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!


  1. Have you ever read the book The Shadow Women by Angela Hunt? I think you would like it. It follows the life of Moses through the lives of the women who influenced him. It's just a novel, of course, but I really liked it.

    1. I haven't read that. It sounds really interesting though. Thanks for the rec!