Remember that time when God almost killed Moses?

You don't? Me either. What the hell?!

Exodus 4:19-26
19 Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

21 The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.' "

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.

Awesome. I think that almost happened to me, once. But it might have been gas.

Maybe someone out there with more OT cred than me knows something about this text, its context and its interpretation??


Josh Mueller said...

Here's an interesting new proposal of Ronald Allen trying to explain what went down (I'm not sure I'm buying it all but at least it highlights the difficulties in general and those of other proposals):

The only things that do seem clear in the intent of the message are:

1. Circumcision somehow was really that big a deal!

2. Zipporah's background may have previously been a deciding factor in Moses not circumcising his son.

3. While Zipporah complies to save her husband, her words seem to indicate continuing dismay regarding the whole bloody ritual.

I'll leave it up to you, Peter, to decide whether there may be any application to us today who are for the most part inclined to agree with Zipporah rather than Moses. I personally think any bias that is culturally based (or simply because it's in our contemporary eyes just plain disgusting, offensive and unnecessary) may be understandable but not a real help in an effort to understand the text properly and any legitimate concerns it may express.

Patrick said...

Regarding Circumcision...a few cultures in the Near East during this period practiced it to some extent. A lot were repulsed by it. To the Israelites, it represented the covenant between God and Abraham. The foreskin itself represented all that was not of God and was reviled. The reason it was done on male reproductive organs was probably as a reminder that the covenant was between oneself and also one's offspring to come.

That being said, I believe that since Zipporah, the daughter of a Midian priest named Ruel (Otherwise known as Jethro) may have been against circumcising their sons because the Midians weren't too keen on the practice. Moses may have capitulated. Since this was essentially a deal breaker for God at the time, that may have been why he was going to kill Moses. Zipporah then did the extreme and performed the circumcision herself (Which itself is rather exceptional as most circumcisions were performed by men).

That is my take on it. Btw, a lot of the resource material I pulled was from an Archeological study bible I purchased. This bible is hot like sauce.

Peter said...

"Hot like sauce." Love it.

Thanks to both of you for the insights. It's the timing that gets me. Why exactly did God decide to kill Moses then? And did God explain why Moses had to die, and did Zipporah just randomly guess right on the foreskin thing? Or should we assume God actually explained, and we just didn't get the full story?

Josh Mueller said...

I think there's too little information to say for sure. The direct connection to what God said previously about His coming severe judgment on Pharao by means of killing his son (V.23) makes it probable that Moses' disobedience in not circumcising his own firstborn was about to be equally judged, although it seems that God really wanted to kill Moses and not Gershom.

And I would assume that some kind of argument between Moses and his wife did precede this event as well (possibly even flaired up again shortly before) where Moses on the one hand gave in to Zipporah's resolute stance: "no way you're cutting my son!" but also may have told her that this would not end well.

Well, just a theory ...

Rhiannon Y Orizaga said...

"The reason it was done on male reproductive organs was probably as a reminder that the covenant was between oneself and also one's offspring to come."

Actually I would suspect that the reason the sign of the covenant was made manifest on male anatomy was because the covenant was between men and God, not people and God. The OT is layered with reminders that this is, after all a patriarchal society, and women were not seen as having any real agency, thus rendering them incapable of making a covenant with God (although there are exceptional women who would *seem* to have a special connection to God). I don't know what to make of the text, but I don't know what to make of a lot of things. I do know that God was seen as a composite God (Elohim) rather than a single personality. There seems to be a lot of places in the Old Testament where you really see different aspects of Him doing different things. Some translations make that into an angel, and there seems to be no distinction between good and bad angels in terms of agency.

Peter said...


I agree that there is ABSOLUTELY an underlying misogyny throughout, and that these texts cannot be comprehended without viewing them through that lens, and recognizing that vantage for what it is.

John F Robin said...

Interesting thoughts on a fascinating topic, everyone. Here's my take: Why God almost killed Moses.

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