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Exodus 2:21-22


2:21 Moses agreed 1  to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. 2  2:22 When she bore 3  a son, Moses 4  named him Gershom, for he said, “I have become a resident foreigner in a foreign land.” 5 

1 tn Or “and Moses was willing” to stay with Reuel. The Talmud understood this to mean that he swore, and so when it came time to leave he had to have a word from God and permission from his father-in-law (Exod 4:18-19).

2 tn The words “in marriage” are implied, and have been supplied in the translation for clarity.

3 tn The preterite with the vav (ו) consecutive is subordinated to the next clause, which reports the naming and its motivation.

4 tn Heb “and he called”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

5 sn Like the naming of Moses, this naming that incorporates a phonetic wordplay forms the commemorative summary of the account just provided. Moses seems to have settled into a domestic life with his new wife and his father-in-law. But when the first son is born, he named him גֵּרְשֹׁם (gerÿshom). There is little information available about what the name by itself might have meant. If it is linked to the verb “drive away” used earlier (גָרַשׁ, garash), then the final mem (מ) would have to be explained as an enclitic mem. It seems most likely that that verb was used in the narrative to make a secondary wordplay on the name. The primary explanation is the popular etymology supplied by Moses himself. He links the name to the verb גּוּר (gur, “to sojourn, to live as an alien”). He then adds that he was a sojourner (גֵּר, ger, the participle) in a foreign land. The word “foreign” (נָכְרִיּה, nokhriyyah) adds to the idea of his being a resident alien. The final syllable in the name would then be connected to the adverb “there” (שָׁם, sham). Thus, the name is given the significance in the story of “sojourner there” or “alien there.” He no doubt knew that this was not the actual meaning of the name; the name itself had already been introduced into the family of Levi (1 Chr 6:1, 16). He chose the name because its sounds reflected his sentiment at that time. But to what was Moses referring? In view of naming customs among the Semites, he was most likely referring to Midian as the foreign land. If Egypt had been the strange land, and he had now found his place, he would not have given the lad such a name. Personal names reflect the present or recent experiences, or the hope for the future. So this naming is a clear expression by Moses that he knows he is not where he is supposed to be. That this is what he meant is supported in the NT by Stephen (Acts 7:29). So the choice of the name, the explanation of it, and the wordplay before it, all serve to stress the point that Moses had been driven away from his proper place of service.

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