Friday, October 26, 2012

Zipporah comes to save the day!

from the movie Prince of Egypt
Zipporah got her "knight in shining armor" moment with Moses. He was fleeing from Egypt and sees some men pestering girls at a well and Moses chases them away. As a reward, Jethro gives Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. (Ok, so being given away may is not so fairy-tale-ish. We don't get told what Zipporah thought of this marriage.) They stay in Midian for a while. All was the expected story until I got to chapter four, verse 24. Then I had a major "wait. WHAT?" moment.

Moses and Zipporah and their children are leaving Midian heading back to Egypt. Post burning-bush, pre-plagues. Along the way, this happens:

24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses'[c] 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. (ESV)

Well, there's a story that didn't get flannelgraph characters. (Thought it did get a lego Bible scene.) That's the entirety of the story in the scripture. Then Moses and Aaron meet up and head to Pharoah. We know from chapter 18 that Zipporah and her sons travel back to Midian at some point as Moses and his wife and children (and father-in-law) are reunited in 18:2 in the wilderness.

Benefit of being in seminary: I have access to countless theological journals.  While reading through some of articles on this passage I had two primary thoughts initially:

1) I totally recognize these terms and scholar names from my Pentateuch class!
2) Apparently, I'm not the only one completely confused by this passage.

Here are a few interesting things I read:

from "Zipporah to the Rescue" by Bernard P Robinson   (VĂȘtus Testamentum, 4, 1986)

One of the earliest interpretations, from before 200 B.C.E. has the figure fighting with Moses to be the angel of death - - that same (type of) angel that comes during the Passover in Egypt that kills the firstborn. In Egypt is the blood of the lamb that saves the first born. Here, it is the blood of the firstborn that saves Moses. This article also points out that Jewish tradition often relates the blood of circumcision to the blood of the Lamb. (page 453, paraphrase)

from "The Circumcision Performed by Zipporah" by Fred Blumenthal (Jewish Bible Quarterly 35, 2007)

Blumenthal highlight the symbolism of this act. Moses: born an Israelite but raised an Egyptian. Then he fled to Midian where he lived for many years as a Midianite. Blumenthal suggest that perhaps this journey that Moses thinks he's going on is a "goodwill," justice mission. Perhaps he plans to return to the land of his wife's people after setting his people free.

 Zipporah, his wife, who stands as the symbol for his link to Midian, is the one who can and does terminate whatever lingering connection Moses may still harbor. The allegoric story of the circumcision, carried out by her, terminates her and her sons' symbolic status as a connecting link to Midian. When she performs the only ritual which at that time connects the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to their God she expunges whatever loyalty to his immediate past Moses may still have carried. (356-257)


The transformation of Zipporah from a symbol of Midianite religion to a companion on their way ahead is the essence of the story told in these three short sentences. Moses becomes her "bridegroom," her newly-acquired husband, because they both were culturally new persons. The expression hatan damim [bridegroom of blood] refers to the blood of circumcision which erases any preceding affiliation and allegorically seals the appointment of Moses to the leadership of his people(259)

Scholars seem to argue over who was in danger of death in this passage (Moses, the son, someone else?)   Who was touched with the blood (Moses, the Lord/the angel) and where exactly the blood and the foreskin was placed on whoever was touched (feet, leg, genitals).

I love the symbolism reading from Blumenthal - but I just love symbolism. A number of scholars agree that much of the story was probably lost to time - or perhaps it was a story that the original people would've been able to make more sense of.

At the end of the day, confusing pronouns and strange, abbreviated, stories aside: here's what we know:

Zipporah, the daughter of a Pagan priest, performed the action of a covenant that satisfied the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Since I have started this series, I have been floored by the monumental things women of the Bible have done that are largely unknown to the Christian population.

Moses in particular owes his life to numerous women: Shiphrah and Puah,  his mother, Miriam, the daughter of Pharoah. And, here, his wife Zipporah.

Women are there in this ancient text. They are influential and smart. Selfish and wise. They are sinful and righteous. They encompass the same breadth of character and devotion as their male counterparts and their stories are largely unknown. Some of their names populate the ancestors of Christ - a mosaic of peoples and skin tones and languages.

Yes, Israel is the chosen people of God - but from the very beginning - He has grafted in and used an entire world to save and bless his people, all the peoples of the earth. If Zipporah had not rushed to perform the circumcision - what would have happened to Moses? What would have happened to the Israelites?

This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!

Friday, October 19, 2012


Today I am honored to have my talented friend Cynthia writing for me. Cynthia blogs at The Hippie Housewife about faith, parenting, and intentional living.  She writes beautifully and full of grace and easily ranks on my list of "favorite people ever."  I hope you'll enjoy what she shares here today!

My name is Abigail, and I fear for my life.

My husband, stubborn and foolish man that he is, has insulted David and his men. These men have shown us nothing but kindness and protection, and yet he refused to give them even the barest of provisions in return! Now there are four hundred men coming this way to kill us. If not for the warning of one of our servants, I would have known nothing of this until the men were already upon us.

But, praise be to the LORD, the young man did tell me, and now it us upon me to save our home and our lives.

* * *

Two hundred loaves. Two skins of wine. Five prepared sheep. Five seahs of parched grain. One hundred clusters of raisins. Two hundred cakes of figs. All of this I have had laid on donkeys, and now I follow the donkeys down the mountain to meet this man who is coming to seek his revenge.

* * *

I can see him now. Leaving my donkey, I run to him and fall at his feet. I plead with him to hear my words as I ask him to disregard my husband's foolishness - foolish by name, foolish by nature! - and accept instead the gifts I have brought. I remind him that is the LORD who takes away life and the LORD who saves, hoping against all hope that he will restrain himself from vengeful bloodshed. May his enemies be to him as my foolish husband! For he is fighting the battles of the LORD, and his life shall be bundled in the care of the LORD. I ask that when the LORD has fulfilled His promise and appointed this man to be ruler over Israel, he will remember me and the way I protected his conscience from the guilt of having taken the LORD's work into his own hands.

I fall silent and await his answer.

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me!"

I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding. He continues.

"Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the LORD lives, not one male would have been left alive had you not hurried to come and meet me. I accept your gift. Now go in peace to your house. I have heard your request and I will obey it."

Retold from 1 Samuel 25


Courage and intelligence. Discernment and initiative. Humility and wisdom. These were the qualities that saved Abigail, Nabal, and their household from death at the hand of David and his men.

With discernment, she did what needed to be done.

In wisdom, she concealed her plan from Nabal.

In courage, she traveled to meet David.

With humble grace and tact, she appealed to him to stay his hand.

In faith, she took his mercy for granted and asked that he remember her when he became ruler over Israel.

All of this Abigail did despite a difficult life married to a drunken fool who was known for being stubborn and harsh. Rather than allow her circumstances to get the best of her, she remained wise, humble, and faithful to God. She was honest about her lot in life, acknowledging her husband's foolishness before David, but she did not allow it to destroy her nature by becoming bitter and vengeful. She lived with integrity in the situation she had been placed in.

In the end, her wisdom and courage won the heart of David, who took her as his wife after Nabal's death.

Had she become an angry and bitter person, she would have been ineffectual and unable to follow God's leading. Had she become vengeful, she would have allowed David to carry through with his intentions instead of saving him from the guilt his actions would have brought upon him. Had she used her station in life as an excuse for inaction, not one man in her household would have been left alive.

But instead Abigail remained near to God, open to His leading and ready to do His work. Crediting Him for having sent her to stay David's vengeful hand, Abigail brought glory to God through her decisive action.

Abigail's life was marked by wisdom and usefulness. May it be so with us as well.

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on women and female imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tab for more!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just Writing: Coffee Creamer

There is cream and milk, pure maple syrup and vanilla waiting in the kitchen. It'll soon be simmered together and stored in a glass jar in the fridge and I'll have homemade coffee creamer that I like to think is better for me than the store bought stuff. I'm not so sure it's a win for the body, but it's a win for the mind.

There's something about pouring that homemade concoction of four simple ingredients into my mug and watching the dark black turn soft brown that settles me each morning. The creamer takes a few moments of intentional time to make and I stand at the stove and stir the milk and maple in slow figure-eights and listen to the now familiar morning sounds of my life - children playing on a playground at one nearby church, bells ringing from another.

Living here, feet from centuries of national history, is the second big move of my life. The first time it was more like everything of my dreams: an exciting new place, new discoveries around every corner. This time it's quite different. Pennsylvania and I are not instant soul mates. I'm trying to find things about her that I love (zooming down narrow tree lined roads, the bustling farmers market), but it is not love at first sight. I am having to choose to love Pennsylvania. The reason I came here is still great - I'm very much enjoying grad school - the classes and professors and classmates. I'm loving the non-profit where I'm serving as part of a scholarship. But outside of those moments I am still learning to be me here.

The creamer is not really a cost-saver on my grad school budget (pure maple syrup is expensive). It's not an old ritual for my life (in fact, PA is the first place I've made it.). I don't rush to make it whenever we run low (more like I'm settling for the last few drops of milk in my coffee even though the ingredients for the creamer are ready to go).

Maple syrup and heavy cream keep me grounded. They are the first things that have made me feel at home here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Feminine Fridays: The woman, the blood, and the garment

I told a friend a few weeks ago that by October I would hopefully be back in the swing of writing here. Here, it is October and I am trying to write once more.

Today I want to look at a familiar story. It's found in Matthew 9, Mark 5, and Luke 8. The Mark version has the most details, so we'll go with that one.

25 Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, 26 and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. 28 For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

29 Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. 30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My clothes?”

31 But His disciples said to Him, “You see the multitude thronging You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

32 And He looked around to see her who had done this thing. 33 But the woman, fearing and trembling, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. 34 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

Mark 5:25-34

I have most often heard this story from the context of imagining the physical pain and suffering the woman must have been going through as she suffered with the "flow of blood for twelve years." That is surely monumental, but I want to focus on today is the social stigma and the isolation she would have faced under the Mosaic law. 

In Leviticus we see the rules for when a woman is unclean because of blood. There are rules for the standard menstrual cycle which render her unclean for seven days. However, 

25 ‘If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, other than at the time of her customary impurity, or if it runs beyond her usual time of impurity, all the days of her unclean discharge shall be as the days of her customary impurity. She shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies all the days of her discharge shall be to her as the bed of her impurity; and whatever she sits on shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches those things shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.28 ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. 29 And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 30 Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other asa burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.
Leviticus 15:25-30

This woman we see in the gospels has been unclean for twelve years. Continuously. For twelve years she has been vigilant about where she slept and where she sat. She has not been allowed to touch anyone without making that person unclean for the day.  

Twelve Years. I can't even fathom that. 

Twelve years ago it was the year 2000. I don't know how many chairs I've sat on, beds I've slept on, or people I've touched in those years. This woman knew. She could likely count on one hand the number of people who she had (accidentally?) touched. She knew right where the chairs and the beds were that were hers alone. Did anyone else ever willingly let themselves be unclean for just a day in order that she might feel the comfort of a hand on hers or even a hug? Did anyone speak to her?

This woman, desperate for touch, desperate for a life that didn't involve not only the physically draining illness but a life that was free from the religious and social stigma.She sought medical help - she spent all she had until not only was she sick and ostracized, but she was destitute and impoverished. 

Then she heard of Jesus. She heard of his miracles and his message. She heard enough about this Rabbi, this Jewish teacher, to know that he would not recoil when a woman who could make him impure would touch him. Her faith was evident to Jesus. His power flowed from him to her. He could have simply kept walking and it would've been a secret healing - only he and this woman knowing of her joy and peace. But he turned around in the crowd and  pointed her out in front of his disciples and the others. 

This woman who was most likely shunned and avoided for her impurity was center stage for this moment. Jesus said to her "you are healed" and the message to the crowds was "I make things new, and pure, and clean. I release you from the bondage of the law." 

I wonder at the week after this for the woman. She had to wait seven days to offer the sacrifice before she could officially be considered clean. Did she wake each morning and check to be sure that she was still healed? Did she grow anxious on day six? Her promise so close and yet the twelve years of isolation closer still.  Or, was the absence of her disease enough to keep that faith strong, eagerly waiting for that seventh day when she would finally be free of the law. Eager to fully claim the freedom of Jesus Christ. 

What a blessing it is to not have a seven day waiting period in between believing in the power of Jesus Christ and fully living in his freedom. 

This is part of an ongoing series on Women and Female Imagery in the Bible. Click the "FeminineFridays" tag for more!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hello, October

Life has flown by this past month. My days are full - mostly of open books and highlighters and fingers typing away as black text fills a white screen.

There was that beautiful Saturday where a few of us traveled to a local park and explored some history. Then we found the other side of a tiny little hill and spread our blankets on the grass. The books and the highlighters were with us, but the sky was blue, the sun was warm, and the breeze was refreshing.

There was the through-the-night drive to stand by my friend as she wed. I was oh-so-tired, but the drive back was filled with the sounds of their wedding CD, smiles on our faces, and toenails painted royal purple.

There have been the customers at my new part time job - the ones who come in often and wander the aisles full of things that no one really needs. I battle with my participation in this blatant materialism, but then, as I am unpacking fall plates and Christmas (yes, already) ornaments a customer stops and tells me about their life. Most of these have faces full of wrinkles and they tell me of friends long gone and childhood memories of their pets and families. They talk and talk and talk. I smile, respond occasionally, excuse myself here and there to ring up another customer. I am learning about listening and find myself thankful for the opportunity.

There are few few sidewalks and even fewer pedestrians. The familiar rhythm of footsteps and bicycle wheels that I so loved in Chicago is foreign here in my new suburban town. My walk to work consists of cutting through a large parking lot and then walking two "blocks" on the wide shoulder of a road before I find sidewalk.

There is the new community that is slowly taking shape. Neighbors who deliver cookies. Shared half-price appetizers after class. Generous, glad-hearted, and self-sacrificial offers to help out each other.

There has been church-hunting. Less-than-enthusiastic at times. There has been the ache of missing what I know is possible in The Bride of Christ. There is hope for what is yet to be discovered.

And all of this does not even mention the classes. The ones that still remind me I am not driftwood. This does not mention how blessed I feel to be able to participate with others who are working for justice and understanding what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. This month was great. I am looking forward still to the coming couple of years.