A member of my Bible reading group recently asked a question about Exodus 4:24-26. Like so many of us, she was dumbfounded by the shocking scene played out in these verses. As a reminder, they say:
“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.”
I certainly do not have a definitive interpretation of these difficult verses, but there are some points of interest for us to consider. I will mention a few.
Difficult Passages Increase Our Humility
Texts like these that do not provide a thorough enough explanation should remind us of our finite, limited capacities compared to God’s glorious grandeur. As we prayerfully rely on the Holy Spirit and search through resources, commentaries, and study bibles, the Lord is faithful to grow us spiritually even when our initial question might not be satisfactorily answered. In other words, even after additional reading and discussion, we might not be any closer to finding the answer to this puzzling passage, but we will be closer to Jesus because of our time in his word.
Those Pesky Pronouns
Part of the trouble with these verses lies in the ambiguity of the pronouns. Who did God seek to kill? The text only says “him.” Who did Zipporah touch with the foreskin of her son? The text only says “his.” This is where it is interesting to notice how different translations handle the interpretive process. The ESV translates verse 25 like this: “…Zipporah cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it…” They add the name “Moses” in that verse even though the Hebrew text simply says “his feet.” For what it’s worth, most scholars believe God was seeking to kill Moses and that it was Moses’ feet that were touched.
God’s Previous Words To Moses Are Fascinating And Consequential
Verse 24 says, “…the Lord met him and sought to put him to death.” Now, in the immediately preceding verses, God was encouraging Moses by reminding him that through this entire Exodus ordeal, he would be the one in charge. God would harden Pharoah’s heart. God would send the plagues. God would speak through Moses. And then listen to this astonishing promise given to Moses by God in verse 19 – “And the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who were seeking your life are dead.”
Do you see the incredible juxtaposition of these ideas? In verse 19, God tells Moses that all the men who were seeking to kill him are dead. But then just five verses later, the Bible says, “the Lord met him and sought to put him (Moses) to death.“
Perhaps Moses had nothing to fear from mere mortals, but he still had the holiness of God to contend with. This is where I think the power of these verses is found for personal application. We will discuss the apparent sin of Moses in a moment, but for now, let’s grapple with the fact that Moses’ life was not in danger from men, but from God.
God’s calling on our lives is a beautiful thing. In his calling, he graciously provides his presence and power that enables us to prepare our hearts, repent of sin, and pursue the Lord with purity. Leaders who are called by God must never be leaders who presume upon God. Presumption is a deadly enemy of our discipleship and our leadership.
In Moses’ case, his presumptuous sin was allowing disobedience to remain in his family. Zipporah’s action of circumcising her son reveals Moses’ failure to participate in the covenant sign given to Abraham. Perhaps this was due to the Midianite influence where Moses had been living. Whatever the case, Zipporah, given wisdom by God, immediately diagnoses the problem and takes bold action in order to save Moses’ life. By touching the foreskin to Moses’ feet, it is probably a way to connect Moses to the act of circumcision.
God’s basic question in this passage is haunting: If you are unable to lead your family in righteousness, how can you lead a nation?
We see parallels throughout the Bible. For me, the most important New Testament passage that harkens back to Exodus 4 is found in 1 Timothy 3:4-5. There Paul is listing the qualifications for elders in the church and says, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”
If you are a leader for Christ in any capacity, then Exodus 4 should open our hearts to be searched by the Lord and, in humility, confess our presumptuous sins before him. Now, let’s be very clear here. God is not threatening to kill us if we fail to pursue his calling in perfect righteousness. We must remember that we, in a new and better covenant, our hidden with Christ and grounded in his righteousness. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. So, we can serve the Lord in gladness and with confidence.
But we do so with humility, knowing the God we serve is holy. We approach him both with confidence and with trembling. We trust his promise to forgive as we offer our lives to him in submission and obedience. God never ultimately meant to kill Moses. If that is what he willed, Moses would have died on the road to Egypt. Instead, God shows us again that serving him is unlike anything else because he is unlike anyone else.
Soli Deo Gloria! For the Glory of God Alone!