Tag Archives: Yahweh

Samson’s Wife & Delilah – Part 3

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Judges 16:1-3

Before we meet Delilah, Samson took a HUGE detour. This chapter begins with the story of Samson, going all the way to Gaza, a Philistine town 45 miles from his home base (Word Commentary). This is the same town in which Samson ends up as a prisoner, making the reader wonder if this was a foreshadowing of events to come. Samson visiting a prostitute “casts him in the role of a fool destined for destruction. Wisdom literature teaches that prostitutes reside in the gateway of death (Prov 6:26, 7:10, 23:27).” (Chisholm in Word Commentary)

[He has] neither knowledge nor understanding,
    [he walks] about in darkness….” To spend the NIGHT with a prostitute.

Because he is public enemy number one in Philistia, a group of men wait at the city gate to ambush him. However, it seems that they disappear or give up at some point, and Samson leaves, taking the gate of Gaza with him!

Samson city gate Ashkelon

Here is a picture of the city gate of Ashkelon, the Philistine city where Samson killed the 30 men. It is the oldest arched city gate still standing. Perhaps the gate at Gaza was similar to this one. Block writes that these elaborate gates were often 2-3 stories high with guard rooms flanking the tunnel-like opening….Samson would have had to get past 4-6 groups of guards before taking the gate (loudly) off of its hinges (p. 450 NAC).

What is amazing about this feat of strength is that the text says he took the gate all the way to Hebron, a 40 mile journey, climbing over 3,000 feet in elevation to get there. What I love about this passage is that this prepares the way for the one, David, who WOULD complete the deliverance of Israel from Philistia, because Hebron is David’s first headquarters (2 Sam 2:1-4)!

Now to our text:

Because Delilah was also in the Valley of Sorek (v. 4), like Samson’s Philistine wife, we assume she was a Philistine. However, scholars note that she has a Hebrew name, meaning feeble or weakened and lived on the boundary of Israel and Philistia. Interestingly she is not referred to as a daughter of the Philistines like Samson’s wife.

Beth Shemesh, Sorek Valley Area

Remember this picture of the Sorek Valley? With the Sorek River running east to west? Israel was on one side and Philistia was on the other. But don’t forget that the Philistines at this time had pushed their way further into the region of Dan, into Israelite territory. So Delilah could have been either Hebrew or Philistine. [Some scholars note that just because she had a Hebrew name does not mean she was a Hebrew woman. Sometimes they gave people Hebrew names, particularly ones with meaning as they related to the narrative. In this case, Delilah, meaning “weakened”, was the one who “weakened” Samson.]

If she were a Hebrew, it would make her betrayal all the more reprehensible. (From Samson and Delilah: A Parable of Power by Carol Smith in the Journal for the Study of the OT)

Regardless of these views, how do we characterize our girl?

She was a woman interested in money and with a high tolerance for violence. If a Philistine she’s patriotic, shows initiative, is independent, & self-sufficient. Her actions are very business-like, not tied to emotions. She’s whiny, wheedling, pestering, and uses her sexual allure to entice a man. She has prostitute-like behavior, using her sexuality and a man’s desire for her in order to ensure her own well-being. She’s the sort of dangerous, treacherous woman about whom proverbial wisdom warns and which underscores the impossibility of alliances with godless foreigners. (Word Commentary p. 348-49)

Did you catch how much silver Delilah was promised by the 5 Philistine lords?? (v. 5) 1,100 pieces EACH! So 5,500 pieces of silver! This much silver probably weighed about 700 pounds. (Word Commentary p. 349)

Because the value of a unit of silver fluctuated in biblical times, the significance of this figure can only be appreciated when this reward is compared with other transactions in Scripture:

  • Judges 8:26 This is more than three times the weight of the gold retained by Gideon after the victory over the Midianite kings.
  • Genesis 24:15, 19 We may also compare the 400 shekels of silver paid by Abraham to purchase a burial plot for his wife.
  • 2 Samuel 24:24 Or the 50 shekels David paid Araunah for his oxen and threshing floor.
  • Jeremiah 32:9 The 17 shekels Jeremiah paid to purchase a field.
  • Exodus 21:32 And the 30 shekels set as a price for a slave.

(Block p. 455 in NAC)

The IVP Bible Background Commentary states, “Eleven hundred shekels of silver is an exorbitant sum – a king’s ransom (see 2 Samuel 18:12). The 5500 shekels would equal 550 times the average annual wage. If we took $25,000 as an average annual wage today, that kind of offer would be [just short of $14 million].” [In other words, the sum she received would seem to her like $14 million seems to us today. The amount she received was not equal to $14 million.]

Interestingly, the Philistine lords wanted not only to know where Samson got his strength but also how to overpower him in order to HUMBLE him (v. 5). Many translations use the word “afflict” instead of humble, but the actual Hebrew word (‘anah – aw-naw) holds both meanings [to afflict, oppress, humble, be afflicted, be bowed down].

It’s almost like this whole affair with Samson has become personal for these Philistine lords. We don’t simply want to subdue him; we want to humiliate him. We want to oppress him so he’ll feel utterly shamed. After all he’s killed 30 of our men at Ashkelon, burned our fields and killed several of our men at Timnah, and killed 1,000 of our men at Lehi. Why don’t we use this woman against him! That kind of blow would do just the right amount of damage to his ego.

An interesting view is that since his strength was not apparent, he likely had the stature of an ordinary man, not with giant muscles or incredibly large in size like a Goliath-like behemoth. His strength then was NOT obvious because it came from God. (Word Commentary)

Are you as irritated as I am at how these men used these women for their own advantage? Made to be weapons of revenge? Their bodies used to achieve the purposes of men? And how ironic that these men couldn’t weaken the Great Samson, but the women were able to afflict him in ways no man could.

Nevertheless, there is an inkling that perhaps Samson knew exactly what he was walking into the minute Delilah opened her mouth. How could he not know her angle for she says:

Please tell me where your great strength lies, and how you might be bound that one could subdue [afflict/NASB] you. (Judges 16:6)

She really couldn’t get any more BLUNT than that!

And if that doesn’t convince you, he gives her an answer (knowing it won’t harm him) and she performs the binding with the bowstrings, calling for the Philistines. But the text is silent on his response to the Philistines. It appears as though he does nothing.

Does that sound like Samson to you? Normally when someone or something came at him, he ripped it apart! Not only that, but he stayed with Delilah! He didn’t storm off in “hot anger”, leaving her to sort out her life, but he stayed for more questions, more pressing.

Next he tells her to try new ropes, but that doesn’t work either. The Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah. Then he says to weave his hair into a web, fastened with a pin. This clue is close to the real answer, but again the Philistines come and go and still he stays with Delilah, unharmed.

Ah, but then, Delilah calls on the name of love to manipulate him. What is sweeter than honey? Stronger than a lion? Love. If you love me, you’ll…

The queen of manipulation. She doesn’t need to harm him to weaken him. She simply appeals to love. The thing that first drew him to her when he saw her in the Valley of Sorek.

Verse 16 says she pressed him daily, until “his soul was vexed to death.” (also RSV). Other translations say “annoyed” (NASB), “tired to death” (NIV), “sick to death” (NET, NLT).

Have you ever been that kind of woman? Manipulative? Vexing? A drippy faucet?

“Warnings for the Wives”

  • Proverbs 19:13 (NIV) “…a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.”
  • Proverbs 27:15 (NLT) “A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.”
  • Proverbs 21:9 “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” (also REPEATED WORD FOR WORD in Prov. 25:24)
  • Proverbs 12:4 “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.”

I know Delilah was not Samson’s wife, but you get the idea. Heaven forbid we act more like the pagan Delilah than the woman of virtue.

It makes me think back to what Laura (in her talk on Eve) said about the enemy being the best psychologist, prowling around, watching, studying, dealing his low blows. Spewing his lies. If we know the truth, it is easier to recognize the lies.

“God didn’t really say, you shall surely be under your husband…” “You will not surely die…” “Don’t you think you deserve to be in control?” “You’re better off without him…”

Do we, like Delilah, buy into the lies?

Clink clink clink. The 5,500 silver pieces fall into her hands.

However, the woman of virtue: does him good and not harm all the days of her life. (Psalm 31:12)

Clink clink clink. But Delilah? She sold Samson’s safety for money.

She began to torment him and his strength left him. “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!”

Clink. clink. clink.

And she washes her hands of him, having filled them with enough wages to last a lifetime (and beyond). [550 times a year’s wages. Because she likely didn’t live to be 550 years old, you can see how the sum would have been extravagant, lasting into the afterlife!]

Can you think of anyone else who was betrayed for mere pieces of silver? 30 to be exact. The price for a slave. Not nearly the handsome price that Samson was wanted for, making the betrayal of Judas that much more callous.

Samson reveals his secret to her, also showing us, the reader, for the first time that he is even aware of his Nazirite calling. This man with the high calling had the knowledge of his Nazirite vow, but what good did that knowledge produce in his life?

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

One thing that is vitally important for us as we study the Bible is never to become so wrapped up in knowing things about God and gaining knowledge that we lose sight of our calling. He doesn’t give us knowledge, wisdom, and understanding so that our brains become full of delicious facts or so that we can talk circles around people. We can have all the knowledge of the world, but if the Word of God makes no difference in our lives, the pursuit of knowledge is worthless.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  1 Corinthians 13:2, 8

Let His truth sink in deep, being careful to abide in the Vine, working in concert with the Spirit of God who produces in us the character of Christ (John 15:4-5).

 

we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Let the knowledge of who God is stir the affection in your heart for Him rather than allowing it to be a stumbling block of pride. Don’t be “puffed up”.

Do not simply be hearers of the Word, but rather be doers as well (James 1:22).

 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:23-25

(Too many times instead of picking up the mirror, we pick up a magnifying glass. With the one we are to look at ourselves, with the other we try to draw attention to others’ faults.)

Continuing in the text:

Delilah’s betrayal seems even more cruel when you read verse 19:

19 She made him sleep on her knees. And she called a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. 

  • Delilah’s tightening (tāqa‘) of Samson’s hair with a pin (ê) in 16:14 recalls Jael’s striking (tāqa‘) the tent peg (ê) into Sisera’s temple in 4:21
  • Both scenes take place in a woman’s private quarters
  • The sleeping Samson of 16:19 recalls the sleeping Sisera of 4:21

(NIVAC p. 319)

Then we read the saddest verse in our text:

Samson did not know that the LORD had left him. (v. 20)

Let’s make one thing clear, it’s not that his hair had supernatural power or magic, but rather that the Nazirite vow was broken, just like the covenant with Adam and Eve was broken. And the consequences were immediate. No more strength. No more presence of God.

Did Samson realize this is what his actions would cost him? Did he realize that perhaps his captivity was better than his freedom because it would place him in the den of Lions? That perhaps his captivity meant one more opportunity against the enemy of God?

The Philistines had their enemy after all. They gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, bound him in chains, and threw him in prison to have him grind at the mill (a task for slaves and women). (Tyndale; NIVAC) Perhaps this is also ironic justice since he burned up their grain fields earlier. (NIVAC)

Here he is humbled by his enemies, losing that source of strength, which never really belonged to him anyway. And this enemy, puffed up in their pride, believes their grain god, Dagon, has triumphed over the “ravager of their country” (v. 24).

Samson’s imprisonment at Gaza, the furthest Philistine city from his home, is very telling for the nation of Israel. Just like Samson, Israel “fritters away her high calling, lives by what is right in her own eyes, and provokes Yahweh to abandon her. According to the covenant of curses in Lev 26 and Deut 28, this is precisely the fate the nation should expect for persistent rebellion against the covenant Lord. Like Samson, the nation will be seized, blinded, exiled, imprisoned, and humiliated with forced labor. (The book of Judges may have been written against the backdrop of the Northern Kingdom’s fall to Assyria in 734-722 B.C.) (Block p. 462 in NAC)

But then we read verse 22, giving hope to the end of the story

But the hair of his head began to grow again… (v. 22)

Judges 16:23-24 says,

23 Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice, and they said, “Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hand.” 24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god.

As if the story wasn’t dripping with enough irony, this last section of the passage stands as the bookend to Samson’s final showdown. The Philistines are seen here worshipping their false god, praising him for giving their enemy into their hands.

But that roaring Lion, Philistia, didn’t stand a chance against the God of Israel. Not even their god, Dagon, stood a chance against YHWH. Dagon wasn’t even powerful enough to keep his people from dying as they worshipped him in his temple. Samson stretched out his arms, pushing over the columns and as Gunn writes, “[Their] praise died coldly on [their] lips. The [writer of Judges] underlines the power of Yahweh and the irrelevance of Dagon. The victory is unquestionably Yahweh’s…” (Word Commentary p. 354)

And so it began…the destruction of Israel’s enemy.

Delilah was devoted to Samson’s destruction when she struck a hefty deal with those Philistine lords. But did she meet her destruction in the Philistine temple that day? Many scholars believe she would have been at this feast. A Heart Devoted to destruction only to be devoted for destruction.

The Lion, Philistia was no match for the Lion of Israel. God is depicted as a Lion…

In Hosea 5:14, He is frightening:

14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.

And again in Hosea 13:7-8:

So I am to them like a lion;
    like a leopard I will lurk beside the way.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs;
    I will tear open their breast,
and there I will devour them like a lion,
    as a wild beast would rip them open.

And yet we have this picture of hope: (Hosea 11:10-11)

10 They shall go after the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.

But do you hear the pounding of the paw prints? Because the Lion of Judah approaches in Rev. 5:2-5, 7, 9-10:

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”

This is OUR God!

Just like the Philistines, the enemy, Satan, thought he had conquered Jesus. He entered Judas who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. But God used the betrayer as an OPPORTUNITY against the enemy.

Jesus was stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, utterly humiliated. But it was by His stripes that we are HEALED.

And the enemy scoffed and leered as they hung Jesus on the cross, thinking Jesus had been given into his hands. Jesus wasn’t humbled by ANY person, but He humbled HIMSELF by becoming obedient to death on a cross.

He stretched out His arms for His final showdown. It was because He hung on that tree that we are REDEEMED from the curse of the law.

Even as the enemy gloated over the death of Jesus, we received redemption for by His blood He ransomed us.

Unlike Samson who lost his strength and perished with the enemy, when Jesus died, He added to His strength, having conquered our enemies – sin and death.

He is both the Lamb who was slain AND the Lion of Judah. The Sacrifice and the Mighty King.

And Satan’s praise of himself died coldly on his lips because God overcame the evil one once and for all by sending the Ultimate Deliverer.

How does the knowledge of all THIS change your life? We cannot simply know it, we must live it.

How are you encouraged to live differently, knowing that His death and resurrection means certain blessings, gifts, fruit, and responsibilities for the believer? You are being transformed into the image of His Son, what does that look like for you today?

THIS is a love that does not let go. This is the divine love. Even when the loved one repeatedly betrays that love and loyalty, still God pursues her. We see God’s amazingly patient and relentless love for Israel throughout the book of Judges! (Word Commentary p. 355)

In case the people of Israel had forgotten that they HAD a King, God reminds them that He is still on His throne and would not share His glory with another.

These women were among the people without knowledge of God. They were idolatrous, sinful pagans. Contrast them with, Samson, who had the knowledge of his high calling but accomplishes less on behalf of his people than any of his predecessors. It is this narrative that shows the utter despair of spiritual growth and political maturity in Israel. And yet God uses Samson just as he is, flaws and all. (Word Commentary 356, 360)

Let that encourage you today.

God pursues you with the same patient, relentless love. His is the relentless pursuit of the human heart for His divine glory!

 

My talk on Samson’s Wife & Delilah

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Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 3

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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

Zipporah (A Heart of Sacrifice) Part 1

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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}