October 12, 2016
These Bible readings were selected last week — before the emotions unleashed over the past few days. When I was preparing these readings, I was tempted to skip over three obscure verses in Exodus because of the raw anger expressed in that story, yet that “hardness of heart” is so timely, how can I leave it out? Now back to the blog I had written originally.
Mary Baker Eddy quoted this poem in her autobiography, Retrospection and Introspection:
Ask God to give thee skill
In comfort’s art:
That thou may’st consecrated be
And set apart
Unto a life of sympathy.
For heavy is the weight of ill
In every heart;
And comforters are needed much
Of Christlike touch. (Ret. 95:4)
Who are our comforters? Who are our help meets? Is it our spouses, our family, our friends, communing with nature, good laws, the judicial system, a Good Samaritan?
The Bible always seems so conflicted about women — are we help meets or not? These three verses in Exodus (Ex. 4:24-26) truly highlight how differently Bible scholars will characterize women. (When I told my husband about these verses, he complained, “I don’t hear Joel Osteen talking about that!” Yes, the events are gory, but the subject is really about interfaith marriages, divorce, hardness of heart, and the role of women as helpers or hinderances.)
In summary, the male Hebrews in Egypt were all identifiable due to the covenant of circumcision, yet at least one of Moses’ sons born in Midian was not circumcised. On the way to Egypt, Zipporah, the pagan daughter of a priest, performed the ritual, which apparently saved Moses’ life as the Lord “met him and sought to kill him.” Zipporah and sons were then sent away, so she becomes either a divorced ungodly character or an heroine, depending on which commentator you read. For example, here is the traditional view from a commentary on Bible Gateway:
Zipporah, as a woman of Midian, did not share the spiritual values of her notable husband who found himself acting against the sacred tradition of Israel. This may be one reason why he named his second son Eliezer, meaning “The Lord of my father was my help.” To keep the peace, Moses compromised with his unbelieving wife and withheld circumcision, the sign of God’s covenant, from Eliezer. The Lord intervened, and as a sign of divine displeasure, Moses is stricken with a mortal disease. Both Zipporah and Moses became conscience-stricken over the profanation of God’s covenant, and Zipporah yields. Moses is too prostrate to take a knife and circumcize the child, so his wife severed the boy’s foreskin and, throwing it down before Moses said, “Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.”
When Moses was restored to health, relations in the home were not congenial, for he went on alone to Egypt, and Zipporah and the two sons went back to her home in Midian. Of this unhappy incident, Alexander Whyte says, “There are three most obscure and most mysterious verses in Moses’ history that mean, if they mean anything at all to us, just such an explosion of ill-temper as must have left its mark till death on the heart of Moses and Zipporah…When Moses became the mighty leader and law-giver of Israel, there was the episode when Jethro, his father-in-law came out to the wilderness to see Moses and brought with him Zipporah and the two sons. The union was devoid of any restraint for Moses graciously received them and neither disowned nor ignored his wife and sons. But after this visit during which Jethro gave his over-burdened son-in-law some very practical advice, nothing more is said of Zipporah. She disappears without comment from the history of the Jewish people in which her husband figured so prominently. “Neither as the wife of her husband nor as the mother of her children did she leave behind her a legacy of spiritual riches.” How different it would have been if only she had fully shared her husband’s unusual meekness and godliness and, like him, left behind footprints in the sands of time! https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Zipporah
Now, here is a more contemporary spin from U. S. News:
Zipporah plays more than a supporting role in the future of the Israelites. … Moses is at risk of losing his life, except for the intervention of Zipporah. The entire fate of Israel rests with her. She, the pagan daughter of a priest, stood up to God….
The story may also be saying that marriage to foreigners can be a good idea and work out well and that, within the family structure, women may be more active in the religious sphere than men. …
A new novel, Zipporah, Wife of Moses, by Marek Halter, puts a fictionalized spin on Zipporah by making her the “Cushite” or Ethiopian wife of Moses. Halter portrays Zipporah as a proud, black-skinned woman who refuses to marry Moses, even after bearing his two sons, until he accepts God’s mission to lead his people out of slavery. In this version, it’s Zipporah who changes the destiny of Moses and his people. “Zipporah is black, and a foreigner, and she poses the problem of how we relate to the other,” says Halter. “Moses is ignorant, so Zipporah becomes his principal adviser.” Zipporah, the outsider with black skin, helps Moses fulfill his destiny as a liberator of the enslaved.
Who do you think was the real Zipporah? And was Moses’ severed relationship with Zipporah the “hardness of heart” that Jesus referred to when the Pharisees asked about Moses’ law of divorce?
If we are to be as merciful as the Good Samaritan, helping strangers; then what kind of help meets should we be for our spouses, our closest friends? What about relatives, fellow church members, friends, and others? First, Moses’ wife was his help meet, and later he relied on assistants under the advice of his father-in-law. But really God was always his Help Meet and Comforter, his ever friend whom he knew “face to face.”
Does Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, remind you of a type of Melchizedek? According to my Wikipedia search, Jethro was a “revered chief prophet in the Druze religion. The Druze believe Jethro was a ‘hidden’ and ‘true prophet’ who communicated directly with God and then passed on that knowledge to Moses.” What an example Jethro provides of hospitality and Universal Love everywhere, undivorced from truth!
Here are some Bible notes:
Exodus 2:15 – Midian, probably in northwest Arabia. The Midianites, said to be descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Gen 25:2), were caravans whose routes stretched across Sinai to southern Palestine. Moses meets his future wife at a well, a pattern appearing in the stories of Rebekah (Gen 24) and Rachel (Gen 29).
Exodus 2:16 – Seven daughters, making a total of twelve female figures featured in the life of Moses, the deliverer of the twelve tribes.
Exodus 4:20 – Moses’ staff, which he used as a shepherd, has now become the staff of God, the instrument through which he and Aaron exert divine power. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, pages 84, 85, 88)