The Great Moses Divorced and Remarried?

Exodus 18:2–3, After he had sent her back.There is an indication here that Moses divorced his wife after their altercation over the circumcision of their sons (Exod 4:24–26). If so, what are the spiritual implications of this for us today?

The phrase sent away/back in verse two is shilluach/JuKKA according to Strong’s Concordance and Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon can refer to divorce. Shilluach is from shalakh (shin-lamed-chet), a basic verb meaning “to send” where in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:1 the prophets use it referring to YHVH’s divorce from the house of Israel or Ephraim. 

Though rabbinical commentators Rashi and Hirsch fail to note the possibility of Moses’ divorce (Jewish Torah commentators tend to gloss over the faults of their great biblical heroes), Baal HaTurim notes this possibility in his commentary. 

Yet in Exodus 18:2, YHVH still views Zipporah as Moses’ wife. What’s going on here? Before this, Zipporah seems to have evidenced reluctance at obeying YHVH’s command to circumcise their sons (Exod 4:25), so did Moses put her away (divorce her) as a result? Was Moses, as the human “savior” of Israel from Egypt and an antetype (­or prophetic forerunner) of Yeshua the Messianic Savior (Deut 18:15–19) in that he had to deal with a rebellious wife, even as Yeshua (in his preincarnate state as YHVH of the Tanakh) had to deal with his Israel rebellious wife and eventually had to put her away? 

Zipporah is never again mentioned in the Torah and, in fact, we see the possibly that the divorced Moses even married another woman (Num 12:1)—apparently a black woman from Ethiopia. Is this a prophetic picture of Yeshua remarrying his former wife (Israel) during the time of the Renewed (Marriage) Covenant (Ketubah), who has adulterously mixed herself with the nations and returns to him in a mixed racial (spiritually-speaking) condition (Hos 7:8)? 

If Moses led Israel as a divorced and remarried man, does this change your perspective about him? How about divorced and remarried people in present-day ministry?


15 thoughts on “The Great Moses Divorced and Remarried?

  1. The sons of Ziporah were hers. Exodus 18:3 niv.
    Did Moses have sons by the Ethiopian women?
    Shalom Nathan

    • Yes, they were her sons, but they were Moses’ sons as well. Gershom was Moses firstborn son (Exod 2:22). See also 1 Chron 26:24 where it states that Gershom was the son of Moses. See also Judg 18:30 which says Manasseh (in the KJV and NKJV), but according to the LXX and Latin Vulgate should be Moses (as the NKJV notes in the margin). The masoretic rabbinates later changed Mosheh to Manasheh to hide the fact that Moses’ son was an idolater and idol maker. The NIV correctly states Moses, not Manasseh, and explains why the Jews changed Manasseh in its footnotes (See the NIV Study Bible). Then 1 Chron 23:15 states that both Gershom and Eliezer where Moses’ sons. As far as I know, Scripture is silent on whether Moses had sons by the Ethiopian women or not.

  2. Scripture tells us that YHVH hates divorce and sin in general. Scripture also tells us that everybody has sinned, including all the prophets, saints etc. We are not even sure, that Moshe divorced his wife; he might have just sent her back for the time being, realizing that she would be more of a hindrance while he was trying to act out Elohim’s commands.
    Also, it seems that Elohim approves of divorce under certain circumstances, like when the Israelites returned from Babylon and started to intermarry with the heathens, the cohen Ezra told them to get rid of these women.

    • Sonja, you have touched on something that is completely misunderstood by most of us as English-only Bible readers. “Hate” to us usually means “I absolutely abhor this thing and cannot stand it, so please don’t ever let me see it or hear it or experience it again or I will possibly explode in anger.” Of course, being double-minded to our core, we also use it occasionally with a much less dramatic connotation, as in banging our toe on a doorframe in the dark and muttering “Argh! I hate it when that happens.”

      The words used in the Bible, sane and miseo (Hebrew and Greek, respectively) are very rich broad words conveying a wide range of emotions and actions. It is important for us to try to distinguish where different meanings are intended and implied. We have “hate” used to referenced wives less loved, to reference YHVH’s feeling toward Esau (whom he nonetheless blessed tremendously), as well as his feeling about divorce even though it is pretty clearly sanctioned in scripture.

      I think your understanding is entirely correct, and helps resolve an apparently impossible contradiction we see in the Bible when we only read casually and (even subconsciously) choose our interpretations to support our preferred/comfortable doctrine. We should really, really, really hate it when that happens.

  3. Moshe’s Ethiopian wife;- Flavius Joshephus, Antiquities of the Jews, chapter X (how Moses made war with the Ethiopians and procured a black wife).

      • Yes, I checked out this heretofore unknown fact of history to me. It can be found in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, book 2, chapter 11 (Ant. 2:11.1-2). I never knew this. So it appears to me that after Moses fled Egypt for Midian, he must have assumed that he’d never return to Egypt and see his Ethiopian wife again, which, in his mind, freed him up to marry Yitro’s daughter, Zipporah. This would have been before Moses was “saved”, so to speak or before Elohim called and commissioned him at the burning bush in Exodus chapter three. So, when Zipporah refused, apparently, to follow him on his divinely appointed mission to Egypt, she abandoned him, which is why Moses had dismissed, divorced or sent her back (see Exod 18:2 where we read that Moses had “sent her [Zipporah] back”, Heb. shillûach meaning “dismissed, i.e. divorced”). It appears that the righteous and YHVH-fearing Yitro tried tried to reconcile Moses and Zipporah when he brought her to him in Exodus 18:6. Moses implored Yitro to remain with him and accompany him in the wilderness (Num 10:29). However, the aged Yitro refused, ostensibly preferring the safety and security of his own home in Midian over the uncertainties and inconveniences of wandering like a nomad in the wilderness. So Moses let Yitro return (Exod 18:27) evidently taking Zipporah with him, for it appears based on the textual evidence that she wanted nothing to do with Moses’ mission. Therefore, Moses, being left alone without a marital partner to accompany him on his divine mission, must have called back his former Ethiopian wife to join him, which she obviously did causing the scandal we read about it Numbers 12. This all goes to show that love, marriage and divorce and remarriage can be a real complex, sticky and divisive issue, but obviously, YHVH’s merciful grace prevailed and Moses went forward approved of Elohim on his mission. Divorce and remarriage isn’t YHVH’s ideal for people because of all the attendant issues he engenders, for his perfect will was one man for one woman till death do us part. But humans are imperfect, and YHVH’s grace is sufficient, so there for his grace go each of us, as the saying goes.

    • In case anyone else goes looking, John’s reference (ch 10) is correct, and Natah’s reference (ch 11) is, uh, less correct 🙂

      The story can be read here:

      I do agree that the Exodus text seems to say that Moses divorced Zipporah, I don’t think we can assume, though, that the Cushite wife about whom Aaron and Miriam later complained was necessarily the same Ethiopian princess that Josephus tells Moses married when campaigning against the Ethiopians.

      It certainly could have been the same woman. Although both options presented here for how she might have joined him on the trip to Canaan seem unlikely in certain aspects, they are not impossible. It could also be that Moses, after the exodus, married an entirely different Cushite/Ethiopian woman. Many people today express preferences in a potential spouse, including height, weight, hair color, skin color, cultural background, etc. Perhaps Moses just liked Ethiopian women.

      Re. Moses assuming he was free to marry Zipporah because he thought he was unlikely to ever be reunited with his Ethiopian princess wife, I don’t see why we should assume him having a commitment or preference toward monogamy. We have no indication of that in scripture, and he had family and cultural tradition otherwise, so it may well have been a non-issue.

      All that said, what I find most curious about the whole story of Moses and Zipporah is the circumcision issue.

      We know that Abraham took YHVH’s instruction seriously, and circumcised all the men of his camp. He even did so to Ishmael, *after* being told that it was through Isaac and not Ishmael that the covenant (with which circumcision was intimately connected) would pass. I think it is safe to assume, then, that Abraham continued this practice with hiis subsequent children, including Midian If Yitro knew YHVH, and was descended from Abraham (implied in the Exodus text, and attested by Josephus), then it seems reasonable that Yitro’s household would have known and practiced circumcision. We know that circumcision was not unique to the Abrahamic people, according to histories and archaeology, but YHVH *commanded* it of Abraham. Whatever Zipporah’s upset over the issue, we know that either Moses or his son was yet uncircumcised in violation to YHVH’s instruction to Abraham. The fact that Moses also did not impose this instruction on the people of the Exodus, even though he obviously knew it was important before the exodus and was commanded after, makes me think that it was most likely Moses who had a problem with circumcision and that Zipporah’s strong reaction on the trip to Egypt was because Moses’ disobedience almost got him or his son killed, not that she was objecting to circumcision.

      • Thank you for your interesting and thoughtful comments. In my written suggestion about Moses’ possible divorce and remarriage, I am not dogmatic in my assertion, but leave the door open to other possible interpretations. I state that my assumption makes the most sense to me, but I could be wrong. None of us knows one way or the other for certain due to the paucity of biblical info on the subject. Blessings.

      • Natan, in re-reading this 2-year-plus old thread I saw something I wanted to be sure to address. When I made the comment about the Josephus references (ch 10 vs chapter 11) and I said “Natah’s reference (ch 11) is, uh, less correct”, I meant only that the chapter number itself was incorrect (likely a typo, I imagine) and not that your take on the story was incorrect. I had included a smiley-face to help make that point, but I think now that i should have been more explicit. I actually greatly appreciated your thoughts/musings on the subject all around. Shalom!

  4. Somehow, I can’t imagine that Moshe would have rekindled his relationship with the Ethiopian ex wife; surely, she would have moved on as well after all this time. Perhaps, Miriam just brought up the past, reminding Moshe that he wasn’t perfect because of having been divorced and remarried to Zipporah so why should he tell others how to live? Women can be good in bringing up the past.

    • Unless the Ethiopian women came with Moses as part of the mixed multitude that left Egypt with the Israelites. Maybe Zip didn’t want to be second fiddle to the second wife? Who knows? We’re given very little detail. Nevertheless, it appears to have been scandalous all the way around for everyone.

      • Yes, various possibilities; we may never know the reality of it all. Not overly important anyway.

  5. This is a fantastic teaching that I’ve never noticed before. Yah’s mercy truly is new every day.

    May His shalom rest on your shoulders for sharing such a treasure from Torah.

  6. Ron Allen made a strong case for divorce, in his commentary on Numbers (EBC, 2012), but he underlined its speculative nature. Desmond Alexander made a strong case denying any such divorce, in his commentary on Exodus (AOTC, 2017). Some hold that Zipporah was the Kushite/Nubian. But if as seems to me, there were two women here, “sent away” (Ex.18:2) can simply mean a separation in space. Had she not gone back home with their children, for safety’s sake?

    But, Allen asked, why wasn’t Wife 1’s death recorded to show monogamy, if Moshe had been single when he married Wife 2? Had he divorced W1, an unmentionable shame (Mt.19:8) best excluded from the text? Did his siblings object to him marrying a Kushite/Nubian because of her colour (black?), or social status (handmaiden), her foreignness, or disagreement over divorce?

    I see no problem with W1 dying unrecorded before Marriage 2, or with ANE polygamy, or with biblically justified divorce (Erasmus) clean-slating us. But W2’s death wasn’t recorded; why should W1’s have been? In my reading, Zipporah saved Moses’ life—was he so resentful that he divorced her? I doubt it.

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