Scripture References—Exodus 2:21, 22; 4:24, 25; 18:1-6
Name Meaning—A Midian name, Zipporah means “a little bird,” “a sparrow.” Wilkinson observes that “the feminine termination ah added to the common word Zippor, which is also the father of Balak, king of Moab.” Such a name like “dove” or “lamb” would originally be a term of endearment, and thus the word passer &--;“a sparrow”—is used by the Roman poets. Passer is also being found as a Roman family name. The root of this word is an Arabic verb, signifying “to chirp.”
Family Connections—Zipporah was one of the seven daughters of Jethro who is also called Reuel and Raguel (Exodus 2:18; 4:24, 25; 18:1-6; Numbers 10:29). It was to the home of this shepherd-priest in Midian that Moses came when at forty years of age he fled from Egypt, and meeting the seven girls drawing water Moses assisted them. Arriving home earlier than usual they told how the Egyptian had helped them. Brought up as a son of Pharaoh, Moses must have looked every inch a cultured Egyptian. Invited home, Moses was content to live with Jethro’s family, and married Zipporah, eldest of the seven daughters. Two sons were born of the union, Gershom and Eliezer. Some writers affirm, without adequate support, that the dark-skinned Ethiopian, “the Cushite woman” whom Miriam and Aaron were jealous over, is merely a description of Zipporah, and that therefore Moses was only married once. But the statement “He had married an Ethiopian woman” implies a recent occurrence, and that Zipporah, whom Moses had married 40 years previously, was dead. It is most unlikely that Miriam and Aaron would have waited all those years to murmur against Moses if Zipporah and the Ethiopian had been one and the same woman.
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. The best of wives; his help meet given him of God; the most self-effacing of women; the wife who holds her husband in her heart as the wisest and best of men &--;under sufficient trial and provocation and exasperation, even she will turn and will strike with just one word; just once in her whole married lifetime.”
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!
Zipporah is far from being an inspiring character with which to end our alphabetical coverage of all the named women of the Bible. One could have wished for a nobler and more godly example of female biography as a fitting conclusion to this section of our study. Looking back over the large number of women whose names are recorded in Holy Writ we realize that taken together they represent all aspects of human nature—good, bad and indifferent. For the majority, they lived their lives as they passed through this short scene of trial into eternity, leaving little trace behind them. But as we have seen, others, by their character and history, have left their names engraved in the impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture, with their records serving as either warning signals where they were conspicuous for evil, or as shining examples of high endeavor, where their lives were lived as unto Him who created both male and female for His glory.
Whatever was thus written in former days was written for our instruction, that by [our steadfast and patient] endurance and the encouragement [drawn] from the Scriptures we might hold fast and cherish hope (Romans 15:4, Amplified Bible).