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A Woman Named Zipporah

We first meet Zipporah at a well in Midian where she and her sisters watered their father’s flocks. On that day, Moses stepped in to defend the women from brutish shepherds who had driven them away from the well. Moses watered the flocks and later accepted the hospitality of Jethro, Zipporah’s father.

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro

Moses Defending the Daughters of Jethro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on his dress and grooming, Moses appeared to be an Egyptian (Ex.2:19). He was born in Egypt and was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses had lived a princely life until, in a fit of anger, he killed an Egyptian.  To escape the wrath of Pharaoh, Moses fled to Midian. The day he met Zipporah, Moses was an exile from home, the natural son of Hebrew slaves, and a man without a country.

Jethro took Moses into his family. The two of them seemed to get along amiably. In time Jethro arranged a marriage between Moses and Zipporah. Moses named their first son Gershom, foreigner, because Moses considered himself, “a foreigner in a foreign land” (Ex. 2:22). Over the next forty years, Moses cared for the flocks of his father-in-law.

Jethro was a priest in Midian. There was some similarity between the religious beliefs of Jethro and Moses, because both men traced their roots back to Abraham…and the God of Abraham. But there were differences in how they understood God’s will, such as the proper manner of circumcision. “The Midianites practiced circumcision on a groom right before his marriage instead of circumcising male infants.”[1] The difference in the timing of circumcision[2] became the occasion of a harrowing event.

As Moses, Zipporah and their sons were on the road to Egypt, God suddenly confronted Moses and “sought to kill him” because Moses had neglected to circumcise his son. Zipporah, realizing that her husband’s life was at stake, grabbed a sharp stone and circumcised the child herself (Ex.4:24). Then she threw the foreskin at Moses’ feet, saying,

Surely you are a husband of blood to me!  You are a husband of blood![3]

Back to Midian

Moses later sent his wife and sons back to live with Jethro. It may have been that Zipporah instigated the separation after the ordeal with God. It appears they did not see Moses again until a few months after Israel had left Egypt. Jethro, Zipporah and the two sons visited Moses at a campsite near Mt. Sinai (Ex. 18). They stayed together as a family and discussed what had happened in Egypt. The elders of Israel joined them for meals. Jethro remained long enough to advise Moses on organizing his administration, then departed.

A faded figure

Scripture doesn’t mention Zipporah after this visit. Did she stay with Israel or return to Midian? It’s not known. Over time she has become an enigmatic figure known for her defining action in saving her husband’s life. From there, she fades into obscurity. —Mary Hendren


[1] Nelson Study Bible NKJV, 1997, note on Ex. 4:24.

[2] In Genesis 17 specific instructions were given concerning circumcision. Every male child was to be circumcised when he was eight days old. An uncircumcised male risked being cut off from his people (vv 10-14),

[3] This passage has puzzled many and regardless of the many possible scenarios put forward, there is no clear-cut explanation.

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

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