Zipporah and Sons

Zipporah circumcising Eliezar (2)Part of a fresco of Zipporah and sons in Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. By Pietro Perugino (1486-1523). Zipporah is circumcising Eliazer.

Bible References: Exodus 2:16-22, Exodus 18:3-4, Exodus 4:18-26.

Heart of the Story: Moses’s wife, Zipporah, saved Moses’ life by circumcising one of her sons to turn God’s wrath from Moses. Her sons became capable administrators in David’s kingdom.

Back Story: Zipporah was the daughter of the Midianite priest Jethro (Ruel). Jethro was an offspring of Abraham and his wife Keturah; he worshipped God. Along with her seven sisters, Zipporah tended her father’s sheep. Daily, Jethro’s daughters took the sheep to a well and filled troughs to water them. One day other shepherds drove the girls away from the well. Moses rescued the girls and drew water for the sheep. When Jethro learned of Moses’ rescue, he invited Moses to eat with him. Moses stayed with Jethro and married Zipporah. Zipporah’s name means bird which could allude to her beauty or to a quickness of action. Moses and Zipporrah had two sons. The first was named Gershom which means alien; the second was named Eliezer, which means my God is helper (Exodus 18:3-4).

Story Line: Forty years after Moses arrived in Midian, God told Moses to return to Egypt and free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery (Expdus 3:10). When Moses started to Egypt, Zipporah, Gershom, and Eliezar were with him. On the way, God met Moses at a resting place and made Moses acutely, almost fatally, ill (The Amplified Bible). Seemingly, Zipporah recognized that God’s wrath against Moses was because Moses failed to circumcise a son. She cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. Zipporah told Moses that he was a bridegroom of blood to her (Exodus 4:24-26).

At some point before Moses returned to Egypt or before the exodus, Moses send Zipporah and his sons back to Jethro. After the exodus from Egypt when the Israelites camped near Mt. Sinai, Zipporah and the boys returned to Moses with Jethro. Eagerly, Moses told Jethro all that occurred in Egypt. Later, Jethro returned to Midian while Zipporah and the sons remained with Moses (Exodus 18:27).

Bible readers do not know which son Zipporah circumcised; however, credible Bible scholars suggested that it was Eliezar, the second son. This is the only Bible record of a mother circumcising a son.  Zipporah touched Moses’ feet with their son’s foreskin.  Probably “feet” was a euphemism for genitals and Zipporah touched Moses’ genitals with her son’s foreskin. She called Moses a blood-bridegroom because she acquired him anew as a husband, e.g., she saved his life, by shedding her son’s blood.

After Jethro returned to Midian, the Bible provides little additional information on Zipporah. At one point, Miriam and Aaron may have used her in an argument against Moses. They criticized Moses by referring to Moses’ “Cushite wife.” Perhaps, Zipporah had dark skin similar to people of the Cushite nation. God prompt punished Miriam and Aaron showed his displeasure at their actions. The Bible recorded no other Israelite criticism of Zipporah.

Several Bible passages provided clues to the outcomes of Zipporah’s sons. The eldest son, Gershom had two sons. One son (or descendant) was Jonathan who became the Levite priest to the Danites when they moved from their assigned tribal lands north to Dan (Laish) (Joshua 18:30). Although not from the priestly family of Aaron, Jonathan’s descendants acted as Danite priest until Dan passed into Assyrian control. A descendant of Gershom’s other son, Shebuel was the officer in charge of the treasures in King David’s time (1 Chronicles 26:24).

Moses second son, Eliezar had one son, Rehabiah who had numerous offspring. Descendants of Eliezar were in charge of all treasuries that Samuel, Kings David and Saul, and the army gave for the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 26:22-28).

Pondering Relationships: The Bible contains scant information about Moses’s Midianite wife and sons. Generally, Moses called them  “Zipporah and her two sons” as if distancing himself from their presence in his life. Possibly, Moses was embarrassed that his wife was not an Israelite. Alternatively, he may have been careful to keep his personal life out of the story of God’s interactions with the Israelites.

Likely Moses sent Zipporah and sons to Jethro for their own safety before he returned to Egypt. He did not want them to through the turmoil of the10 Egyptian plagues. Further, although Moses trusted God, he knew his wife and children could be used as pawns against him by both the Egyptians who opposed freedom for the valuable slaves and Israelites who disapproved of his methods.

Moses was a superior administrator.  Like him, several of Moses’ descendants were capable administrators. They were chief officers of King David’s treasuries and the treasury set aside for the building and maintenance of the first temple. Clearly, King David from the tribe of Judah, trusted his Levite cousins with the management of the kingdom’s money and perhaps more importantly money for building God’s temple. 

As in most families, Moses had offspring that dedicated themselves to God and the good of the kingdom; he also had offspring that went their own way and moved far from worship of the true God. Often we say that an ancestor would “turn over in their grave” if they could see what a descendant did or didn’t do. Surely, Moses’ heart would have broken if he lived to see Jonathan’s decision to appropriate the role of the Aaronic priesthood. Moses did not record when Zipporah died. Most likely her death occurred while the Israelites journeyed in the Sinai Desert.  Most of Zipporah and Moses’ descendants were notable contributors to the Israelite kingdom.

Reflection:  How can children reared by the same parents turn out so differently?  Is it God’s fault?

Zipporah figures directly and indirectly in a number of Bible stories. Read about these stories in Lesser Known Bible Characters, a book you can purchase at Carolyn Roth Ministry (hppt://

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/13.




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