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. 2 Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home, 3 along with her two sons. The name of the one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land”), 4 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”). 5 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,”7 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. 8 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. 9 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
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 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
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)