At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 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. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) (Ex. 4:24-26)
It baffled me as a young believer. The Lord waits 40 years, and then He finally appears to Moses to send him back to Egypt because He hears the cries of His people. But on the way back, He tries to kill him.
The Hebrew reads slightly different. It doesn’t say he “was about to kill him,” but יְהוָה וַיְבַקֵּ֖שׁ הֲמִיתֽוֹ׃ or Yahweh sought or demanded his death. In other words, it is not that God was trying to kill him or in the act of killing him. It is more that his death was required or demanded for some reason. Why? Because he had not circumcised his boys or at least one of them. (Gen. 17:10)
He was going back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites and he himself was not living according the only real command they had until that time: Circumcise your boys. What kind of a spokesman/prophet could he be?
This was such a serious issue that his death was required. A few observations:
- How did Zipporah know? Maybe Moses grew sick and instructed her to do what he was physically unable to do.
- His boys were in their late 30’s I presume (I will leave that one there).
- She circumcises her son but is disgusted by the whole thing. Maybe she was the reason that he didn’t circumcise him before—clearly a strange thing to do if it is not your custom.
- And even more strange: Why did she only circumcise one son and not both? The Hebrew is clear, “her son” בנה, not sons.
Could it be that Gershom was circumcised and Zipporah was disgusted by it? When the second son comes, she refuses. At this point, what does Moses care…he will never be a part of the Jewish people. Accept he will and this mark in the flesh, a physical sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people is indeed important.
Remember there are two reasons that God is returning: 1) He heard their cries and 2) He remembered His covenant with Abraham.
God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. (Ex. 2:24)
We, the Jewish people, only had to do one thing to activate the blessings of God in that covenant—circumcise our boys.
For Moses not to do this to Eliezer, his second son, it would almost invalidate God’s requirement to rescue the Jewish people based on his covenant responsibility, as Moses would soon be the leader of the entire Hebrew nation.
Somehow Zipporah figured this out and saves the day, though she is none too excited about cutting off her son’s foreskin.
What can we take from this?
- While God loves every nation and the New Covenant is for every person from every country, God wants His covenant people Israel to continue to identify as Jews.
- God takes covenant seriously. As Paul says, circumcision will enable God to keep His promises to Israel. (To be clear, God is sovereign, and He is the one who set it up like this).
“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” (Romans 3:1-4)
- If Moses had not circumcised his sons, would the Israelites have continued as a people?
- If the Jewish people had not continued to circumcise their sons throughout the centuries would God have been able to fulfill his side of the covenant with Israel?
- And if not, how could God fulfill His end-time plans with no nation of Israel?
- If God was so concerned about His covenant with Abraham, how much more is he concerned for you? Hebrews teaches that the New Covenant is a better covenant. If God was faithful to his covenant with Abraham, how much more will He be faithful to you?
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:22)
But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)
So, yes, a lot was riding in Moses getting this seemingly small thing (no pun intended) right, so God could fulfill his plan for world redemption.
This article originally appeared on Tikkun International, April 12, 2020, and reposted with permission.