This past Palm Sunday weekend, we had a "Disney Devotional" movie night for our Presby Kids. We watched The Prince of Egypt (technically a Dreamworks picture, but who's really keeping track?). The movie tells the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. The focus of the devotional was the Jewish holiday of Passover and the importance of understanding Passover from the Christian understanding of deliverance through the blood of Christ. In doing my homework for the event though, I noticed an Old Testament wrinkle that until now had escaped my attention.
Back in college, I specifically remember not knowing the name of Moses' wife on a test. Since it was the only question I missed that day, her name, Zipporah, is permanently seared into my brain. Now, Zipporah is an interesting character because she was foreign...she was neither Hebrew or Egyptian. Rather, we are told that she was the daughter of a priest of Midian (Exodus 2:11-25). However, Judges 1:16 tells us that Moses' Father-in-Law was a Kenite...would this not make Zipporah a Kenite as well? Yet still elsewhere in the Bible (Numbers 12:1), it seems that Zipporah is Cushite, or from the land of Cush (an area roughly corresponding to what we now call Ethiopia). Further muddling the picture is at least 1 non-biblical source which seems to hint that Zipporah was Libyan!
So what do we make of this? Well, for one thing Moses was in a God-approved interracial marriage, and when Miriam and Aaron bickered about it, God cursed them with leprosy...that is a historically intriguing facet for anyone who knows much about racial discrimination in American history. The more pressing concern though is what does this mean for the integrity of scripture? After all, many non-believers and critics love to point out scriptural inconsistency as a reason to not have faith in God. However, this is a weak argument.
For one, Zipporah was likely a Kenite and a Midianite, as the terms seem to be used interchangeably in the Bible; this is not an impossibility as the Kenites were a nomadic group of gifted metal-working people living (generally) in the the Levant. Since the land of Midian was a geographical area in the North-West Saudi Peninsula, it is not unreasonable that the Kenites would have found themselves there simply due to their roaming way of life.
What of the Ethiopian claim then? Well, we must keep in mind that the people saying Zipporah was from Cush were Aaron and Miriam...the only immediately distinguishing characteristic Zipporah would have had that would make them think this was her dark skin. Moses' siblings were holding Zipporah's skin tone against her...not her actual nationality. They assumed dark-skinned people must be from Cush, so that was the claim they made...perhaps inaccurately.
Miriam and Aaron suffered consequences from jumping to false conclusions over preconceived notions. We must be careful to not do the same. While it is easy to foster doubt by cherry-picking seemingly opposed scriptures, a more thorough understanding of scripture, as well as contextual knowledge, can really help us clear up the haze...not only in our own minds, but perhaps in the mind's of unwitting seekers of God as well.
Now, while this scriptural mess was easily enough tidied up, when we are dealing with historical facts over 3000 years old, there will always be some mystery, confusion, and contradiction...but in all things there must be something to which only God can know, lest we become too much akin to God ourselves...and that is a troubling danger (Genesis 11:3-4). So, when dealing with the Old Testament, we must sometimes know only enough to say "Who can say?".