Exodus: Zipporah and her Sisters’ Ironic Declaration

The note card read, “Zipporah”.  “I don’t know who that is!” yelled one of the youth group students at our Church.  We were playing a Bible guessing-game.  Everyone had a notecard (either on your forehead or back, so you can’t see it) with the name of a Bible character written on it.  The goal of the game was to find someone who could recognize the name of your Bible character and was also able to describe the character to you so that you were able to guess which Bible character you were.  All in all, the students and leaders dominated this game, but there were a few names that were pretty tough to guess.  “Zipporah” was one of those names.

Zipporah can be found in the book of Exodus.  She’s the daughter of a Midianite Priest (Jethro/Reuel) and becomes Moses’ wife.  Zipporah is a relatively minor character when it comes to the actual space she gets in the Exodus story, but she plays a crucial role in two scenes.  One of these scenes is the topic of this blog post: Exodus 2:15-22.  Admittedly, as the title of the blog post suggests, this scene involves Zipporah and her sisters, but Zipporah is the only one named.

To set the stage and context of Exodus 2:15-22, we have to remember that Moses himself has just experienced a type of Exodus.  He has escaped Egypt because Pharaoh was trying to kill him for coming to the rescue of a Hebrew slave.  Moses flees and settles in the Midian Wilderness when he comes to a well and witnesses several Shepherds taking advantage of Zipporah and her sisters who are also at the well trying to water their flock.  We aren’t told the extent of the incident between the Shepherds and the women, but the language used of Moses’ efforts is strong (yasha-“saved” and natsal-“delivered”).  So, I think it is safe to assume that the Shepherds physically assaulted the women in some sense, forcing them to flee the well without water.  Enter Moses.  We already know that Moses has a strong sense of justice and we aren’t told what he does, but he is able to save the women from the shepherds and then waters the women’s flock.  The next scene, the women return home and their father asks why they returned so quickly.  Their answer is why I wrote this blog.

Zipporah and her sisters declare in verse 19, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock.”  Their statement is full of irony and in a sense is a microcosm of the first half of the book of Exodus.  Now, we have to remember that to the women, Moses looks like and probably talks like an Egyptian…so that’s what they call him.  However, if you’ve read the previous chapter (or know the story at all) you know that he’s actually a Hebrew.  Additionally, if you’ve read Part 1 of Exodus (it’s called Genesis) you know that Hebrews came into Egypt as…shepherds (Gen. 46:31-34).  Lastly, if you read just a couple verses down (Ex. 3:1) you’ll find out that Moses becomes a…shepherd.  As we all know, the rest of Exodus is about YHWH using Moses to deliver (same word-natsal) the Hebrews from the hand of the Egyptians.  So the rest of the story is literally the opposite of their declaration, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds.”  It’s going to be the same guy delivering (Moses), but it’s actually a shepherd delivering shepherds from the hands of the Egyptians (see Ex. 18:9-10 for Jethro’s similar statements).  Also, notice the rest of Zipporah and her sisters’ statement, “He even drew the water for us and watered the flock.”  I think I remember a story or two about Moses providing water for the flock of Israel.  Don’t you love the artistry of Scripture and sovereignty of our God?!  In a seemingly unimportant declaration, Zipporah and her sisters have ironically foreshadowed the book of Exodus.  So, if you’re ever playing a Bible guessing-game and Zipporah comes up…hopefully, you’ll remember that she and her sisters summarized the book of Exodus in one ironic sentence.

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