Rahab – from woman of doubtful reputation to revered ancestress

Five women are named in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife and Mary.  Tamar, we have already featured – she was the mother of Judah’s twins, conceived after Judah took her, mistakenly believing her to be a prostitute.  Our next woman Rahab is commonly believed to have been a prostitute.  Let us discover how her actions led to her belonging to that exclusive group named by Matthew.

The Israelite people who were led by Moses out of Egypt wandered in the desert for a long time (40 years) until they reached the Promised Land.  Moses died and he was replaced by a younger leader Joshua. Rahab’s story is told at the point when the Israelites are encamped making preparation to enter the Promised Land.

“Go through the camp and give the people this order, ‘Make provisions ready, for in three days’ time you will cross this Jordan and go on to take possession of the land which Yahweh your God is giving you as your own.

Rahab lived in Jericho – the place that the Israelites need to conquer in order to take possession of the Promised Land (Canaan).  She owned a property which was built into the City Wall.  She is named as a prostitute, but some have suggested that perhaps she was an innkeeper.  She certainly seems to be a lady earning her living without the support of a man – no reference is made to any husband living or dead.  Interestingly, her mother, father, brothers, sisters and dependents are mentioned.  She seems to take responsibility for protecting them and is earning an independent living, despite her father and brothers being around.

Rahab hides the two spies that Joshua has sent to reconnoitre. The king of Jericho orders her to give up the spies, but she claims that although they came in to her house, she did not know who they were and that by nightfall they had left, just before the city gates were closed.  She denies all knowledge of their whereabouts, but suggests that if the king’s messengers hurry out of the gates, before they are closed, they could catch up or overtake them. They do as she suggests and the gates are shut behind them.  It is difficult to call this anything except an outright lie, as she had in fact taken them up to the top of her house and hidden them under the flax stalks which were laid out on the roof to dry.

Having thus made sure their pursuers are off the premises, she then goes up to the roof to speak to the two spies.  She says to them:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land; for the fear of you has fallen upon us.  You see, we have heard that the Lord God dried up the Red Sea before you, when you came out of the land of Egypt, and we have heard what great things he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you completely destroyed.

And when we heard it, we were stunned in our hearts; and there was no spirit left in any of us at your advance, because the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below.

And now swear to me, by the Lord God, because I am performing an act of mercy for your, that you will also perform an act of mercy for the house of my ancestors and keep my ancestor’s household alive: my mother and my brothers and sisters and all my household, and all that belongs to them, and that you will deliver my soul from death.”

At first, we might think that Rahab has hidden the spies through fear as news of the Israelites great victories have reached her and her fellow-city dwellers.  However, it becomes apparent that she acknowledges the agency of their God who is “the Lord your God in heaven above and on earth below.”

She asks that her household and all her relatives be spared in the upcoming battle.  We have then a perceptive, independent, responsible and resourceful woman.

The two spies, who are not really in any position to refuse her, affirm:

“Our life for your life, even to death.”


She lowers them off the roof and out through a window, which as her house is built into the city wall, lets them out, outside the city.  She advises them to go up into the hill-country, the opposite way from the way she had sent their pursuers, and that they should hide for three days.

The two spies promise that her household and relatives will be kept safe, so long as she gathers them all together in her house and ensures that the scarlet cord, which she has used to lower them off the roof to their escape, is put outside her house as a sign.

A few days later began the assault by the Israelites on Jericho, when the priests holding the Ark of the Covenant marched around the city seven times, blowing their trumpets.  The walls fell down and the Israelites rushed in to take the city.

“And Joshua said to the two young men who had done the spying, ‘Go into the house of the woman and bring her and whatever belongs to her out of there.”

She was brought out, along with her father, mother, brothers, sisters, kinfolk and household, “and they placed her outside the camp of Israel”.

Joshua 6v25 records that “Joshua preserved Rahab the prostitute alive, and all her ancestral household; and she lived in Israel until the present day, because she hid those spies whom Joshua sent to spy on Jericho.”.

Rahab’s actions thus ensured the preservation of her life and those she was responsible for.  The genealogy of Jesus places her in a revered position as the great-grandmother of David.  This suggests that she married Salmon or Salma, the son of Nahshon, a prince of the tribe of Judah, a contemporary of Moses and brother-in-law to Aaron.  Her son was Boaz, who married Ruth (another non-Israelite who married in).  Boaz and Ruth were the grandparents of King David.  Boaz is often commended for the way he acted towards Ruth; perhaps he remembered how his mother’s actions meant that she left her own tribe, came to believe in the one God and married Salmon, who was perhaps one of the spies.

Her actions are commended in the New Testament.  James writing to the Christian communities says:

“Likewise, we read of Rahab, the prostitute, that she was acknowledged and saved because she welcomed the spies and showed them another way to leave.”


Miriam – sister, daughter, prophet

Miriam – how to approach her; given that we have already mentioned her (see Jochabed – the mother of Moses)?

We glimpse Miriam’s first appearances in Exodus as the older sister of Moses, the Jewish boy whose very birth placed him in immediate danger in Egypt, and of Aaron. They lived with their parents Amram and Jochabed, both of the tribe of Levi.

In reflecting on the story of Miriam, we can see that, although young, perhaps about 8 years old, she was very involved in the family enterprise of ensuring the safety of her baby brother and then the subsequent engineering of his birth mother as his nurse, carer and protector, which ensured that although he was brought up as a son of Pharoah, he would know the history of the people that he came from. The boy who would grow up to be leader of his people owed his existence to his mother and sister.

We are told that the family hid Moses at home for three months.  Presumably, given her later active involvement, his older sister was very involved with making sure that this younger baby brother was kept safe from Pharoah’s soldiers.  Then her mother came up with a plan to save her brother – constructing a basket to put the baby in – “a moses basket” and putting baby and basket in or beside the River Nile with his sister to keep watch.  Reflecting on this story, it seems to me that this was not an abandonment of the baby, but a very cleverly thought out plan.  Mother and daughter must have observed that the place they had chosen to leave the baby was near a popular bathing spot for the daughter of Pharoah and her attendants.  Miriam had only to hide and then pop out when the baby was discovered to offer the services of her mother as wet-nurse for the baby.  There is a lot unsaid in this story – Pharoah’s daughter doesn’t comment on the fortuitous availability of a conveniently at hand wet-nurse.  She has noticed that the baby is Jewish and she must have had an inkling that the handily-provided nurse was his mother.

Miriam’s role is pivotal in ensuring the safety of Moses and maintaining his connection with the Jewish people, rather than becoming an assimilated Egyptian. Moses, of course, grows up to become the great liberator of his people.  He is chosen by God to lead the people of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt and towards the land promised them.

Miriam’s next appearance is following the miraculous escape of the Israelites across the Red Sea to the other side – the Wilderness, which they will spend the next forty years living and journeying towards the Promised Land.

 “And Miriam the Prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her, with tambourines and dancing.  And Miriam led them, ‘Let us sing to the Lord; for gloriously he has been glorified; horse and rider he has hurled into the sea.”

What an image we have presented to us – Miriam “the Prophetess”  leading the rejoicing of the nation at their liberation from Pharoah.  A multi-tasker too – she could sing, play and dance, along with other women.  However she is set apart as a leader and Prophetess.  We do not hear more about her role as prophetess, but there is an acknowledgement of her importance.  Some have commented that she is only named as the sister of Aaron and not of Moses.  In a way this emphasises her importance amongst her contemporaries – she is not “just” the sister of their great leader, but fulfilling an important role, using her own gifts.

Our next encounter with Miriam, takes place many years later, during that time in the desert.  At its heart the incident reveals the very real operation of family politics.  Moses, it seems, had taken a second wife – a Cushite, from Ethiopia and therefore not from amongst his own people.  The conflict caused is reflected in Miriam’s comment that God doesn’t just speak to Moses, but to her and Aaron as well.  I think that the implication is and “we always live our lives as we should do”.  God, however, does not take kindly to this comment and He summons the three siblings to the “Tent of Witness”.  He informs them that to prophets he speaks in visions and dreams, but that Moses being “faithful to my entire house, I shall speak to him face to face and in visible form”.

God seems to be on “Team Moses” and Miriam has been struck down with leprosy.  Aaron pleads for the cure of his sister to Moses, asking that Moses forgive them for their doubt of Moses’ leadership.  Moses, her baby brother that she was instrumental in saving, now pleads on her behalf to God, for a cure. God hears Moses and the upshot is thus: “And Miriam was in quarantine outside the camp for seven days and the people did not set out until Miriam was declared clean.”

Finally, we come to the death of Miriam, mentioned in Numbers (which amplifies and duplicates the Book of Exodus):

“The whole community of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month and the people settled down in Kadesh.  Miriam died and was buried there.”

That’s it – no commentary, but it is, I think, a recognition of Miriam’s significance that her death is at least mentioned.

One of the later prophets Micah has no hesitation in recognising the leadership of the three siblings:

“I brought you out of Egypt; I rescued you from the land of bondage; I sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam to lead you.”


Jochabed – the mother whose cleverness preserved her baby’s life

Jochabed belonged to the tribe of Levi, one of the sons of Jacob and Leah.  She was married to Amram, who was a grandson of Levi, via his son Kohath.  We are told in Exodus 6v20 that she was the sister of Amram’s father, which would make him her nephew. It doesn’t seem right to our modern sensibilities for marriage between such close relatives, but this is also the time of the Pharaohs who intermarried rather a lot.  For example, Tutankhamun married his half-sister Ankhesenamun perhaps in about 1332 BC.  According to Rabbinical Judaism, Moses might have been born about 1391 BC.

Jochabed, then, belonged to one of the tribes of Israel. She was a Jewish woman belonging to the people who worshipped the One God, whilst living in Egypt, under the rule of the Pharoahs.  As we read last time, (see Shiprah and Puah), Pharoah was not impressed by the increasing Jewish population and kept trying to think of ways to reduce them.  His attempt at ordering the killing of baby boys at birth was thwarted by the brave midwives, so he ordered that new born Israelite baby boys should be thrown in the River Nile.

That is the background then to the story of Jochabed.  The account in Exodus focuses on that family when she gave birth to her third child, having already a boy Aaron and a girl Miriam. For three months their beautiful baby boy was kept hidden.  This must have been a nerve-racking time for the family, but eventually she decided to do something.  Perhaps his older sister, aged eight or so was keen to be involved in the plan that the mother thought up.  Jochabed “made a basket out of papyrus leaves and coated it with bitumen and pitch.”

The basket was then concealed in the reeds at the edge of the river Nile and his sister kept watch to see what would happen.   What happened was that the daughter of Pharaoh and her attendants came to bathe.  Pharoah’s daughter (another nameless woman in the Bible), saw the basket and sent her attendants to bring her the basket.  When she opened it, she found a crying, but clearly Hebrew boy and she felt sorry for him.  At that point Miriam popped out of her hiding place and offered to go and find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.

Let us consider then what all this might tell us – Jochebed and family lived near the River Nile.  She must have known, I think, that she was leaving her precious baby somewhere where there was a good chance that he would be found.  She must have observed that the spot where she chose to leave the baby was near a place where Pharaoh’s daughter and perhaps other highborn Egyptian ladies regularly bathed.  She then relied on the inquisitiveness and compassion of the woman who would find the baby to rescue her baby. Finally she set her daughter, a willing accomplice, presumably, to keep watch. 

She and her daughter must have thought about what would happen if the baby was found because the first thing Miriam suggests is perhaps she can find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby and then runs home and fetches her mother, thus ensuring that the baby’s formative years would be under the care of his mother. 

What a clever and sensible plan under the circumstances!

Solomon, Simeon, 1840-1905. Mother of Moses, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57539 

Miriam went home and fetched her mother and brought her to Pharaoh’s daughter – an inference that this was a random Hebrew woman who Miriam found to wet-nurse the infant.  Knowledge would have been dangerous perhaps.  Pharaoh’s daughter paid Jochabed to nurse the baby until he was weaned (or thereabouts).  Then he was brought back to Pharoah’s daughter, who adopted him as her son and named him Moses “for I have drawn him out of the water.”

In a time of difficulty for the Jewish people, slaves in Egypt, this was a very successful outcome – not least because the baby grew to manhood and became the great leader of his people.  The co-operation (knowing or unknowing) of the women around him in his infancy ensured this.  We don’t hear Jochabed or Miriam speak but even so we sense the unrecorded words that were spoken between them which ultimately ensured the safety of their beautiful boy seemingly sent off unprotected in his “Moses” basket into the Nile.

Title: Finding of Moses
[Click for larger image view]
Tintoretto, 1518-1594. Finding of Moses, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=49579 [retrieved April 7, 2021]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

Shiprah and Puah – the courageous midwives.

Exodus takes up the story of the descendants of Jacob, who are now living in Egypt.  The descendants of the family invited by the Pharoah grateful to Joseph, are now numerous and the Pharoah now ruling has no memory of Joseph.  As their numbers have increased, toleration has decreased and so they are now living under a hostile regime being made to work as slaves.

“In all their work the Egyptians treated them harshly”. 

In order to re-balance this perceived problem, Pharoah ordered that the Hebrew midwives should kill all their new born boys, but could allow girls to live.

Shiprah and Puah, two God-fearing Hebrew midwives, did not obey the earthly commands of Pharoah and let the boys live.  Pharoah, noticing that there were plenty of Hebrew boys, called them before him to explain themselves.

Well said these two rather clever women – Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. 

“They are vigorous and give birth even before a midwife arrives.”

No-one of course records if this assertion was true and indeed if Pharoah believed them.  However, he realised that these two good women would stand firm and so he made another order that all baby boys born to the Hebrews should be thrown in the Nile, although girls’ could be allowed to live.

Shiprah and Puah – just a glimpse of two women working under difficult circumstances and reconciling following the precepts of God and the commands of their earthly rulers.  We are told that:

“God blessed the midwives, and the people increased…because the midwives feared God, he made them mothers of families.”

Next time, we will look at one mother who ensured that her baby survived the cruel command of Pharoah.

Shiphrah, Puah, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55961 [retrieved April 2, 2021].

Asenath – wife of Joseph

Most of the women, featured so far have had quite a bit (comparatively) written about them.  About Joseph’s wife Asenath however, we know hardly anything, although we are at least told her name.  It is safe to say that in the ongoing story of God’s people, her own role is not noted as particularly significant.

Joseph, the son of Rachel and Jacob, had arrived in Egypt as a slave, sold by his jealous brothers.  He eventually rose to become the Steward of Potiphar’s Household, an indication of how hard he worked and how trusted he was, although still a slave.  Unfortunately things went a bit wrong and he ended up in jail after refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife.  After he began interpreting dreams and then enabling Egypt to withstand a famine, he rose high in the employ of and esteem of Pharoah.

One reward was that Pharoah found him a wife – Genesis 41v45 records:

“Pharoah gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.”

This was very clearly an Egyptian wife who didn’t at the time of her marriage to Joseph worship the One God.  In fact she was the daughter of a Priest of On, otherwise known as Heliopolis and centre of the cult of the worship of the Egyptian sun-god Ra.

Asenath’s feelings in being married to a foreigner who didn’t follow the customs of her people are not recorded. We can note that Joseph was thirty, that he was efficient in the service of Pharaoh and that he was presumably not unattractive as Potiphar’s wife had already expressed an interest in him. 

The similarity of the name of Joseph’s father-in-law Potiphera and Potiphar – his erstwhile owner/employer seems to have suggested to some that they are the same person, but there is no evidence that they are and it would seem unlikely – not to say messy.  There are a couple of traditions found outside the Bible. One suggests that perhaps Asenath, was in fact the daughter of Dinah, abandoned and brought up by Potiphera (thus meaning that she had a common heritage with Joseph). It is perhaps a desire for tidiness in stories that has helped with this suggestion.  Similarly there are suggestions in legends that she “converted” to Judaism.  Again, there is no evidence to corroborate this.

We are back then to what we do know from Genesis.  They married and they had two children.  Joseph named them:

Manasseh – “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household”

Ephraim – “God has made me fruitful with children in the land of my sorrow.”

In the context of the narrative in Genesis 41, this seemed to be within the period of seven years of plenty, before the rest of Joseph’s family came to Egypt.

With the lack of information, it is not possible to know much more.  However, it is worthy of note that Joseph’s children by Asenath were blessed by Jacob as he was dying and they are thus named amongst the founders of the tribes of Israel.  Clearly, their mixed heritage did not preclude them from their place in the lists of descendants of Jacob.

As Jacob is dying he reminds Joseph that his burial place should be the cave in Canaan, which Abraham bought:

Genesis 49v31: “It was there that Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried.  There they buried Isaac and Rebekah and there too I buried Leah.” 

Sadly, Jacob’s beloved Rachel was not buried in the ancestral cave, as she died when they family were travelling and so was buried at a place on the way to Bethlehem.

Thus concludes Genesis and we have neatly recorded the burial places of  many of the women whose adventures we have narrated so far.

Next time we will begin following the stories of women, glimpsed in Exodus. We will thus be taken onto the next phase of the story of the Jewish people, who having settled in Egypt, are by the time of Exodus living under a hostile regime.

Pharoah gave Asenath to Joseph as his wife. Image copyright http://www.freebibleimages.org


Joseph – son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel

The story of Joseph is important in Genesis and is well-known in popular culture today, largely due to the musical “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”.  His appearance in this blog “Women of the Bible” is to provide the context for how the descendants of Sarah and Abraham, who first see the working out of God’s covenant, and are a nomadic people become a settled people living under oppression in Egypt prior to their liberation by God and journey to the Promised Land (Exodus).

A tenuous link would be to say that to see the character of the mother, look at her children.  Leah’s children are not recorded in a way that shows their obedience to God’s law. Joseph, one of the two sons of Rachel, is portrayed very favourably.  He is obedient to the God of his ancestors, even when sold into slavery and living in a strange land.  He does not succumb to temptation when Potiphar’s wife tries to lead him astray.  He uses his gift of dreams in a positive way and famine is averted for  Egypt.

His brothers visit Egypt, in desperation, during the time of famine in their land, not knowing that the reason that Egypt has plentiful supplies in storage is through the foresight and dreams of their brother Joseph, who they had thought long-dead.  He recognises them, although they don’t him and after some to-ing and fro-ing, the whole family including his elderly father Jacob arrive in Egypt.

Genesis 46 records:                          

“And Jacob arose from Well-of-the-Oath and Israel’s [Jacob] sons took up their father, and their baggage, and their wives, on the wagons which Joseph had sent.  And they took up their possessions and all their property which they had acquired in the land of Canaan.  And they entered Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him.”

We are given a detailed list of Jacob’s family, now known as Israel, including his sons, daughter Dinah (no children of Dinah listed) and grandchildren, including the children of Judah by Tamar travelled to Egypt.  These numbered 66 as the descendants of Jacob (not including the wives of his descendants).  The Twelve Tribes of Israel had arrived to settle in Egypt.

Swanson, John August. Story of Joseph, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56562 [retrieved February 4, 2021].
Original source: http://www.JohnAugustSwanson.com – copyright 2005 by John August Swanson.


Bath-Shua – Judah’s Canaanite wife

I don’t wish to refer to any woman as a “footnote” but there are some about whom we know considerably less.

Judah, the son of Leah and Jacob is noted to have had a wife – the daughter of Shua – a Canaanite woman (ie not from amongst his own family as his father and grandfather had found wives).  Judah had left his family and gone to a town called Adulla where he met his wife through a friend called Hirah.  The lists of descendants in 1 Chronicles refer to her as Bath-Shua the Canaanite woman.

They had three children – Er, Onan and Shelah.  Sadly she did not see her children grow up to be fine examples of manhood, both Er and Onan (sequentially married to Tamar) did not live a life in the favour of God and died prematurely. Her youngest son Shelah was still quite young and was promised to Tamar, but his father didn’t want that to happen.  Whatever opinion his mother had is not recorded, but she dies probably just as Shelah becomes of an age to marry, as we learn from the story of Judah, now a widower and Tamar. Interestingly Judah’s is accompanied on his visit to Tinnah by that same Hirah who was instrumental in finding for Judah his wife.

Poor BathShua – not even her own name is recorded – we have only the merest fleeting glimpse.

Woman of Canaan
Watanabe placed biblical subjects in a Japanese context rendered in the mingei (folk art) approach.
Copyright Permission: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License. I
Attribution: Watanabe, Sadao, 1913-1996. Woman of Canaan, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN . http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57538 [


Named in Matthew’s Gospel in the Geneaology of Jesus

With Tamar, we reach the story of the first of the five ancestors of Jesus named in the Genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew.

Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob and Leah.  Her story is recorded in Genesis 38v6-30.  There is a suggestion that perhaps this story is written from a woman’s point of view.

Tamar was married first to the eldest son of Judah – Er.  Unfortunately, he died leaving her childless. As was the custom, Judah’s second son Onan was married to her with the plan that any children they had would be as if the offspring of Tamar and Er.  Onan was not keen on this plan, so ensured that he would not have children with Tamar.  God took a dim view of this and soon poor Tamar was left a widow again

So far so standard, but widowed Tamar was left with no husband, no children and no settled life of her own.  Judah had a third son – Shelah, but he was not grown up yet so Judah sent Tamar home to her father’s house, with the promise of Shelah as a husband when he was grown.  Tamar returned to her father’s house to await a husband who was some years away and would therefore be younger than her.  It doesn’t seem as if Tamar remained in the same place as Judah and his family.  However she would have known how many years she was expected to wait for her husband-to-be to reach maturity.  That time came and went and her husband did not arrive.

She took matters into her own hands and her methods might seem extraordinary to our modern sensibilities.  She was told that Judah, her father-in-law was now widowed and an interval had passed and that he would be coming to Tinnah, near to where she lived, for the annual sheep-shearing.  It is interesting that she was “told”.   That would seem to imply that she was regarded a someone who had not been treated in the right way and aroused sympathy where she lived.

“She took off her widow’s clothes and put on a veil and made herself beautiful and she sat by the gates of Enaim.”

She observed that Shelah was full-grown but he had not been given to her as husband.

“And when he saw her, Judah thought that she was a prostitute, for she had hidden her face, and he did not recognise her.”

It is very obvious that he did not recognise her for he then said:

“Let me come in to you?”

Tamar, who obviously had her wits about her and perhaps this was how she had wanted her plan to work asked:

“What will you give me if you come into me?”

He replied that he would send her a kid from his flock.  She was happy to accept a future gift, but as well wanted something tangible from the present and suggested that he give her his ring, necklace and the staff he carried.  These were very personal items that would be recognisable as belonging to Judah.  Tamar very sensibly didn’t trust a mere future promise of a baby goat, without keeping hold of some very real evidence.

He went on his way; Tamar became pregnant as a result of their encounter and Tamar resumed her widow’s apparel.  Judah made good on his promise and sent his friend back to Enaim (quite soon afterwards) with the promised baby goat, but there was no sign of the prostitute by the road and no-one knew anything of her. Does this signify that her local community tacitly “approved” of what she had done or that the actions of one woman were so insignificant that no-one had noticed?

Three months later, though her situation became a matter for comment and news reached Jacob that his daughter-in-law was pregnant.  He was duly outraged by her perceived immorality and ordered “Bring her out, and let her be burnt.”

Tamar of course had very cleverly ensured an insurance against this happening and she sends word to her father-in-law:

“It is by the man to whom these things belong that I am pregnant.”

Judah recognised his personal items and furthermore that Tamar had been forced to take control of her situation because he had not provided her with a husband as by the custom of the time he should have done.  He says:

“‘Tamar is more righteous than I am because I failed to give her my son Shelah.’  And he did not have intercourse with her again.”

She gave birth to twins – Perez and Zerah and these two are listed as the sons of Judah, when the family of Jacob is enumerated and go to Egypt to visit long-lost Joseph.  Although Tamar is not named in this list, I think it is significant that her children were acknowledged as Judah’s offspring.   Tamar has played a very important part in the story of God’s people and her importance is clearer still when we realise that King David descends from Perez.  Tamar, is one of only five women, named in the Genealogy of Jesus by Matthew. A recognition of the consequence of Tamar looking after her own interests when those who should have provided for her did not do so.  Interestingly, Shelah grows up to become the father of a whole tribe who descendants are mentioned in Numbers 26v20:

“The other sons of Judah became clans: for Shelah, the Shelanite clan; for Perez, the Perezzite clan; for Zerah, the Zerahite clan.”

Tamar is not named as his wife, which probably indicates that, she was content that with the birth of her twins, she had resolved the problem of the lack of offspring caused by the deaths of her first two husbands.  Although her actions seem somewhat unorthodox to us, there seems to be an acceptance that she had to take this action to make up for the failure of her father-in-law to act as he should have done – later codified in Deutronomy Ch 25v5:

“So two brothers live together and one of them dies without any child, the wife of the dead man shall not marry anyone other than the brother of her husband.  He shall take her as his wife and shall raise offspring for his brother.”

Tamar has played a very important part in the story of God’s people and her importance is clearer still when we realise that King David descends from Perez and thus she is one of only five women, named in the Genealogy of Jesus by Matthew.

Picture acknowledgement: Vernet, Emile-Jean-Horace, 1789-1863. Judah and Tamar, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48067


Dinah – the fate of one girl among many brothers

So far all the women we have looked at have been at the centre of a nuclear or thereabout family, Sarah, who waited a long time for Isaac, Rebekah who left her home to marry Isaac and bore him twins, the workings out of the lives of those children, with Leah and Rachel, Rebekah’s nieces both marrying Jacob.  The original family tree and revelation of God’s promise to the people of Israel.

Dinah is the only recorded daughter of Jacob and Leah.  Genesis 34v1-31 is where she is recorded “The rape of Dinah and its consequences.  Her voice is not heard – this is all “done to her”.  A novel written in 1997 by Anita Diamant – The Red Tent is an imagining of her story, told in her voice.

The perspective of Genesis is different.  Jacob and his wives and his concubines and their assorted offspring have finally left Laban and fled (secretly) – pursued by Laban who catches up with them, makes his peace with them (probably) and departs, kissing his daughters and grandchildren goodbye.  Jacob is then reconciled to Esau (the brother whose birthright he acquired many years earlier). 

“And Jacob came to Salem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan when he came from Syrian Mesopotamia and he pitched his tent before the city.”

Dinah “went out to observe the daughters of the locals”.  There is of course much debate about this statement – somewhat odd in the context of a society where women did not tend to go out on their own.  Perhaps in that male-dominated world of her brothers she longed for some “refined” society or some company of her own age?  We hear of her as the only daughter of Jacob. 

She was seen by Shechem, the son of the ruler of the land, who took her, slept with her and humiliated her. So far, so bad followed by “he was attracted to her” and “spoke to her according to the heart of a maiden” He asked his father to let him have this “slave-girl” as a wife.  We do not hear  Dinah’s opinions or reactions.  I am reminded of those episodes where Sarah and Rebekah are told by their husbands to pretend to be sisters of their respective spouses when forced by famine into a foreign country to avoid the attentions of the locals.  In this case perhaps she went willingly into the neighbouring land – curiosity has been suggested as a reason.  He calls her a “slave-girl” which suggests that she is a captive and that this is no meeting of equals.

The proposal is put to Jacob, who has heard how his daughter has been treated, but he does not act whilst his own family are away from him. The father of Shechem, Hamor speaks to Jacob: “My son has chosen your daughter in his heart.  So give her to him as a wife.  Intermarry with us; give us your daughters, and take our daughters for your son and live among us.”  Shechem said “Increase the bridal price as high as you like, and I’ll give you just what you tell me and give me this child as my wife.”

Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi are not impressed with how their sister has been treated.  They don’t, however, give a flat refusal.  Instead they demand that to show good faith Shechem and all the others who wish to marry Dinah’s compatriots should be circumcised.  They agreed – the “young man wasted no time, for he was very keen on Jacob’s daughter.”  He put it to the other men of the city and they two were circumcised.  It was not however the plan of the sons’ of to intermarry and live with the people of Shechem peace and harmony.  They were not impressed that their sister had been humiliated.  Three days after the circumcision, when “they were in pain; the two sons of Jacob; Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took their sword, entered the city unopposed; and they slew every male.” They killed Shechem and his father and “liberated” their sister Dinah from his house.  The brothers’ plundered the city.  Jacob was not impressed and worried that this would provoke a fight with their neighbours.  His sons replied “Are they going to treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Suffice to say that the tribe of Jacob does not settle there, but goes on to Bethel where Jacob (now renamed Israel) builds an altar to God. “And Israel departed from Shechem and the fear of God was on the cities around them and they did not chase after the children of Israel.”

Not an edifying episode – we don’t hear anything of Dinah’s reaction or indeed any of her female relatives.  Even her father is fairly quiet in his response relying on his sons to take their devastating action. This story can be read in different ways – Dinah was attracted to a powerful man outside her own tribe (who still lived in tents) where he lived in a city, the son of a king.  Alternatively, she was led astray to the bright lights of the city, captured, enslaved and then a bargaining chip to be argued over.  Perhaps the only difference from what she might have expected is that she was not found a husband from amongst her own tribe.  The difficulty of this separate tribe of Israel settling and intermarrying with their neighbours who do not worship the same one true God is evident in this story.  The actions of her brothers are however less than admirable.  Who knows what Dinah thought – gratitude to be rescued from slavery and humiliation – tinged with resentment at being called a “prostitute”?  She had broken the rules, stepped outside her community and many had suffered as a result?  Was that all her brothers remembered about her for evermore?  We don’t really know what happened to her.  There are no lists of her descendants, when the family are enumerated and go to Egypt to visit the long-lost Joseph, so we presume that there was no “happy” ending.

Image © Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org


Rachel – the Beloved, but Barren Wife

Rachel’s world – ten boys, one girl but none of them hers by birth (although the two borne by her maidservant are technically and culturally hers).

She, the beloved wife of Jacob, that he worked many long years for (twice over) has to stand by watching as the sister, who their father infiltrated into Jacob’s life, bears healthy children, but we have seen that Leah feels too the pain of being unloved.  Their maidservants also bear healthy sons by Jacob.

No doubt she was busy, with all the necessary household duties, the cooking, preparing of clothes, spinning, weaving.  Perhaps sometimes she remembered her pre-marriage occupation of shepherdess.  The situation does not bring out her best side. She is envious and jealous of her sister and she addresses Jacob directly “Give me children or I shall die”.

He is not impressed and is angry saying: “Am I in the place of God?  It is he who has deprived you of children.”

As an alternative solution, she gives him her maidservant, who bears him two boys.  Rachel has the right to name them.  Thus:

Dan – “God has done me justice!  He has heard my prayer and given me a son.”

Naphtali – “I have had a mighty struggle with my sister and I have won!”

Finally, perhaps after a period of fourteen years or so, during which Leah has borne six boys and one girl and their two maidservants have borne two sons each, the Lord kept Rachel in mind and a baby is expected.  She names her son:

Joseph – “The Lord has taken away my disgrace” but she can’t resist adding “May the Lord give me another son.”                                                                                                       

All this emotion, jealousy, envy, feeling of disgrace (inadequacy) – what a change from the beautiful young shepherdess.  We reflected last time on the fruitful, but unloved wife Leah.  We haven’t even reflected on the feelings of the maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah, given as presents to these two sisters, no doubt their constant companions, serving them, expected to obey the commands of their mistresses – even when that includes becoming a concubine to the master of the household.  The children they bear are on behalf of their mistresses – so Rachel would consider herself the mother of Dan and Naphtali.

Think about what this period of twenty years has seen – the jealous, competitive sisters, set at odds by the decision of their father, tricking Jacob (he, who obtained his father’s blessing through the dubious tactics of his mother, the sister of Laban).  A growing family living all together or nearabouts, with Jacob working for wages for Laban, who at the very least is quite a sharp operator.  Jacob and Laban reach an agreement, which ensures that that Jacob becomes rich with a “great number of sheep, maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys.”  If this was the story of Jacob, we could go into the details of how Jacob built up his flock, ensuring his animals were stronger and Laban’s were weaker.  Jacob hears the voice of God telling him to return to his ancestral homeland.

He calls for both his main wives to come out to him in the fields where he works explaining that the way he is treated by their father is not working well for him and that God has a plan for him.  Are they willing to leave their father and go with him to his homeland? Despite all the competitive jealousy (perhaps now that she had at least one child, it was fading a bit), they speak as one, voicing their disconnection from their father:

“Have we not been regarded by him as foreigners since he has sold us and well and truly used up our money?  Surely all the fortune that God has taken from our father belongs to us and to our children.  So do then all that God has told you.”

They are willing to co-operate and have their destiny firmly attached to Jacob and their children.  They pack up (secretly).  Jacob puts his children and wives on camels and they flee while Laban is away, taking also all the livestock that Jacob has accumulated. What a sight that must have been – children, animals, possessions, camels, packed up tents – leaving behind all that was familiar (for the women) to return to Canaan and Jacob’s father Isaac.

Ten days later Laban catches up with them where they are encamped at Mount Gilead.  A confrontation ensues – why did you run away, tricking me, carry my daughters off like prisoners of war.  I could have sent you off with music and singing, not to mention kissing my grandchildren and daughters goodbye.  He doesn’t seem impressed really, however God has told him not to do any harm to Jacob  However there is one thing – why has Jacob stolen Laban’s idols.

Unbeknown to Jacob and Laban – Rachel stole her father’s family idols before they left.  No explanation is forthcoming for her action – did she feel that she needed a connection with her father even as she agreed to throw her lot in definitively with Jacob?  Did the God of Jacob not quite resonate with Rachel and she wanted the “comfort” of the old, familiar, idols or did she want to wound and hurt her father completely, depriving him of something he really valued, aside from the his daughters whom he casually sold and used as bargaining chips twenty years previously.  We are not told and can only speculate.  However Jacob is (for once) wholly innocent and promises that whoever stole the idols will not live.

Laban searches the camp, first Jacob’s tent, then Leah’s and then the tent of the two maidservants.  Finally Rachel’s.  She has a bit of a female moment – seating herself on a handy camel (the idols stashed in the saddlebag) she excuses herself from rising in the presence of her father.  He hunts high and low but fails to find the idols.

The two men reach an agreement

Laban:  “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, these sheep are my sheep and all that you see are mine.  What can I do today about these daughters of mine or their children?…May the Lord watch between me and you when we are no longer in sight of each other.  If you harm my daughters or take other wives besides my daughters, even though no man is with us, remember that God is witness between you and me.”

He departs next day, kissing his children and grandchildren and blessing them, returning to his home.  Leah and Rachel, like their relatives Sarah and Rebekah have left their homeland and all the familiar for the land and God of their husband.

We leave Rachel and her sister Leah, and Jacob and his other two wives and their assorted children – building up a tribe,  encamped in the Gilead Hill Country.  Next time we will look at the story of Dinah, the only daughter in this family.

Both images © Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Jael – blessed among women in tents!

Last time we started to look at Deborah the Judge who actively encouraged Barak into battle and at his request accompanied him.  She was happy to go into battle, but predicted that the opposing leader would be killed, not by Barak, the male leader of the Jewish people, but by a woman.  We look then at how this happened with the story of Jael.

We pick up the narrative in Judges 4v17.  The defeated leader of the Philistines, Sisera runs off on foot, from the army led by a woman to the tent of Jael, who was the wife of his friend Heber the Kenite.  The Kenite people are mentioned in Genesis as living in Canaan at the time of Abraham, and later on on the Sinai Peninsula.   Moses’ father-in-law Jethro belonged to the Kenite people and so there was a connection between the Kenites and the Israelites.  However Jael’s husband was allied to those whom the Israelites were fighting.

Jael seems to have been a woman who did not look to her husband to decide her friends and enemies.

She greeted Sisera in a friendly way, welcoming him into her tent, giving him a drink of milk, exceeding his request as he asked for a drink of water, then encouraging him to lie down and covering him with a rug.  So far, so friendly and seemingly supportive of her husband’s friend.

Sisera had asked her to stand at the entrance to her tent and if anyone came seeking him to deny his presence.  (We could remember another woman who hid spies when we looked at the tale of Rahab).  Unlike Rahab, however, Jael, for reasons not stated took a completely different course of action.  She picked up a tent-peg and a hammer and, as the picture below graphically illustrates, drove the tent-peg into his head.

“She fastened the tent-peg in his temple and it went through into the ground; and immediately he lost consciousness, blacked out – and died.”

Artemisia Gentileschi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jael_and_Sisera_95fb5c9.jpg

Next, someone did come looking for Sisera, Barak, the commander of Israelite forces, he who would only lead the people into battle, if accompanied by Deborah, the Judge.  Jael greeted him and showed him inside where the man he was seeking lay dead.  This was as prophesied by Deborah – that his end would be caused by a woman.

We don’t hear any more about Jael after this and there is no explanation of her motivation.  We are left wondering about a woman who took radical action with, seemingly, no fear of the consequences.  We don’t hear that she was cast out by her husband or took refuge with Deborah and co.  Reflecting Rahab, whose act of hiding spies meant that she feared for her life and Rahab made sure to ask for future protection.  Jael however killed someone, whilst they were her guest.The story is framed with Deborah having prophesied that Sisera would be killed by a woman but her feat is celebrated in the “Song of Deborah” which follows.  

“Blessed among women is Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite; may she be blessed among women in tents.”

We will look at the Song of Deborah in more detail next time.

Deborah – Prophet, Judge, Mother, Wife, Battle Leader!

Was Deborah the woman who had it all? 

The last woman we looked at was Rahab who helped the spies sent by Joshua to see the lie of the land before the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land.

We find the tale of Deborah in the Book of Judges which covers the time after the entry of the people of God into the land of Canaan, led by Joshua.  After his death the people are governed by a series of leaders, known as Judges.  Their toehold on their land is precarious and there is a lot of conflict with neighbouring tribes to establish themselves. From God’s perspective the people are often led astray and fall into worship of the gods of their neighbours. 

Janice Nunnally-Cox in “Foremothers” summarises the cycle of the times thus:

“The people would be unfaithful to the Lord, captured and defeated by various foes; then they would repent, and God would raise up for them a judge. The judges were probably tribal heroes – minor kings of a sort, who held what power they could for a time…Each appeared when Israel forgot God; the judges would then exhort the people to faithfulness, defeat the current enemy, and rule in peace for varying years.”

The first three were men: Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar and the fourth was Deborah.

We first encounter her in Chapter 4, sitting under a Palm Tree, known as the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the land of Ephraim:

“And Deborah was a woman who was a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth.  And she was judging Israel at that time.”

So we have a woman who has at least three descriptions, prophet, judge and wife.  Lappidoth does not seem to have any role, so although she is described as a wife, she has a role independent of her husband. 

Later on, she is referred to as “Deborah arose, a mother in Israel”  which implies that she had children, but it could be a figurative description.

As she sat under her palm tree the people would go to her for resolution of their complaints.

Tissot, James, 1836-1902. Deborah Beneath the Palm Tree, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55998 

Judges 4v2 puts the time of Deborah into context – as the children of Israel continued to do what was evil before the lord – they fell under the control of Jabin, King of Canaan, the commander of the army being Sisera.

Deborah organised action to free the people. Her actions are inline with those of her predecessors. For example we are told that the Judge prior to Deborah – Shamgar:

“struck the Philistines, as many as six hundred men with the ploughshare of his oxen and he also saved Israel.”

Deborah summoned Barak, the commander and told him that God had commanded him to go to Mount Tabor, taking with him 10,000 men to fight the occupying force. 

“for I am going to bring Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to you at the river Kishon with his chariots and men, and I will deliver him into your hands.”

Barak’s response was that he would only go if Deborah accompanied him.  It is noteworthy that he did not query her role in military strategy. o

Deborah agreed that she would go with him – “but if you do it that way the honour of the victory will not be yours, for Sisera will be killed by a woman.”

Off to battle they went – Barak’s force of 10,000 men engaging Sisera’s force which included 900 iron chariots. The Batttle was fought near the River Kishon.

V15-16 tell us the outcome: “And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak.  Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army… All of Sisera’s army fell by the edge of the sword.  Nobody was spared.”

This remarkable victory, we think took place about 1300 BC.  The Israelites were an inferior force to those led by Sisera, lacking in knowledge of ironworking, they did not have iron chariots.  Nevertheless, led by Barak, with Deborah beside him, they achieved a remarkable victory. 

We leave Deborah here, at this comprehensive victory, and continue her story next time, alongside another woman Jael – who has a pivotal role.

Women who Waited

For Advent – that time of waiting before Christmas – you might like to consider the experiences and responses of four Women of the Bible who waited patiently and faithfully for the fulfilment of God’s promises. These four are Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary.

Two years ago when this blog began, we began with Sarah’s story, so you might find that a place to start. https://women-of-the-bible.com/?p=252

Another resource you might find of use are these two videos produced as bedtime prayer and story for the under-5s -“Five Minutes with Teddy and Jesus”.

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah – Daughters who refused to be disinherited.

The five named above are the daughters of Zelophehad, who belonged to the clan of Manasseh, the son of Joseph.  When they come into focus, their father has died.  The people of Israel have been journeying through the desert for a long time and thoughts are beginning to turn to what will happen when they arrive at the Promised Land and how land will be allocated.  Unremarkably, the plan is for male heads of households to be given land. 

These sisters, the only living descendants of their father, did not think that this was at all fair and appealed to Moses.  They appeared before him at the “Tent of Meeting”, where he was accompanied by Eleazar the priest and the leaders and the whole community.

Numbers 27 v3-4 reports their appeal:

“Our father died in the desert.  He was not among the followers of Korah who rebelled against the LORD, but he died for his own sin and he did not leave any sons.  Why must our father’s name disappear from among his clan?  Since he had no son, give us some property among our father’s relatives.”

Moses went away and asked God what he should do and was told:

“The daughters of Zelophehad have a just case.  Give them property for their inheritance among their father’s relatives; pass on to them their father’s inheritance.  Then say this to the people of Israel, ‘If a man dies without leaving sons, his inheritance is to be given to his daughters.”

If no daughters, then the inheritance should pass back up the collateral male relatives.

Thus these daughters were successful in their appeal – standing up for their inheritance rights and establishing the rights of others in a similar position.  It is quite striking that they felt able to state their case so publicly in front of all the leaders and, indeed, the whole assembled community.  The community heard that the decision was reached because they had a “just” case.  However, some objection was raised because it worried some that if women married outside their clan/tribe, they would take their inheritance with them to a different clan, thus weakening the accumulation of land for that tribe.  Moses therefore amended his judgement that when these ladies married it should be to clans within their own tribe. They could marry whomsoever they pleased within that boundary.  Not quite to our modern way of thinking, but still much better than being passed around like a parcel. Obediently, they married the sons of their brothers (their cousins).

“Since they married into the clans of the sons of Manasseh, son of Joseph, their inheritance remained within the tribe of their father’s clan.”

The book of Joshua, which can be seen as the continuation of Exodus, with the people of God drawing ever nearer to the reality of the Promised Land.  By this time Moses has died and the younger leader Joshua has arisen.  The early chapters of the book recount in great detail which tribe was given which part of the land of Canaan, the initial decisions having been made by casting lots.  For the avoidance of doubt, the five daughters remind Joshua and the priest Eleazar:

“The Lord commanded Moses to give us some of the land among our brothers as our own.”

Thus these daughters ensured that the promise made to them was not forgotten.

Joshua 17v5-6: “In this way Manasseh received ten shares besides the country of Gilead and Bashan which lies across the Jordan, since Manasseh’s female descendants received a share in the land along with his male descendants.”

Zipporah – wife of Moses

Moses who is such an important figure in the liberation of the people of God from their slavery in Egypt and their leader through the years in the desert wilderness, is a man saved by women.  Previously – we saw how his mother and sister are instrumental in saving him from death at birth and that he was adopted by the daughter of Pharoah.  It would seem that Moses, for his own safety, was brought up in ignorance of his heritage.  We can only guess at how his sense of identity was affected by this – but we do have some clues.  When he becomes aware of the enslavement of his people – the Jewish people, by the Egyptians and their forced labour building the pyramids he explodes:

“He noticed how heavily they were burdened and he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own people. He looked around and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

Not really a very good response.  The upshot is that his killing of an Egyptian did not remain secret for very long and to preserve his life he had to flee Egypt.  Moses arrived in the land of Midian, which was outside Egypt and possibly within modern Saudi Arabia.  

Following in the tradition of Isaac and Jacob, Moses sat down by a well.  There he observed, the seven daughters of the priest of Midian (Reuel or Jethro) come to draw water for their father’s sheep and be pushed aside by some male shepherds.  Moses goes to their rescue and scares off the undesirables and helps with the important and time-consuming and labour-intensive business of watering the sheep.  His assistance is so significant that they arrive home early to their father, explaining that they had found a helpful stranger by the well.  Hospitality is offered followed by Zipporah as wife for Moses.  Perhaps the verses in Exodus are an abbreviation of a much longer process and perhaps not. 

Zipporah thus becomes the wife of Moses.  They remain within her father’s orbit and Moses becomes a shepherd to Jethro/Reuel’s flock of sheep.  Two boys are born during this time – Gershom meaning “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” and Eliezer “The God of my father came to my help and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah”.

Zipporah has presumably been fully briefed on Moses’ dramatic life story, thus far.  The God of his ancestors, of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, was probably not the God that the priest of Midian and his family served but she would have learnt much about God from Moses.  Time passes, perhaps forty years or so, and the Pharoah who had issued a sentence of death on Moses, dies.  God calls Moses (in the Burning Bush) to return to Egypt and be the leader of his people who leads them out of slavery and Egypt.  Following this encounter – Moses goes home and tells his wife and her family that the time has come for him to leave and return to Egypt.  Zipporah, packs up her life and, with their children, prepares to follow her husband to a new land.

On the way a somewhat strange incident occurs.  Having instructed Moses to return to Egypt and obtain his people’s freedom, God and Moses have a bit of a problem.  Perhaps in living with a wife and her family who don’t follow the ways of his ancestors and having been brought up outside his family, Moses had forgotten to ensure that his sons were circumcised – that symbol of belonging to the Hebrew people, chosen by God.  Zipporah seems to grasp this problem and circumcises her children.  This act wins her husband a reprieve from God.

Zipporah, who was never been exactly prominent in the narrative, fades completely after this.  We don’t know whether she settled in Egypt amongst the oppressed people, whilst Moses and his brother attempted to win their freedom.  We don’t hear of her during the dramatic night when the Jewish people prepared the first Passover Meal and ate it ready to flee.  The story of the escape of the Jewish people and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea follows.  The singing and dancing is led by Miriam, not Zipporah.

Time is not delineated, but some time after these events, but probably not many years later, Zipporah is mentioned again.  It seems that Moses had sent her and her children back to her own family.  Jethro, his father-in-law, has heard of the dramatic events and has brought Zipporah and her children to join Moses in the desert. 

“Blessed be the Lord who has delivered you from the power of the Egyptians and Pharoah and has rescued the people from the grip of Egypt.  I realise now that the Lord is greater than all the gods for he delivered his people from the Egyptians who dealt tyrannically with them.”

We then hear nothing further about Zipporah, so we leave her re-united with Moses, with a father who has converted to the God of the Jewish people.  Probably she would have followed the example of her husband and father.  We have already noted that she understood the importance of ensuring that important rituals were followed.

Our final mention of Zipporah is somewhat debatable.  Miriam takes exception to Moses having a wife – “a Cushite” from Ethiopia and not from his own people.  It is completely unclear whether this is the same wife as before eg Zipporah or a second wife.

Jordaens, Jacob, 1593-1678. Moses and his Ethiopian Wife Sephora, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57540

Zipporah’s story started in such a familiar way echoing the earlier story of Jacob encountering Rachel at a well and being helped with the watering of the sheep.  However, Zipporah rapidly disappears into the background and we don’t hear about when she dies or where she is buried and so on.  The only merest hint about relations with Zipporah’s family happens when Moses asks Hobab, the son of her father, if he would like to join the people of Israel on their journey to the land promised by God.

Hobab declines: “I will not come with you.  I would rather go to my own land and my own family.”

Moses replies: “Do not leave us, for you know where we can camp in the desert, and so you will be our eyes.  If you come with us, you will share in the prosperity with which the Lord will bless us.”

It would seem that by marrying Zipporah, Moses was building up the people of God. The descendants of his children by Zipporah are named later on as part of the priestly tribe of Levi.  It’s really not much to go on when looking closely at the life of Zipporah.

Next time we shall look at the challenge made by the daughters of Zelophedad.

Image from Moses and the Burning Bush – Five Minutes with Teddy and Jesus

If you would like a version of the Story of Moses and the Exodus, then follow link below for series of videos I have made for the under-5s.