(Zip·poʹrah) [Bird; or, possibly, Small Bird].
The wife of Moses. Zipporah met Moses at a well, when she and her six sisters were watering their father’s flocks. When certain shepherds came on the scene and, as was their custom, attempted to drive the girls away, Moses helped the girls out, even watering the flocks himself. For this kindness he was invited to the home of Zipporah, and eventually her priestly father Jethro gave her in marriage to Moses. (Ex 2:16-21) Zipporah bore two sons to Moses—Gershom and Eliezer.—Ex 2:22; 18:3, 4.
When Jehovah sent Moses back to Egypt, Zipporah and their two sons started out to accompany him. Along the way a very serious incident occurred, the rather obscure account of which says: “Now it came about on the road at the lodging place that Jehovah [“Jehovah’s angel,” LXX] got to meet him and kept looking for a way to put him to death. Finally Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and caused it to touch his feet and said: ‘It is because you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’ Consequently he let go of him. At that time she said: ‘A bridegroom of blood,’ because of the circumcision.”—Ex 4:24-26.
Scholars have offered many interpretations of this passage, some of these being incorporated into modern Bible translations. (See CC, JB, Kx, La, NE, RS, as well as the German Zürcher Bibel, the Spanish Bover-Cantera and the French Crampon, Lienart, and Segond versions.) Such interpretations attempt to settle questions as to whether it was Moses’ or the child’s life that was threatened, whether Zipporah touched the feet of Moses or the feet of the child or the feet of the angel with the foreskin. They also venture opinions as to why Zipporah said (and to whom she said), “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.”
It seems that it was the child’s life that was in danger in view of what the law of circumcision states at Genesis 17:14; that Zipporah circumcised the child because she realized what was needed to set matters right; that she cast the foreskin at the feet of the angel who was threatening the child’s life to demonstrate her compliance with Jehovah’s law; that Zipporah addressed Jehovah through his representative angel when she exclaimed, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me,” doing so to show her acceptance of a wifely position in the circumcision covenant with Jehovah as the husband.—See Jer 31:32.
But there is no way of Scripturally settling such questions with certainty. The literal reading of the ancient Hebrew in this passage is veiled in the idioms used nearly 3,500 years ago. This is why literal translations (NW, Ro, Yg) and others (AS, KJ, Da, Dy, JP, Mo, Le), including the ancient Greek Septuagint, are not clear on these matters.
Apparently Zipporah returned to visit her parents, for, following the Exodus, Zipporah and her two sons accompanied Jethro back to Moses at the wilderness camp. (Ex 18:1-6) Zipporah’s newly felt presence there apparently provoked Moses’ sister Miriam to jealousy, and she (along with Aaron) seized upon Zipporah’s Cushite background as an excuse for complaint against Moses. (Nu 12:1) This does not indicate that Zipporah had died and Moses had remarried an Ethiopian woman, as is commonly contended, for although “Cushite” usually refers to Ethiopians, it can also embrace those from Arabia.—See CUSH No. 2; CUSHITE.