Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.
When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?”
And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”
So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.”
Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom [or Gereshom, ger shom, "stranger there"], for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”
What Does It Say?
Today's passage takes place in the time of Moses, in the time God prophesied about to Abraham in the previous passage. In the book of Exodus, it follows immediately after the incident where Moses murders an Egyptian who was abusing a Hebrew slave.
Having committed murder, Moses flees out of Pharoah's jurisdiction into the land of Midian, where he meets his first wife. In a classic "meet cute" moment, he helps the daughters of the "priest of Midian" deal with some shepherds who don't know how to share. The text leaves out the details of how Moses drove off the shepherds, but considering his history of violence and shortcomings in public speaking (Exodus 4:10), I'm going to guess he didn't debate the shepherds.
At any rate, Moses' conflict resolution skills earn him the favor of a pagan priest and a free wife. Unlike Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, he does not marry someone of his own ethnicity, of his own people, but a foreign woman. He is a ger to her, someone who "was content to live with the man," that is to say, content to live with a people not his own. And so he names their first son "Stranger Here," confessing that he is a stranger despite living in the land and marrying one of its inhabitants.
Even worse, there is every reason to believe that his wife was a pagan polytheist when they met (and perhaps when they married). Her father was a Midianite priest, and it's hard to believe she had heard of the Jews and converted to the worship of their God before meeting Moses.
This is kind of a big deal. Later in the wanderings of Moses and the Israelites, Moses will sanction the execution of Hebrew men who marry Moabite women and worship their gods (see Numbers 25). And it's not like the taboo against marrying foreign women started at Mt. Sinai - Abraham and Issac in particular go to great lengths to find a woman 'of their country and family' for their sons to marry (see Genesis 24 for example).
And yet, Moses is never taken to task in Scripture for marrying an almost certainly pagan foreigner. In fact, Zipporah is shown in a positive light as she is the one who ultimately circumcises their son (Exodus 4). It's a bizarre relationship that starts with a murder and ends with foreskin-tossing (seriously, Exodus 4:25).
So while it's hard to draw universally valid moral principles from Moses' marriage, we can perhaps get an idea of what the Bible says about ger. Being ger is difficult, painful, and alienating. Even though Moses is "content to live with the man" and content to marry a foreign pagan, he never loses his sense of being a foreigner. Even if he is loved, he is different, strange, foreign. And so he names his son "Stranger There" in memorial to his alienation from his surroundings.
Next: Exodus 12