God Meets Moses on the Way to Egypt by David C. Hancock

David C. Hancock

God Meets Moses on the Way to Egypt, 2003, Watercolour on paper, Collection of the artist, © David C. Hancock; Image courtesy of the artist

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Transformed by Violence

Commentary by

In this striking image, David C. Hancock captures the life-altering shock and terror Moses and Zipporah experience in the violent encounter with God on the return journey to Egypt.

In the biblical passage, the very God who has chosen Moses to fulfil his divine plan—and who has assured Moses that it is safe to return to Egypt—suddenly turns on his chosen leader and seeks to kill him. This stark and terrifying divine presence descends upon the central figure of Moses, who seems precariously suspended in mid-air. His eyes suggest that he has been startled awake, but is paralyzed with fear; at the same time, there is something regressive and child-like about the way Hancock portrays Moses. Surrounded in a womb-like darkness and curled in a fetal position, his waking appears to be more than a physical jolt from slumber: he is waking to a new, deeper understanding of the perilous business of being involved with God.

However, Moses is not the only one whose life shall be transformed—in the lower left corner of the image, we see an amorphous white figure surrounded by what seems like fire. This is Zipporah, who is so horrified by the confrontation that she transforms into what Hancock describes as ‘a shrieking spirit’. Between her and Moses is a splotch of paint symbolizing the bloody foreskin of Moses’s son—a fascinating detail that suggests the circumcision comes between Moses and Zipporah as much as it comes between Moses and God. The relationship between husband and wife can never be the same: Moses is now ‘a bridegroom of blood’ (vv.25–26) whose negligence has alienated him from his family.

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