I came up with several possible titles for this article: The Mystery of the Bloody Foreskin ..... Moses: A Bridegroom of Blood ..... Moses' Near-Death Experience. The list could go on!! Let's begin this rather unusual study, however, by examining the historical background.
Moses killed an Egyptian who had been beating one of the Hebrew slaves, taking the body and hiding it in the sand (Exodus 2:11-12). Pharaoh heard of this incident and sought to kill Moses, so he "fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian" (Exodus 2:15). While sitting at a well one day he noticed the rude, unjust treatment of the seven daughters of a Midian priest who had come to draw water for their father's flocks. He stood up for them, and came to their aid, which won him an "invitation to supper." To make a long story short, Moses ended up married to one of these women. He and Zipporah (which means "bird") soon had a son, and he was given the name Gershom (Exodus 2:16-22).
In time, the Pharaoh who had sought the life of Moses dies. Also, the people of Israel begin to cry out to their God for relief from the hard conditions of their slavery in Egypt. In preparation for His response to His afflicted people, the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush as the latter tends the flocks of his father-in-law near Mount Horeb. A lengthy discussion follows in which Moses somewhat reluctantly agrees to go to Egypt to lead the people of Israel out of their bondage (Exodus 2:23 - 4:17).
Moses seeks and receives the blessing of his father-in-law Jethro (aka: Reuel) to depart and go to his brethren in Egypt, and "so Moses took his wife and his sons and mounted them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt" (Exodus 4:20). Notice that the text says "sons" (plural). Although no mention has been made in the text to this point about any additional births, it appears that Gershom is no longer an only son ... another son has been born to Moses and Zipporah. We know from later passages that this was the child named Eliezer.
It is at this point that we come upon the passage in question --- Exodus 4:24-26. This is a much debated text. Some have even suggested it has no legitimate place in the Scriptures, and is a fanciful addition of some later scribe. I believe, however, that it appears here for a purpose, and that it possesses great spiritual significance. Let's analyze the passage in some detail.
"At a lodging place on the way..." --- The KJV says it was an "inn." This was probably not a Ramada Inn or Motel 6, or anything even remotely similar! Most scholars feel it may well have been little more than a "recognized resting place" .... perhaps an oasis, or a place where a well had been dug and travelers could stop and refresh themselves on their journey. Certainly there were no modern comforts to which travelers today have become accustomed.
"...the Lord met him and sought to put him to death." --- Again, there is much speculation as to what this means. Who was it the Lord met? Most scholars feel it refers to Moses, and I tend to agree. However, in the absence of clear antecedents there is room for some speculation. Some scholars feel it was one of the sons of Moses that was in danger of being struck dead. Others see a reference to Pharaoh or one of his sons, or even a reference figuratively to Israel. The most widely accepted interpretation, however ... and the one I personally embrace ... is that it was Moses who had this "meeting" with the Lord.
The next question is with reference to the nature of this "meeting." In what way did Moses encounter his Lord? Some feel it was a "face to face" confrontation, as was the case with Balaam: "Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand .... And the angel of the Lord said to him, 'Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me .... I would surely have killed you just now ...'" (Numbers 22:31-33). In the LXX (Septuagint) in Exodus 4, the phrase "the angel of the Lord" is included in the text. Some feel Moses had just such an encounter.
Most scholars seem to feel, however, that the encounter was much less personal, and that it simply took the form of a sudden seizure or potentially fatal illness which both Moses and Zipporah recognized as a "visitation" of the Lord upon Moses for some sin he had committed. Whatever the exact nature of this "meeting," it is obvious that it (1) was perceived as coming from the Lord, and (2) it was about to cost Moses his life! Whatever it was which had brought about the wrath of God against Moses, it was serious!!
"Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin..." --- The implication here is that the conclusion reached by this couple (or at least by Zipporah) was that the sin which had so displeased the Lord was the fact that their child had not yet been circumcised. Perhaps Moses was too weak to perform this rite himself, so she did it for him (maybe even at his direction). Again, there is much speculation here. Some feel it was Moses himself who had not been circumcised, but there seems little evidence for that theory (and few hold to it). One commentator even goes so far as to suggest that the child was circumcised in the place of Moses, and that Zipporah then "touched the foreskin to Moses" to transfer "covenant obedience" to her husband. This is, in my view, reading far too much into the text, and raises some very serious questions. Can one be circumcised FOR another? Is one person's obedience transferable to another? I really think that is a dangerous interpretation and can easily lead to some very misleading theological conclusions.
Most scholars interpret this section in the following way: When Gershom was born, Moses circumcised him. This was a bloody rite not practiced by the Midian people; it was not part of their religion. It likely was viewed as repugnant by Zipporah, and when the second son was born she pleaded with Moses to forego this "bloody religious rite." It appears that Moses may have given in to his wife on this one, and thus was in violation of one of the vital aspects of the covenant (Genesis 17:9-14).
Recognizing that it was this infraction of law that was causing the God of her husband to seek his life, she performed the circumcision of Eliezer herself to save Moses. However, she was still extremely repulsed by this "bloody rite" which was so foreign to her. Therefore, when she had removed the foreskin, she "threw it at Moses' feet!" Some say, "she flung it at him!" One commentator notes: "The action was petulant and reproachful."
The last statement in vs. 26 --- "because of the circumcision" --- literally reads in the Hebrew: "because of the circumcisionS" (plural). This seems to indicate that she was still upset over the FIRST circumcision (the circumcision of Gershom). Now a SECOND had been performed, and thus because of these circumcisionS (plural) she regarded her husband as a "bridegroom of BLOOD." One commentator explained this statement this way: "Moses was viewed as a husband who caused the blood of his children to be shed unnecessarily for some unintelligible reason." This was her perception of the matter. Another commentator notes: "He was a husband who cost her dearly, causing the blood of her sons to be shed in order to keep up a national usage which she regarded as barbarous." Thus, after flinging the foreskin at Moses in contempt, she lashed out at him and called him "a bridegroom of blood."
The account ends here! Moses recovers; the journey to Egypt resumes; and the rest, as they say, is history.
Some feel that Moses may have sent Zipporah and the two sons back to Midian at this time, and that he entered Egypt and delivered the people of Israel without them being present. This may be implied from Exodus 18:2b where it states that AFTER the deliverance of the people, and as they were assembling to be presented to their God, Jethro brings Zipporah and the two sons BACK to Moses "after he (Moses) had sent her away." Some scholars feel that they were so incompatible spiritually that she would have been a hindrance to Moses as he stood before Pharaoh, and thus she had to go. All we can safely say, however, is that at SOME point between Exodus 4 and 18 she had been sent home, and now was being returned to him by Jethro, her father.
Zipporah is never mentioned again in Scripture, with the possible exception of Numbers 12:1 --- "Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married." Many feel that Zipporah had died and Moses then took another wife (and that his family did not approve of his selection of this other woman). Others feel that this Cushite woman IS Zipporah, and that the family did not approve of Zipporah. But, if Zipporah was a Midianite woman, how is it that she would here be called a Cushite woman?
The explanation may lie in Habakkuk 3:7 --- "I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish." There is a literary device in Hebrew poetry known as Synonymous Parallelism. If this is an example of that device, and I believe it may well be, then it is possible that these two names may have been regarded as signifying the same territory, or that at least there was enough overlapping that they could have been regarded together. Thus, Numbers 12:1 MIGHT indeed be a reference to Zipporah, and to the fact that the family of Moses did not approve of her.
Nothing further is really known about Gershom or Eliezer, except their descendants were numbered with the tribe of Levi and in time came to serve as officers in the Temple during the reign of Solomon and beyond.
The real question surrounding the Exodus 4:24-26 passage, however, is one of spiritual significance. What was the purpose of this brief account? Why has the Lord given it to us? Is there any relevance for us today? I think there are several significant spiritual lessons to be learned:
One could probably draw a great many more insights from this passage ..... for example, the significance of a bloody sacrifice sparing us from death ..... but these are some of the immediate, more obvious, lessons to be drawn. I shall leave it to the readers to examine this incident for additional lessons and applications. If you feel there are significant ones overlooked in this discussion, please feel free to share them with me. I'd love to hear from you.
Yes, there are some strange accounts in God's Word, aren't there? Nevertheless, it is my conviction they are all there for a purpose, and that we can all learn from them. I hope this study has illustrated the worth of one such account.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Brother Al, An advertisement in the latest issue of The Christian Chronicle led me to John Waddey's site ... www.christianity-then-and-now.com. Therein, as you probably know, is a letter he wrote to you and your answer. That's why the word "bravo" is in the subject line of this email to you. I thought your answer to Waddey was right on target, Al. It was a fine reply to his charges. And written in Christian love, too. He must've wondered why you didn't rip him up one side and down the other, as some of his legalistic brethren are wont to do.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, I am repeatedly impressed with the depth of thought and careful research represented in your articles. Reflections #33 -- Worship Reformation is another excellent piece. I am reminded of a statement I heard many years ago that if God had wanted a book like Leviticus in the New Testament, He could have given one. But He didn't.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Your articles about body/soul motivated me to study this issue. Now I question the belief that I have an "immortal soul" floating in my body! Everything I have read about the Hebrew view on body and soul is that they are one .... not a soul floating in a body. The word is clear that I am a "living soul" and that I will put on immortality at the resurrection. Thanks so much for your efforts!
From a Reader in Missouri:
Hi brother Al, I'm so glad that you are HERE! I'm certainly enjoying and learning from your writings. They cause one to really think about the traditions that even we as Church of Christ members follow. Lord willing, one day I would like to meet you in person and just ask you a 1000 questions. Well, I know that's a high number, but I do appreciate your willingness to put things out front. At another time I want to consult you on the kind of books to purchase, and how is it that you have all of that information in your head.
Let me say that I have believed that the Rich Man and Lazarus were real events. However, it was difficult for me to reconcile that with the end of time Judgment. In other words, if people are now in Paradise and a burning Hell, would they then be momentarily taken from those places to stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Then, afterward receive their eternal reward?
From a Reader in Texas:
I enjoy reading your newsletter, how refreshing! Many of the comments you make do provoke thinking. "To think" is one of the things I stress to prison inmates here in Abilene (I'm a volunteer prison chaplain). I hope you don't mind if I pass your Reflections on to the men in prison who are searching for the Truth about the nature of the Christian God.
I am a Conditionalist, believing that immortality is for those approved by God thru all ages, but the ungodly, after receiving few or many stripes, will be destroyed according to Luke 12 and Matthew 10. I gained access to your site thru brother Fudge's daily postings. God bless you in your challenge for all to think and examine closely what I call our "previous religious education." Thanks for your patience and for your challenging information. I like your heart.
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