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.
19And the Lord said to Moses in Midʹian, “Go back to Egypt; for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.” 20So Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on an ass, and went back to the land of Egypt; and in his hand Moses took the rod of God.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22And you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son, 23and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me”; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son.’ ”
24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to kill him. 25Then Zippoʹrah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26So he let him alone. Then it was that she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went, and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs which he had charged him to do. 29Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel.