I didnt realize I had skipped the last set of holidays. I dont write this stuff down much, I get distracted with work, life, other projects…
Last night we listened to the Exodus story. Having read or heard this gobs of times it is easy to check out. At the same time, both the kids and I find numerous things we are connecting in it from other parts of scripture. We are such humans, stumbling through it all.
One thing that caught my eye had nothing to do with the traditional story of the plagues and the deliverance. It was about Zipporah.
[Exo 2:21 NKJV] 21 Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses.
This phrase or concept is so common in scripture, and something easily misunderstood. It appears here that Jethro made the judgement call and required Zipporah to marry Moses. Like an “arranged marriage”. There are a few things to consider:
- This isnt Israel. This is essentially Pre-Israel in that while Israel exists, and they are in covenant, they are in slavery in Egypt, and have not yet established their own culture and people.
- This is in Midian (Saudi Arabia today) and Moses is not a Midianite. In fact Moshe is more Egyptian than anything else, and the people are Midianites.
- Moses is alone. He isn’t with his family. He doesn’t have a father or kin to negotiate a marriage.
- Jethro is a priest in Midian, which had to have some status, if not significant status. He also had multiple daughters, possibly he was wealthy.
The main takeaway for me was even though this contest of “giving a daughter in marriage” is familiar, the setting isn’t. In most societies in the ANE, you don’t marry outside your people, let alone you extended family. And a stranger who comes with nothing, possibly on the run, isn’t your dream for your daughter.
Another piece of this is the phrase “give”.
This is the root of the term gave. It can mean a lot of varied and nuanced things. This particular word used in the passage is considered imperfect, which normally means uncompleted. But that can also have some application to an event in the past. Here is an explanation used at the BLB site
1a) It is used to describe a single (as opposed to a repeated) action in the past; it differs from the perfect in being more vivid and pictorial. The perfect expresses the “fact”, the imperfect adds color and movement by suggesting the “process” preliminary to its completion.
I dont know Hebrew well enough to tease out anything, but I find it odd it is imperfect, but completed.
Anyhow, the phrase and concept is that someone gave something to someone else. And we see this is scripture all the time with marriage. However what gets overlooked often is the idea of consent, especially for the woman. The phsae gets read over and it sounds like the woman is property which is traded and exchanged for compensation.
I would believe (because even now it is true, that this DOES occur) this is true within a wide range of degrees. And some of it is/was simply horrid.
But in stories such as Rebecca and Issac, Rebecca consented. She could have said no. Given her situation, her scheming family, and the wealthy dude showing up on behalf of some far away family member, she was probably smart in getting out of town. But it was her choice.
I have heard other commentators and people who study scripture and history make the case that it is IMPLIED that the woman always had consent. Certainly she could be pressured, or influenced. But there is no shred of idea presented tot he Israelite people, by their God, that woman are property, that they are to be exchanged for value, or that they have no say in the matter. Culturally there might be rules or norms, but nothing from Yah’s position seems to indicate otherwise.
Entering Marriage and Convenant is Voluntary
Not just marriage, but all covenant. Can you think of or bring any sample where a covenant is involuntary? Perhaps the Noahide Covenant could be. The world dint say “Yes Yahweh, I would like to be in a covenant where you wont destroy us again”. But in reality that isnt even the idea. Yah was making a promise not to do something.
I can think of no piece of information we have about Yah where anyone is forced into any situation like this. Invited, Encouraged, Facilitated, Paid For, Sustained… yep. But by every indication what Yah looks for is voluntary, trusting, heart-based engagement built on trust and confidence about Yah.
Revisit the idea of “gave”. It is also possible in this setting, Moses ASKED Jethro to marry Zipporah, and Jethro “gave his consent”. It could mean as many combinations of permission, consent, and request between all 3 people as any other combination. And Jethro KNEW Moses wasnt “from ’round here” and could easily leave. Moses also had nothing, he was a runaway. Jewish tradition says he did all sorts of other things on his way to Midian, and was a great warrior and rich guy. Maybe. God didnt tell us that. We do see a guy without much confidence, broken, and not good in front of people.
We see later that Zipporah was “put away” by Moses. We dont know when or how or why. Maybe Moses didnt want her to get caught in all the trauma that was going to go down. Maybe she left at the “you are a bridegroom of blood to me” incident. We know Jethro brought her later after the Exodus and seems to have tried to reconcile them, or reunite them. We dont even know if it worked!
I guess my point is, it is so easy to read a phrase, assume an interpretation, and move on. Many women take serious objection to the idea of being treated this way. I dont blame them. They can read scripture and think that God creates cultures that treat women like property. That is a common understanding of the value of women in scripture. I think it is mistaken, mostly because a simple phrase assumes an awful lot of other things that could have happened, and we as modern readers fill in the blanks. We might even do that based on things we hear about or see that might be misplaced, or even grotesque and assume that is part of the backstory.
But the rest of the scripture doesnt support the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob that way. The humans on the planet might have practices and behaviors contrary to the nature of Yahweh! Shocking but true. As well, the lack of understanding of the culture and context of the author makes it hard. I just dont see how Yah wants to, encourages, or sets up systems where women are have no ability to consent or engage in covenant voluntarily. It doesn’t fit with the character or scripture.
Funny how I caught on to some weird idea not immediate to the holiday, but it happened.