A Little Bird Named Zipporah


Photo credit to Dr. Richard Elsea.

“Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, ‘Surely a bloody husband are you to me.'” Exodus 4:25

I’ve just read a commentary on Zipporah and this account.  And the commentary felt very strongly that Zipporah was “the woman who strongly opposed her husband.”  It declares “Zipporah is far from being an inspiring character.”  But I’m just not so sure about that.  And I wonder if we looked at the whole situation from the perspective of the time period and culture that it took place in, if that would shed a different light on both Moses and on Zipporah.

Unfortunately, I think that there is this idea that has been passed on from somewhere that women are guiltier than men when it comes to sin and that men were created and necessary for the salvation of women.  Are those really Biblical ideas or truths?  I find it refreshing that God holds Adam responsible for the sin in the garden and just says of Eve that she was decieved.  Not so Adam.  His decision was deliberate.  And it seems to me that Scripture says that the serpent’s head will be crushed by the seed of the woman.  And certainly, women are not more valuable than men.  We both are as valuable and we are both different.  But what if we are misreading culture versus Scripture?  What if that is the case with Zipporah?

Here we have a story of Moses, a Jewish baby, rescued from death by Pharoah’s daughter, raised until weaned by his own Jewish mother, and then taken under Pharoah’s daughter as a son of Pharoah.  Now maybe while his own mother was caring for him or before he was placed in the basket, he had been circumcised, or maybe not.  But I’m thinking that tradition carried over.  I’m sure he had a lot more knowledge of Pharoah’s ways then he did the ways of his own people.  But he had enough knowledge of his people to feel a strong connection to them despite his upbringing.

There came this point when Moses’ connection was so strong that he was forced to run from Egypt because of taking things into his own hands.  And as he ran, he stumbled upon Zipporah’s family.  Now Zipporah’s family was from Midian and not Israelites.  Her father was Jethro who was known as “the priest of Midian”.  Now, I’m not exactly sure who Jethro promoted as god in his priesthood but I do know that he would have had knowledge of the God of Israel.  I know that because the Midianites are decendents of Abraham.  Midian was actually one of his sons.  But what I don’t know is exactly where his heart was or toward which god he worshipped during or before the time period that Moses was with him.  But I do know that God was influencing Moses greatly during that stay and building Moses’ character in humility and trust.

After that, all I know of Jethro is that his heart was open to truth.  And when God delivered Israel from Egypt, he met Moses, bringing Zipporah and the two boys, and “rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.”  Then he made this declaration, “Blessed be the LORD, Who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, Who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them.”  To seal his belief, he offered burnt offering and sacrifice to God.  So here’s the heart of the man who raised Zipporah.  I wonder if she, too, had that knowledge and an open heart?   I wonder if she could have known the true God’s expectations for his people?  I wonder if she was aware of what God had commanded Abraham concerning circumcision?  So maybe I should be open to just thinking about these thoughts and keeping them in mind, just in case they could be true.

Now here’s the strange thing.  God tells Moses it’s time to go deliver His people.  He tells Moses His plan down to the details of what he will say to Pharoah when he arrives.  So Moses does the obedient thing and starts on the way.  Only while on the way, while at his encampment, the Lord came to him and sought to kill him.  Just by the words used, I’m thinking that this was happening in the middle of Moses meditating or praying or communing with the Lord.  And it implies some striving going on.  What if Moses knew he should be doing something, but he just wouldn’t listen?  What if God was gently trying to nudge him to prepare his sons so he could prepare the people to follow the ways of God again, and he just wasn’t hearing?  And what if Zipporah was hearing?   What if Zipporah was the one who understood?  And what if Zipporah, instead of Moses, was the one who responded to God?

Obviously Zipporah knows why the LORD wants to kill Moses.  Why wouldn’t Moses know?  So Zipporah jumps in for her husband and her son, because her husband isn’t.  She takes a sharp stone and cuts off the foreskin of her son.  And then she does something that seems really obstinate.  She throws the foreskin at his feet and says, “Surely a bloody husband are you to me.”  What is that?

Have you ever been in another culture?  Sometimes there are different gestures or facial expressions or traditions that seem strange to a foreigner and we just don’t get it.  Is that happening here?  See, this phrase, “cast at his feet”  is often used as an idiom and what it means isn’t what it seems to mean.  It is not talking about feet at all, but talking about something I have trouble saying, the penis.  It’s the same expression when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet.  Oh my, how risque.  But not really when you think of the prodgeny of the male in establishing family and community, which is a direct command of God from the beginning of creation.  The family was everything and keeping it going through the heirs was everything.  Just as Ruth was asking Boaz to continue the line of her deceased husband by marrying her, maybe, just maybe, Zipporah was reminding Moses of his responsibility as a leader under God.  Maybe she was upset because he didn’t do what he should have known to.  Maybe she was upset because he didn’t take the stand.  Or maybe she was just stating the truth.  “Moses, even you are a guilty man.  You’re a bloody husband because You need to obey God and accept His righteousness for your sake and your family’s.  You too are a sinner.  This is what God is trying to show us.”  This is what the circumcision shows.  Just as God needs to give us a new heart, he needed to remove the foreskin as a symbol of God’s removal of Israel’s sin.

Now how can I fault Zipporah for her actions?  God, You would have killed Moses.  Obviously, he wasn’t getting Your point, Lord.  But Zipporah did.  And I know that Zipporah was not perfect, because none of us are.  But I don’t see You condemning her.  I just hear other people condemning her.  And I think it’s based on circumstantial evidence.  Why wasn’t she in Egypt with Moses?  Would you take your wife and children into Egypt under those circumstances?  How many soldiers take their wives and children with them to the battlefield?  Really?  What kind of expectations do we really have for Zipporah?  Maybe they have been different than yours, God.  I don’t know, but it’s something to think about, Lord.

But here’s something I came upon today.  Let’s start with Zipporah’s name.  It comes from the word Tsipporah.  So what?  Well, that means bird.  And in Exodus 18:2, Scripture talks about Moses having sent his wife back.  That could mean divorce.  If she had been nasty in her response, he could have divorced her and sent her back to her father.  But what if that isn’t what happened.  What if this is tied in with Deuteronomy 22:6?  Listen.  “If a bird’s nest (tsippor- see the connection) chance to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, you shall not take the dam with the young.  But you shall in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to you; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.”  Does that last part sound familiar?  It’s what follows the command to honor your father and mother.  Could this all relate and tell us something about Moses and Zipporah?

What if respect for the woman was another way to ensure your community survived?  Like with the mother bird, if one ate her and the young, who would make more eggs?  So send off the mother bird and then get the eggs and eat them.  But just don’t disrespect the mother bird.  Wow!  That much respect just for a bird.  But then not one sparrow shall fall to the ground without You knowing, Lord.  And how much more important is the woman.  So maybe Moses was honoring Zipporah by sending her away home.  And of course, her name is an allegory.  No one is going to eat her boys.  They belong with the mother who will care for them.  The trip into Egypt wasn’t for them.  It might have killed them all.  Maybe Moses needed to send away the “mother bird” out of respect.  Maybe he had to send her away to insure that his family survived and multiplied and carried on his heritage.

I’m not saying that Moses was privy to these words from You, Lord, yet.  The words of Deuteronomy came after the exodus from Egypt.  But just maybe Moses was starting to think like You on these things.  I had no idea I’d come to this place in Scripture, but if we continue with Deuteronomy 22, we see rules for building your house and putting a battlement or fence around the roof so that noone falls off and is killed, so that no “blood” was upon your house.  Who wants to be guilty for causing someone’s death.  Doesn’t that seem to relate too?  Maybe Moses was thinking ahead now.  Maybe Moses was finally standing up in his responsibility to his wife and boys.  Maybe he was starting to get it now.  Maybe when Zipporah stood up for him and her son, maybe when his wife saved his life, he started honoring her by acting like the man who wanted to keep her and his boys safe.  Maybe he was just finally beginning to stand up and get it.

I really don’t know for sure.  But I’m thinking, Lord, that since you never condemned her in Scripture, that I shouldn’t either.  If you ask me, Zipporah was a brave woman.  She was a good wife and a good mother.  She did what she had to in order to stand in the gap before God on behalf of her family.  What about me?  Am I doing that?  And what about the men?  Are women having to stand in for them, or are they standing up for their wives and children?  Lord, it’s funny how Zipporah’s God story is helping me see Deuteronomy in a new light.  I mean, why worry about sowing the vineyard with divers seeds?  Maybe you want us to be faithful to our partners.   Maybe, those words are a picture through nature of how our family life should be conducted.  Maybe it’s all about multiplying Your seed and caring for the fruit we bear in You.  Maybe You are just trying to protect the relationship between man and wife so that You can protect Your image.  That’s a lot to think about, Lord, all because of a little bird named Zipporah.  That’s inspiring.


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