24 At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. 25 Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision.
27 The Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 And Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him to speak, and all the signs that he had commanded him to do. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. – Exodus 4:24-31 ESV
Having received his final instructions from God, Moses set off for Egypt with his wife Zipporah, and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Gershom, whose name means “sojourner there,” is mentioned in chapter two, but Eliezer’s name does not appear until chapter 18, and his name means “my God is helper.”
The long journey back to Egypt required many stops along the way so that Zipporah and their young boys could rest. On one of those occasions, Moses received another visit from Jehovah that would prove to be far from pleasant. Recording the details of that fateful evening, he records that they had stopped for the night, and “the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him” (Exodus 4:24 NLT).
This statement is meant to shock the reader. It comes completely out of nowhere and provides no rationale or context for its existence. The reader is left to wonder why God would want to kill the very man He has called to be the deliverer of His chosen people. It makes no sense. It seems pointless and out of character for God. But there is a powerful lesson contained in this seemingly out-of-place sentence.
Moses had finally given in and obeyed God’s commission to return to Egypt as His deliverer, but he was doing so in a state of disobedience. Moses had failed to keep one of the most important commands that God had ever given His people. More than half a century earlier, God had visited Moses’ forefather, Abraham, and reiterated His promise to provide Abraham with a multitude of descendants. But as part of his covenant commitment, Abraham and his heirs were ordered to practice the rite of circumcision.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14 NLT
The penalty for not carrying out this sacred rite was death. That is what God meant when He said, “any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off” (Exodus 17:14 NLT). This rather humorless wordplay was meant to convey the seriousness of the command. It was non-optional and binding on all generations of Abraham’s descendants.
Yet, Moses had failed to keep this command. It becomes readily apparent from the text that Gershom, Moses’ firstborn son, remained uncircumcised. We are given no reason for this oversight on Moses’ part, but the penalty for his failure to keep the covenant command was clear. Yet, rather than order the death of Gershom, God declares His intent to kill Moses.
It is no coincidence that this death sentence for Moses comes immediately after the record of God’s final words to Moses before he left Midian.
“…you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” – Exodus 4:22-23 ESV
If Pharaoh refused to obey God, the life of his firstborn son would be forfeited. But because Moses refused to obey God and circumcise Gershom, it would be Moses who died and not his firstborn son. God was holding Moses personally responsible for this blatant violation of His covenant command.
In a desperate attempt to spare her husband’s life, Zipporah took matters into her own hands and immediately carried out the circumcision of Gershom. Then, in a rather strange display of frustration and disappointment, she took “her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it” ( Exodus 4:25 ESV). In a sense, she was laying the blame at the feet of her husband. He had failed to lead his family well and, in doing so, had put them all at risk. Moses’ refusal to circumcise Gershom had placed a target on the young boy’s back because he would spend his life as a covenant violator who was worthy of death. He would also spend his life as an outsider, separated from fellowship with God’s covenant people.
Zipporah’s actions reflect her frustration with Moses, and she gives full vent to her anger when she tells her husband, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” (Exodus 4:25 ESV). In his commentary on the book of Exodus, the Italian Rabbi, U. Cassutto provides the following translation of Zipporah’s statement:
“I have delivered you from death, and your return to life makes you my bridegroom a second time, this time my blood bridegroom, a bridegroom acquired through blood”
In a sense, she has paid the bridegroom price. She has sacrificed the blood of their firstborn son in order to save the life of her disobedient husband. And, in doing so, she spared the life of Gershom as well. He would no longer live under the condemnation of death for his uncircumcised state.
And what makes this scene so important is that it emphasizes just how seriously God takes sin in the life of His chosen people. Moses had finally chosen to obey God and take up the mantle as His deliverer, but he was doing so in a state of disobedience. The one whom God chose to lead the circumcised sons of Abraham out of their bondage in Egypt, was leading an uncircumcised son into Egypt. This was unacceptable, and God was willing to kill the messenger rather than allow him to tarnish the entire mission with his own disobedience. Moses needed to be in a right relationship with God if he was going to serve as a messenger from God. What God had demanded of Abraham was true of Moses as well.
“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless…” – Genesis 17:1 ESV
There could be no hidden areas in Moses’ life. He could not afford to have any undisclosed indiscretions or secret sins. He was to stand before Pharaoh as God’s representative. When he spoke, he was to speak on behalf of God. So, his character would be integral to the carrying out of his commission.
As all this was going on, God was working behind the scenes to keep His promise to enlist Aaron, Moses’ brother, as his assistant. When Moses had expressed his reticence to act as God’s mouthpiece, God offered to let Aaron take up that responsibility.
“You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” – Exodus 4:15-17 ESV
So, God arranged for the two to meet on the outskirts of Egypt, where Moses brought his brother up to speed on all that God had said and done back at Mount Horeb. We are given no insight as to how Aaron received all this news from his brother. But it must have been like drinking from a firehose. Aaron didn’t have the benefit of seeing the burning bush or hearing the voice of God. He simply had to take all that his brother said at face value and trust that this was a divinely ordained mission. And, by all indications, he heard his brother out and decided to join him in this rather Quixote-lie quest.
They eventually arrived in Egypt, made their way to the land of Goshen, and gathered all the elders of the people of Israel.
Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. – Exodus 4:30 ESV
This God-ordained tag team went right to work, carrying out the commands of God and launching the providential plan that He had ordained. And probably much to Moses’ surprise, “the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31 ESV).
Early on, Moses had questioned the feasibility of this plan. He wondered whether the people of Israel would even remember the name of Jehovah, let alone accept the far-fetched idea of Him orchestrating their deliverance from Egypt. But when he and Aaron faithfully did what God had told them to do, the people believed. They were desperate for someone to deliver them from their suffering and when they discovered that Jehovah had heard their pleas for help, they responded in worship. Suddenly, the gods of Egypt were out of sight, out of mind. Jehovah, the God of Israel, had returned and they were ready to give Him the glory and reverence He deserved. But their newfound faith was about to be severely tested.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.