Jethro’s back, and he brings Zipporah and Moses’ two sons with him. The passage mentions that Moses “sent away his wife” (v 2), which the NCT has as kaeshiteita, “sent back home,” but it doesn’t say when. She hasn’t been mentioned since the foreskin incident, so maybe that prompted an argument that led to their separation. Neither of the Hollywood midrashes I’ve been looking at have her “sent away.” In The Ten Commandments she leaves because she’s afraid her eldest son will die in the tenth plague, and in The Prince of Egypt she doesn’t leave at all. It’s also odd that they now have two children, and that the latter’s name seems tied to events in Egypt (“The God [Eli] of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”), so was Zipporah pregnant when he sent her back? Either way, Hollywood didn’t seem to want to contemplate that Moses might have basically divorced her.
But now Jethro is bringing her back, and since it mentions him leaving at the end of this chapter, but not them, presumably there was some kind of reconciliation. Heck, maybe it wasn’t even a divorce. Maybe Moses was afraid for Zipporah and his sons after God’s confrontation in chapter 4 and sent her back for her own safety?
As I was reading this, I realized that it sounded familiar, not just from reading it when I was in third grade, but something more recent. Then it came to me: this is the passage that Barton and the other Wall Builders cite as evidence that republican democracy was inspired by the Bible! Which is total BS, of course, but not just in the ways that Dr. Throckmorton mentions there.
I mean, yes, there’s the obvious that what Moses sets up isn’t a representative democracy in the slightest. It is entirely top down. Moses chooses people to lead the Israelites, they don’t choose for themselves. It seems utterly unlikely that this was what inspired the founders, as opposed to the many other models of democracy from the classical period that they much more clearly drew from.
But here’s the other thing – if they’re trying to say there’s a sort of divine mandate for republican rule, then the text itself doesn’t say it. It isn’t God telling Moses how to govern Israel, it’s his father-in-law. He’s not speaking as a prophet, but rather as a concerned in-law who sees Moses wearing himself out. He gives a perfectly worldly justification (“you will surely wear yourself out”) and a perfectly worldly solution (delegate). And Moses accepts it, and God doesn’t say anything one way or the other, and it works out well.
Which means, I think, that the real message of this chapter is: so long as your government works properly, meeting the needs of the people, then God doesn’t really care what it looks like.
The Japanese: kaesu “to send home” (v 2), mi wo kagameru “to stoop, to hunch, to bow,” anpi wo tazuneru “to inquire after (one’s health, safety, etc.)” (v 7), konnan “difficulty,” souguu suru “to encounter” (v 8), kouman “proud, haughty” (v 11), ni ga omoi “to have a lot on one’s shoulders, to bear a lot of responsibility” (v 18), jogen suru “to advise, to counsel” (v 19), yuunou “able, capable,” ritoku “profit,” shinrai “reliance,” atai suru “to deserve” (v 21), heiso “usual, ordinary,” futan wo karuku “to lighten one’s load,” buntan suru “to share, to divide up” (v 22), nin ni taeru “to be up to the job” (v 23).
I noticed that the word the NCT uses for “bow” in verse 7 is the word you use for a from-the-hip bow, verses the usual term they’ve been using thus far for bowing, which implies prostration. I’m not sure if the Hebrew word is different or not (obviously), but the NCT’s choice of words depicts Moses and Jethro’s meeting as one of equals, the leader and priest of the Israelites meeting the leader and priest of the Midianites. It also reminds me of how people tried to make a big deal out of Obama’s faux paz of bowing lower to the Emperor than he needed to, as if the Japanese would see this as some sign of weakness rather than just chocking it up to gaijin not understanding their culture.