What Does the Bible Say About Moses’ Family?
Zipporah, Gershom and Eleazer
And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
We know from Exodus 2:21 that Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of the Midianite priest, Jethro (also known as Reuel). Verse 22 tells us that Zipporah bore Moses a son, whose name was Gershom.
The next mention of either Zipporah or Gershom is found in Exodus 4:20, which says, “And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Eygpt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.” Although only one son (Gershom) had been mentioned in the initial account of Moses’ marriage to Zipporah (Exodus 2:21-22), evidently Eleazer (the second son) had been born during Moses’ forty-year stay in Midian.
There is no biblical record of when or under what circumstances Zipporah and her two sons returned to her father (Jethro) from Egypt. However, many Bible commentators think that Moses sent his family back for safety. Following is a quote from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary by Robert Jamieson concerning this.
“There is no express mention of Zipporah and her sons having been sent back to remain with her father. But it is certain that she was sent back; and whether, as the Jewish rabbis say, this was done by the advice of Aaron; whether the motive for it was a tender regard for the safety of the family, to keep them away from the intensely agitating and engrossing scenes of the exodus, or, as some suppose, a domestic feud, caused by the circumcision of the younger son, had produced a sudden strife and alienation between Moses and Zipporah, there is no doubt that she returned to sojourn under her father’s roof.”
The next mention of Zipporah and her sons is found in Exodus 18:2 where the account begins with Jethro taking Zipporah and her two sons, Gershom and Eleazer, back to Moses “…in the wilderness, where he encamped at the Mount of God” (v. 5).
A further passage referring to Moses’ sons is 1 Chronicles 23:14-16: “Thus, Moses’ sons were ranked with the Levites generally, but not introduced in to the distinctive portion of the descendants of Levi who were appointed to the special functions of the priesthood.” (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary, Vol. I, p. 498, Robert Jamieson).
Did Moses Have a Second Wife?
The only other reference found in the Bible pertaining to Moses’ wife is found in Numbers 12:1. Is this a reference to Zipporah, his only recorded wife, or does it refer to a new wife? Dr. Harold L. Willmington, in his commentary Numbers, in the Liberty Bible Commentary says: “The word ‘Ethiopian’ (Cushite) in verse 1 may indicate it was a new wife. If so, she could have been either a foreigner saved out of Egypt with the Israelites, or a daughter of the Cushites dwelling in Arabia. At any rate, neither marriage would have been wrong, for the prohibition in Exodus 34:16 referred only to the Canaanites” (Liberty Bible Commentary, Vol. I. p. 277).
Dr. W. A. Criswell, in the Criswell Study Bible, says: “It is possible Zipporah the Midianite was the only wife Moses had and the terms “Cushan” and “Midian” may be synonymous.”
Whatever the case, there is no further reference in the Bible to either Moses’ wife, Zipporah, or his sons, Gershom and Eliezer. We do not know when or how they died.