Her Eyes Were Watching God – The Story of Zipporah


The word, “theology,” means God (Theos), and study (ology) equaling the study of God. Each of us, whether we acknowledge God as sovereign in our lives or not, (i.e., agnostic- not certain of God’s existence or atheist – certain there is no God), actually still study God. Even those who decide not to believe, begin with a belief system that must consider the nature and existence of God. As for believers, we have made a conscious and active choice to acknowledge God (hopefully) by devotion, prayer, adoration, praise, and worship. Our choice also involves how willing we are to dig deep – to seek, study, and continually embrace the growing presence of God in our lives. This, in part, is/becomes our personal theology.

And so, we understand the words of the prophet Jeremiah to be true (29:13)- “When you search for me, you will find me, IF you seek me with all your heart.” This scriptural presentation demonstrates to us, those who truly profess the power and sovereignty of the Lord, we must dig deep, and even deeper, to discover and embrace an authentic, personal relationship with God. The qualifying, conditional word in the Jeremiah text is “IF.” If we seek, If, we search with our whole heart (mind, body, and spirit), God will let us find Him.

When we enter the biblical corpus, there is evidence in Scripture that connects to this particular idea of seeking God (or not). Even for the great prophets of Scripture, Jeremiah for example, there were/are times when we, as God’s humanity, just do not want to do the work of seeking the Lord – we just do not want to “put our backs” into it; or, in particularly difficult times, we lose our faith, our hope, or our desire to continue our search for God.

In times such as these, God often graciously sends us a partner to assist in our faith walk to find Him. For David, there was Nathan; for Mary, there was Elizabeth; for Peter there was Jesus; for Ruth there was Naomi, and for Moses; one of the greatest figures of Scripture, there were the women in his life: Puah & Shiprah, Jochebed, Miriam, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Zipporah, Moses’ wife, the center of our bible study. These were the women in Moses’ life who acted as his protectors, mentors, supporters, and his spiritual partners throughout his lifetime.

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Exodus 4: 18-26 (Hebrew to New English Translation – Rabbi Richard Elliott Friedman)

And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” And YHWH said to Moses in Midian, “Go.” Go back to Egypt, because all the people who sought your life have died.” And Moses took his wife and sons and rode them on an ass, and he went back to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the staff of God in his hand. And YHWH said to Moses, “When you’re going to go back to Egypt, see all the wonders that I’ve set in your hand, and you shall do them in front of Pharaoh. And I: I’ll strengthen his heart, and he won’t let the people go. And you shall say to Pharaoh, “YHWH said this, “My child, my firstborn is Israel. And I’ve said to you, “Let my child go and serve me. And should you refuse to let it go, here: “I’m killing your child, your firstborn!”

And he was on the way, at a lodging place, and YHWH met him, and he asked to kill him. And Zipporah took a flint and cut her son’s foreskin and touched his feet, and she said, “Because you’re a bridegroom of blood to me.” And he held back from Him. Then she said, “A bridegroom of blood for circumcisions.”

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

We must first, when studying this text, acknowledge it is peculiar. Even biblical scholarship strongly disagree, as to the correct translation of this narrative. For the student of the Bible, it demonstrates that oftentimes, there are several, if not many ways to interpret/translate a text. Clearly, this text stands as an example of this point.

It is evident from the narrative, Moses has a monumental assignment from God. If we are not careful; however, we will overlook an pertinent fact, both in the text, and in the life of Moses: Partnership with women was a constancy in Moses’ life. Moses takes his wife, Zipporah, and their children for support and encouragement back to his sojourn to Egypt. Zipporah, the oldest of Jethro’s seven daughters, is a fierce and able wife, companion and partner to Moses. The text, while murky on several points, is crystal clear on this one.

Rabbi Richard Friedman, who translated the text from Hebrew to English has a very distinct and different read of this narrative. Most commentators read the text with God, as the actor attempting to kill Moses. This is a puzzling dilemma for the reader; for why would God, sending Moses from Midian to Egypt, for a historical and life changing assignment, attempt to kill Moses instead? Rabbi Friedman asserts there is a translation issue in the story. Friedman believes that instead of God attempting to kill Moses, Moses is asking God to take his life.

(Friedman) “I therefore understand the confused use of the pronoun “he” in the story in a different way. All commentators recognize that it is unclear when it refers to God, to Moses, or to Moses’ son. But they all take the first “he” to refer to God…. I am raising the possibility (reflected in my translation: “he asked to kill him”) that it means that Moses is asking God to take his life (rather than send him to Egypt). This is consistent with another time in Moses’ life when he will ask God to kill him (Numbers 11:15, where he says emphatically: “Kill me!”). And it fits with a model of prophets who ask God to take their lives: Elijah, Jonah, or to say that they prefer death to being prophets: Jeremiah.” (Commentary on the Torah, page 184 – Rabbi Richard Elliott Friedman)

This is where Zipporah enters the story. What do we know about Zipporah? One, she is described in Scripture as black/Nubian/Cush: (Numbers 12:1). Cush was understood to be Ethiopia (scholarship debates this also). Secondly, Zipporah’s father and Moses’ spiritual mentor, Jethro, (Zipporah’s father introduces Moses to and teaches Moses the ways of Yahweh) is a Midian priest. Zipporah, in the text, knows how to circumcise. In fact, she is the ONLY WOMAN in the bible who performs a circumcision. Scholars believe that Zipporah may have also been a priest; as this skill set was extremely important, specific, and only taught to those who were entrusted with this life-threatening task. Circumcision, in Scripture, is connected to the Abrahamic covenant with Yahweh. Lastly, Zipporah is attuned to every action that takes place in the story. She is diligently watching over her family. While her involvement in her husband’s life is often minimized/forgotten by some, her lightening quick responsiveness, insight, and discernment save Moses’ life. She stands with a parade of women in Moses’ life. These women, by word and deed, make a profound impact in the life and mission of this prophet, leader, and lawgiver. Zipporah is the mediator between God and Moses in this story (even if we are not certain what is going on in the text). At a juncture in his life, when Moses is uncertain, unclear, vulnerable, and perhaps even afraid of the difficult road ahead; Zipporah steps up and steps out to clear Moses’ way to his divine assignment: The Exodus! Without her strategic involvement and co-partnering, Moses may not have been able to complete the assignment which God ordained for him to save a nation. This story is as much Zipporah’s, as it is Moses – maybe even more. Clearly, Zipporah is an “ezer kenegdo” in her husband’s life. Zipporah is a corresponding strength for Moses.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS:

As Dr. Cain Hope Felder once noted (see his classic treatment, Troubling Biblical Waters – Race, Class, and Family, “We are the people of the Book,.” The strength, resilience, fearlessness, and determination of Zipporah, an African woman, fighting for her husband and her family, is connected back to the empowerment, wisdom and encouragement she received in her own family. Zipporah is an important woman of Scripture, whose personality, presence, and power, not only stands on its own merit; but, also reflects her trust and faith with God, and her willingness to act on behalf on those she loves best.

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