What is your take on the strange passage Exodus 4:24-27 in which God
almost kills Moses?


I found a web site which presents a range of responses from a Judaic
Christian perspective, which I think might be the best. Bottom line, we
are not sure why God wanted to kill Moses, but we are pretty sure what was
going on when Zipporah circumcised their son, and have at least a feel for
why this mollified God’s wrath. I would favor the idea that it was BOTH
about the lack of circumcision AND the fact that Moses had committed a
capital offense.

John Oakes

Editor’s note: The following is not written by an ARS writer, but is
taken from the web site

Why Did God Want To Kill Moses?

24 It happened on the way at a lodging place, that the LORD met him and
wanted to kill him.
25 Then Zipporah took a flint, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and
cast it at his feet; and she said,
“Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.”
26 So he let him alone. Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,”
because of the circumcision.
Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26

Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26 is probably one of the most difficult passages in
the Bible; however, with a careful examination of the Scriptures it is
possible to reach a degree of certainty in understanding why God wanted to
kill Moses.

A little background to start with:
Moses, from being weened, was raised in Pharaoh’s household as the son of
Pharaoh’s daughter (Shemot / Exodus 2:1-10) and when he was forty years
old (Acts 7:23-29) he fled to Midian to escape the wrath of Pharaoh
(Shemot / Exodus 2:15) where he settled, married and had two sons (Shemot
/ Exodus 18:2-4). He then encountered God at the burning bush and was
commissioned to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised
land (Shemot / Exodus 3:1-10). On the way to Egypt, God wanted to kill
Moses and only “let him alone” after Moses’ wife, Zipporah, had
circumcised their son (Shemot / Exodus 4:24-26).

The most common answer given by the majority of commentators “Because
Moses had failed to circumcise his son in accordance with the Abrahamic
Covenant” immediately presents a problem as there is nothing in Scripture
that condemns a father to be punished by death for not circumcising his
son on the eighth day – the only punishment mentioned is that the
uncircumcised soul is to be cut off from his people (Beresheet / Genesis
17:14); this would seem to apply to the father in the case of a newborn
son – the father being held responsible as the child obviously cannot make
decisions for himself – therefore Moses accordingly would be guilty.
However, the fact that Zipporah did the circumcision rather than Moses,
creates another difficulty in that Moses would still stand guilty as he
did not do the actual circumcision himself. Some commentators have Moses
telling Zipporah to do the circumcision as he is sick in bed, struck with
a plague by God and unable to move, thereby excluding him from doing it
himself. However there is absolutely no Scriptural evidence for this
whatsoever and so it must therefore be relegated to mere speculation;
however, even if it were true, for reasons discussed below, it would still
leave Moses guilty.

So why did Zipporah circumcise the boy rather than Moses? There are two
possible explanations (based on how one understands the phrase ‘the LORD
met him’ (v.24)): the first is that Moses was simply sleeping when the
LORD came to meet with him and kill him and that Zipporah, sleeping
lightly as mothers of small children do, responded to the suddenness of
the situation knowing that precious time would be lost in stirring her
sleeping husband. The second is that Moses was awake ‘meeting with the
LORD’ (it was more than likely a monologue with the added threat of the
angel of the LORD standing there with drawn sword) and therefore couldn’t
just turn away to do the circumcision himself.
Whichever it was Zipporah wasted no time, she quickly took a flint knife
and cut off her son’s foreskin touching Moses’ feet with it thereby saving
his life (the reason she touched his feet with the foreskin was a symbolic
act of showing that she was a submissive wife (Rut / Ruth 3:4-11 and note)
and that she only did the circumcision because of the necessity of the
situation). It must be noted that this expression of submission shows that
Zipporah acted on her own initiative and not at the command or bequest of
Moses, thereby proving that Moses had no part whatsoever in the
circumcision of his son (if Moses had indeed instructed Zipporah to
perform the circumcision then she would have had no need to show her
submission in such a way).

Some might also say that Moses, after his encounter at the burning bush,
was held to a higher level of accountability and therefore God was
justified in wanting to kill him for his failure in regards to the
circumcising of his son. However, as already noted, there are no
Scriptural grounds to take someone’s life for their failing to circumcise
their son. There is more: as we have already seen, Moses had two sons
(Shemot / Exodus 18:2-4), both of whom were with him on the journey
(Shemot / Exodus 4:20); however we are not told whether the other son was
circumcised or not; if he was then it might seem plausible that God’s not
killing Moses was as a direct result of the other son being circumcised;
if however he was not circumcised, and, as we shall see later, there is
strong evidence to show that he wasn’t, then Zipporah’s act of
circumcising her son to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant proves to be false
as both sons would naturally need to be circumcised in order to fulfill
the covenant’s requirements concerning circumcision: not only so but if
Moses was guilty of breaking the Abrahamic Covenant by not circumcising
his son then Zipporah’s act would only redeem the boy and not Moses – he
would still stand guilty (in order for Moses to have redeemed himself he
would have needed to have instructed Zipporah to carry out the
circumcision, but as already shown Moses played no active part at all).

Evidence For Moses Not Having Circumcised His Sons

Moses was forced to leave Egypt because Pharaoh wanted to kill him (Shemot
/ Exodus 2:15) on account of his killing of an Egyptian (Shemot / Exodus
2:12). We are told in Acts 7:23-25 that Moses supposed that his brothers
understood that God was using him to deliver them (although his brothers
didn’t see it that way (Shemot / Exodus 2:13-14 also Acts 7:26-29) ) – he
could have had some sort of revelation or insight into the plan of God or
it might simply have been that since he was a learned person (Acts 7:22),
then he probably knew the history of the promised redemption of the
Israelites (Beresheet / Genesis 15:13-16) and saw himself, preserved as a
child in such a special way (Shemot / Exodus 1:15-2:10), as the person
that God would use to fulfill the promise. Whichever is closest to the
actual truth we will never know except that Moses acted presumptuously in
assuming that now was the time that God was going to deliver the
Israelites. We know that it was presumption because Moses acted alone,
highlighted by the description of how he struck down and killed the
Egyptian (Shemot / Exodus 2:12) and as a result he had to flee in fear of
his life – not something that would have happened had God initiated the
redemption at that time.
He fled to Midian where he settled down and married a shepherd girl. There
seems to be reason to believe that he had an identity crisis, not knowing
if he was a Hebrew, an Egyptian (Zipporah told her father that it was an
gyptian that had rescued them (Shemot / Exodus 2:19) ) or that perhaps
after making such a grave mistake and having to flee for his life, that he
should now become a Midianite and forget his past. We catch a glimpse of
this identity crisis when Scripture tells us that “Moses was content to
dwell with the man” (Shemot / Exodus 2:21), meaning that he decided for
the time being to accept the authority and customs of his father-in-law
Jethro. That Jethro also happened to be the priest of Midian would surely
have had a tremendous impact on him to the point that his own, albeit
remote, Israelite heritage would have been all but lost. We can surmise
that his identity crisis continued for some time as he named his first son
Gershom which means ‘a stranger here’ (Shemot / Exodus 2:22): Moses,
although living with the Midianites and most likely as one, still
recognized that he was not really one of them (Acts 7:29).

The Midianites were descended from Midian, a son of Abraham through
Keturah (Beresheet / Genesis 25:1-2) and were, with the rest of Abraham’s
children, the exception being Isaac, separate from the covenant promises
(Beresheet / Genesis 17:19-21; 21:12; 25:5-6; Shemot / Exodus 2:24). Since
the covenant was to be continued exclusively through Isaac it would not
make any sense for the rest of Abraham’s children to continue with the
practice of circumcision. Circumcision was a token of the covenant from
which they were excluded and their own circumcision would only serve as a
reminder of that exclusion: therefore there is no reason, given Moses’
willingness to live among the Midianites and Zipporah’s ethnic seperation
from God’s covenant people, for them to have circumcised their sons.
If Moses had circumcised his sons in accordance with the Abrahamic
Covenant, then it would have created a chasm between himself and
Zipporah’s family (bearing in mind that his father-in-law was the priest
of Midian) that would have resulted in a situation whereby Moses would not
have been able to continue to live with them any longer.

It is worth noting that although Hebrews chapter 11 makes mention of Moses
being a man of faith (vs. 24-28), a careful reading will show that the
referrence is to Moses after his return to Egypt. It is quite clear from
Scripture that Moses did not have a great deal of faith prior to his
encounter with God at the burning bush.

Zipporah’s declarations, as recorded in verses 25 and 26, can also be seen
as evidence to show that her two sons were not previously circumcised. It
must be noted that according to the Hebrew text she referred to Moses as
being to her, not a husband of blood but as a bridegroom of blood; the
inference being of a new beginning in their relationship based upon the
realisation that Moses’ God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was the
one true God. The LORD ‘let him alone’ as a direct result of Zipporah’s
actions and she gives glory to God by declaring [to Moses] “You are a
bridegroom of blood, because of the circumcision.” (the Hebrew Bible
ascribes the whole quote to Zipporah) thus showing that she understood the
significance of circumcision as the token of the Abrahamic covenant and
it’s promises (Beresheet / Genesis 17:7-14) and also the mercy and grace
of God.

So Why Did God Want To Kill Moses?

Having looked at why it wasn’t due to Moses neglecting the circumcision of
his son, we now come to the reason why God wanted to kill Moses:
God made a covenant with Abram (Beresheet / Genesis 15:7-21) where He
promised Abram the land as an inheritance and, in verses 13-16, that the
people would be slaves in a foriegn land for 400 years but that they would
come out in the fourth generation. This was part of the covenant and God
was obliged to keep it.
We know that Satan’s end is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10); Satan
also knows this and will do everything in his power to stop it from
happening. His only solution is to try and break one or more of the
promises of God – if God said that it would happen and he (Satan) somehow
stops it from taking place, then God is a liar and has no right to judge

When God made the covenant with Abram, the devil knew that in the fourth
generation something was to happen which would enable the children of
Israel to leave Egypt and go to the promised land. He watched and waited.
He knew that God had promised a Savior (Beresheet / Genesis 3:14-15) but
didn’t know when He would come – perhaps in the “fourth generation”. The
fourth generation came and Satan engineered the killing of the Hebrew boys
(Shemot / Exodus 1:15-22) in an attempt to kill the would be deliverer but
there was one that escaped – Moses; however he was taken into Pharaoh’s
house and therefore no longer posed a threat; that was until, when as a
young man, Moses started to show an interest in his own people and one day
went to the rescue of one of them and struck down his Egyptian oppressor
(Shemot / Exodus 2:11-12), and then forty years later when God calls Moses
to bring the people out of Egypt in fullfilment of the promise to Abram.
Satan meantime gets worried and goes to see God, “God, you said to Noah
that if a man sheds another man’s blood then you will demand his blood
(Beresheet / Genesis 9:5-6 and note). God, Moses is a murderer – I remind
you of what you said and I demand his blood.”. We know that Moses was
indeed a murder because Scripture tells us that ‘He looked this way and
that way, and when he saw that there was no one, he killed the Egyptian,
and hid him in the sand.’ (Shemot / Exodus 2:12). When Moses killed the
Egyptian the killing wasn’t justified at all, he could have easily
commanded the Egyptian to leave him alone – Moses had the authority, he
was after all the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and would have been easily
recognised; he was also “mighty in his words and works” (Acts 7:22) – but
he choose instead to murder him, burying him in the sand to conceal the
evidence. Although Stephen, in Acts 7:24, tells that Moses “defended him,
and avenged him who was oppressed, striking the Egyptian.” (Stephen was
giving a condensed version), the actual passage that he was paraphrasing
is more telling: “11 It happened in those days, when Moses had grown up,
that he went out to his brothers, and looked at their burdens. He saw an
Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his brothers.
12 He looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no one,
he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.”
Shemot / Exodus 2:11-12 Verse 12 defines Moses actions as calculated
murder. Yes he was defending his fellow Israelite but as previously noted,
he could easily have commanded the Egyptian to stop – he had no need to
kill him. So God, bound by His own word, set out to kill Moses and as seen
in the previous section, Zipporah, by circumcising her son, saved Moses’
But why did God wait for forty years before bringing judgement on Moses?
For those forty years Pharaoh was still seeking Moses’ life (Shemot /
Exodus 4:19) and therefore there was still ‘due process’. It was only when
all those who sought his life had all died, and Moses was sent to deliver
the Israelites from Egypt that Satan had no choice but to bring the charge
of murderer before the throne of God himself.
So the answer is that Moses was a murderer and accused so by Satan in the
hope that God’s promise to Abram would be broken, therefore showing God to
be a liar and therefore not fit to sit in judgement over him.

An Important Conclusion

A cursory reading of the Scriptures and history reveals that the Jewish
People have often times been the subject of attempted annihilation. The
reason being that God promised that the Messiah would come from the Jewish
ple (Beresheet / Genesis 49:10; Bamidbar / Numbers 24:17(a)) and that
Messiah would only return when asked to do so by the Jewish People as a
nation (Matthew 23:37-39 see also Zekharyah / Zechariah 12:10-14), so
therefore the devil is doing his upmost to destroy the Jewish People – no
Jews, no Messiah – no final judgement!
Messiah came the first time to bring salvation (John 12:47); He will come
the second time to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:22; Acts
10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1) and afterwards Satan will be cast into the lake of
fire (Revelation 20:10), his judgement having already been pronounced
(John 16:11).

The Nation of Israel and the Jewish People around the world are still the
target of Anti-Semetism. Radical Islam is a self declared virulent enemy
of anything Jewish and repeatedly states it’s desire to destroy Israel.
This is nothing more than the continued attempt by Satan to avoid his own
punishment in the lake of fire. Although he is destined to fail in his
strategy and God’s plan for Israel will be accomplished, Israel and the
Jewish People still need our prayers before the throne of grace.

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