Golden QuillThe Majesty of God

Chapter Twenty–One – Moses the Pauper

After many days, Moses came again to a well, this time within the territory of his cousins, the Midians. He refreshed himself as best he could, first with a cool drink. This was the first time in his life that he had never been waited on hand and foot. His clothes were filthy and he needed a shave. He wanted to wash his clothes, but he had nothing to change into and he did not want to be caught in the undignified situation of being naked and seen washing his clothes himself, if anyone came along. How aghast his soldiers would be to see the great General of the Generals taking personal care of his grooming and doing such a mundane chore as washing his clothes, like a commoner.

At least he could wash his face without being troubled by his pride, and rub his teeth clean. His chin was feeling rough and itchy; he supposed that a beard would help hide part of his face. If he got himself a head covering like the desert nomads, he could pull it down to shade his eyes and conceal more of his face from the sharp eyes of Pharaoh's agents.

Moses was exhausted from his journey, as well as from stress, and he felt weak from hunger. It was around noon; shepherds would soon come to water their flocks. Perhaps he could find work herding sheep, so that he could support himself until he found a better way to earn his living. He supposed that he would hire himself out as a mercenary until he gained enough influence to gather an army. But, no, Pharaoh would expect a soldier to do that very thing.

The guise of a lowly shepherd would serve him well until he worked out a plan for freeing his people. Being raised among people who considered shepherding a disgusting occupation, he felt intense repugnance for the idea, but it would be just about the last thing that the Egyptians would expect him to do. Besides, if it had been good enough for his ancestor Jacob, then it shouldn't be too lowly for his greatgreatgrandson.

Moses sat down under the shade of a palm to rest and had just finished resettling his linen headdress when he caught sight of a string of girls leading their sheep to the well. He congratulated himself that he had obeyed his intuition to not strip off and wash his clothes.

The girls looked at him shyly when they approached the well, except for the tallest one. She seemed to be the eldest, and she flashed him a look with her bold, dark eyes before she dropped them, remembering to set an example of womanly modesty for the other six.

It was evident the girls were sisters, judging by their features, but the eldest was the most attractive. Her firm chin was held high, which was probably either intimidating or annoying to insecure men, but her lips, though not as full as an African woman's, were beautifully shaped and rosy. They quirked enchantingly, as if she were enjoying a private joke. Moses began to be intrigued about what she might be thinking. He had an idea that whatever it was, it was favourable to him.

Feeling somewhat strengthened by the female admiration directed at him, which was comfortingly familiar, Moses leaned back against the trunk of the palm and crossed his arms, while watching the girls fill the troughs to water their flocks. The girls stole looks at him and smiled, and he looked all of them over, but the eldest claimed his attention again and again.

She was not shy; she was flirting, her cheek dimpling deeply when she smiled. She lowered her eyes again, displaying her long, dark eyelashes against her high–boned cheeks for his view, choreographing her moves to be graceful. Watching her work was like watching a dance. Her confidence that she had a chance with him was appealing. Usually, even when they did not know who he was, peasant women were tongue–tied by his attractive looks.

Several pairs of eyes watched the tableaux by the well. Neighbouring shepherds had cunningly guessed that, to avoid being harassed, the young women would come earlier that day to water their flocks, so they were timing their own arrival for just after the troughs were filled, waiting in the hills, laughing at how they would put one over on Jethro's daughters. They knew it aggravated Jethro that they did not give him the respect that was his due, but they knew he would not do anything about it because it would make him look petty. After all, it was just a bunch of girls they were hassling, and they weren't doing any real harm. It wasn't like they had ever attempted to ravish them.

Besides horning in on the full troughs, which saved them from a bit of work, they enjoyed making sport of the girls, particularly the eldest. Zipporah was too full of herself, and had a tongue like a whip. It was entertaining to see how she screamed at them, but was physically helpless to prevent them from pushing her and her sisters out of the way.

There was a big, Egyptian fellow by the well, but they did not expect him to interfere. Men tended to let Zipporah fend for herself when she was teased, since they were put off by her shrewish spirit. Neither had the man helped them fill the troughs, but had sat there with his arms crossed, as if he was lord of all he surveyed, and it amused him to see girls doing hard work. Apparently, he was a typical man, so there was no need for concern that he would interfere in their sport.

When the shepherds descended and herded their flocks to the troughs ahead of Jethro's sheep, the younger girls protested with the usual shouts and curses, but, surprisingly, Zipporah toned down her railing on this day and did not try to hit any of them. Instead, she turned her large eyes towards the Egyptian in a most feminine appeal. Moses had been inclined, in any case, to step in, as he had always had a moral objection to mindless bullying, and even more so since developing compassion for the plight of his people, but those big, pleading eyes awakened an extra burst of chivalry; he always liked to be the hero.

He had stood up when the other shepherds arrived, and now he stepped forward and grabbed the front of their leader's tunic, lifting him off his feet. He looked grim as he told the shepherds to go away and wait their turn. They looked at his hard, implacable face and the danger in his eyes, and backed off accordingly. The Egyptian then helped with refilling the troughs until the girls' flocks were watered, and they were finished in record time. The oldest girl smiled and whispered a thank–you before they left.

All of the girls flashed him backward looks as they led their flocks away. Moses' eyes zeroed in again on the tall beauty, who had not stopped smiling, and she looked back one more time, then dipped her head in a final expression of gratitude before she disappeared around the hillside.

Behind Zipporah's back, the other girls whispered to each other that they would not mind marrying such as the Egyptian, but commiserated with each other that it was likely to be a long time before any of them married because the eldest must marry first. Zipporah was so strong–willed and argumentive that she frightened men off. Nobody wanted to marry her, even if she was a chieftain's daughter.

Their father arose from before his seat in the city gate when he saw them arrive home and he asked, "Why are you home so early?" They replied that an Egyptian had chased off the shepherds and helped them water their flocks. He scolded them, "What? You did not invite him home to share a meal? That is not how we treat strangers who are kind to us. Go get him and bring him back, so that we can give him something to eat."

None of the girls explained that they had all been too dazzled to think of it. The younger ones turned around in a hurry and started heading back on the run. Zipporah was eager, as well, but as the eldest, she maintained her dignity by concealing her feelings. She was chagrined, however, that she had been so bowled over by the handsome Egyptian that she had not thought to invite him for dinner in return for his help, according to the dictates of courtesy and hospitality. No man had ever before made her feel like her knees had turned to water and it was a very unsettling sensation, but one that she didn't object to.

She got ahead of her sisters, as she was the leader and being in front was her place, and she explained her hurry as being neccessary because they needed to fulfill their obligation to the man before he left the well. Her heart pounded with excitement at the thought of seeing him again and waiting on him at her father's table.

Zipporah slowed them all down before they got within sight of the well, telling her sisters that they ought to comport themselves like ladies. She needed time to catch her breath and she hoped that her face did not look flushed when she spoke to the Egyptian. She sensed that he was a man who would not be impressed by a woman who was obvious about her attraction to him. He was so handsome and self–assured that he was surely used to having a lot of women throw themselves at him, and she did not want to come across as a common type of woman. She was very glad that her father had supplied her with a legitimate excuse to talk to the man.

Moses had nowhere else to go for the moment. He had not made friends with the shepherds; their resentful glares while they watered their sheep told him that they were not inclined to invite him to their tents for a hospitable meal, never mind give him a job. But what was this? The tall beauty was back, leading her gauche gaggle of girls who were giggling and darting looks at each other, pulling their veils across their faces to hide their smiles.

Moses smiled as he watched the Arabian's trim figure approach. She was lush in all the right places, though slim for her height. It was surprising that she was not married, as she did not look to be in her teens. He guessed she was still in her twenties, though. The young woman bowed and then raised her thickly–lashed eyes to announce that her father, the High Priest of Midian, would be pleased if he would join him for the evening meal. Moses was cheered when he learned that he had helped the daughters of a chief; this boded well for him. And a meal was more than welcome; he felt like his stomach was sticking to his spine.

The Egyptian accepted the invitation in a manner that was so courteous that it left Zipporah feel like she was melting into the ground, which was something she had never felt like before. She was highly impressed with the stranger's manners and tried to work some information out of him about his background as they journeyed to the city.

Their pace was leisurely for, in spite of his hunger, Moses was amused by the girl and wanted to spend this time talking to her. The other girls were too shy to talk to him; they stayed in place behind their older sister and the stranger, straining to hear the Egyptian's replies to Zipporah's questions. He didn't give out any information about himself. Instead, he deflected Zipporah's questions with questions of his own.

Moses smiled down at Zipporah as she walked at his side, and she worked hard to pretend that she was not feeling that she wanted to throw herself at his handsome body. She loved it that he was much taller than herself, as she was taller than most of the men she knew. She knew that most people expected that, if anyone ever married her, it would be some shrimpy, masochistic, little guy who would let her boss him around, and she resented the picture that people had of her. She always saw herself marrying a magnificent warrior who felt enhanced, rather than threatened, by her confidence; someone like this man.

Zipporah succeeded very well in giving the impression that she was cool and dignified, and Moses admired her for it, but he had far too much experience with women to be deceived that she was tranquil about him. He could intuit that she was a woman of fiery passion, but he knew just as surely that, even without penalties against fornication, she thought too highly of herself to have allowed men to trifle with her. Hers was a virgin body with a virgin heart full of romantic fantasies.

If her sisters could have known what he was thinking, they would have informed him that there was another good reason why a man had never touched their sister before. She had never met her match. Her acid tongue scared off all the men of her acquaintance from wanting to marry her, though some dared to torment her with verbal insults about her temper because her strength of will irked them. Nobody ever sympathized with Zipporah when that happened.

Zipporah was the song of the drunkards, a byword when men wanted to tease each other. When they cursed each other, they said "May you be married to a thousand Zipporahs!" The reply would come back with a shudder, "Only one would be more than enough!" This was usually greeted with laughter, and if the offense was not too serious, the men made peace with each other, pitying the poor devil who would ever be a fool enough to marry her. That remark usually led to more jokes.

Jethro greeted the visitor, who bowed and thanked him for his hospitality. Jethro said that rather it was he who must offer thanks for the help that had been given his daughters. They both went into the customary, flowery speeches. Jethro was impressed with the man's eloquence. His words slipped so pleasingly out of his mouth, like the silvery waters of a fountain. This was a man who not only had a privileged upbringing and high intelligence, but also the heart of a poet.

He invited the man, who said his name was Haran, to his house and called for the food to be served. His wife did the honours, with Zipporah assisting. Jethro astutely noticed the looks that the stranger cast his daughter's way as she helped serve the food. Yes, she was beautiful, and it would be a triumph if he could get the man to marry her when Zipporah was so smitten with him, before he heard about her reputation. He could read his daughter well, and knew she would never be so pleasant with a man, if she was not stricken by the god of love. He had never seen her this way before. Usually she held men in contempt, or at least pretended to, trying to find one who could stand up to her and win her respect.

Of course, Zipporah was never rude to guests when he entertained them at his table. She prided herself on having good manners, and she was also curious to hear their conversation with him. Most of the time, Jethro let her stay, except for when confidential matters were discussed, as it interested him to find out later what she had thought of the guest(s) and the things that were said. Whatever her faults, Zipporah was a very astute judge of character and she had a keen grasp of politics. Jethro was adept at getting her feedback in such a way that he could maintain his advantages over his daughter, both as her father and as a male. He was the only man, so far, who could always get her to remember her place.

This stranger might be able to do it. Nobody with such table graces as his had ever wandered into their camp before, and yet he seemed manly in every way. Strong, self–assured, confident; just the kind of man she needed. Jethro could not get enough information out of him to find out what the man had done before their meeting, but he suspected it had something to do with the military.

He also guessed that Haran, as he called himself, was running from something and needed a place to hide out. He dressed as an Egyptian, but had a Syrian name. It was possible that he was Syrian, though Jethro wondered about that. His conviction that the man was on the run was the only thing that gave him hope that a man like this would take him up on his offer of looking after his flocks. He was sure that he had administrative abilities that would be of use to him, and it would also be good to have another strong warrior in the tribe.

Jethro was thoroughly rankled by how the shepherds had been harassing his daughters for weeks; it was an affront to the High Priest of Midian that they interfered with the business of watering his sheep. It was disrespectful to him. Jethro needed someone like this man who could keep them in line.

The stranger replied that he knew nothing of shepherding, but he was willing to learn, if Jethro was willing to teach him. Jethro smiled and said, "My daughter Zipporah will teach you. She is an expert and you will get good training from her."

Moses smiled back, knowing full well that the old fox was trying to marry his daughter off to him. It was flattering that, though he was a total stranger, Jethro could tell that he was a man of consequence, but also alarming to realize how impossible it was to conceal from people of mental acuity that he was not just a regular sort of man. He needed to make a friend of this chief and forestall the possibility of him making inquiries to find out if there was a reward offered for information about him, which would come into the ears of Pharaoh's agents. Sometimes greed can overcome the laws of bread and salt. Moses had seen it happen before, and he did not know this man.

Moses was open to the possibility of marrying this lovely, young woman. It would be much to his advantage to be the man's son–in–law, for Jethro was the prince of a nation of fierce warriors. He did not doubt that together, he and Jethro could rally those warriors to join his cause. Were the Israelites not their kinsmen? And there was much spoil to be gained; Egypt had been raiding other nations for years and gathering their treasures.

Moses figured that his first line of attack would be against Egyptian troops in Ethiopia. He had steered away from making his escape in that direction because the Egyptians would expect him to go there directly. It would doubtless be the most heavily searched route of escape. He trusted that Tharbis would be able to hold out against them at Sheba, until he came with troops to relieve the siege.

If he judged her rightly, her attraction for him would overcome her concern for her father, who was being held as a hostage. Additionally, her upbringing would tell her that her father would approve of her standing with Moses to regain the Ethiopian empire, which would be passed on to her children, thus keeping his name alive through his dynasty. Tharbis would know that her father was willing to die a noble death for that cause, as well as for the prosperity of his people. On that basis, she would convince her people to fight with them.

Aside from needing Jethro's warriors for his cause, he also had a man's sexual needs to fulfill, and this tall, vivacious beauty whom he had met at the well would do. The manpower that could be gained through her was not her only attraction. He wondered again why she was still unmarried and guessed it was because she was so feisty. He expected that she would add a bit of spice to his sojourn among the Midianites. Though he felt convicted that, now that he had turned to the one true God, he should respect Israelite taboos against his former practices, Moses was sure that he would still find plenty of satisfaction in bed, if he were married to such a wildcat as this Midianite woman.

A short courtship followed. Zipporah had never before tried to dazzle a man, and she would have had most other men besotted with her for the efforts that she expended on Moses. Moses was not like most men, though. Since he was a young boy, he had been with hundreds of women who were either dainty or elegant, whatever their inclination was. This woman was somewhere between the two, though not quite either. Too tall to be dainty, too countrified to be elegant, but of a higher stamp than the other women in this region.

It took his mind off his troubles temporarily when she was around, trying to impress him while pretending she was not impressed with him. He enjoyed sparring with her, and she always conceded his victories in making replies that she had no answer for by saucily flouncing off, or doing some other cheeky thing that amused him.

Zipporah never made the mistake of letting Haran make free with her. She was aiming at marriage, not to cheapen herself in this man's eyes by giving in to her flaming passions. She wanted him to stick around, not move on. Only marriage would bind him to her. She could tell that he wanted her, but was too respectful of her father's hospitality to take liberties with his daughter.

Her sisters, she knew, wanted him to take liberties with them, and she knew that none of them would have been strong enough to resist, if he turned his devastating charm on them. She kept them in line, though, pulling ears or slapping them across the face when she was alone with them, asking what they thought they were doing making sheep's eyes at the stranger. Did they want to find themselves in a fix? Did they imagine that he would marry such a silly things as them, if such a thing happened? She warned them that they had better act like ladies or she would beat them blue.

Her sisters knew they would get no support from their parents, if they tattled about Zipporah's rough behavior. Father and Mother wanted them to be modest and virtuous, and besides that, since Zipporah had staked out a claim on Haran and would not tolerate competition, they hoped that Haran would marry her, thus releasing all the rest to marry, instead of dying as old maids, as they had expected to before he came along. For this reason, they never said anything critical to him about their sister.

Jethro waited a decent length of time for Moses to demonstrate that he was an energetic, conscientious shepherd who was capable of learning quickly. After all, he was a stranger whose real name Jethro was certain they did not know. As soon as he could, though, he offered his daughter to him, before the stranger could see a side of Zipporah's personality that might give him second thoughts about marrying her.

Moses accepted the proposal and the wedding was hastily prepared. Zipporah was excited as her mother and sisters adorned her in colourful and costly garments and jewels, and then covered her with a filmy veil. Her bridegroom was only a blurred image through the veil, but her attention remained mostly on him throughout the preliminary festivities; he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Indeed he was. Moses had not attended a tribal wedding before and it was jolly fun with the lively music and dancing. The guests got drunk and the stories about Zipporah started to trickle out. Jethro hushed the guests up before the trickle could gain momentum; the wedding was not consummated, yet. He poured Moses some more wine and then hurried the bridegroom off to his marriage bed.

A delightful honeymoon period followed. Zipporah lived up to his expectations and he far surpassed hers. She wondered mightily about this man she married. He must be a rich man's son who had fallen into misfortunes. She teased him to tell her about his past, but he always teased her back and deflected the question. It eventually got annoying that he would not tell her, especially because she was intently curious about what gave him nightmares and made him awake night after night with a start, dripping with sweat.

Zipporah concealed her displeasure that he would not tell, even after she expended great efforts to soothe him and help him relax enough to go back to sleep. During the day, she continued with her enchanting flirting, though they were now married, still accompanying him to graze the flocks, as she was not yet pregnant. Moses was temporarily happy when he was with her, though his people were always at the back of his mind. He thought about them a lot in the silence of the night, turning plans over in his mind, plotting strategies. When he had it all worked out, he would reveal his identity and lay his plans before Jethro.

A trader stopped at their camp and regaled them with news from Egypt, among other locales. Jethro watched Moses closely, who was pretending only casual interest, though he was burning for news that might assist him in his strategizing. Jethro pondered how Haran had been dressed as an Egyptian when he first came to them, but now his thick, dark hair hung in curls to his shoulders and his black beard flowed down his chest. He certainly did not look like an Egyptian anymore.

Moses let Jethro ask all the questions, gleaning what he could from the trader's replies, but the trader was not much interested in politics that did not directly influence his opportunities for financial gain. His conversation was mostly about the price of this and the price of that, and of various raiding attempts on his caravan that he had encountered in his travels.

As the man was getting his camels packed up the next morning, to feel around for some information in an indirect way, Moses asked him about the current price of slaves in Egypt. The trader told him how much various types of slaves were being sold for. Moses commented, "I am surprised that there is still so much traffic in Cushites that they are going for such cheap prices. I would have thought that their king's loyalty to his Egyptian lords would have won them more favour and the Egyptians would let up on the quota the Ethiopians are required to surrender."

The trader scoffed and said, "I guess you don't keep up with politics much out here in the backside of the desert. True, he gave his fealty when he was conquered, but the Egyptians doubted that he was conquered in his heart. They brought him back as a hostage. Then some difficulties arose and they now keep his daughter as a hostage, too. No, the yoke the Ethiopians have to bear is harder now."

Moses heart sank. He forced himself to act like nothing was amiss and went through the customary farewell etiquette, but he was relieved to get away so that he could think things through. He did not have to ask any questions as to why Tharbis had been brought to the Delta, but he had thought she would suspect something was up, if she saw troops marching in her direction. After all, she had been adhering to what the Egyptians required of her and had given them no cause move their troops in. She would have surmised that her father was dead and that something was amiss between her husband and the Egyptians, so they needed her as a hostage to keep her people under control. She could have closed the gates and held out against them for two years, or maybe more, now that the Egyptians no longer had him as their military leader.

The Egyptians would guess that she would come to those conclusions and tricked her into going with them peaceably. How did they do it? They must have brought her a communication with his seal on it. Pharaoh had the right to replicate it. What did they say to her to make her walk into their trap? Well, whatever it was, she was not likely to ever trust the Egyptians again, but he had no way to send her messages because she would suspect anything now that had his seal on it.

Moses wished he had thought things out more carefully before he made his first move to show the Hebrews he was on their side. He kicked himself that he had not turned to God long, long ago, and just played along with the Egyptians that he believed in their idols, so that he could have been a double agent, feeding information to the Hebrews and misinformation to the Egyptians, setting up a network, getting things ready, and then they would have made a break for it when the Ethiopians went on the rampage.

It then occurred to him that if he'd been a double agent, he would have had to torture Hebrew resistance workers, as well as innocent people who had been arrested on the whims of the overlords, to keep up the pretense that he was on the Egyptians' side. That would have been hard to do. But it would have to be done. The victims would have just had to bear up under it, for the sake of the Hebrew cause. Who knows? He might have been able to reduce the amount of arrests and been able to free some who were arrested. The suffering of the few for the benefit of the many was a principle that he had been brought up with. The ends justify the means was another.

What was he going to do now? His Ethiopian ticket was gone. With both their king and his daughter, who had been acting as his regent, now in the hands of the Egyptians, the Ethiopians would not fight against them. Instead, they were added to Egypt's force and would be agents on the look–out for him. He did not doubt that the Egyptians promised the Cushites that they would return Tharbis to them in trade for him. Africa was closed; thousands of eyes were on the watch there.

Yes, the Ethiopians would point him out in a heartbeat. He had been nothing but trouble to them, slaughtering them, his troops raping and looting and torturing, taking slaves. He married their queen, then stupidly did something to anger the Egyptians when he was in a place of weakness, and now their queen was held captive and they were being oppressed worse than ever. From their point of view, the great General of the Generals, whom they had feared, was now an object of scorn and a target for revenge. They could be harnessed for his purposes only if Tharbis was free and at his side.

Moses was in a corner. If he amassed troops from elsewhere to attack Egypt, the Egyptians would be supported by the Ethiopians because they had their queen. And the queen had no voice. He did not doubt that she would urge her people to support him, if she could speak, but she was undoubtedly kept out of contact with anyone who could pass messages for her. Moses felt frustrated about having lost the Ethiopian option.

For all that he knew that Tharbis was besotted with him, her only value to Moses was how he could make use of her. True, sometimes various things about his wedding night with the princess came back to him, and memories of how enticing she had looked when she had watched him from the walls of Sheba during the siege. When those scenes had flitted through his mind after he left her, he thought it would be intriguing to meet with her again, perhaps the following year or the one after that.

He had not known when the Egyptians would trust him enough to let him return to Sheba to inspect the domain. He had spent a few moments from time to time to savour the prospect of exploring Tharbis's intriguing mind some more the next time they met, and taking up where he had left off on his honeymoon, but in the nomes where he travelled, he had many other women to claim his attention. He had prized Tharbis, not for her womanly attributes, but for her political advantages, and that was the only reason why he was interested in her thought processes.

Not that he had never talked to lesser women, using only their bodies and then casting them aside once his sensual needs were fulfilled. It sometimes amused him to have conversation for a while with his concubines and other lovers who were trained in court etiquette, or who had some scholarly education. It was a part of how he amused himself and it made him popular with the ladies.

After he decided to turn to the God of the Hebrews, when he realized that He is the one true God, Moses realized that he was going to have to leave his harem of concubines behind. He had to focus on rescuing the Hebrews; he did not have the means to do anything for his lovers. They would be interrogated to see if he had confided anything that would tell the Egyptians how far back he had decided to go over to the Hebrews, or if he said anything about his plans. They would interrogate his friends, as well.

They would not be able to tell the Egyptians anything useful, because he had not confided to them anything of what was in his innermost heart. Moses's lovers and slaves would be killed to prevent them from doing anything to help his cause; many of them were grateful for good things he had done for them. This was standard practice when new regimes took over, and it would apply to his situation, as well, because he was an enemy of the regime. Tharbis would be spared because keeping her alive was useful to the Egyptians for controlling the Ethiopians.

Due to sentimental feelings for his friends and concubines and some of his slaves, on his flight from Egypt, Moses had experienced pangs of conscience about what had happened to them because he was now an outlaw. It was one of the monumental failures of his life that he had let all of them down by making such a rash move to try to rescue the Hebrews. If only, if only, if only he had turned back to the Hebrews years ago, and worked quietly, before that decision was forced on him! He might have been able to work something out, so that other people he cared about would not have been hurt. Well, it couldn't be helped now.

Moses had not been acquainted with Tharbis long enough to develop much of an emotional connection with her, but he owned a responsibility for her. It soothed his conscience to know that the Egyptians would treat Tharbis with the courtesy due a queen in captivity, as they would not want to invite rebellion from her people by treating her with less than what her dignity deserved, and she had always carried out their orders after she had become their vassal. It was out of respect for Moses that she had, and they would know that, but she had not broken their laws. Thus assured of her safety, if he could not use her anymore, it was not hard to put her out of his mind. His main purpose in life now was to rescue his people.

Moses wondered about other options for rescuing his people. He turned over many plans in his mind, but found flaw after flaw. In the old days, if he needed to rescue people, he did not worry about casualties as much as he did now. When he led the war against Ethiopia, it was expected that Egyptian soldiers would die in order to rescue Egypt from their enemies. He had been programmed to protect the throne and the aristocracy. The value of the common people was in their manpower. He had not had any sentimental feelings for the general population, though he developed rapport with various officers to ensure their cooperation with his goals. It bothered him when he lost men whom he had become friends with, but his prime directive always helped him dismiss his feelings and soldier on.

The Hebrews were different, though. He had a conviction that God wanted to get all of them out of Egypt, and in good condition. That was unrealistic. There were bound to be casualties, but he ought to try to keep the casualties to a minimum. These people were not manpower for him. They were his flesh and blood, and a covenant people with a divine purpose.

Now that he had time to think things through, he saw that what he should have done was to fake his death and disappeared, working quietly behind the scenes to help the Hebrews to leave. If he had faked his death in such a way that his body could not be recovered, would the Egyptians suspect that it was a ruse?

Yes, they would suspect. The spirits had told them that he would be a success, and dying an untimely death was not the mark of success. They would have asked the spirits if he was alive and they would have even told him where he was, after they had sacrificed enough victims to win that favour. But this God of the Hebrews, did He not have power to confound the demons, so that they could not give a reply? Was He not able to make the Egyptians forget the prophecy about his success?

Through a demon of hypnotism that he had invited to reside in him, Moses had made people forget things that he wanted them to forget. Surely God must have that power, since He is the God above all other gods. Moses pondered some incidents that had baffled him and his Egyptian cronies in the past, such as Hebrew prisoners escaping when it did not seem possible and answers from the oracles that had proved to be wrong.

Moses looked back on his colossal mistakes and realized that in order to have any success in rescuing the Hebrews, he was going to have to get to know the one true God better, and find out how to tap into His power. That was when he decided to stop racking his brain to figure out ways to get the Hebrews out of Egypt. As brilliant and brave for war as he was, he recognized that this problem was too big for him without supernatural power. In the old days, he made incantations and performed divination, including the sacrificing of human victims, and received powers from the princes of darkness to ensure his success, but he knew that the God he now served would not approve of those devices.

Moses had numerous discussions with Jethro about the Israelite religion, after having introduced the subject in a round–about way, so that Jethro would not make a connection between him and the Israelites. Jethro discussed what he believed, comparing it to what the Israelites believed, answering many questions from his eager pupil. He shook his head one time, and asked with amusement, "How is it that a Syrian wants to know so much about what the Israelites believe?"

Jethro taught Moses what he knew, though he would have been surprised to find out that he did not know as much about God as he thought he knew. It did add to Moses' knowledge base, though, and he also found himself beginning to understand the patriarchs' beliefs better, now that his mind was not so cluttered with false ideas since he had stopped embracing the gods of Egypt. He came under the conviction that a lot of his learning was rather useless stuff, particularly in the area of religion. Unfortunately, so much of the Egyptians' learning was riddled with their religion.

He was also starting to see that an alliance with his first wife was more likely to be a detriment to him than an advantage. She was a pagan, and would expect him to play along with her gods, just as Thermuthis had expected it of him. He had no doubt that Tharbis, though young, was a fiercely determined woman of strong will. She also had great learning and he knew that the Ethiopians' religion was similar to that of the Egyptians, for it was from the land of Cush that the Egyptians' ancestor had come. Moses also knew from their wedding ceremony that the Ethiopian religion had much in common with that of the Egyptians', in regards to the marriages of their nobles.

If he was going to be paired with a strong–willed woman, it was better that it was this relatively ignorant, provincial one who warmed his bed now, teasing him with her charming ways. He was so weary of manipulative women. He had been dominated by Thermuthis, and he was likely to be used by Tharbis to accomplish her ambitions, just as he had been used to achieve his adoptive mother's. If Ethiopia took part in helping him release the Hebrews, afterwards he was going to have to leave Tharbis and let her preside over the spoils.

He did not doubt that Tharbis had her sights set on all of Egypt and its dominions. Look how boldly she had proposed marriage, immediately seeing advantages for making an alliance with him. The girl was very shrewd, but he did not want to rule Egypt any more. He just wanted to get his people out of there and lead them home to their rightful inheritance, the land that God had promised to Abraham. That was the only country he was interested in admini5t5strating.

It was not good to be yoked to a heathen woman. It could bring only trouble. It was much better to be content with Zipporah. Her father was a good man, a bit on the stingy side, an idolater, but his ideas were more wholesome than the ones that Moses had grown up with, and the ones with which the Queen of Sheba had been raised. At least, some of his notions of religion were blended with knowledge of the Creator and regard for Him.

Sighing under the black canopy of night with its thousands of sparkling stars, where he had stopped to think of these things on his way back from a visit to the field that was used for a toilet facility, Moses returned to his tent. He grumbled under his breath, "Well, God, if You have any ideas about how to free Your people, You had better share them with me and fill me with Your power, because I can't come up with any ideas that will work."

He heard a gentle reply within his heart, "Trust me fully." Moses stopped and said, "I want to, but while we are dawdling around here, getting better acquainted, thousands of my people are dying every year from the oppressions of the Egyptians, or from disease or old age, perishing as slaves, without having ever seen their own land."

He heard that Voice again, "There is a time and a season, and these are my people more than they are yours. Do you really think that you care about them more than I do? This is the time for you to get to know me. Until you know me well, you will not be able to hear my directions adequately to lead the people out." This made sense to Moses. God added, "And besides that, I like you and I enjoy spending time with you." But Moses did not hear that because it was inconceivable to his mind that God could like a person like him, who had committed so many sins and taken such a long time to find the courage to return to his people.

Moses spent more time alone than before so that he could tune in to God, and he opened his eyes to what was around him. Before he had studied terrain for military purposes, and looked closely at nature only so that he would be knowledgable about it, but now he looked at it in relationship to the Creator, and marvelled at God's ingenuity and love of variety. He paid more attention to the animals he tended, becoming acquainted with their personalities. Understanding of his Creator grew as he quietened himself to listen for His Voice.

He became accustomed to the roughness of life as a shepherd, tending to the animals' illnesses and being around their manure, dealing with ticks, serpents, jackals, thieves, and other perils to the flock. After only a year of instruction from Zipporah, Jethro said he was becoming a very good shepherd.

Moses figured it was a good idea to keep out of sight as much as possible, so that when Pharaoh's agents made inquiries about him, very few people could say that they had seen a man that met his description. He was so big that he was hard to not notice. He stayed camped out in the fields with his wife and avoided social functions. Jethro excused his absence, knowing that his son–in–law was a fugitive, though he did not know who he was hiding from.

Zipporah was good company in those early years; she was crazy about her big, strong, handsome husband, and it suited her to keep Moses away from other women. The less he was exposed to the company of other women, the less likely it was that he would mess around on her. If any woman had dared to go to bed with her husband, Zipporah would have ripped out their hair, but the deed still would have been done, and she preferred to keep her man all for herself.

More than that, she wanted him to adore her. She knew he did not. He liked her because she had made herself pleasing to him, he found her physically attractive, and she amused him. He talked to her in a way that acknowledged her intelligence and the value of her insight, but she sensed that he would move on fairly easily with his life, if he no longer had her in it. He never talked about other lovers, but logic told her that a man like him had entertained many women, and all of them were probably beautiful. What a triumph it would be to capture his heart and be the woman that he worshipped; Zipporah she bent all her efforts to that end.

She was an active kind of woman who enjoyed being outdoors, and she liked it that she knew more about shepherding than her husband. He knew a surprising lot about many things, and taught her much about the stars and various other subjects, so it was gratifying to her that she could teach him, as well. The way he was going, though, he was going to surpass her in a short time. He was very gracious about considering her feelings on that, telling her that he'd had an excellent teacher.

Their connubial bliss did not last. Zipporah had worked gently on Moses month after month, to try to coax his secrets out of him. He refused to tell her anything about his family and what he had done before he came to her father. She could figure out that his family was very wealthy. He had the manners and education of someone who had been raised in a high place in society.

He did not parade his knowledge and consequence, though. He kept quiet and stayed in the background around everyone but Zipporah and her father, but even with them, he surely had revealed only a fraction of his education. After a couple of years, it was maddening to Zipporah that she still did not know the things she wanted to know about her husband. She felt that she hardly knew him and she resented that he liked to go for walks alone when he could have been spending time with her.

It was not fair. She had assumed pleasing ways for him more than she ever had for anyone else in her whole life. She had surrendered the most intimate parts of her body to him, but felt used because he did not open his heart to her. She felt like he regarded her more as a concubine than a wife. She was either at his side or near by all day long, herding sheep with him, smiling in spite of her frustration, trying to get him to trust her by being pleasant company. She enjoyed how his eyes twinkled when she flirted with him and how he responded playfully, exchanging banter, and rewarded her artful teasing later in their tent with fiery passion, but he still would not open up afterwards when she tried to coax him to talk about his past.

Zipporah talked to Moses about how she longed to be one soul with him, but did not feel it was possible if he would not share everything in his past with her. She tried to coax him by telling him all about her life before she met him. Half the time, he didn't seem to be listening to her. Moses was not all that interested, once he got the gist of what life is like for a Midianite girl. He let his mind wander to figuring out how to rescue his people when Zipporah was pouring out her heart about her happy childhood memories and her sorrows. He made appropriate noises to whatever she was telling him, but his lack of comments told her that his mind was actually elsewhere.

Moses gathered that Zipporah was very annoyed at how women were treated like chattel and not appreciated for their minds. Actually, it was really only herself that Zipporah was annoyed about being treated as chattel, but it sounded better to pretend that she was angry on the behalf of all women. If she protested on the behalf of other women, it was more because she enjoyed the opportunity to put a man in place while appearing to be on a higher moral level than him, than because she cared about the woman, whom she actually despised for being such a poor creature that she could not, or would not, stand up for herself.

As Zipporah seemed sensitive about being treated as not on the same social or intellectual level as a man, Moses was careful to give her plenty of credit for any good ideas that she came up with and he took her input seriously when decisions were pending. His safety partly depended on keeping this woman happy. Being raised in court, he knew how cunning and vicious women could be when they felt slighted; as cunning and vicious as any man, though perhaps subtler because it did not agree with how they generally viewed themselves to be cognitively deliberate in their machinations. He was not sure that his Zipporah would not become a trifle careless with the wrong person about what she said about him, if she felt that he had wronged her. That reason alone would have been enough to keep him out of other women's beds, for he was not a stupid man; he could figure out that he was married to a very jealous woman, though he still thought at the time that it was because she loved him, rather than because she was territorial.

He needed to live so that he could help his people, for he was the one whom God had chosen for the job. Every now and again, he would share little pieces of his life, that did not give too much away, such as pets he'd had, or he talked about places that he'd been to in Egypt. He knew his wife could figure out that he had lived a life of privilege and had travelled, but he did not tell her what he had done in those places.

Except for his civic duties, he was not proud of the things he had done, but telling her about the planning and inspections of public works would have given it away that he had been a very, very important person in Egypt. It was really hard to not ever be able to tell anyone about the buildings and monuments he had designed and how he had worked out their engineering. He had done more in his life than just look after sheep.

Zipporah was happy every time Moses shared a bit more about his life, but her hopes were soon dashed when she realized each time that, though she had gotten to know him a bit better as a person, she had been handed only a sop for her curiosity and still did not know his real name or what he had done for a living in the past.

Obviously, it had involved soldiering. Moses did not show off his skill with weapons, but it was apparent from the way he handled his stave to drive predators away from the flock, or killed them, that he was a fearless man who had been in combat before. He never seemed impressed when other men talked about weapons and how to use them. She could also tell that he was not afraid of horses, though he refused to ever ride a horse to show his skills. Like her father, she had surmised he was a fugitive, so she understood the neccessity for him to not attract attention. Surely a man like her husband had been some kind of officer. When she tried to pry anything out of him about battles he had fought, he shut himself up like a clam, and for hours, she couldn't get him to talk about anything, by which Zipporah knew she had displeased him.

She finally gained a bit of information about her husband, the kind she was most interested in, one day when her young brother got back from a trip where he had been on an errand for her father. Hobab was full of tales about what he had seen and heard; it was the first time his father had sent him to handle a responsibility that took him away from home. Moses looked at his brother–in–law affectionately and listened with amusement to his tales. The lad was excited about having been trusted to take care of a matter for his father, and no doubt felt like a well–travelled man, now.

Jethro smiled benevolently at his son while he gabbled on during dinner. Here and there, he interrupted to ask the boy if he had seen this person and that person whom he knew, and how they were, and what various things were selling for in that place. He asked about the politics of the place, and was gratified that his son demonstrated that he had been alert to whatever news he could gather in that line. Hobab knew his father would be interested in knowing such things and, if he could tell him some really useful things, Father would be pleased and send him on more trips.

He talked also about interesting things that had happened in the marketplace. He talked about people who had been robbed and how he had nearly been robbed himself. He talked about things that people had bought that were not worth what they paid for the articles. Hobab wanted his father to see how observant and shrewd he was. He entertained his audience with a rendition of arguments he had overheard. And he intrigued them with the story of the two men who had been asking about for a man named Moses, who probably did not go by that name anymore. He started to give the description of the man they were looking for when his father cut him off and changed the subject.

Zipporah had been helping serve the meal and she looked sharply at her father when he changed the subject. The man they had been seeking was very tall, and a Hebrew. She looked at Haran, who seemed intent on what he was eating, but she could feel that he was tense and trying to hide it. She was dying to get Hobab alone later to ask him more about this Moses whom the men had been looking for. In this she was disappointed, for Hobab was sent on another errand right away. Zipporah felt sure that her father had done this deliberately. He was good at picking up on little clues and he must have sensed her interest in knowing more about the fugitive named Moses.

Zipporah realized it was for the best. If her husband was this Moses, it was best to not arouse her brother's curiosity by asking him about what the men in the marketplace had said about him, or to ask anyone else if they knew anything about an ex–soldier named Moses. Doubtless, he had been involved in some kind of political intrigue and had fought on the losing side. Maybe he had participated in an attempted coupe. If Hobab gave more thought to what he had heard, he might unintentionally let something slip that would cause others to realize that his brother–in–law was a fugitive, and they might turn him in for a reward.

Zipporah was satisfied for a while that she had learned something important about her husband. She let up on him for a while, savouring to herself the knowledge that her husband had been a big man in a political sense, important enough that two years after she had met him, people were still looking for him to punish him for participating in a coupe.

But then she got to thinking about what he might have gained, if the side he had been on had succeeded. Knowing the kind of man her husband was, some type of injustice had been an issue. He was not a man who hungered for power and glory, otherwise he would not be hiding out in the scrub, herding sheep for as long as he had been, without holding conferences with mysterious strangers about how to make another attempt on ousting the despot that he had opposed. He also had a great deal of interest in religion and often had theological discussions with her father. He seemed keen on bypassing all minor gods and serving only the Creator.

Zipporah wondered if he had opposed an Egyptian king, or if he had been dressed as an Egyptian only as a disguise when she met him. There were a number of kings he might have contested, as Egypt was comprised of several kingdoms who were in alliance. It was unlikely, though. They were fairly well–established.

Further west, there were the ruins of the kingdoms that the Ethiopians had conquered, some destroyed forever, but Haran, or Moses, if that was his real name, might have participated in a plot to take over the territory of a ruined kingdom before the Egyptians could get their hands on it. Yes, he might have disguised himself as an Egyptian to allay suspicion that he was contesting them for territory, where he intended to help set up a government that was not as cruel as Egypt's. This might be why he had travelled throughout Egypt so much; possibly he had been spying.

Zipporah was excited at the idea that her husband had been a spy, as well as a soldier. He surely had some interesting tales to tell, if he would only tell them! Her zeal to find out more flared up again, and more fiercely than before. It was so annoying. What kind of proof did the man need that he could trust her? Was he keeping his secrets because there was still a possibility that his friends could resurrect their cabal? Or was he simply afraid for his life?

Zipporah started to pry away again, and Moses soon realized that his wife had zeroed in on Hobab's chance mention of the man named Moses whom the Egyptian agents were seeking. Jethro asked him later about that, and he admitted to his father–in–law that he was the man they were looking for, so that he would not feel compelled to ask Hobab in order to find out what he wanted to know, and thus arouse the boy's curiosity.

He told Jethro the whole story of his life and why he had run from Pharaoh. By this time, he knew that he was an honourable man who would keep his secret and not sell him out for any price. He knew that Jethro liked him and trusted him.

Jethro was intrigued by the tale and offered to gather his people together in an army to help Moses win the release of his people. After all, were these not their own cousins, children of their father Abraham? At the back of his mind, he thought of the spoil that would enrich his people, if they swarmed into Egypt.

Moses, however, had already considered such a possibility. Even if they could gather a large enough army to do the job, Pharaoh had the Hebrews in his grip, and he would doubtless use them as hostages. He could put thousands of them to death out of spite, before going down in defeat. No, a direct attack would be too expensive to the Hebrews.

Moses had tossed around a lot of ideas in his mind before now, so he realized that the only plan he could get that would work was one that came directly from God. His business of the moment was to learn all he could about the Creator, and work on developing a relationship with the Creator, like his ancestor Abraham had had, so that he could hear His Voice and learn His special plan for releasing the Hebrews from the Egyptians.

Jethro stroked his beard at this remark and said, "So, that is why you have been asking me so much about the God of the Israelites? Well, I will teach you all that I know about Him, and you have His holy mountain to resort to, where you can be still and listen for His Voice. He has visited there before; perhaps you will find Him there, too." Moses nodded and said, "Yes, my plan is to keep a low profile as a shepherd, until I know God well enough to know what He wants me to do to rescue His people. My ancestor Jacob was a shepherd, and he was in that occupation when he came face to face with God. It seems that shepherding is a favoured way of His to teach men His ways." Jethro nodded and replied, "He gives grace to the humble."

Moses kept that in mind when his wife embarked on a new campaign to find out more about him. His pride tempted him to disclose his true identity, so that she would be awed, but he figured that she might be tempted to let it slip to her sisters that she was married to Egypt's famous General of the Generals. It would soon be all over Midian where he could be found, if that happened.

In spite of the danger, it became more and more tempting to tell her, because Zipporah was not being so amiable in her inquiries as before. She had started to gripe about not being trusted, when there was no reason that he should not trust her. She complained about how he was not one soul with her. She whined that he did not love her. She accused him of being unjust like other men, who did not consider their wife to be their equal. She insisted that she had told him everything about her life, and that he should reciprocate by doing the same. When all these tactics failed, she pouted for days, not talking to him, letting him feel her displeasure, until she thought of some other argument that she had not tried before. All to no avail.

Zipporah sensed that her father knew Haran's true identity. From the beginning of his acquaintance with Haran, he had watched him shrewdly, making note of every move and weighing every word, but Zipporah could tell that her father now no longer felt curious about the stranger, though what he knew seemed to intrigue him. He frequently invited Haran to have private talks with him.

One time when she could not restrain herself from finding out what they talked about, she crept unseen close to them, and overheard her father asking her husband for his views on a political situation and what he thought should be done about it. So, whoever he had been, Haran indeed was acquainted with politics. His replies were slow, but insightful.

It humiliated Zipporah that her father knew who her husband really was, but she did not. She had more of a right than anyone to know this. It was bad enough that her father knew, but what if lesser people found out before she did? How lowering that would be, even if they did not realize that she did not know.

She swallowed her pride enough to go and ask her father, "Who is Moses?" Her father smiled and tried to make a joke of it, asking, "Moses? Who are you speaking of? Have we a visitor?" She gave him a stern look and said, "You know very well that I am speaking of the fugitive that Hobab mentioned when he got back from his first trip. Who is that man and why were Egyptian agents looking for him? What did he do?" Jethro asked, "Why does this interest you?" Zipporah replied, "I think that my husband is the man they are looking for. I think that you know it." He answered, "If I do, I know better than to speak that name."

Jealousy overcame her as she hissed at him, "My husband tells you who he is, but he will not tell his own wife?" Jethro glared and said sternly, "As his wife, it is your duty to respect your lord's wishes to keep his secrets to himself. And as his wife, you will not speak that name to anyone, lest you draw unwanted attention to him and find yourself a widow. Return to your duties, my daughter."

Zipporah glared back, but she dared make no reply. She knew when her father could not be pushed, and that she would bring grief on herself if she troubled him any more about this matter. With a swish of her skirts, she whirled and stomped out of the room, and snapped at her youngest sister who, as she passed her, invited her to look at a new dress that she had made for her expected marriage.

The girl shrugged, not bothering to take Zipporah's bad temper personally. She had seemed to mellow for a while after her marriage, not being as stern and bossy as before, but lately, she was getting cranky and imperious again. Hard to believe, but her infatuation with Haran must be wearing off. Well, Mother said that happens after a while, even when a girl is in love with her bridegroom, and then a good wife has to pretend an interest in her husband's attentions and not let her interest stray to other men.

Zipporah started in again on Moses that night, in defiance of her father's rebuke. She took a chance that she had guessed right about Haran being the fugitive named Moses. When he entered their bed and began to reach for her, she drew back and said, "You lied to me." His brow furrowed as he looked down at the scowling face of his beautiful, young wife and questioned her with his eyes. She continued, "You have been living a lie, pretending to me that you were a man of no importance in your former life, but my father knows who you are."

Moses sighed. He couldn't believe that Jethro had told Zipporah who he was, but apparently he had. Zipporah said, "I could stand it if you were a murderer, but not if you were a liar, especially not if you lie to me." He looked at her in surprise and asked, "Jethro told you even about the murder?" Zipporah was glad that she had turned her back on him, so that he could not see the shock in her eyes. He had murdered someone? So, he was just a criminal, not a military officer who had been involved in a plot that went wrong? But wait, her father would not endorse and conceal a man who was a mere criminal. She would pretend to know all about it and hear what Haran said further. She nodded and said, "I realize you had your reasons for it, but you should have told me. I am your wife, and I want to share your burdens."

Moses pulled her around into his arms and said, "Well, if your father, who knows you better than anyone, feels he can trust you to keep my secrets, then I should trust you, too." Zipporah's heart leaped with realization of her triumph. She needed to be clever about how she drew him out, so that he did not realize that her father had not told her anything. She whispered his name, taking the chance that she had correctly guessed that he was Moses. Then she said sympathetically, "My poor Moses, you have been through so much."

Moses felt a huge swell of relief surge up in his heart. His wife knew all that he had told her father, and she could now share the load that he carried for his people. He placed a finger across her lips and said, "Never speak that name, even when we are alone." Wide–eyed, as if she trusted in his superior wisdom, Zipporah nodded in feigned submission. Moses responded to her with passionate love–making, and then held her in his arms afterward, feeling content.

Zipporah waited a short while and then started to voice her guesses. She asked, "Did you feel lonely when you were a child? Is that why you were so keen on your pets, in spite of all your wealth and privileges?" He nodded and said, "Yes, I missed my real family."

Zipporah was puzzled, but she dared not ask, "You were not raised by your real parents?" Had he been captured when he was a child to be used for a slave, but had risen to eminence somehow? Had his family been killed? Maybe his father was, but his mother and sisters might have been taken as slaves. She said, "I am sure that your mother must have pined for you," and then held her breath, hoping that his mother had not been killed and now he would guess that she did not know his history.

Moses said, "Yes, she used to watch me from afar when I was carried through the streets, but she dared not to try to speak to me. My adoptive mother would have had a fit. But she and my father and brother and sister prayed for me every day, she said. I am sure that it comforted her to commit me to God's hands. After all, she had the memory of how God intervened to save my life to encourage her faith." Moses did not elaborate any further, assuming that Zipporah knew the story. She nodded and pretended to fall asleep. She would have the whole story out of him bit by bit, now that he thought she knew it, but if she asked too many questions, he would realize that she did not know.

The ruse worked. When they herded the sheep together, she did not quizz him about his past. She just smiled in a serene way while pretending to peruse the landscape, as if she was finally content. When they sat down to eat, she stayed silent and companionable, and then Haran/Moses began to talk. Zipporah listened as he talked about how burdened he was for the plight of his people. He described their labours and terrible things he had seen happen to them. This was how she figured out that he was a Hebrew who had been adopted by a wealthy Egyptian family. She made sympathetic murmurs as he described the suffering of the Hebrews.

Finally, because she had to say something, lest he start to suspect she did not know, yet, what she wanted to know, Zipporah asked, "How do you think you can help your people?" That seemed a safe question to ask. Surely he thought he would like to help them in some way. Moses replied, "I really don't know. I thought that killing that slave master was a good way to start, but look how that turned out. I wasn't ready. I had nothing in place to fall back on, and my own people turned against me. All I know what to do is to stay here, until I learn how to hear from God, and then He will tell me what to do."

Zipporah asked, "Why don't you consult an oracle?" Moses shook his head and said, "No, I have to hear God for myself. I can't trust an oracle to hear for me. Not even your father, Zipporah. I know that he is a good man, but he isn't very clear about the God of Israel. I don't know much about Him myself, but the scholar who used to teach me taught some things differently than your father, and I feel that a Israelite teacher is more likely to know the subject better than a Midianite priest, even if that priest is the High Priest. Your father sacrifices to idols, and my teacher said that worshipping idols is an abomination to God."

Zipporah felt angry that Moses found fault with her father's religion, which was her religion, also, though she kept her idols concealed from her husband because she knew he did not approve of them. It would not serve her purpose to get into an argument with him about this. She just nodded her head, as if she agreed, so that he would keep on talking. If he thought she was with him in his religion, then he would probably be a lot more forthcoming.

She smiled and said, "Well, we will learn to hear God together." Moses's eyes widened and he took her hand and kissed it. He said, "Will you really, Zipporah? I would like nothing better. If you share my love for God, then we really will be one, and I will not feel so lonely." Zipporah melted and looked at him tenderly. She nodded again, and they shared a long kiss before they arose and moved the sheep onward.

Zipporah won Moses' confidence by asking him a lot of questions about what the Hebrews believed. What she disagreed with, she kept to herself and made the replies that she knew would please him. He just naturally, then, talked about his life before he came to Midian. She was astonished when she realized that he had been adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. She became an expert at concealing her astonishment at the things he told her, and at asking questions that concealed the fact that she had known nothing at the start, except what she had guessed.

Moses felt bliss that he had a wife who he could share his heart with. He had never before had such a fulfilling relationship with a woman. She was a wonderful listener. She did not interrupt hardly at all, holding him closely in her arms while he talked. Some things, he did not tell, though. He did not know how she would feel about him, if she knew about horrible things he had done. What a relief it was, though, to be able to talk to her about his people and his concern for them, and it was a joy to share with her the things he was learning about God and His ways. She apparently knew next to nothing about God, but she was eager to learn.

Zipporah's mind was actually on other things. Moses's stories about his past painted vivid pictures in her mind of the luxury and pomp of his former life. It was safe to ask him to describe the palaces to her, now that she knew he had lived in such places. It was safe to ask why he went to such and such a place that he had described to her before.

He talked to her about the public works he inspected for his stepfather in his nome, as well as works he was placed in charge of in the nome his royal mother came from; some of them he had designed himself. She was impressed with his knowledge of engineering, which had been very useful, he said, when he had laid siege to Ethiopia's royal city. He did not tell her much about that, except that the Ethiopians had seen that their defeat was inevitable and had made peace with him.

Zipporah was amazed to realize that, if it was not for the man who held her in his arms, her people would probably be under Ethiopian rule by now. She saw the need to keep others from finding out that her husband knew so much about military skills and was very highly educated. It was imperative that he keep a low profile until he was ready to make a move on Egypt. When he became Pharaoh, he would surely become as famous as Mizraim, the first king of Egypt, who had drained the Delta to make it viable for grazing livestock and built Thebes upon the Nile's banks in such a way that it would not be flooded.

What a triumph it would to be when Moses became king. Sure, he wanted to set his people free, but after he did that, Zipporah figured he might as well stay on in Egypt and govern it. There were a lot of people who had expected that he would be their king, and it was only natural that he should lay claim to the throne because he was Pharaoh's adopted grandson, and had saved Egypt from the Ethiopians.

He would virtually be an Emperor, and one of their sons would become the king of Canaan, the land of Father Abraham. In this way, both Isaac's line would rule it, according to promises that Moses said God had made concerning Isaac, but Midian's line would rule it, as well, through one of their sons. It was worrying that they had not had any children, yet, but since Moses was chosen by his god to deliver the Hebrews, he surely could beget children. She would never, never deny him pleasure with her, for she must certainly have children with him.

Besides that, contrary to the practice of some women, who lost a lot of interest in sex once they had their arms full of children, Zipporah did not think she would ever lose interest in that aspect of her relationship with her husband. He was very good at knowing how to please her. It was one of her many reasons for jealously keeping watch that no other woman tried to horn their way into his bed, though she supposed that, once he became king, she would have to put up with the tendency of rulers to keep a harem. She would keep those women in line, though. Just let her get an inkling that any of those other wives or concubines were making a play for her crown, and they might have an unfortunate, disfiguring accident. She didn't like to think that she would actually have to instruct someone to do this, though, so it was best to just put such a fear of her in them that they would never dare.

Zipporah could see herself entering the main palace in Lower Egypt, carried in a litter, wearing gorgeous robes, and being crowned the Queen of Egypt. It was lowering to realize that, if her husband had not been on the run and needed a place of refuge, he probably never would have married her. At least, he would not have taken her as wife, though perhaps as a concubine, unless there had arisen a political advantage to him being married to her. She would not be his first wife, though, and there were probably plenty of others with higher rank who would claim the privilege of being queen.

The thought was alarming that there might be someone in his past who had that claim. She questioned him about it. He admitted that he'd had many concubines, but they were probably all put to death after they were questioned about his disappearance. He'd had only one legitimate wife, the princess of Ethiopia, whom he had married to cement his treaty with the Ethiopians, but she was in the Egyptians' captivity and was probably married off to another prince by now, as they had no plans to let Moses live, if they captured him.

Zipporah was relieved that 99% of her rivals had been eliminated and that the only remaining one had probably been defiled by remarriage. No self–respecting man would go to bed again with a wife who had married another in his absence. When she questioned Moses about her, he shrugged and said he'd spent only one night with her, that he really didn't know her very well. Zipporah figured that she was in the clear as to her claim to be the Queen of Egypt.

How she would be envied! She would be wealthy and pampered, she would give orders and hold the power of life and death over people in her hands. Queen Zipporah! She would be given many names, as was the custom. Not the names of goddesses, because Moses was so set against the worship of any god but his own, but she could make herself known for generosity, and then people would call her the Lady Bounty, or Lady of Mercy. Surely she would be given names, in any case, that celebrated her beauty. Women who looked like her would be considered the epitome of beauty. She did not like the idea of other women being praised for their beauty, but if if her face and form set the standard for beauty, there was some consolation in it.

People would not dare to show her disrespect, such as those shabby shepherds who used to push her and her sisters around when they tried to water their flocks. She would also be envied because the king who ruled with her was so handsome, unlike most kings, and he was prodiguously clever, and he had proved himself to be strong and brave in battle, as well. Zipporah sighed in contentment over her fantasies; some day, she would have it all.

It wasn't happening fast enough, though. She started to get discontent because Moses was being so pokey about getting together an army to return to Egypt. She held her impatience in check, though. It would be a huge mistake to make herself odious to her husband. She must ensure that she had first place in his affections.

Zipporah watched her husband with bright eyes after finding out what she had desired to know, delightfully hugging to herself the secret knowledge of his true indentity. What kind deity was it that had placed him in her path? Was it the Hebrew god? Moses would not have gotten into such a mess if that god had been helping him. It must have been Egypt's gods; they wanted him back; they had led him to her so that she could bring him back. They wanted to set their rightful king on his throne.

Zipporah asked him questions about the gods of Egypt, but he would not answer. He just sternly said that he was a servant of the God of the Hebrews. Zipporah asked her father about Egypt's gods. He asked her why she wanted to know. She said that she wanted to understand her husband, since he had been raised in Egypt. She added that Haran refused to tell her anything about them. Jethro surmised that Moses had finally told her his history. There must be more to his daughter than he had discerned, if her husband trusted her with such a dangerous secret. Believing her to be genuinely interested in helping her husband get over hurts from his past, Jethro told her what he knew of such things. Most of it was accurate.

Zipporah fashioned for herself a figure out of clay of what she supposed the hippo goddess looked like. Moses had told the queen was named for this goddess after she found him. She had publicized that Tarawut had given her a son, and stated that Moses was an incarnation of Horus, so that the people would accept him as Pharaoh's heir. Zipporah began to pray to Tarawut, reminding her of Moses' destiny, asking her for help so that it would be fulfilled. She figured that the goddess would be so pleased at gaining a foreigner for a worshipper, it would be her delight to help Zipporah become queen by making Moses king of Egypt. Zipporah promised Tarawut that she would raise her name high in Egypt among the people, if she made her their queen.

Life with Zipporah gradually became sheer hell for Moses. After several years went by, Zipporah forgot her resolve to always make herself pleasing to her husband. She wasn't getting any younger, and if he continued to drag his feet, she would not have any beauty left by the time she became the Queen of Egypt. It irked her that she had not had children, yet, and making remarks about it to her was one more way that people exhibited their dislike of her strong–willed ways.

Zipporah took her angst about this out on Moses, saying it was surely because he displeased his god in not making an advance on Egypt that he had withheld children from them. Moses replied that it was His plan for that advance that his God was withholding from him, and he did not dare to move ahead without it. This earned him a scornful snort from his wife.

Zipporah became more vehement in urging him to raise an army and return to Egypt to take the throne that was rightfully his. She raised the subject at almost every opportunity when they were alone. She figured that later when he became Pharaoh, he would thank the gods for giving him a wife who had pushed him out of his apathy and fear. Moses had to avoid her to get some peace, but he could not avoid her always. That would have been disrespectful to her father, an expression of ingratitude for his benevolence.

Several years of this went on. Zipporah continued to chide him that they had no children, telling him that it was probably his fault it was so, as he was no kind of a man, yet she was the one who suffered because everyone assumed she was barren. Moses knew that it was true that she was considered rather worthless as a woman by her enemies. He had come to realize that everyone else had known all along that how she behaved to him now was what she had been like all her life.

Admit it!" she scolded him, "You had other women before me. Did any of them give you children?" Zipporah took the chance that she was on safe ground with this accusation. Moses had not ever mentioned having children, nor did it seem that he ever pined for sons or daughters lost to him. Most of his anguish seemed to be wrapped up in how he had failed to deliver his people, and how they continued to suffer because of this. When he used to talk to her about wishing to be with anyone back in Egypt, it was only his parents and sister and brother whom he spoke of.

Moses made no reply; her words were like a dagger to his heart. It was true. He had always wondered about that. None of his concubines had conceived, and married women he had lain with had not given birth to any children who resembled him. He might have believed that they were his children who simply looked like their mother, as some had insisted to him, thinking to give their child claim to the throne some day, but he never believed it because his concubines remained childless. He would bet that none of those women would ever again claim that he had fathered a child with him, now that he was considered a traitor.

Perhaps there was some truth in what Zipporah said. Maybe God had made him sterile because He had been displeased that Moses had continued with the Egyptians so long, instead of going over to the Hebrews earlier, and maybe this was why He still continued to withhold children from him. God had told him that he needed him to get to know him really well, so that he would be able to receive instructions from Him. Perhaps when he finally knew God well enough and started out for Egypt, children would be released to him.

Moses kicked himself for not getting an earlier start on this, for being too much of a coward about losing the approval of those his self–esteem depended on, besides fearful of becoming a victim of the torture chambers. To tell the truth, as much as he had enjoyed the benefits of his position, all the luxury and privileges and pomp and glory, these two things had had a stronger hold on him than anything else.

The possibility of torture and degradations still worried him. He had witnessed the agonies of many in such circumstances, and had often inflicted them himself. He needed God's plan because he wanted to make sure that, not only would he successfully deliver his people, but he would also not fall into the hands of his enemies while he was doing it. Moses supposed that it was this very fear of falling into his enemies' hands that had fueled his supposed valour in battle. It was unsettling to discover that he had never been a brave man, but rather one who was more afraid of what was nipping at his heels than the warriors whom he had faced in battle.

Nursing a broken heart, Moses drew closer to God, for that was the only place where he felt any cessation of his loneliness and pain, regardless that he supposed that God was displeased with him for his failures. He had no one else to share his innermost heart with. It had been a disaster to confide them to his wife. He had come to doubt that Jethro really had told Zipporah who he was, as Jethro seemed to think that it had been his choice to volunteer the information to her. Moses dared not ask him about it. If Zipporah had guessed, then Jethro would be angry that Moses supposed that he had betrayed his confidence, and he was embarassed that he had been tricked into betraying his secrets. Truly, a woman who used her body and winsome ways to get what she wanted out of a man was more bitter than death.

Moses thought ruefully of how the traditional male and female roles were reversed between him and his wife. If it were not that he wanted a child so badly, he would have preferred to not sleep with his wife anymore, but he knew that taking a concubine was not an option. Zipporah would find a way to take revenge on him for that. He was in no position to exercise his legal right to take a concubine because his wife might find a way to bring him to the attention of Pharaoh's agents, if she felt that he had betrayed her by taking another lover. Regardless that she behaved odious to him, she expected him to continue with his marriage duties, not only because she wanted a child, but because she had "a woman's needs". Moses was starting to get some idea of what it felt like to be a concubine.

Zipporah was so bloated in her ambitions that Moses had come to detest her, but he would not cast her off. He sensed that God wanted him to bear with her, instead of going on the run again. Out of respect for Jethro, he found the patience to bridle his temper and refrain from calling curses down on her head. Sometimes he felt like beating her, but she would have found a way to exact revenge if he had done that. Besides, it would have been an unmanly thing to do, though nobody else would have blamed him. Perhaps God had ordained his marriage to her as a penance for his past failures. If this was so, he surely deserved it.

One thing that was good about their relationship was the cover it provided for him against Pharaoh's agents. None of them, if they could see him now, would ever believe that the General of the Generals was not only just a lowly shepherd, but also a very hen–pecked husband.

The other men in Jethro's tribe never suspected that he had been someone of importance in his past life. Sure he was big and strong and protected Jethro's flocks from rustlers, but they supposed his valour extended only that far, over ordinary men, for the sake of earning a living. He had demonstrated gullibility in marrying that firebrand and she had him totally whipped.

Even if Moses had ventured to speak in their councils, they would not have taken him seriously. They could never understand what Jethro saw in him, for he still seemed to like to have him around, regardless of how his daughter bullied him. Perhaps this was because Haran was useful to him in regards to looking after his flocks, at least, though he never joined them when they had to go to battle. They supposed that he had been running away from some failure when he had come to them. Perhaps he had run from a battle. The idea took hold and the stigma of being thought a deserter was another penance that Moses figured God had given him to bear.

Finally one night, he became so vexed with Zipporah harassing him to go back to Egypt and claim what was rightfully his that he hissed at her, "No! I will never go back to Egypt to be its king! I hate Egypt!"

He then told her about their vicious gods, though he did not go into details about the secret rituals, except to say that their priests ate human flesh and he'd had to watch them do it. Her father had not told her about that. She reached out to him soothingly, finally getting a glimmer that, as a child, he had witnessed some horrible things.

Zipporah crooned, "Well, you don't have to worship their gods. You can become king and change their religion. Teach them about God." He looked at her sternly and said, "Zipporah, the Egyptians would never let me be their king, because to become their king, I would have to totally surrender my soul to satan. That it was they require of their pharaohs now, though they may not always have required it. If I were to yield myself totally to satan, what kind of husband do you think I would be to you? I can assure you, it would not incline me towards treating you respectably."

Zipporah had no more to say on the subject that night. She lay in bed with her long, black hair lying against her olive shoulders, looking pensively away from him, feeling defeated. Moses had finally found an argument that she could not contradict. She did not want to become an abused wife. She had it better than most women she knew. It was true that he was not loverly with her anymore. Their relationship had deteriorated to her nagging and snapping at him about inconsequential things that he silently ignored, retreating to some place deep inside of him, and he had even developed a bit of a stutter, particularly when she ranted at him in private about not having given her any children. Most men would have beaten their wives long before they had gone so far to show them disrespect.

Suddenly an idea occurred to her, and Zipporah turned back to her husband to encourage him in a new vein, but he had sunk deep into slumber and was snoring away. She smiled; it could wait. She had been grinding the wrong ax, but she knew now what to focus on. She arose and flung on a robe, then went to a locked chest where she kept her treasures. Moses never asked to look in there; he had his secrets, so he allowed her to have them, too. Her mouth twisted ruefully at the suspicion that Moses did not think she had any secrets worth knowing. (He also knew better than to ask, because she would have pestered him all the more to disclose his.) Zipporah pulled the little hippo goddess out, smashed it to pieces, and then knelt to consecrate herself to the God of the Hebrews.

Moses found out the very next day what the new tack was. Zipporah tracked him down in the scrub where the sheep and goats were grazing, handed him some food, then putting her arm around his waist, looked towards the holy mountain as she said, "You are right, my husband. You have been right all along. The gods of Egypt are evil. They must have infected me with their madness."

Moses could hardly believe his ears. He looked down at her and she gazed back at him, her beautiful eyes looking liquid. He could not remember the last time he had thought that her eyes looked like deep, shimmering pools. Fine lines were starting to form around them, but when she looked at him like that, he could easily forget about the changes that sun and wind and time were making on her face.

She smiled up at him and said shyly, "Do you think that you could teach me more about God? I don't know Him very well, but I am now convinced that it was He who spared your life so many times. He truly is the only one worthy of worship." Moses smiled and they had a companionable day, the best they'd had in years.

The truce continued for a while. Moses told Zipporah about what he was learning in the quiet hills while he tended her father's flocks and their own that they had acquired. He sometimes had the feeling that she wasn't really listening to him, especially when she started to bring up the subject of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, interrupting him in important places. He would stop what he was saying then, feeling deflated that she had not been listening when he had been sharing a vital truth. Instead he would listen to her ideas about how to deliver the Hebrews. Why not? She might actually come up with something one of these days. He certainly had not. Time after time, however, he found flaws in her plans and pointed them out to her.

Zipporah felt frustrated that none of her ideas passed his approval. She had to admit that he was a better strategist then she was. He could always see the weak areas. Perhaps they needed someone else's ideas, if she was ever going to become Queen of the Hebrews. Maybe her father could think of something.

Zipporah forgot her resolution to ask her father for his help in her delight at discovering that she was pregnant at last. It must be the favour of his god at her having smashed the hippo goddess. How humiliating it was to realize that it was something she had done that had caused that deity to withhold children from her, rather than through Moses's fault, but she would not let Moses know that. She needed to retain her advantages over him, and guilt was one that was particularly useful, in his case.

Moses was stunned at the news. He had actually fathered a child? God had granted him a child, though he still had not delivered the Hebrews? Maybe God was not angry with him, after all, about that. Perhaps God had withheld children from him in Egypt, so that his mission would not be complicated by obligations to them. He felt a huge sense of relief. It was like a boulder had rolled off of his soul.

Moses was sure that his wife had not been unfaithful to him, in spite of her beauty; no other man could stand her bossiness. She never made herself pleasant for other men. Though she was more affectionate and cooperative with him now, she was still tart with other males, if custom did not demand respectful behaviour, such as towards her father. Besides, he doubted that she would jeopardize her chances of becoming a queen by shaming him in that way, for he was well aware that she still had ambitions. It was hard to give up such dreams; he knew that only too well, so he bore with her.

The next several months with his wife were mostly amiable because they were both thrilled about expecting a baby. Moses' stutter almost went away and Zipporah walked around straighter than ever, proudly displaying the silhouette of her expanding belly. Indeed, many who had previously reproached her for her barrenness did not know what to say now. It was still somewhat galling that her younger sisters had all borne children ahead of her, but she was so happy about the baby that she could almost forget about that.

The day of her labour finally arrived, and she was overjoyed that it turned out to be a son that she had borne. Moses was excited about that, too, but his depression about how his life had gone since he had fled Egypt influenced the name he gave his son, expressing his loneliness about being a stranger in a strange land.

He and Zipporah were on clouds, as they hovered around their son. Moses felt that he could not get enough of holding him in his arms, and Zipporah was content to let him have his fill of pouring out his affection on the baby. He had waited a very long time to have his first child. She supposed that their son now gave her a much stronger claim on him than any other woman who had been in his life.

Moses took the baby alone on the eighth day to Jethro so that he could circumcise him. The Midianites, as descendents of Abraham, circumcised their males, as the Hebrews did. Zipporah had stated, though, that she would not allow the child to be circumcised. She considered circumcision to be a pointless custom that gave men the false notion that they were better than women because they have a penis. It was a celebration of their gender, as far as she was concerned, rather than a celebration of their god. Besides, what kind of god was it that required little children to be cut with a knife?

Jethro would not have tolerated such heresy from anyone else, but she was Moses's wife. He knew that Moses did not have an argument against circumcision. If anything, he was more for it than even the Midianites, as he considered Isaac's covenant with God to be of more importance than any agreement that had been made with Abraham's other sons. He did not say so to Jethro, but Jethro was aware that Moses felt that his people were superior to the Midianites. The main reason the practice was continued among the Midianites was because Abraham had expected it of his descendents, rather than from a conviction of the descendents of his other sons that they ought to serve the Creator and Him only. Jethro figured that it was Moses's responsibility to put his wife in her place, and the fight he would have on his hands served him right for thinking that the Israelites had closer ties to the Creator than the Midianites.

Jethro was not surprised to see Moses show up alone for the ceremony. He also surmised that Zipporah did not know that he had carried away the child, for he seemed secretive when he had brought the child in. He had probably waited until she was taking a nap to avoid a confrontation with his wife; otherwise, he was sure that he would have heard his daughter making a commotion about it. Oh well. At least Moses was here, though Jethro lost some respect for him that he was not able to handle his wife in a head on confrontation over a matter that he knew Moses felt was very important.

Jethro adjusted the ceremony so that it made mention only of the Creator. With joy, Moses lifted the child to the Lord and said, "Lord God, I give this child to You. I dedicate him to Your service. Let Your blessings be upon him and may he be a faithful man of God." He then sat down and held the baby on his knees and Jethro expertly cut his grandson's foreskin off; the baby began to cry.

Meanwhile, Zipporah had been looking for her baby. She had awakened and found that the baby had been taken from her side. She asked her maid where the baby was. The maid replied that the master had come in and taken him. She said, "Did I not tell you to awaken me, if he came in here to take the child?" The maid replied, "He told me to not disturb you, but to let you sleep. He's the master; I must obey him." Zipporah glared at her maid; she would pay for that later, but right now, she had to find her baby.

Zipporah knew immediately that she had the advantage because Moses had sneaked off with the baby to get him circumcised. If he had stood up to her, the law would have backed him up. He was afraid of her temper, and she was going to make sure that she pressed this advantage home.

She knew where to find her son. With a wild shriek at hearing his crying, Zipporah burst into the room, screaming bloody murder. Moses grabbed the child in alarm and held him close, thinking to protect him from being trampled by the insane woman who was tearing towards them. He had never seen Zipporah in such a fury before. He had figured on vigorous objections to him circumcising their son, since he had come to realize that there had been nothing sincere about her interest in the true God, but he had not thought he would get such a reaction from Zipporah as this after the deed was done.

Zipporah's fists beat at him as she ranted, "Bloody coward! You can't get on a horse and lead an army any more, but you can butcher a helpless, little child! How dare you hurt my son?" Moses tried to explain that this needed to be done so that God could bless the baby. She ranted, "What kind of god is it that requires little babies to be cut up?" She continued to rant and hit, spewing horrible accusations against God and raging that Moses was a bully and a coward, a spineless leech who could have won fortune for his family, but instead lived off of her father, and many other insults that cut him to the heart.

Moses kept shielding the baby with his hands and turning away from Zipporah so that she would not accidentally harm him, telling her, "Calm down! Calm down! You're scaring the baby and you're going to hurt him!" She grabbed at the baby and pulled, raging through clenched teeth, "Give him to me! Give him to me!" Moses let go because was afraid that she would injure the baby if he didn't.

Zipporah held her shrieking baby close to her soaked bosom that had responded to his cries and gave him her breast to quiet him. She glared at Moses resentfully and he stared in amazement at her eyes, which were now a bloody red because she had been so angry that blood vessels had burst. It was a shocking picture that burned itself into his memory. She ground out through her teeth, "Don't you ever lay a hand on my son again," and then she stalked away.

Jethro was amazed at how his daughter had behaved, and horribly embarassed. Fortunately, nobody else had been present in the room but themselves, as Moses had told him that because of how Zipporah felt about the circumcision, he was going to forgo the usual celebration that would have been held. Nobody was invited to be a witness, and nobody volunteered, as they did not want to incur Zipporah's wrath, knowing that she was against the circumcision. Jethro thought it was just as well, since the order of the service had been changed to focus only on the one god whom Moses revered.

Jethro looked apologetically at Moses. What must the man think of him for having raised such a daughter? He partly blamed himself. He had let her have her way too much. Perhaps asking for her views on occasion had gone to her head. But really, if Moses was more of a man, he should be able to handle her. Moses could read in Jethro's eyes his disappointment with him, along with his shame that his daughter was such a termagant.

Zipporah was angry with her father as much as she was with Moses. He had colluded with her husband to carry out this rite. The fact that he respected Moses's desire for secrecy fueled her sense that she and her baby had been unjustly treated. She could not bear to look at her father just now, and maybe not for a long time to come, but he was the High Priest of their people, so it was best that she take herself away from him before she said something to him that she would regret.

When she arrived at their little house in the city, she gave directions for the baggage to be packed to return to camp, and then hurried into her house to continue feeding the baby. The servants stared at their mistress for a moment, and then sped away to carry out her instructions.

Her maid shrank back in horror at her mistress's appearance. Zipporah glared at her through bloody eyes and curtly told her to pack up their stuff, and to find a good stiff switch, while she was at it. The maid scurried away, seriously considering running away to a distant land.

Zipporah calmed her baby down and tended to his wound. She called for another servant to watch over him, and then went looking for her maid. When she found the girl, she asked, "Where is the switch I ordered you to get?" Trembling, the maid brought it to her. Zipporah then vented her rage, not just at having been disobeyed by the girl, but also the animosity she felt towards Moses and her father for what they had done to her baby, and for Moses having forced her to use trickery to find out what she had wanted to know, instead of freely confiding to her, and for his procrastination in amassing an army to return to Egypt, thus making her a queen, which she had come to feel she had a right to be, forgetting that she had not married him with any expectation of becoming one. She was sure that his assertion that he did not want to jeopardize his people by a frontal attack was just an excuse for cowardice. Realistically, one should expect that some of them would be casualties. Moses might have been a great general at one time, but he had obviously lost his nerve. Why did she have to not meet him until after that had happened? It wasn't fair, it wasn't fair, it wasn't fair!

Zipporah had half killed her maid by the time Moses found her in the courtyard of their house. He grabbed her arm and pulled the switch out of her hand. She started to protest, but the grim look on his face silenced her. She scowled at him and turned swiftly to stomp back into the house. Moses lifted the little maid in his arms and took her to the other servants to tend to her wounds.

Moses was pitied more than ever before by the shepherds and other men of his acquaintance. Indeed, he could not have been more perfectly disguised from his enemies; nobody would ever figure such a man having once been even a common soldier, never mind a General of Generals. That other Moses had women eating out of his hand; he toyed with them and would never have tolerated insolence from them.

This man, though, hardly dared to touch his own child, and had to sneak contact with him, such as when his wife left the boy in the care of other women who permitted him to hold his baby. Eventually Zipporah relented about letting him cuddle Gershom and take him off on his own, but she grumbled often to the boy about his father's faults.

Gershom liked being alone with his Dad, but it embarassed him how people spoke of him being henpecked and how he never stood up to Mom. It looked like she was the smart one and the strong one in the family. Dad didn't seem to have much to say to her; he just gloomily sat and ate his food or stared into the fire when Mom nagged at him about things that needed to be done or picked at him that he needed to take a bath, or speak up for himself at council meetings, etc. Dad was embarassed about that stutter, though.

About the only time Dad talked was when they were alone, wandering around the hills or resting while watching the sheep. Then Dad quietly talked about the plants and animals and about God. He didn't stutter at those times, but that was probably because he was talking slow and wasn't required to think too hard, like when he had to figure out what to do.

It was Mom who seemed to come up with the ideas. She was always making suggestions to Dad about things that he could do to increase their wealth or give them more say about tribal decisions, but Dad never took her advice. She would gripe to him that he had no ambition, and Gershom figured it must be the most disgraceful thing in the world to not have any ambition. He wondered what Dad had done with himself before he met Mom, since he was twenty years older than her. Probably just bummed around as an itinerant shepherd, he guessed. Dad never talked about having any family or any other job.

Gershom asked his mother if Dad had always been a shepherd. She sniffed disdainfully and said, "Huh! I taught him to be a shepherd." That figured; Mom was the one with the brains. He asked, "Well, what did he do before he met you?" She shrugged while she folded clothes and put them away in chests, and said, "He didn't have a job when I met him." He persisted, "Well, he must have done something before you met him, otherwise how did he earn money for food?" She said, "Ask him what he did, but don't get your hopes up that he will answer. He doesn't like to talk about his past."

Gershom looked at her solemnly and said in a whisper, "Mom, did he do something bad?" She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "Yes, I guess you could say so. At least, he did something that other people weren't happy about, but the past is past. He isn't much of a man, but at least he supports his family, and there is something to be said for that." Zipporah thought that she had given a diplomatic answer, but Gershom went away confused and troubled, wondering what his father could have done that was bad. Had he been a thief?

As Mother had predicted, Dad wouldn't answer any of his questions about his past; he just quietly changed the subject. Whatever Dad had done, he wasn't going to learn it from any of his parents and nobody else knew anything either, except maybe Grandpa. Everybody else told him, "Leave your father alone. We only know that he came out of Egypt. He has troubles enough for the present without you bringing up problems from his past."

Grandpa's attitude towards Dad puzzled Gershom the most. He seemed to know something about Dad, and he seemed to pity him more than anybody else did. He went out of his way at times in council meetings to ask Dad what he thought, but Dad took so long to answer that everybody lost interest after a few moments and picked up where they had left off. Gershom, sitting quietly behind his father, always noticed when this happened and felt shamed. Dad was definitely not a leader. Even when he went along with the other men to settle disputes physically or to recover stolen property, he just quietly waited for Uncle Hobab, who was so much younger, to tell him what to do.

Gershom had no idea that sometimes Moses took his brother–in–law aside and gave him suggestions in private, and they always worked. It made Hobab wonder what Haran had done before, and he guessed he had been a soldier. He appreciated that Moses supported his leadership in the tribe this way. Most of the time, he was so used to seeing Zipporah push Haran around, that he didn't think to ask him what he thought, but when Moses quietly volunteered an idea to him, it was always surprisingly good. Moses, however, did not think much of what he did in this respect; to him, these were just petty, little tribal disputes that any of his former junior officers could have handled.

Eventually, long after Gershom was born, Zipporah had another son, and Moses was delighted. Gershom had been named in accordance with how lonely he felt in the strange land where he sojourned, but Eliezar was named for how he found help in God to bear his loneliness and other trials. Zipporah flashed him a warning glare as she nestled the child against her and he recalled how her tongue had sliced into him and her eyes had become shot with blood in her fury when he had circumcised Gershom. Moses did not dare circumcise this son.

As the years passed, Zipporah kept up her bitter nagging and Moses retreated more inside of himself. She finally stopped suggesting ways and means for him to march into Egypt, scoop up the Israelites, trek off to Canaan, and manage the conquest of the Promised Land, but she never let up when they were alone about what a failure he was, and what they might have had, if only he'd had more courage and ambition. Consequently, Moses spent most of his time with the flocks to avoid his wife's vicinity. Jethro lost a lot of respect for him, too, as decades passed where Moses just plodded along, herding sheep, rather than rallying an army to invade Egypt to fulfill the so–called sacred call he had spoken of so many years ago.

As he roamed the hills of Midian and sought to know the Lord, Moses developed an increasing knowledge of righteousness. He had plenty of time to think without interruption and memories arose from deep within his soul. Many of them filled him with horror as he remembered the rites he had been forced to participate in, and he compared those activities and the Egyptians' teachings to Hebrew writings on righteousness and their oral teachings, as well as the things that God spoke to him day by day to increase his sensitivity. The contrast was shocking. He began to realize as never before the degradation he had been subjected to.

What distressed him even more was not what others had done to him, but what he had done to others. He recalled the torture victims of both genders and the horrible tortures he had perpetrated on them, and how he had not only done those things to please the Egyptians, proving loyalty to them and their ways, but he had actually found that, regardless of his reluctance at first, he experienced unclean thrills as he continued to torture the victim. Moses recalled the satisfaction on the faces of the priests when he reached the point where they could see that he was aroused by these activities. He had given in to this more and more, because he saw that doing so caused more of the officials who participated in the Mysteries to trust him.

When these memories arose, he felt unclean, as if he was filled with deadly spiders that ate him from the inside out, and he cried out to God for deliverance, so that he would no longer relive the thrills when those things were recalled to his memory, that he would not even remember them at all. In his travail, God always came to him, washing him with love, and saying, "Do not fear, for I loved you even then and I have forgiven you." It was very humbling to know that God loved him, and had always loved him, in spite of all the terrible things he had done. They were normal, everyday things for Egyptian princes, but he now knew that God's standards were oceans apart from what most people considered acceptable behaviour.

Moses found peace and felt cleaner inside, his mind purer. He found himself developing a far different perspective on what went on around him than what he'd had when he arrived in Midian. The people around him seemed increasingly depraved, though nothing much had changed about their behaviour. He realized that the difference was in him. He was developing a keener sense of righteousness, and when he recalled how depraved he had been, worse than any of them (as far as he was concerned), he felt obliged to be patient with them.

Moses pondered how sin had originated, and he pitied that men and women, and even children, were so depraved, so lost in darkness, most of them not knowing the difference between right and wrong. He saw many things that were wrong, but he knew that human nature is so depraved that it would take a long time to change any society, to raise its consciousness of good and teach it to suppress evil inclinations.

Slavery was one of the things that he finally saw as wrong. People liked having slaves, but nobody wanted to be a slave. God had designed Man to rule with Him, and so he would have, if Adam had not sold them all into sin. It was never God's plan that one person, regardless of gender, should rule over another in an imperious way and suck the energy out of them for their own selfish gratification, to the detriment of the other. All were meant to work together as equals for a common good, enjoying each other's company, all being rewarded equivalent to their efforts. It did not take genius to figure out what God had in mind, if one knew the Creation story. It was just common sense.

A lot of people did not see it, though, because God's plans interfered with their own, and they liked to think that their ideas were better. Some knew that they were selfish, greedy, and dictatorial, and they were fine with that. They enjoyed being that way, exercising control over other people's lives as if they were gods. Others had a sense of decency, though, and needed to think of themselves as basically good people, so they justified to themselves and others the things they did, and those people usually were not too bad. You could live with them without always having to watch your back.

Moses knew it would take a lot to teach people to not have slaves, to be willing to pay others a fair wage for good work, and to not only desist from the heady thrill of running other people's lives, but also to deny themselves the liberty to take sexual advantage of people, rather than revelling in being able to do that and the person had to submit, and nobody else could lawfully interfere. Moses himself had partaken of smug satisfaction in having slaves and being served by other people's slaves as a guest.

He pondered how even righteous Abraham had slaves, and concluded that God is very patient with people in their depravity, that He reaches out to each one and coaxes them to come closer to Him, and encourages every little step that they take towards doing things His way. With things as they currently were, one could not walk down into Jethro's city and say, "All right, no more slaves; this is wrong. Set all them free and pay them wages, if you want them to work for you." Everyone would think he was mad. From their perspective, they could see nothing wrong with it, and God did not do that to even Abraham. It would have been more than Abraham could have handled, but He had moved on Abraham to be more considerate of his slaves that what other people were.

Yes, one could, at least, do that. They could recognize that slaves were people, not things, establish some basic rights for them and uphold their cause when those laws were broken, gradually add more laws to protect them when society was open to it, and so on, until the evil of owning slaves was recognized and it was abolished. Who knew how long it would take for that to happen? Probably centuries, considering how evil people generally are.

Moses felt ashamed when he recalled how ruthlessly he had collected slaves when he conquered Ethiopia. Certainly, there was justification for going to battle against the country. They had been invading other people's territory, land that God had not ordained for them, and engaged in war not only to steal riches, but also to exercise unclean, sadistic passions. People were entitled to protect themselves against such menaces. But in subduing the Ethiopians, Moses had allowed his men to behave as badly as the Ethiopians, to retaliate for what they had done to Egypt.

Yes, he had looked on while they tortured, raped, and killed for kicks. They were entitled to the plunder, but those other things should have been held in check. "It wasn't right," he thought, as he sat in the shade of some brush and dug idly into the ground with a stick. "It was my responsibility that all those things happened, because I was in charge of the whole thing."

He recalled how the prettiest virgins had been brought to him before passed on to others, though it hadn't actually been his idea to do that. His officers had thought it a way to do him honour, but he had not objected. Moses remembered how most of those poor, young girls cowered before him with shame and fear, trying to cover their nakedness with their hands, though some had tried to please him, so that he would keep them only for himself and not let them be passed around among his troops. He had thought of them as merely cattle, not as actual human beings. He had enjoyed their terror and helplessness. Nobody had forced him to do that, and now he felt that he had been a monster.

Since they were required to take slaves, the least he could have done was show displeasure at gross abuse. Actually, even back then, his conscience had gotten to him, and he had stopped some of the sadism when he came across it, but he could have done it more. It would not have been entirely eliminated, but it could have been reduced.

With a sigh, Moses thought, "Lord, I know it is wrong, that it is not your highest will, but I appreciate having slaves. Zipporah has her bondmaid who helps her with her work. If she did not help her, Zipporah would be nagging me to do it, and I would be worked down to the bone and have no time to sleep. If I had more than just these few sheep of my wife's and her house in the city of Midian, if I had property, I would be glad to have some slaves to work the land, more help in the house, to have a clever steward who looked after everything to give me the free time to do things I'd rather do, like spending time with my sons, studying, maybe writing."

Moses mulled this over. Yes, he still was not so highly spiritual that he was utterly distressed at the idea of any man, woman, or child being a slave, nor willing to utterly give up keeping slaves himself, but he felt that God would be patient with him because he was working hard at being the best person he could be. He kept his slaves in check so that they were not impertinent or lazy and he did not let them steal, but he would be more considerate of them.

He supposed that, compared to some of the Egyptians he knew, he had been considered a fairly reasonable master, but he recalled times when he had let himself run out of control, when he had been in a bad mood when bested by his enemies, and had taken it out on his slaves. The slaves had been thankful that he was not like that very often, but in God's eyes, he never should have been like that at all.

He wished he could make amends for his evil deeds, but they were too numerous, and he could not even remember all his offenses. Many of the people he had offended were probably dead by now. It depressed him to think about how sorrowful some of those lives were, and that he had added to their burdens. Now they likely were consigned to eternal suffering in flames. He sighed again and looked up to Heaven, for he knew that only God had the answers to such things.

He heard that still, soft Voice speak to his heart, "You can never make up for what you have done, nor can any other human compensate for their errors. My Anointed One, whom I will send, He shall satisfy my justice on your behalf. Trust in this, but if you have opportunity to make amends, do it, and be better behaved from now on, according to the grace that I give you." Moses bowed himself to the ground and humbly thanked God for His patience with him.

And so it went, year after year, that God unwound the funeral bandages from his soul, revealing the death and darkness that lay within him, showing him his errors. It was hard to be honest with himself, and sometimes he deferred to deal with some of the dark things that lurked within him. God allowed the delay, but then came those times when He said, "We will now deal with this." Again, Moses would be horrified at yet more revelation of his depravity and wallow in remorse and despair over it, until God reassured him that He still loved him, that He had known about that ugly sin within him, and yet had still loved him anyway. The more he came to know what a depraved man he was, the more gratitude he felt to God for not only loving him and being patient with him, but also helping him turn away from his rotten attitudes and rotten behaviours.

"I love You, Lord," he would cry from his soul, "Because You are good! You are pure, You are holy! There is no evil in You! There is none else so majestic, so just, so kind, so merciful! God, You alone are worthy to rule over all! I worship You! You alone are worthy to be worshipped and praised! All the good that anyone ever does, whether they know You or not, it is due to Your grace. Such mercy, such grace, that You do not blot us all out in a moment for our wickedness, but You are patient, giving us time to see that Your ways are best and to change our ways to conform more and more to Your ways. How merciful you are, how good!"

Moses never could speak of these things to his wife. She was not an entirely evil woman. In fact, he did not believe that she was evil; just willful, selfish, and a sore trial to him, but she had some good points. She took good care of their sons, always had his meals ready for him, washed his clothes, never allowed anyone to speak evil of him, though she allowed herself to gripe about his failings, and she was good with herbs for making medicines, but Zipporah was not interested in spiritual things unless it was something that could be used to get what she wanted.

Moses plodded on through life, his dream of rescuing his people becoming fainter and fainter. He was getting old and he felt like an utter failure. He could not possibly fulfill that mission now. His bones were getting creaky, the ground beneath him seemed to be getting harder when he slept in the door of the sheep's pen at night to keep watch over them. He was in no shape to lead an army.

He knew that Jethro was deeply disappointed in him. Certainly, he took good care of Jethro's sheep, and that kept the old man patient with him, but he supposed that Jethro considered him a coward, too, because he had not made any attempts in the direction of freeing his people from Egypt, though he had spoken of it all those years ago as his holy calling. Well, all right, let him think he was a coward; after all, it was true. He could not stand up to even a woman, so how could he ever hope to stand up to Pharaoh?

Even his sons gave him sass, and he was not able to discourage them entirely from doing it because their mother continually set a bad example for them in how she talked to their father. It was a humiliating situation; he did not know of any other men whose children talked to them in such a manner. It was not uncommon, though, for men to beat their children to death when they were angry with them, so most children were too terrified of their fathers to backtalk them. His sons weren't bad boys, in spite of their tendency to occasionally talk down to him. He knew that they loved him because he gave them attention and was kind to them, but they were ashamed of him that he could not control their mother, and so they reverted to her ways when they were angry at not getting what they wanted from him.

Thankfully, Zipporah did not cosset their sons, as she did not feel that this would make them fit as warriors, and she took a stick to them herself when they stepped out of line. Nor did she interfere most of the time when he administered the discipline, as long as he did not carry it too far, she warned. He wasn't inclined to do so anyway, but Zipporah took issue if he gave his children a beating over things that she considered harmless. On those occasions, it usually had to do with a difference in religious beliefs.

Moses figured that his parents must be dead by now, and he had no hope of ever seeing his brother and sister again. He supposed that he would just toil on looking after sheep until he was too infirm to handle it anymore, and then sink further into obscurity in a corner of their house while his wife nagged him into his grave.

Zipporah was resigned to his failures, but she still took pleasure in reminding him of them, bitter about how she had aged from the years she had spent looking after him in their encampments. She fumed about the servants she could have had, the palace she could have lived in, if he'd had more backbone. "Never," she muttered, "Has a man had such advantages as what you had, but you frittered them away. And for what? For a people who did not want you, and then for a mission that you have never had the guts to fulfill. To think, my sons could have been kings, but they live as shepherds. What a waste; what a waste." She would shake her head and not even bother to look at him, as he never let the expression on his face change from total blandness, no matter what she said to him.

Heaving a sigh, Moses herded the flock towards a fringe of vegetation near the mountain of God where he often resorted to meditate on his life and pour out his heart to the Creator. Then something caught his attention. There seemed to be a fire on the mountain, just a little fire. There was not much on the mountain that could burn, so it was not likely to get out of hand, nor was it unusual for dry bushes to combust in this heat. But, curiously, this bush was still green, and even more curiously, it did not seem to be withering in the flames.

Moses's curiosity was thoroughly caught by this marvel. In all his experience and in all of his learning, he had never heard of this happening before. He swerved from following the sheep to inspect the wonder of this burning bush that was not consumed by the fire.

As he approached the bush, he suddenly heard a voice calling his name like a trumpet, and it was coming from the centre of the bush. Moses's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he answered, "I'm here." God had never spoken to him audibly before, but he knew that this was the Voice of God. The Voice cautioned him, "Don't come any closer. Take your shoes off because you are standing on holy ground."

Moses quickly shucked off his sandals and fell with his face to the ground, waiting to hear what God would say further to him. He trembled with fright as the Voice rumbled forth and said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses trembled harder for the Voice poured through him, searching every fibre of his being, and he was terrified for he knew that he could not stand before such a holy God, even if he had committed only a small fraction of his past and present sins. He could no longer look at the bush that he had so casually approached, when he had thought it was just some type of natural wonder that he had not been acquainted with before.

God spoke further and said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people that are in Egypt. I have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows." Yes, this sounded like the God whom he had come to know over the last forty years. Tender–hearted, rather the stern despot who exacted penances, as Moses had believed Him to be. This was the Father God he had turned to in his loneliness.

God continued, "I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land, and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey, unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites." Moses thought, "Now He is going to move to do something for them. Well, I guess it doesn't have anything to do with me. I am too old for the job, so He must have found someone else who He can work with better, but I am glad that He is letting me know that He is finally going to do something about it."

The Voice drew his wondering and wandering mind back with the next works. "Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me, and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them." Moses felt waves of anguish flowing through him, the heartbreak of generations of his people, and he could even hear their cries echoing in his ears. He felt crushed by their pain, and he was so glad, so very glad, that they were about to be delivered.

God's next words were really startling, for He said, "Come now, therefore, and I will send you unto Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt." Moses thought, "What! He wants me now that I am an old man? My life has been long and painful. I just want to find a corner where I can die in peace. My working days are nearly done, and now God tells me that He is going to send me into a storm? And to the king of Egypt, when I can't hardly look another man in the face because I am a hen–pecked coward?"

Moses was so alarmed that he protested, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?" God replied, "Certainly I will be with you in this, and this shall be a token to you that I have sent you. When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve me upon this mountain." This spoke to Moses's fear that the Egyptians would capture and torture and kill him. Well, maybe they would still capture and torture him, but God was saying that he would not die, but he would return to this place, and all of his people with him. His mission would be successful.

He remembered, though, how he had been rejected when he tried to lead the Israelites before. They had doubted his loyalty to God and to them. He asked, " Behold, when I come to the children of Israel, and shall say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they shall say to me, 'What is His Name?', what shall I say to them?"

The reply rumbled forth, but in a strangely passionate refrain, "I AM That I AM." Behind those words, Moses heard that the sound went on forever. It had no beginning, and it had no end. God had always cried forth His Name, a cry of longing for others to love, for His very essence is pure love and seeks living souls upon which to pour out His love, for the nature of true love is to give. His cry was a passionate invitation to love Him in return, for He is a God who can be trusted to always do what is good and right. Love had motivated Him to create the Universe, and all the angels, and finally Man as His crowning glory, though, at present, Man was such a pitiful race. And Moses felt like he was the most pitiful of all humans. How could God possibly be choosing him to be the deliverer of His people, the descendents of His servant Jacob?

The vibrations of His Holy Name still hung in the air as God said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM" has sent me to you." He continued, "You shall say this to the children of Israel, "The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me unto you; this is my Name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations." Yes, it was like the God whom Moses knew to love forever, and to keep on extending His love forever, just as He always had.

God said, "Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, 'The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared unto me, saying, 'I have surely visited you, and seen what is done to you in Egypt. And I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.' And they shall hearken to your voice, and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and you shall say to him, 'The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us, and now let us go, we implore you, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God."

God let Moses know right away that it wasn't going to be as easy as that to get Pharaoh to let them leave. He said, "I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, not unless I show him my mighty hand. And I will stretch out my hand, and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do in the midst thereof, and after that he will let you go."

Moses trembled at this news, for he had an inkling what it would mean. There was going to be no easy retirement for anyone in his generation. When God had done stuff like that before, there had been a global Flood, and afterwards another cataclysm that had turned the world on its heels and confused the languages because people were so traumatized by the earthquakes and volcanoes and tidal waves and fires. As one who had reached the inner circle of the Mysteries, he was well acquainted with this privileged information that was kept from the masses, who were easier to control if they were kept in ignorance of how unsuccessful fallen angels and their tyrant stooges had been before when they opposed the Creator.

Who would keep on serving their demon idols, if they knew that they all were total enemies of the Creator, and they could not possibly win in their rebellion against Him? At least, it had been shown before that Nature was in complete league with God, though those who followed Lucifer thought that they could eventually harness Nature for their own purposes, if they faithfully gave their allegiance to Lucifer, for they believed that their worship of Lucifer strengthened him in his battle against God.

At this point, God did not allow them to control the weather and the planets, but the more worshippers were gained for satan, and the more outrageous they became in their acts of loyalty to him, they thought that they could fight back the angels who prevented them from engineering seemingly natural disasters that would enable them to take over this world, and worlds beyond. Earthquakes, it was proven, could weaken a country enough to enable its enemies to invade and take it over. Such had brought on the demise of Nimrod's empire, which his heirs were attempting to rebuild. If they could figure out how to provoke an earthquake, they could target countries that were ruled by their enemies, or that had valuable resources that could aid them in their ongoing war against the righteous. Some people were that committed to satan that the deaths of millions meant nothing to them.

Moses knew the world was about to enter into a very troubled time. Did he want to be at the head of it? No, he did not. There were caves near Jethro's city, where the dead were buried and treasures were kept. Moses just wanted to gather some provisions and head there with his family to wait out the cataclysms that were apparently about to occur. Now that he saw the plan being unfolded before him, he realized that this was the only way that the deliverance of the Israelites ever could come about without incurring casualties among them, though he still did not want anything to do with confronting the Egyptians about their errors.

God had other plans, though. He said, "And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, and it shall come to pass that, when you go, you shall not go empty. But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that is staying in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and fine clothing, and you shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters, and you shall spoil the Egyptians."

It was heartening to learn that the Israelites would leave Egypt triumphantly, with wages to help compensate them for all the unpaid work they and their fathers had been forced to do, but Moses felt that God should get Himself another deliverer, one who had more credibility than what he had. He said, "But look at me. They won't believe or do what I tell them. They won't believe that You would actually appear to someone like me, never mind choose me to be a leader." Moses's former confidence in his training and natural abilities had vanished after being worn away from years of seeing all his hopes and dreams shattered. It seemed to him that God had waited too long to speak to him about delivering his people.

God did not seem to think so. He asked, "What do you have in your hand?" Moses looked at his shepherd's crook that he still held. He replied, "A rod." God told him to cast it to the ground. Moses took this as an order to stand, which he did, and then he obediently cast the stick to the ground. Instantly it turned into a serpent and Moses jumped out of his skin in fright, not simply because it was a snake, but also because he had not expected an inanimate object to suddenly spring to life.

Trembling, he stared in shock at the serpent from a distance. Incredibly, God told him to reach out and take it by the tail. Moses did not know what would happen, if he did that. He remembered a time when he had given orders to gather ibises to combat snakes that would have otherwise prevented him from taking his enemies by surprise. He had handled snakes in Egypt, as part of religious rites, so he knew that the way to handle them was definitely NOT by taking them by the tail, but by the head, so that they could not bite. This was a test, apparently, to see if he would trust God. Well, even if he died from snake bite, he did not dare disobey God. Moses put forth his hand and grasped the serpent's tail. Incredibly, it turned back into a rod. His shaking nerves began to settle with relief.

He was still on edge, though. First a burning bush that did not burn, and now stick that turned into a live snake. What next? This was turning into an extraordinary day, though it had started out to be as humdrum as most of the days that he had lived in Midian. The boredom of uneventful days was now what he longed for, but that was soon going to be out of reach of everyone who lived on this planet. Hopefully, though, he could get out of this mission that God wanted to send him on. Turning his rod into a snake was impressive, but Moses was not impressed enough by it to want to take on a job that was far more than what he could handle.

God knew that Moses needed to be convinced as much, if not more, as the elders of Israel. He said next, "Put your hand in your bosom." Moses put his hand inside his garment. God then told him to remove it. To his horror, when Moses removed his hand, he saw that it was a putrid white, totally stricken with leprosy. Was God telling him that He would strike him with leprosy if he did not go? God told him, "Put your hand back into your bosom." Shaking, Moses wondered if doing so would contaminate the rest of his body and spread the leprosy, but he dared not disobey. To his relief, when he withdrew it again, it was back to normal. God told him that if the Israelites did not believe the sign of the serpent, the sign of the leprosy would convince them.

But if there were any hardcore skeptics among them, God had yet another sign. He told Moses that if he took some water from the Nile and poured it upon dry ground, it would turn to blood. Moses didn't doubt it for even a moment. Seeing it was possible for God to turn a piece of wood into a living snake, and a healthy hand into one riddled with leprosy at an instant, it was no stretch for Him to turn water into blood.

He still did not want to go back to Egypt, though, and have to deal with Pharaoh and his court, or with the Israelites as their leader. He'd had people under his command before, and it had not been an easy job to handle, even when one had the right and the resources to force people to do his will. Those methods were no longer available to him, as he knew that it was unrighteous to torture people, and to hold the threat of confiscating their property and raping their wives and children before their eyes to force them, if they showed reluctance to support the state. How on earth did one get people to take orders, if one did not use force? Being nice and winning their hearts worked with some people, but not with all. Moses really did not want the headache of having to deal with this kind of problem. On top of all that, he wanted to stay under shelter, if meteorites were going to be raining everywhere, rather than standing out in the open when the sky would be on fire.

Surely he did not have the right qualifications. God needed this pointed out to Him again, though more specifically, because He had not paid attention before when Moses brought it up. He said, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, nor have I ever been." Oh, the Egyptians had thought so, because of rousing speeches he had given, but the words had been put in his mouth by others and rehearsed until he had gotten it right. It did not come naturally to him think quick on his feet, unless he had been rigorously programmed to speak according to an agenda. In the intervening years, Moses had sorted through a lot of his past, pondering many things, and seeing their errors. It had become customary for him to keep his thoughts to himself until he got them sorted out, and usually by the time he did that, nobody was interested any longer in hearing his input. They had moved on to other things. Moses added, "I talk slow and I have a stutter."

God calmly replied that He had made everyone's mouths, and eyes, and ears, and He could make them work. He could make Moses's mouth work, and enable the people to hear what he said and see what he was saying. He told him to just go, and He would be with his mouth and teach him what to say.

Moses thought, "He just isn't getting it. I better put it before Him more plainly. He fell on his knees and begged Him to send someone else. God answered with a roar of fire from the bush. He said sternly, "Isn't Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And, look, he comes forth to meet you, and he will be glad when he sees you." As Moses beheld the bush in terror, he saw a picture in the flames of a man walking in the desert. This was how he would know to recognize his brother, whom he had not seen for forty years. God said that Aaron would be his spokesman, but it was still Moses whom He would tell what to do and what to say. Then He ordered him to take his rod in his hand, with which he would perform signs. Moses knew that he dared snivel and protest no longer or he would be a dead man.

He reached his hand and took up his staff again. The fire in the bush disappeared. It now looked like an ordinary bush. He looked around. Everything was quiet, except for the bleating of the sheep and goats in the distance. His heart still trembled from the shock of all that he had seen and heard. It was a relief that everything was back to normal, but now he wondered if it had really happened. He tossed his staff to the ground and nothing happened. He tucked his hand into his garment and pulled it out. It still looked the same. But he knew better than to think that he had merely imagined what he had seen. These signs were for the Israelites, so why should they work in Midian?

He shook his head in wonder as he headed over to the flock to round it up. It did not make sense. Why should God use him, now that he was drained of his youth and had realized how futile his past education was for the task of leading the Israelites? And when he couldn't even string a sentence together anymore without tripping over his words? God spoke quietly to his heart, the normal way He spoke to him, and said, "If you could do this task in your own strength, then who would get the glory?"

Moses acknowledged the justice of God's method and resigned himself to his task. When he arrived home, he told Zipporah, "Well, you're finally going to get what you wanted. We are going to Egypt." Zipporah stared at him like he was crazy, which is what she figured he was. He was going to Egypt now? What was the point? They were both old, and neither would have long to enjoy the fruits of victory. She started to protest, but he said, "I am taking the boys with me, and if you don't want to be separated from them, then you have to come along, so start packing, but pack light."

Zipporah sensed a resolution and firmness in her husband's voice that she had not heard for many years, and she knew that he was not to be argued with on this occasion. But why argue? Since Moses had always refused a frontal attack, he must have finally figured out a way to accomplish the Israelites' release, and was journeying there to raise support among them. If he succeeded in his mission, she would get to spend her remaining years as a queen, or at least, as the foremost woman of the Hebrews' society, if they would not have a king. Moses had told her once that she could forget about ever being a queen because the only king the Israelites needed was God. Old habits die hard, though. She protested, "You will have to ask my father for permission, if you want to leave."

Moses nodded. This was true, under the law that protected women from abuse by their husbands. It was not just Midianite law, but God's law, one of the very first that was given to Man, that a man leave his parents and cleave to his wife. God would not want him to sneak off with his wife and children, as his ancestor Jacob had had to with his wives and children, because he was dealing with an unreasonable man. Jethro was not an unreasonable man, and it would be a poor way to repay him for his years of protection and livelihood that he had given him, to neglect to show him the respect of asking for his permission. Moses did not doubt that God would secure it, regardless of any reluctance Jethro might have at sending away his daughter and grandsons.

Moses went to the city of Midian and held his conference with Jethro, telling him that he wanted to return to Egypt to see if any of his family was still alive. He sensed that God wanted him to say nothing more than this to Jethro, just as he had been instructed to only tell Pharaoh that God wanted all the Israelites to journey three days into the wilderness to make sacrifices to Him. To tell him point blank that they never intended to come back would be to the Egyptians too outrageous a request to consider. Likewise, with only a woman and two young men at his side, and being now eighty years old, it would be too outrageous, to Jethro's mind, for Moses to figure that he had any chance now of delivering his people. He would think he was a lunatic and refuse to let his daughter and grandsons go anywhere with him.

Jethro thought it was entirely reasonable that Moses would want to seek out his siblings while there was still a possibility that they were still alive, and while he still had the strength to make the journey. He asked, though, if he intended it to be a permanent move. Moses shook his head and said, "No, God has assured me that I will be back." Jethro had his doubts that Moses really heard from his god. After all, if this was so, would not his god had told him years ago how to rescue the Israelites, when he'd had the youth and vigour to do so? But he did intend to return, so Jethro nodded and told him to go in peace.

Moses quickly finished his preparations, though he still feared to go back to Egypt. God calmed his fears somewhat, by telling him that everyone there who had wanted to kill him were now dead. Zipporah wanted to return with a caravan, so they could travel more comfortably, and to bring some of her jewels, so that she could cut a more impressive figure among the Hebrews, but Moses said that they needed to enter unobtrusively and not attract any attention, until he had unveiled his agenda to the elders of his people.

Zipporah did not bother to ask him what his plans were in that direction, as he had ceased to trust her long ago and always kept his mouth shut, no matter how much she provoked him. If she was going to win his confidence again, she would have to comply without protest to what he required of her.

The servants were left behind to keep the house against their return, subject to surprise inspections that Zipporah had arranged with one of her sisters. All they had to carry them, by turns, was one little donkey. Their sons were eager for the trip, as they had always burned with curiosity about their father's past, but were never told anything about it. They were finally going to meet some of their paternal relatives, though. If the older generation was all gone, surely there would still be some cousins. They gaily took leave of their mother's relatives, after Grandfather laid his hands on them and spoke blessings over them. Full of anticipation of having their curiosity satisfied at last, they turned one more time and waved to their aunts and uncles and cousins before losing sight of them, and then turned their faces to Mount Sinai again, which was to be their first destination before they headed into Egypt.

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The Majesty of God, Chapter 22

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Page modified by Lanny Townsend on March 19, 2011

Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.