and sometimes even by her father.

In fact when you see Reuel mentioned, he’s referred to first as priest and then almost solely as “father-in-law”. This passage establishes the important relationship being between Moses and his father-in-law when it says in v. 21: Moses was content to dwell with the man.

This gives us pause because of our current culture and the importance of the husband-wife relationship stressed in our modern times. George W. Coats writes about this in Moses in Midian:It was common in The marriage tradition, as in Genesis 29 (Jacob/Laban), to emphasize the relationship between the bridegroom and his father-in-law, not the relationship between the bridegroom and his wife. (From Moses in Midian)

We have to keep in mind that their patriarchal society resulted in different customs from our own. Arranged marriages are also something of an anomaly to us since we don’t live that way in our culture. Though it seems like a huge sacrifice to us when we read of a woman being given to a man she hardly knows, it probably seemed as natural to them as performing their daily sacrifices. Oh the irony of what sacrifices would await Zipporah as she lived her life with this man of God.

IDENTITY: Mother (v. 22)

To wrap up our passage we get a nice little bow wound neatly around a baby boy as we see Zipporah in the role of MOTHER. The very last verse rushes right into information about their offspring! In my dictionary of the Pentateuch, I read that the marriage contract was not finalized until the consummation of the marriage took place. So even though this one verse seems out of place or even like it jumped too far ahead in our timeline, I believe it was to show that Moses and Zipporah did indeed become husband and wife legally. Verse 22 tells us they had a son named Gershom which meant sojourner in Hebrew. FN: This name suggests a foreigner who was banished into exile. Because Moses had become a sojourner or stranger in a foreign land.

Because we will read more about her in the role of mother, I won’t go into further detail at this point.

{Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. Exodus 3-4}