Creation Care, NT Wright, Faith and Science, Art, Being Human, and More

February 10th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

God Attacks Moses Who Is Saved By His Wife

This was submitted to the Facebook group “Ask Pastor Joel” by Isaac Hill:

Hey Joel,

I was reading though Exodus the other day and was surprised to find this passage:

24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

My question is: what is going on here? This is after God had called Moses back to Egypt and now God threatens to kill him. And the his wife circumcises their son and touches Moses’ feet with it. At which point God lets Moses go. Please explain, because I am totally lost. Thanks.

My answer:


This is a very obscure and rather strange passage and has mystified readers and commentators for millenia. I offer some preliminary comments.

So, in context, Moses has met with God on the mountain of Sinai after 40 years of sojourn in the wilderness of Midian. He is on his way back to Egypt via Midian to meet with his father in law Jethro (father of his wife Zipporah – see 2:11-22) and ask of him permission to go back to his brothers in Egypt. Moses owed his life in many ways to Jethro and this was an honoring thing to do.

So, Moses and Zipporah and his sons (plural) start to make their way from Midian to Egypt. I highlight “sons” in the plural in verse 20 because only one son is mentioned in our passage. The birth of Moses and Zipporah’s first son is mentioned in 2:22 – Gershom. The second son was named Eliezer. We learn this later in a brief retrospective after Moses has led his people out of Egypt (18:2-4). We are not 100% sure which son had not been circumcised – I am guessing Eliezer. Was the other son already circumcised? I assume so.

There is also the emphasis on the word “son” in the verses just before this where the LORD refers to Israel as His firstborn son (very important in understanding Jesus) and reminds Moses that he is to tell Pharaoh to let His (God’s) firstborn son go, or else he will lose his (Pharaoh’s) first born son. Does this have anything to do with the account which follows? I don’t know. maybe.

So Moses and Zipporah and their sons are at a lodging place and the LORD confronts Moses, seeking as it says to put him to death. Obviously the LORD could cause Moses to die just by the word of command, so did he meet Moses in or through an angel or representative? Not sure.

So it looks like Moses is toast and his wife intervenes. She takes a stone blade and cuts off their son’s foreskin (circumcision). The Hebrew suggest that she threw the cut off foreskin at Moses’ feet, apparently with disgust. This seems to forestall the death sentence and he (the Lord) then leaves Moses alone. Zipporah tells Moses that he is now a “bridegroom of blood,” or a bridegroom bought by the price of blood. She saved Moses’ life as it were, brought him back from the brink, so in a way they were remarried at the cost of blood (maybe).

Because Zipporah intervened, and because of her apparent disgust over the whole affair, it can be inferred that Moses had not circumcised the boy mainly out of deference to his wife and to her family and culture. It was kind of like God was about to kill her husband because he had failed to circumcise their son, and she knew it was in deference to her that he had not, so she says “Alright already you can have your awful circumcision, where’s a knife” and she just went and did the deed.

Apparently Moses sent them all back home (see 18:2) and would meet up with them after the Exodus.

As far as circumcision, it was a holy rite that signified deep things and had been instituted by God with Abraham in Genesis 17. The penalty for failure to be circumcised or to circumcise one’s sons was that of being cut off from the people. It was a very serious violation of the covenant. Maybe in a follow up I can talk about the meaning of circumcision.

This “threat” of being cut off from covenant with God applied to Abraham too. He was certainly called by God and great promises were given – but they were not without condition. Abraham obviously had to do what God said – leave Ur and go to Canaan for example. The promises were unilateral but conditional. in the end God would have to meet the condition through His very own Son, the Lord Jesus.

I believe that we as children of God through Christ are chosen without condition, but the salvation for which we are chosen is not without condition. We still must “repent and believe.” Ponder that.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • LinkedIn
  • Technorati
  • StumbleUpon


RSS feed for comments on this post | TrackBack URI

  • Linkedin Profile

  • My Flickr Site
    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called 100 Most Interesting. Make your own badge here.
  • Facebook

  • My Twitter Feed..

    Posting tweet...

    Powered by Twitter Tools.


    Check out my Blogger site View Joel Gillespie on Blogger