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Serpent After the famous incident at the Burning Bush, when God told Moses to return to Egypt and free his people, he took his wife Zipporah and their two sons and began the journey. A very strange thing that no one ever mentions then occurred that very first night:

At a night encampment on the way, the Lord encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ legs with it, saying, “You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!” And when God let him alone, she added “A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.” (Exod.4.24-26)

(Bet you didn’t know that was there!)

A commentary in the Talmud suggests that it was not God Himself who tried to kill Moses in this startling story, but two Angels of Punishment and Destruction that He sent, who came disguised as snakes. They took Moses and swallowed his whole body down to his feet, and only gave him up after Zipporah circumcised her son and touched Moses’ feet with the blood.

Here is the customary interpretation: Moses had circumcised one of his sons, but not the other. This was because he was honoring an agreement he had made with his uncircumcised father-in-law, Jethro: Moses had consented to circumcise one child as an Israelite, while the other would remain an uncircumcised Egyptian. But now Moses had passed beyond the level of Jethro, and this ‘agreement’ was not acceptable to the Lord.

Others say that God belatedly wished to punish Moses for slaying the Egyptian taskmaster, or that God was still resentful at all the objections Moses had raised at the Burning Bush.

But none of these interpretations have a satisfactory ring to them when compared to the extraordinary bloodiness and eeriness of the story. I believe there is more.

God’s attempt to kill Moses means that something in Moses, which symbolizes something in the Initiate, has to ‘die’ and be ‘reborn’.

The Talmud adds that there were snakes involved. Snakes, or serpents, symbolize many things, including ‘rebirth’.

‘The Serpent’ has been imbued with meaning throughout the world’s mythology and scripture. It has been the symbol of wisdom and the symbol of evil, the symbol of God and the symbol of sin. Because of its ability to shed its skin, the serpent is a symbol of rebirth and resurrection and, hence, a symbol of Christ. Corresponding to this association with birth and rebirth, it has been the symbol of sexuality and the symbol of healing. It has referred to the world of the senses and the world of the spirit. It rises to the heavens as a phallic symbol, an emblem of power, potency and enlightenment. It encircles reality and swallows itself, indicating wholeness and completeness and Oneness. It dives into the earth, eating dust and signifying death.

Here, two vicious serpents try to ‘swallow’ Moses, trying thereby to bring him back down from his initiatory ascent to the realm of earth and mortality.

Initiation requires a profound inner change – a death and a rebirth. So God comes to kill him! It is Zipporah, the sacred inner Feminine, who must protect him and allow the new birth. So Zipporah performs the circumcision and he is ‘reborn’ by being disgorged by the serpents.

According to Jewish tradition, when a boy is first born he is a child of Adam. Only after circumcision, when the foreskin is cut away and discarded like the skin of a serpent, does he become a child of Abraham, and thus a participant in God’s covenant. In other words, circumcision symbolizes a death and rebirth – a child of Adam dies and is reborn as an Israelite. Later, in Deuteronomy, God will speak of the ‘circumcision of the heart’, and we can see that this symbolism of rebirth refers on a deeper level to the cutting away of the stubborn emotional shell that covers the divine spirit within us and separates us from God. This is the higher meaning of the covenant, the real rebirth that is required.

It is said in the Kabbalah that circumcision is the way to Heaven, which signifies that spiritual death and rebirth is the way to Heaven. We have to acknowledge the problem of this Biblical symbolism: literal physical circumcision only relates to males. One explanation for this is that females offer a similar blood sacrifice every month, without any need for an act such as circumcision, giving them a natural and exquisite comprehension of these things which men can only seek to obtain through the performance of imitative rituals. A further explanation is that all the scriptural lessons for ‘men’ and all the scriptural lessons for ‘women’ are really directed at the male and female aspects that exist inside each one of us regardless of gender: Moses and Zipporah represent two poles of the soul within each of us, and their story takes place within the psyche of both men and women. During the process of spiritual rebirth, this inner act of sacrifice must always be played out. The need to be reborn by ‘cutting away the emotional shell that separates us from God’ relates to all of us.

The symbolism of this story is magnificent in its symmetry. Consider the implications! The Mind and the Heart, represented by Adam and Eve in the story of the soul’s descent, are now represented by Moses and Zipporah in the story of the soul’s ascent back to the ‘Promised Land’ (ie., ‘enlightenment’). Once again, a Serpent, representing the Body, tries to draw the Mind down, which would again invert the soul. This time, however, the woman realizes the appropriate internal relationship, and acknowledges that the Mind, not the Body, is the Heart’s true “bridegroom”. Thus it is that on the return journey to Enlightenment, the Bible teaches that the Feminine saves the soul from a ‘Fall’!

If we are going to blame Woman for the ‘Fall’ in Eden, it’s time we gave her full credit for saving the soul from a ‘Fall’ here in Midian.

For a fresh. new look at the real meaning and significance of all the fascinating women in the Bible, you will want to read THE SACRED CHALICE: Women of the Bible – The Inner Spiritual and Psychological Meaning of Their Stories.